zone of enders Articles RSS Feed | zone of enders RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Retrospective: The flawed beauty of Zone of the Enders Thu, 01 Sep 2016 11:37:41 -0400 Kris Cornelisse (Delfeir)

People love giant robots.

It’s not that hard to reach this assumption just by looking at the sheer volume of entertainment materials that include oversized combat robots as a feature, if not a focus. Numerous drawn or animated series are produced every year showcasing a variety of fancy designs and different means of explaining their presence, and even live action movies such as Pacific Rim are keen to showcase the concept. Yet whatever justification these mecha have for existing, their true purpose is quite clear: to get into fights with massive monsters or other giant robots for the viewer’s enjoyment.

But what’s even better than watching giant robots fight? Controlling the robots that are fighting, of course.

As such, video games are no exception to the presence of mecha, encompassing a vast array of titles spanning many genres over the years. Some of these are original concepts designed directly for games, such as Armored Core, while plenty are simply adaptations of existing series like the many Mobile Suit Gundam games. Other times, these mecha are simply included as a small element and aren’t necessarily the primary focus of their series, such as in Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Suffice it to say there are quite a few interesting examples of solid mecha games out there. But few feel quite as striking to me as the games of the Zone of the Enders series, and after just replaying them, I felt like looking back and seeing what they did right and where they might have gone wrong.

Developed by Konami and produced by Hideo Kojima, the original game (Zone of the Enders, PS2, 2001) was released early in the Playstation 2’s lifespan. An action game through and through, ZoE saw players seated behind the controls of Jehuty, a flight capable Orbital Frame (the mecha of the franchise) that glided through the air and darted in and out of both ranged and melee combat more quickly than many mecha in games before -- or since!

Despite reasonably positive critical reviews, much of the game’s attention and sales came not from its own qualities, but because it was bundled with the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty demo. This was quite evident after the release of the sequel (Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, PS2, 2003), which received much more favorable reception for its numerous improvements to the concept and mechanics, but failed to sell nearly as many copies.

Nonetheless, the two games spawned something of a cult following along with their spin-off strategy/RPG (Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, GBA, 2001 -- a very good game but one that I won’t touch on too much in this article) and a 26 episode anime series.

Typically, the giant robots in an average video game will feel giant; they tower above the field and usually have a lot of weight and solidity to their movements and attacks. By contrast, one of the most striking aspects of the two primary ZoE games is their feeling of weightlessness.

Jehuty flies and floats through the three-dimensional levels at a rapid pace, darting from enemy to enemy and unleashing an onslaught of quick and deadly attacks to dispatch all comers. Gravity and inertia are total non-issues, and the gameplay feels more like your average action game that just so happens to take place in the air.

It’s almost easy to forget just how big your mecha actually is during the action sequences, so smooth is your movement. In addition, the game is absolutely not afraid to assault you from all sides and have enemies surround you, so maneuvering through this space quickly becomes second nature.

The gameplay and moveset looks somewhat sparse at first, with a single primary attack button that shifts between melee and ranged depending on distance to target; coupled with a secondary attack button that can be filled with all manner of optional weapons. More subtleties are quickly discovered, however, when one figures out how the attacks interact with the dash button.

Both ranged and melee attacks will change when dashing, and a burst attack can be produced by standing still. All of these different modes of attack have very different results and effects, so learning what situations call for each is important. Couple this with a very quick-to-activate guard button (not to mention the ability to parry melee attacks with your own) and you’ll find that combat is a much more nuanced affair than first perceived. Some pattern memorization and extremely precise movement timing is needed to best some of the challenges the game will throw at you.

It’s probably good that the core gameplay can be boiled down so simply, as it gets incredibly fast paced. You can move and dash in all directions extremely quickly, guarding is extremely responsive, and the reasonable selection of sub weapons gives you a lot of options to unleash in just the right situation. These can range from thrown javelins, homing missiles, giant laser beams or decoy systems to distract enemies, or even just eschewing sub weapons in order to grab and throw things around. These culminate with the iconic and immensely powerful Vector Cannon, which requires a very long charge time while Jehuty is firmly on the ground, but the end result is absolutely stellar to behold and devastating to match.

Playing through some Zone of the Enders fights feels like a dance, but many times it even looks like a dance. The graphics are quite fluid for their time, and though the colors and details aren’t always that impressive, the actual fights look smooth and play quick. This is compounded by some incredibly sleek and stylish mecha designs. Granted, some of the more generic enemies can look a little strange, but many of the primary mecha look fantastic, and Jehuty is perhaps my personal favorite mecha design ever. Then throw in some excellent sound effects and a suitable (and catchy) techno/pop soundtrack for good measure, and you’ll find that there’s rarely a dull moment.

It’s not just endless dancing with waves of enemies, however. Both games do a reasonably good job of varying mission objectives and circumstances, meaning there will usually be some new condition or limitation to keep things fresh. Boss fights, for example, are usually complex affairs with numerous tells and patterns that have to be quickly learned and manipulated to keep from getting destroyed very quickly, and they often feel even more frantic and fast paced than the average fights. Other times, you will find yourself performing missions to save civilians, fight battles when damaged or impaired and forcing you to adapt to an altered move set, or (my personal favorite) flying between a number of huge battleships and destroying them in succession with the Vector Cannon.

