Z.O.E: Zone of the Enders


    Despite being forced to debut alongside Metal Gear Solid 2, Zone of the Enders managed its fair share of press at E3 2000 via beautiful graphics, a highly renowned development team headed by Hideo Kojima, and promises of an epic anime story matched with epic anime robot battles. Now that the game arrives with an MGS2 demo, will it be relegated again to the status of Kojima's other project? The gameplay says no, but the story and localization say yes.

  Leo Stenbuck = Shinji Ikari + Taneo Tanamatsuri
Leo barely escapes a fiery death.
What a shame.

    Z.O.E excels graphically and is one of the most impressive games to yet appear on the PlayStation 2. All of the mecha-like Orbital Frames are beautifully animated and intricately designed. Fluorescent fluids run through the Frames and change color depending on how damaged the Frame is, while laser steams, fireballs, and sword swipes illuminate the battlefield with streaks and trails. But even these are topped by the magnificent screen-filling explosions that occur whenever a building is destroyed, be it by a stray laser beam or an enemy crashing through it. The environments are just as detailed as the Orbital Frames and contain many of the minute things you expect to find in them, including cars and helicopters.

    Though the graphics are excellent, where Z.O.E really shines in its fundamental gameplay. The hero's Frame, Jehuty, handles like a dream despite using nearly every button on the controller and responds so well that combat is easy to learn. It also helps that the game's camera hardly ever gets stuck or displays from an awkward angle. The environments, ranging from large cities to towns and mountainsides, are large and open, giving players plenty of room to move about.

Mmmm, pretty....
When Raptors Attack! Vol. 2

    Jehuty will go up against only three types of enemies, each with a distinct method of attack. Players can be aggressive and attack these opponents at a close range with a sword or from a distance with laser shots, and both attacks can be charged up to produce more damage. There are also numerous sub-weapons available, including a halberd and javelins, though most are useless and won't come into play unless required. Boss battles break up the action on occasion and tend to provide a good challenge, as the up-close combat tactics used in standard fights will lead to quick deaths. All of the bosses have two forms; the second of which appears when the boss's energy is halved.

    But for all its beauty and ease of control, Z.O.E fails in other key areas. The biggest flaw in terms of gameplay comes with constant backtracking, as players will repeatedly reach a point that requires a special item to progress, one found only only by re-exploring previous areas. These are obtained through two primary methods: destroying a certain group of opponents to acquire a passcode, or shooting a series of porters to reveal a box containing secret items. Unfortunately, Jehuty can't lock onto the porters as he can enemies, requiring use of the clunky manual aim.

    But this backtracking is a minor annoyance compared to the trite and shallow story. Leo Stenbuck is a peaceful, kind boy caught in the middle of a war. Leo is a natural Orbital Frame pilot despite the fact that he has zero training of any kind. Leo accidentally ends up handling Jehuty, which supposedly holds the key to civilization's existence. Leo is accompanied by Celvice, an altruistic girl who motivates him to keep going when he doesn't want to fight. You get the idea.

    The plot begins when mysterious intruders attack the colony of Antila in order to seize Jehuty. The terrorists' attack is led by Viola, who never receives enough time to develop as a villain or provide enough insight into why the terrorists are after Jehuty. Rounding out the cast are Rock Thunderheart and Elena Weinberg, both of which have such minor roles that they're not worth mentioning. This lack of character depth greatly hurts Z.O.E in its more emotional scenes, as players can't honestly relate to what is happening.

  Why couldn't she have been the main character?
Viola: pilot, villain, complete blank.

    Also responsible for the inadequate storytelling is the poor dialogue, which suffers a fate similar to that of Ring of Red. Konami has proven that it can do great translations, so it's somewhat mind-boggling as to why they wouldn't provide Z.O.E the same service. It's not that the dialogue is riddled with errors, but that it doesn't sound like anything people would ever use in normal conversation. Characters repeat themselves continuously, and though most of the voice actors have done the best they could given the material, Leo's voice is awful. ADA, the computer aboard Jehuty, also grinds your nerves with her constant warnings that you're approaching the end of the combat zone, but she is drowned out somewhat by the battles themselves.

    Continuing the trend of incredibly short PlayStation 2 games, Z.O.E should take no more than five hours to complete. What makes this especially frustrating is that the game ends in the middle of the story, a mistake that ruined Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver for many. While some will undoubtedly want to play through Z.O.E again due to its impressive gameplay, the abrupt ending is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouths of players.

Cyclops 0wnz j00 d00d!
The Vs. mode could be its own game.

    Thankfully, a standout Versus mode was added to Z.O.E to provide extra replay value. The mode is unlocked after the game is finished and initially features five playable characters and ten areas to battle in; completing the game a second time will grant you two more characters and two more stages. Combat takes place on one screen, unlike the split-screen mode many games utilize, but is very easy to adjust to.

    Zone of the Enders will be forever known as “the game that came with the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo”, but this a title it partially deserves. On one hand, Konami has outdone itself by providing amazing graphics and a concrete combat design. On the other hand, the game's story is clichéd through and through, and it almost certainly won't be the reason you go back for more. Had the game offered more length and competent storytelling, it would have been memorable on its own merits instead of just providing another game's demo and the strong foundation for a sequel.

Review by Alex Annis, GIA.
Z.O.E: Zone of the Enders
Developer KCEJ
Publisher Konami
Genre Adventure
Medium DVD
Platform Sony PlayStation 2
Release Date  03.01
Zone of the Enders ships
195 spoiler-filled screenshots
20 design sketches / Wallpaper
Japanese television commercial