Zone of the Enders represents a major landmark in the history of gaming.
Developed by a team with impeccable credentials, including Metal Gear Solid
producer Hideo Kojima, the title successfully blends anime mech action with and
engrossing storyline and surprisingly intuitive controls. Whatís even more
impressive are ZOEís incredible graphics and state of the art camera system.
Look inside as The Laser reviews this heavily-hyped PS2 title.
At the start of ZOE, players
meet the protagonist, a young boy named Leo Stenbuck. Leo is a resident of the
Jupiter colony Antilia. Suddenly, the peaceful colony of ďthe endersĒ comes
under savage attack. We see the invasion through Leoís eyes, the fear of these
giant mechs and the destruction and devastation they cause. This is brought home
as a terrified Leo watches helplessly as his friends get killed. This
immediately makes him a sympathetic character whose mixed emotions at the combat
are highly understandable. The colony comes under attack from the dark forces of
Bahram and faces complete destruction unless something stops it from happening.
Through a series of incredible seemingly random events, Leo finds himself thrust
into the controls of the Orbital Frame Jehuty and itís up to him and the
player to save the colony. Whatís immediately apparent is that Zone of the
Enders isnít your typical mech game, though all the traditional elements are
there. There is much more to it than mindlessly bashing your opponents as you
want to cause as little damage as possible to the colony, which is also your
At the beginning of your adventure, you are very limited in what you can accomplish, but the Jehuty gradually gains power as you gain experience and pick up program modules in the course of the game. The game feels very simple initially, but as the storyline grows more complex you become more fully immersed in the action. ZOE starts a little bit slowly but quickly picks up momentum as players gain more experience and powers. Helping players along are the series of tutorials that help you to acclimate to the controls and master the Jehutyís abilities. This gives ZOE a reasonable and painless learning curve plus effectively avoids the problem that too many mech titles like Armored Core 2 suffer from, which is throwing too much at you initially. Though make no mistake, the Jehuty is quite a versatile and powerful mech, just not overly sophisticated. Instead of overwhelming the gameplay with technical aspects and overly complex controls, ZOE opts instead for a simpler, much more intuitive interface. In fact, ZOEís controls are the key to the gameís long-term appeal and allow the player to concentrate on the storyline. The plot is paramount and sets ZOE apart from the other titles in the genre. Some may find the simple interface off-putting, but on the other hand, this isnít designed as a hard-core mech game, instead itís been developed to have broader appeal.
When it comes to the
operations during the actual game, this design philosophy is quickly apparent in
all aspects of ZOE. Itís surprisingly simple and intuitive to control your
Jehuty in ZOE taking a surprisingly little amount of effort. The Jehutyís
operations are simple and straightforward taking little time to learn and never
becoming a serious obstacle during play. During combat, you can use close and
long-range attacks, depending on the enemy. While the long-range attacks protect
you from damage, getting in close to an enemy allows you to finish them off much
quicker. The short range attacks include standard shots of three bullets or more
elaborate dash and saber attacks which inflict more damage but leave you
vulnerable for a brief period which you power them up. The Jehuty also has the
ability to summon special power attacks such as a long range dash attack which
unleashed homing missiles or the devastating burst attack, which unleashes a
ball that can cause enemies to suffer a huge amount of damage. The control
system is intuitive and maps well to the Dual Shock 2 controller. ZOEís also
impressive because moving the Jehuty around and finding destinations is easy due
to excellent camera angles and the slick 3D map interface which makes finding
your location and that of enemies an easy task . It offers a good sense of
flight and speed, giving the game an excellent feel overall, the movement is
indicated by using the analog pad and a combination of the X and square buttons
to move up and down, players can also use the right analog pad to look around.
ZOEís menu interface is also quite good and makes it a cinch to access special
functions and weapons inventories. Most players should find the controls and
interface fairly transparent and easy to learn in a brief period while rarely
interfering with combat during those sequences.
ZOEís structure follows
the interface and is itself, surprisingly simple and straightforward. ZOEís
mission goals are easy to understand making for some enjoyable, deep and
challenging gameplay. There are two levels of play in the game. In the first you
are flying high over the colony and have to go down into the areas in the game.
Whatís cool about this is that ZOE isnít strictly linear and players can
choose which area to go to next. There are several types of missions but the two
main types are standard combat missions, which help you to achieve your greater
goal of ridding the colony of its invaders. Of course, there are also rescue
missions in which Leo and the Jehuty can save some of the colonists from the
invaders. These rescue missions donít explicitly help you in the main goal,
but they will help you in the final rankings. The game allows you to move from
area to area with little effort, which is extremely helpful since many areas
will be visited multiple times
during the course of your mission. Once you have landed in one of ZOEís
sectors, you can then confront the enemy Orbital Frames directly in combat.