Alas, despite my high praise, the games are far from perfect. Perhaps the biggest criticism the series received is the incredibly short length of the games -- both primary games can easily be finished on their first playthrough in around 15 hours combined.

While there are additional unlockables, challenges, and difficulty modes to acquire and tackle, the overall amount of content can be regrettably lacking.

In addition, the story, setting, and presentation of the overall game can be very hit or miss. The plot focuses on the political struggles of those living on Earth and those living on Mars and other space colonies (the titular Enders), which eventually comes to armed conflict involving the use of Orbital Frames powered by the resource Metatron. Amidst all this, two mecha are created - Anubis, used by the antagonist, and the player controlled Jehuty - to effectively serve as keys to a weapon that could easily turn the tide of conflict in the wielder’s favour.

In the first game, Jehuty accidentally falls in the hands of Leo Stenbuck, a young man who has absolutely no intention of getting involved in killing and who is quick to inform absolutely everyone of this fact in true Shinji Ikari fashion. After Leo successfully manages to keep it out of the hands of the enemy hunting for it, the second game sees it fall into the possession of Dingo Egret, who is forcibly conscripted by an agent named Ken Marinaris into using Jehuty to stop his rival Nohman… who just so happens to be the pilot of Anubis.

There are additional subtleties and characters, of course, but the English localization did a poor job of conveying these. Most of the plot is delivered through cutscenes in between action segments, and while the cutscenes are of reasonable quality (especially given the era), the dialogue is repetitive and somewhat bland. As for the voice acting, it’s extremely hit or miss. Leo, in particular, is almost universally disliked due to his voice and writing coming across as extremely whiny and irritating… though in his defense, this is vastly improved in the sequel. Nonetheless, the overall plot progresses at a breakneck pace and doesn’t really deliver itself well, sometimes leaving players unsure of how we got to this point or failing to impress on the gravity of the situation.

Still, the plot is often just icing on the gameplay cake for an action game, so these factors are only a mild deterrent for the general high quality action of Zone of the Enders. Even the gameplay isn’t always perfect, though.

In such a rapidly moving system, there are times when the camera isn’t able to keep up and won’t respond well to your controls, and while there is a target lock system, focusing on the right enemy or even just disabling it so that you can maneuver as desired can be clunky. Some sub weapons can also feel underwhelming -- though this was largely improved in The 2nd Runner as all weapons were rebalanced and drew power from the same energy gauge, which made for more situational use. And sometimes, there are bosses or encounters that make you feel like you’re bashing your head against a wall trying to learn it until you finally progress. Those moments of victory often deliver immense satisfaction over frustration, though, so they can usually receive a pass.

Then there are the technical failings. Truthfully, both games run surprisingly well and have a level of visual polish that was quite high for the time of their release on the PS2 and will still hold up now, but the same cannot be said of the HD bundle that was brought out for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2012. These ports were plagued with technical issues ranging from mild to extreme frame rate drops that simply weren’t present in the original release, to sections of the game regularly freezing and requiring a console reset. A patch was eventually released that fixed many of these issues and restored the game to an extremely polished state, but this was only brought out for the PS3 version and only affected The 2nd Runner, leaving many purchasers high and dry.

Nonetheless, despite these limitations and flaws, the overall feeling of speed and frantic mecha action offered in Zone of the Enders has held up well to this day. Few if any mecha-focused games are able to match its movement, with most choosing to focus on the weight and power of the robots instead. As such, ZoE is still regarded as unique and held in high regard amongst aficionados.

But does that mean the series has a future? Sadly, it doesn’t seem likely. While there was confirmation of a sequel by Hideo Kojima back in 2012, this has since been confirmed to be canceled following poor reception of the HD release… but given the issues lined above, can you really blame such a response? Nonetheless, given that the initial release of the games didn’t yield extremely high sales either, it would be safe to assume that it wasn’t profitable enough to continue the project. Now, with Kojima having left Konami and the company having fallen into disrepute amidst the gaming community, it seems unlikely that a new Zone of the Enders title will surface anytime soon.

I consider this quite a shame. Certainly, there are many good mecha games out there, but ZoE still remains the sole occupant of a rarely filled niche. Perhaps one day a contender in its style will rise up, but for now, Jehuty will remain as a stalwart example of what controlling a mecha can be.

(Image courtesy of Wave, via Tumblr)

If you’re interested in checking out the series, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection is available digitally for PS3 and Xbox 360, though I strongly playing the patched version on the PS3. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think. In the meantime, if anyone else has any good experiences with ZoE -- or any game like it, for that matter -- share with us in the comments below!

How to Console Game on a Budget Sun, 10 May 2015 08:47:59 -0400 The Soapbox Lord


There you have it! While some of the tips might seem surprisingly simple, I promise they can work for you too. The trick is to apply all of these and to be tenacious. Don’t be discouraged and press on for the deals! We fellow frugal gamers can reap the benefits of being thrifty.


