I like mechs.
When Kojima and crew first spilled the beans about Zone of the Enders(or otherwise truncated as simply Z.O.E.) at the Spring Tokyo Game Show about a year and a half ago, none of the many onlookers anticipated a mech title that wafts away From Software’s Armored Core 2 and even Sega’s own Virtual On in terms of graphics. However, graphics is for sure not the only key attribute here. Luckily for us PS2 possessors, Z.O.E. also holds closely ear-alluring sound effects and perhaps the fastest gameplay in the wild wild west or more possibly, the world. In fact, when we had our first taste of the Z.O.E. playable demo, the entire PS2Vision staff felt the vile anguish of pulling our jaws back into place from their previous states of chewing carpet on the floor (a twinge that we remember to this very day).
Ever since Z.O.E. was first unveiled at the Spring Tokyo Game Show of last year, it has risen to be a benchmark for the PlayStation 2’s power. The interesting tidbit is that it doesn’t even use 35% of the PS2’s power if even that (according to some gaming analysts). Despite that technical delicacy, Z.O.E. nevertheless continues to show optimal eye-candy (among the best we’ve seen on any console). Just like other high-end PS2 graphical heavy hitters, Z.O.E. combines real-time motion cut-scene footage along with top-notch lighting and graphics. Not to mention that Z.O.E. just about always remains at a constant 60 frames per second leaving no visual trace of slowdown. At times, you may not believe that you are actually the mastermind behind your destructive mech’s movements. Let’s just put it this way, the footage in the trailer is actual gameplay (for those of you who have seen it). Anyway, what more could you expect? This is coming from the maker of Metal Gear Solid after all.
Sound and control in Z.O.E. are among the best we’ve seen in a PS2 game. Eccentrically enough, the controls are perhaps the easiest we’ve come across despite the fact that they look as hard as swallowing an ostrich egg whole. Z.O.E. possibly has the best controls we have ever come across. We are still asking ourselves, how did Konami do it? Perhaps we will never know. Z.O.E. contains full Dual Shock 2 rumble capabilities and occasionally even takes advantage of the touch-sensitive analog buttons. The bottom line is that you can be a total surgical school dropout and still have hands stable enough to master this game. Within seconds of holding the Dual Shock 2, you will already be playing like how the mechs fought in the trailer (no joke!).
Z.O.E.’s storyline itself is also of rather high quality but then again not. The storyline can most easily be described as a chunk off of Gundam Wing. With the villainous Earth forces invading his Jupiter space colony, destroying his cities of residence, killing his parents and friends, a fourteen year-old named Leo Stenbuck (who’s manhood has yet to drop) can no longer tolerate any more grief and fortuitously falls inside the cockpit (don’t even start) of a top-secret powerful Evangelion-like mech known as Jehuty. With Jehuty, Leo flies around the colony and blows the $^&* out of all the mechs representing the Earth’s forces. Anyway, in the short run it is one of those “innocent boy bears huge burden/tragedy, finds new life/friends, travels world/universe, saves said world/universe, restores peace/harmony” type games.
Z.O.E.’s gameplay mainly consists of battling other mechs lurking around friendly settlements. In some missions you are asked to save survivors in various colony settlements by defeating the enemy mech by doing as little damage as possible to the actual city. There is even a mission where you highjack an enemy mech and invade the enemys’ heavily guarded underground base. Strangely enough, Z.O.E. also contains various RPG elements and puzzles which may take you hours to figure out if you don’t use a walkthrough. Any elementary school dropout will have no quandary during the mech battles, however when it comes to the puzzles and mind benders, the game can be a toil on the mind for even PS2Vision’s Brian. A quick way of describing Z.O.E.’s battle action is fast-paced Dragonball Z-like fighting with Gundam Wing-like action and Neon Genesis: Evangelion-like mech designs. Hopefully, all of you Japanese animation aficionados (*cough* Nu Gundam and Rhys *cough*) should be able to comprehend what that means. If you are a Japanese anime admirer, this game is probably your cup o’ tea.
Throughout Z.O.E. you can gain experience by obliterating your foes causing Jehuty, your mech, to gain levels and become even more dominant. Gameplay is mainly composed of using the analog sticks, square button, circle button, R1 button, and R2 button. It’s always fun to move left and fake out your enemies by thrusting right and slashing them in half from behind. Another major positive note is that if you are close enough, you can freeze your enemy in place and smack them through a building or a wall by pressing the circle button. You can also execute special moves by using the R2 thrust button and pressing square at different distances from your enemy for different combinations (sword special moves and laser special moves). You can also collect unique items, which allow you to perform special such as the Halberd cutting laser attack. The atmospheres are fully interactive which adds to the overall joy of gameplay (In other words, you can blow up just about anything on the screen). A pleasant addition to the Story Mode is a versus mode which puts you one on one against family and friends.
If you have a look at the screenshots or the movies below, you can easily see that a perfect score is a given in the graphics department. The lighting effects, laser effects, va-voom camera angles, and explosion effects really prove that Hideo Kojima and his crew of Konami developers haven’t been slacking off at all. Z.O.E. most definitely tops the mech genre for every console in terms of graphics. In fact, the speed of gameplay and constant frame-rate is mind-boggling. These have to be among the best visuals we have seen for any platform. Konami definitely has our round of applause here.
Thanks to the PS2’s awesome audio capabilities and some extra labor on behalf of Konami, the experience offered by Z.O.E.’s sound is an aural feast as it stands. With smooth laser sounds, explosion effects, and voices, you’ve almost got yourself a game that’s as good to the ears as it is to the retinas.
This is where Z.O.E. slightly slacks. The extremely fast-paced action that Z.O.E. has to offer will just keep sending you back for more… at first. Once you beat the game (about 5hrs and on), chances are you’ll never touch the game again. After playing Z.O.E. for a couple of hours, you will notice that the battles become repetitive. Even though Z.O.E. is slightly shaky in the Replay Value department, be sure that it will clog anywhere over 5 hours of your valuable time.
The verdict is final. Z.O.E. is undoubtedly the best looking mech game up to date on any platform. There is simply no comparison to what we have seen in the past. Z.O.E. is under constant debate at PS2Vision for the best looking PS2 game out and you can bet I had cast my vote in favor of… Final Fantasy X! (duh!). Z.O.E. can be very entertaining; however, it’s not for everybody. The game is overall a very solid and fun fast-paced game but, unfortunately, will not grasp your attention until Metal Gear Solid 2. Don’t worry, though, that’s why Kojima and crew included the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo.