The original releases of Zone of the Enders and its sequel, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, never made it to an Xbox format. Much like the majority of Konami’s other high-definition (HD) repackages of last generation’s hits, the Zone of the Enders: HD Collection may well be the first experience of the series for many, which can be as much of a double-edged sword as inducing the nostalgia for those who remain fans a decade later.
The original Zone of the Enders has dated, of that there is no doubt. It’s a familiar mech battler experience (as niche as the genre may have become on current-generation systems) wrapped in a familiar storyline. Telling the tale of a young boy fighting for righteousness and the good of humanity while travelling about in a giant war machine, Zone of the Enders is as clichéd as you’d expect a videogame from Hideo Kojima to be. It’s also as densely populated with nuance and demanding mechanics as you’d hope.
A slow paced experience with lightning quick combat, Zone of the Enders is an experience full of contrasts. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner however is all about the speed. The original title has you enter arenas, take down a handful of small squads (which act entirely independently and shall never attack the player with more than one squad in combat at a time) while Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner throws dozens of foes at you at any one time; clearly the inspiration for much of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam’s 360˚ combat. Playing each title as intended allows you to recognise the improvements made between, and also note that there has been little effort to push the genre further in the intervening years. Whether that’s a case of dwindling audiences or a lack of willing participants is something the market will surely decide upon with this HD re-release.
Further improving upon the original’s formula, the sequel eschews the basic series of add-ons and slight upgrades for your mech for brand new weapons, each one more impressive than the last. Fighting through arenas of standard enemies and huge screen-filling bosses, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner provides much more to sink your teeth into, and with a storyline that is significantly less sweet and sickly, though just as ludicrous. The anime cutscenes look better than ever with their high-definition delivery, sadly this improvement is reflected elsewhere, with drab textures and incredibly low poly characters models evident throughout both of the included Zone of the Enders episodes.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is clearly the better title then, and by a significant margin. So much so in fact, that those becoming involved with the franchise for the first time would be well advised to play them in the order intended, as not doing so will inevitably lead to disappointment. Also included in the package is a demo version of the forthcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, mirroring the original Zone of the Enders’ included demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sins of Liberty in a knowingly reverential manner. Even without this demo however, Zone of the Enders: HD Collection provides a wealth of content for a genre rarely visited on modern gaming platforms, resulting in a welcoming if slightly dated space combat experience.