Bargain Bin Laden #16: Zone of the Enders

Long-time BBL readers know that I’m no stranger to giant robots. You might recall when I covered… huh, okay, no giant robots in the games I’ve covered, anyway. But I dated one in college, which was awkward, especially bringing the giant metal overlord home for Thanksgiving. Robots and I, we’s intimates.

Newly minted as first lieutenant of the “cheap-but-hardly-obscuro-club” (an organization currently headed by Dragon Quest VIII), Zone of the Enders was shamefully swept aside as a delightful pack-in with $50 copies of the MGS2 demo. While I’ll be the first to admit that I hit up Snake’s neck-snappin’ and body-draggin’ demo adventure first and foremost, I was pleased to find that the game I actually bought wasn’t too bad, either. At five bucks, I think you’ll be inclined to agree. Hit that jump like you mean it and buy this game. 

Zone of the Enders (PS2)
Developed by: Konami
March 21, 2001
Bargain Binned: $4.99 used at brick and morter shops, 100 points at Goozex.

Shame on you for ignoring this game. Shame on you. Renting it and stealing the demo — oh, your mother would shake her head in disapproval not once, but thrice. Call her and apologize. All set? Good.

Zone of the Enders is one of my favorite series ever laid to disc, and certainly one of my favorite titles on the PS2. When it was first announced, gamers were awed by the stylish designs (by Yoji Shinkawa, character/tech designer for Kojima’s other favorite project, Metal Gear Solid) and the fast-paced action of mid-flight melee mech combat. Then the questions came: how the hell does it work? How does a mech like that control while one is blasting through the air at high speeds and taking on groups of enemies while zipping and zooming around them? We’ll get to that in a sec. First, a bit on the story.

Zone of the Enders‘ story concerns Leo Stenbuck, a resident of a space colony orbiting Jupiter some 150 years or so into the future. The colony, Antilia, is sort of the “bad neighborhood” of newly-formed interplanetary human community — being so far from humanity’s roots, these colonies and its citizens are referred to as “enders”. The game opens on shit goin’ down on Antilia, in which a group of bandits in orbital frames (read: mechs) come to the colony looking for some secret super-duper mech. Our protagonist Leo Stenbuck, ostensibly on his way to a church youth group or kegger or something, hides in the hanger in which aforementioned super-duper mech is hidden during a strike on his community. He climbs into the cockpit of the frame, which identifies itself as Jehuty, and after fighting off the blokes blowing crap up, decides to exact all the revenge his little heart could hope for on those who would see his colony torn apart. But what explanation do you need, really? Giant-ass mech with laser sword. Those are six words that get my motor runnin’, anyway.

Enders is an ambitious title, and mostly succeeds in giving gamers exactly what they expected in terms of combat and navigation. Here’s how it goes down: directional control is linked to the left analog stick. Elevation is controlled by the triangle and cross buttons, used to move up and down, respectively. Square fires off long-ranged blaster attacks and circle unleashes a brutal energy sword for close-quarters ass-kickin’. Players can dash by holding the R1 button, and that dash opens up a handful of alternate attacks such as long-range laser assaults. Hell, you can even block. What else do you need?

When you first sit down with Enders, if you haven’t already, the combat will be butter-smooth — I’m talking melted butter dripping down the back of a fat man on a hot summer day. Smoov. The system itself handles a lot of the little details like automatic lock-on that offers the illusion of complete control — there’s havoc and mayhem in the skies above and you’re at the root of all of it. Before long you’ll begin to notice the mechanics behind the gameplay, and while this isn’t always a bad thing, it may suddenly dawn on you just how often your hand is held by ZOE’s combat engine. Still, a sight to behold.

While the combat is about as fun as you’ll see available on the PS2, enemy variety is a bit weak — with the exception of the Big and Terrible Bosses™, you’ll spend most of your time fighting the same three enemies throughout most of the game, usually in greater numbers and with beefier difficulty levels as you press on. While the means by which you tackle these enemies might change as you find more of the game’s variety of subweapons, but– well, you’ll be seeing ’em quite a bit. The game’s flow is where things get a bit muddled, mostly because of the ways in which ZOE escorts you from stage to stage. While moving through plot-advancing missions, the player has the option of revisiting previously-cleared areas to collect items and answering SOS calls from neighborhoods and residential areas under fire from leagues of attackers. Your success in defending these areas determines what ending you get at the end of the game. It’s a nice addition, but the game can get a little stale a few hours in after fighting the same three enemies in the same styles of missions. 

Something important to note: the original Zone of the Enders, this one right here, is made entirely inferior by its follow-up, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. That’s not to say that ZOE1 is a bad game — not at all. But I’m going to make this recommendation right off the bat: if you even kinda dig on this game, get your hands on the sequel immediately. Every one of ZOE’s flaws — repetitive play, ho-hum boss battles, limited weapon arrays and replay value — are pretty much fixed. It’s not cheap ($30 or so), so don’t expect to see it on BBL any time soon, but be aware of it. It’s one of the best games on the PS2, without any doubt.

Enders has its flaws, but they’re flaws easily overlooked with a five-dollar price tag. If you’ve managed to make it through the PS2’s entire shelf-life without giving these games a go, by all means, check it out — the groundwork in combat established by this game serves well to fuel its absolutely phenomenal sequel and ain’t half bad on its own, besides. Buy ’em, play ’em, love ’em, and demand that Konami make more of them. Otherwise we’ll be stuck with shitty Armored Core sequels ’til the end of eternity, and we can’t have that, can we?         

[Thanks as always to for the hookup!] 

Aaron Linde