Use these tips and let me know of the deals you manage to find! Can you think of tips I misses? Sound off below. Happy hunting!


Combine These Tips


While each tip works individually, combining them all can lead to great success. Being patient while prowling Ebay or bargaining with a friend can lead to massive dividends for you, dear reader. By combining the tips presented here, you will be well on your way to finding plenty of budget-priced games.


Know Your Budget and Stick to It


When game-hunting, make sure you know your limits and stick to them. While it may be tempting to grab that copy now for $50 despite your $40 budget, being patient and looking elsewhere can lead to a better price and money left over for you to do with as you please. Instant gas money!


Your Friends Can Hide Deals


We all have that friend who seems to buy every major release. They always have the newest games and usually within a week of release or sooner. Why not use those friends to maybe land some deals? Now this tip is not guaranteed to work as much as the others. This one relies heavily on your relationship with these people and your communication skills.


I had a friend who purchased Mass Effect 2 on day one. Having the beat the game within two weeks, he was bored of it and was seeking to trade it. He offered to sell it to me for $20. I accepted. He was perhaps more desperate for money and willing to deal, but the principle still applies.


Gamestop gives cash, but at a reduced price, and credit can only be used to buy things in Gamestop. So by making an offer or being approached by a friend like this, you can offer cold, hard cash or maybe even trade titles. Never underestimate a gamer who has grown bored of their purchase. 




Once upon a time, Ebay was a questionable place to search for games for a number of reasons. I am happy to report this is no longer the case. Gamers have taken to Ebay to find all sorts of great games for less. Ebay is where I found a pristine copy of Silent Hill 2 for only $5 on top of other bargains. Ebay is also a great place to get those Collector’s Editions you may have missed. I managed to find a Limited Edition of Mass Effect for $20 thanks to Ebay.


The trick to successful Ebaying is to know exactly what you are looking for and to keep tabs on multiple auctions at once. Did that copy of Metroid Prime Collection get too high for your tastes? I guarantee you there are other auctions where the price has not hit that point yet. Keep a close eye on several auctions and their end times to ensure you are the highest bidder.


Watch for Missing Price Tags


In keeping with the retail theme, always check for price tags. Sometimes a store may not have a game labeled, due to it being so low or someone simply overlooking the title. Back when Circuit City had stores, I picked up a copy of Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction with a price of $20 and a copy of Beyond Good & Evil which was missing a price tag. I had money to spare, so I went to the checkout. My total?


$23! BG&E was only $2!!!


If a game piques your interest, but has no price tag, do not be deterred. You may just be onto a monster deal!


Be Patient


Wolfenstein: The New Order was released on May 20, 2014. In March of this year, I saw a copy in Target with a price tag of $15. While I would prefer the PC version, such a low price was too tempting to resist. So I asked the clerk to confirm the price for me. To my surprise, the clerk informed me the game was actually only $8! Needless to say, I walked out of the store as a very happy gamer that was eager to slay some Nazis!


While gamers are no strangers to waiting for Game of the Year or Complete Editions, it is easy to forget just how quickly and drastically game prices can reduce. Restrain yourself from buying that game you so desperately want. Your wallet will thank you later.


Look Often


As I mentioned, I nabbed a Special Edition of Bioshock 2 from a local Walmart. However, I didn’t buy it the first time I found it. My initial discovery revealed an asking price of $55 - more than I was willing to pay. Over the next month, I checked on the game every time I was in the area. When the price was in my limits, I snatched it faster than a child nabs a cookie.


When you find a game you want, check on it often. You may not always be the person who gets the deal, but looking often and waiting will do you more good than harm. Speaking of patience…


Leave No Stone Unturned


When I say look everywhere, I mean it. Don’t neglect your neighborhood chain retailers in favor of smaller shops - although those deserve your attention too. You never know what you'll find at the large stores.


I managed to find a Special Edition of Bioshock 2 at a local Walmart and a Limited Edition of Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway at a Best Buy for $25 apiece. Many larger places order special editions of games, yet don’t always manage to sell them. Those stores are usually stuck with the ones which they don’t initially sell, which can lead to some great price reductions.


If you ever go out of town or on a vacation, make sure to check the stores in the area there as well, both large and small. You never know you'll find. Also, never neglect your local thrift stores or salvage stores (such as Hudson's). While more of a shot in the dark, deals can occasionally be found. Just keep your expectations tempered.   


Looking at the picture above, how much do you think I paid for everything in it?


$300? $250? $200?


Actually, everything shown cost me $135 total. Yep - these tips actually work. Before you know it, you’ll be finding great deals yourself! (Yes, that Bioshock 2 is still unopened!)


Who doesn't like to get great things for less money? We all know the digital realm leads to some dirt cheap prices on games (here’s a guide from Elijah to tell you just that). However, I've noticed that most of these guides to cheap games focus almost exclusively on digital content.


So today, I want to share my tips with you on how to get console and handheld games at rock-bottom prices! These tips are general and apply to all systems, for all time. So please make use of them.


Now grasshopper, shall we begin?