Players can see the enemy forces from a distance and can choose to confront them
head on,. They are indicated from a distance by a small boxes, which the ADA
lists the number of enemies and their level.
Once you have begun a confrontation, you can choose to fight them from a
distance or close in as described earlier. The enemies seem to cluster in groups
of three, which makes the battles much more complex, though itís usually best
to attack the strongest member of the force first.
Battling the enemies is fast
& furious, with the player required to make split-second decisions regarding
the confrontations. There are several factors to consider, which include how
much damage Jehuty has suffered, its relative strength when it comes to the
enemy frames and most importantly, how much damage the battle will do to the
surroundings. There are several techniques and methods to accomplish this
without causing excessive destruction Ė players can lead the opponents away to
a safe area by engaging them then quickly running away, which causes the enemies
to chase him or you can also try to destroy the enemies as quickly as possible.
The choice is yours but what makes the game so brilliant is that most of the
time youíll try to minimize the damage, which isnít entirely necessary.
Whatís really cool to see is how the plot begins to work on your subconscious
after awhile, which is something you donít realize during the heat of battle,
since you try to minimize damage out of habit. Of course, just mindlessly
destroying the enemies wonít get you very far in the game because there are
other tasks that need to be accomplished, such as collecting the various weapons
power-up modules and other programs that are scattered throughout the levels,
usually hidden in a sub-level thatís heavily guarded. This gives ZOE an
immersive feel, but despite its simple play mechanics and interface donít
mistake it for a walk in the park. While its initial levels seem easy there are
some extremely difficult boss confrontations that are incredibly intense and are
quite challenging. ZOE gradually ratchets the difficulty higher as it
progresses, which may stop less motivated players in their tracks, but players
who persist will find the rewards well worth the effort.
Another factor to consider
is that once you have built up Jehutyís stats and abilities, it may be a
better course of action to try and avoid as many fights and battles as you can
later on because they take time and may inflict unwanted damage to you and your
surroundings. On the other hand, letting the Orbital Frames stay put will also
allow them to cause damage to the colony unimpeded, thereby affecting your final
standings as well, so the decision is up to you: Rush to finish the game or
clean out the enemies and go for a higher score. The themes of moral duty is
constant and this makes playing ZOE a more thoughtful experience.
The modules can offer the Jehuty a variety of upgrades ranging from new
weapons such as the sniper rifle or even the ability to control unmanned Orbital
Frames from remote control. One thing that you need to do is explore each of the
levels extensively for hidden passageways and secrets, because there are some
areas where the main objective has been completed but an essential module for
later in the game should be collected as well to save time. Of course, you
wonít get through the game without taking damage, so youíll need to find a
way to repair your Jehuty. Metatron Ore is an essential part of the game because
it helps to repair the Jehuty. Finding this requires you to defeat the enemies
that have it. This task is made easier because those groups of enemies that have
this element are clearly labeled. Whatís most impressive about all of this is
that the game offers quite a cohesive back-story that makes ZOE feel like one
long mission, not a series of smaller missions and allows the player to feel
involved in the action to a degree most console games havenít attempted in the
past. It largely succeeds in this goal, and this is also due in no small part
due to the outstanding visuals and audio that Konami has implemented.
Putting all of these
elements together as a whole and you come to the realization that this is a
brilliant game that succeeds in most of its goals. ZOE is about as good a PS2
game that has come out to date Ė it has an excellent balance between action
and strategy making for a deeply satisfying mech game with a surprising amount
of role playing elements. Itís simple interface means that players can
concentrate on the action and storyline while the game itself is deep and
satisfying. Playing more like a single long mission that a series of
disconnected episodes makes the gameplay that much more immersive. With a
multitude of branching missions, challenging missions and some intense battles,
ZOE should have plenty of long term appeal. Add in a bonus head-to-head mech
fighting game thatís unlocked after you complete the main quest and you can
see why. The icing on the cake is the incredible visuals which push the limits
of expectations for the PlayStation 2 to their maximum showcasing an almost
unbelievable amount of creativity and richness. Zone of the Enders has been one
of Konamiís most-hyped titles to date, and it meets or exceeds itís high
expectations in most areas. All of the elements work, and itís few very minor
flaws donít diminish the overall accomplishment. ZOE is quite possibly the
best PS2 titles to date and
is strongly recommended to all fans of
anime and action games.