Let's roar about Zone of the Enders, a pair of games I've heard praised many times. I once saw a fellow dino playing The Second Runner and thought the action looked incredible and fun. I was excited to rent a copy of the HD Collection to finally indulge in the giant, super saiyan robot action myself.
Not much later, I spit them out angrily.
I bit into the first Zone of the Enders because I like continuity. As the first in a series, I fully expected it to be the weaker of the two – this is typicalforfranchises (though not always the rule). The cut-scenes came hard and fast, featuring polygonal characters and pixelated explosions that I remember so fondly from the PlayStation 2-era of games. I was first quickly reminded that I was playing a Japanese-produced title, complete with poor voice acting, strange character names, and a plot filled to the brim with tropes. None of this hits above or below my expectations. What does hit above my expectation is how quickly I'm dropped into game play, being able to pilot my Frame (read: giant robot) and battle enemies. Then control is taken away so characters can dialogue and I remember that this game was designed by Hideo Kojima. (Don't get me wrong, I love Kojima-san, but he also loves his plot.)
So I sit in a cockpit, staring around at my environment while a monotone computer tells me how to play. Then the computer tells me what's happening. I go back to the action and fight another battle. Computer-talking-time again. Now we're watching a cut-scene. More dialogue from the computer and our underage hero. Action. Talking. Action. Talking and more talking. At this point, I'm disinterested and bored.
This is not a bash against cut-scenes or detailed stories in games. This is about keeping the player interested. During a cut-scene in Metal Gear Solid, I'm watching characters act and interact. During these listen-to-ADA-speak moments of Zone of the Enders, I'm looking at nothing, controlling a first-person cockpit view, for sometimes more than five minutes. Add to that my familiarity with anime tropes and I'm really not intrigued by what is happening or what the computer is talking about. These interruptions are quickly killing the pacing. I came looking for cool robot battles; I was shown cool robot battles; now I'm being denied cool robot battles in lieu of dull commentary about a heartless computer AI.
Not to mention moving from one sector of plot or combat to the next is slow-going as well. After a few hours, I'm hunting obscure passcodes from various towns literally labeled "Town-1," "Town-2," etc. I get confused about my goals and destinations and I quit crunching.
Let's try The Second Runner! As the sequel, it's bound to be better.
Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner is an improvement over the first game. It looks better, the dialogue is better, I get to watch people talk while I'm stuck in the cockpit view... Tastier, better prepared experience. Sadly, I lasted less time with it than the first.
The Second Runner quickly got me into combat and feeling cool. It gave me a few waves of enemies to fight, teaching me the controls and mechanics, giving me a chance to show off. All good.
The first boss fight took twice as long as it should have. Most of my attacks against her did chip damage, and even once I figured out the proper pattern and combo it was still a six minute ordeal – six minutes of not making mistakes or I would die. I'm all for difficulty in games. More importantly, however, I want a game to feel consistent. TSR just spent the past 15 minutes showing me that I was going to be awesome. Then it set me into a fight very different, and while I was still learning game mechanics. Great games like Dark Souls and Mega Manare tough, but they're consistently tough; this is not.
I win the fight but I'm feeling a bit riled, as though the game had been attempting to insult me for not just "being good" right off the bat. A few combat scenarios later and I'm in a tight corridor surrounded by enemies, most of them gnat-like and relatively unintimidating. Then the plague of the last era of games reared its ugly head: camera control. Despite all of my attempts, I could not manage to get my avatar to lock onto the powerful opposition; no, instead I could only target the many gnats buzzing around me. So I was unable to fight back: if you can't target the adversary, you can't fight the adversary: if you can't fight, you lose. Repeatedly. I quit crunching.
I wanted to enjoy Zone of the Enders and I still want to see a successor, but somewhere between the pacing, the controls, and the difficulty spikes, I unfortunately got lost. Both games left a bitter taste in my mouth. Adjust some ingredients though, make the design feel more consistent and tightly woven together, and this can be something really great. I hope to crunch that something great one day.
Zone of the Enders was developed and published by Konami; High Voltage collaborated for the development of the HD Collection. For this post, I played Zone of the Enders for about two hours and The Second Runner for about one and a half hours on the PlayStation 3. I rented a copy of the game.