High speed robot action in HD.
Hideo Kojima's name may forever be associated with Metal Gear, and rightfully so, but back in 2001 and 2003, he produced two "mech" games on the PS2. These were Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders 2: The Second Runner. Both are futuristic, sci-fi stories revolving around people's lives and a particular frame, or mech, known as Jehuty (Je-who-tee). And while both games are pretty short -- clocking in around 5-7 hours, depending on skill level and the like -- the level of quality and the enjoyment reaped in that timeframe makes both games real gems, then and now again.
Generally speaking, mech games tend to come in two forms: super sims where players have a lot of attributes and things to keep track of, and "arcade" style where the focus is more on the glitz of the action. Between those two, ZoE falls more so to the latter. Gameplay in both ZoEs is fast and actually quite beautiful. It's also rather repetitive, in terms of how players are constantly performing Burst and Dash attacks, both in melee and ranged scenarios. The repetition is something I noticed during my six hour, fifteen minute session with the original, which took it from start to finish, but I didn't mind it. I was too busy enjoying myself, going after every enemy Squad in the area and just being impressed with the story. Leo, the lead character, is whinny and annoying and I don't know how many times he said "What?," but his story of struggle and relationship with ADA, Jehuty's onboard computer, is pretty cool and interesting.
I'll circle back to the gameplay shortly, but let's breakdown what this HD Collection entails. First, it contains both PS2-released ZoE games, but not the GBA game, The Fist of Mars. I'm sure licensing issues were the reason that it is omitted, and, obviously, its graphics could not have been really HD-ified anyway. But, as a complete-collection sort of guy, it would have been awesome to have it included. Second, Trophies and Achievements were added and are spread across both games. Third, animation house Sunrise created an all new cinematic opening that plays before each game. I didn't time it but it lasts a good couple of minutes and contains a lot of scenes and elements from the games. The opening cutscene for each game was also redone. There are several cinematics in each game beyond the opening one, which were not redone, but looked just fine nonetheless. Finally, there is a demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, although I haven't tried it. I believe there were some issues with the demo installing or working properly on the PS3, which Konami may have already resolved by the time you read this.
With any HD Collection, how good the game looks and plays are always of key interest. Not having seen the original PS2 games in a long time on my own screen, I can't make direct comparisons. However, I can say that both games look very good, although ZoE 2 looks far better than ZoE. I think the reason for this is more than just two years of new tech (2001 to 2003), it's in the art style. ZoE 2 was a much better looking experience thanks to the art direction, a re-worked HUD, and also in ways such as featuring far more enemies on screen at once. Both games also play smoothly. I suffered no freezing or technical glitches at all as a matter of fact, including no hiccups in framerate. Certain areas in ZoE, such as the boss fight with Tyrant or late in the game in Town 3, where I was surrounded by multiple active Squads, would have been a prime place for such trouble, but the game played great. With ZoE 2, within minutes of discovering Jehuty, Dingo comes under heavy attack from swarms of enemy, but I experienced no trouble here either. Furthermore, load times are great, averaging ten seconds or less. So for Konami and High Voltage Software's part, this HD project went rather well, certainly better than the troubled Silent Hill HD Collection.
As for the games themselves, anytime you play a game even as old as these, you have to keep in mind how things were back then. In other words, were both of these games released today, I think people would still appreciate them for their stories and action, but some limitations would likely be treated with more adversity. For example, with ZoE, each battle area is rigidly restricted. It may look big from the 'world' view, the sort of lobby area where you can fly to different destinations on the Jupiter colony, but once Jehuty actually lands in an area, it's very small. ADA wastes no time in constantly reminding you that you are leaving the battle area (or something like that), too. For ADA's part, while I'm at it, I thought her character was pretty neat and certainly essential to the story, but she talks way too much. ZoE also left me scratching my head a few times when I was tasked with finding something. It took me some time and a peek at a guide to realize that I had to randomly go to other areas to locate these things. Furthermore, camera angles and controls for both games take just a little getting used to. The camera rotation is somewhat quirky in that you can't "reset" the camera with a button press, instead there is a short, designed delay for the camera to move back to the behind-Jehuty view. On a side note, the ability to fly up and down with Triangle and X is great and adds a whole lot to the fast and fun combat.
Comparatively speaking, ZoE 2 is a better game than ZoE, and I thought that started from the get go with the lead character. Even things like the HUD and sub-weapon management boost ZoE 2. Actually regarding ZoE, there are about ten sub-weapons, but most of them turned out to be either one-time use or not used at all for me. Still, finding the drivers for those weapons and just having them to experiment with against bosses was a plus.
To the summary...