Those that owned a PlayStation 2 will instantly recognize the Zone of the Enders title. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s the allure of giant mechs beating the shit out of aliens or other mechs was a huge trend. While that has all but died out, Gundam does what it can to retain people’s attention, Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS is a wonderful nostalgia trip that will remind players what the “good ole days” used to be. For a game that released in 2003, it holds up remarkably well against the test of time.
Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS brings the classic “hack n’ slash” combat we all grew up with back for another outing. This time, it’s accompanied by high(er) fidelity graphics, that truly make every detail of the world pop off the screen. Along with this is the option to enjoy the entire game in VR, which takes the 3rd person experience and turns it into a 1st person one, that places you right in the cockpit of your own Orbital Frame, Jehuty.
Zone of the Enders has gained its own cult following since it’s release back in 2003. Those that remember the age of mechs and hack n’ slash titles will easily remember the ZOE games and the incredible, fast-paced combat they brought with them (especially for the time). That fast-paced combat has withstood the test of time, making you feel like you’re piloting an extension of yourself, not a clunky, heavy killing machine.
Depending on the distance from your enemies will determine if you use your sword or guns. Thankfully the game calculates all of this for you and lets you seamlessly transition between the two; allowing you to focus on navigating the chaotic battlefield.
Even though this is technically the second installment in the Zone of the Enders series, it doesn’t require you to have previous knowledge of the first game, thanks to the anime style storytelling. Dingo is a pilot that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or right place depending on how you look at it. After an accident his life is forever entwined with Jehuty’s. Like Iron Man and his chest spark plug, Dingo would not be able to live outside the cockpit of Jehuty on his own. In a desperate attempt to save him, he is plugged into the mech, and it is her power source that keeps him alive.
Like most anime heroes, Dingo embraces this “calling” of sorts and sets out to fight the rogue faction known as BAHRAM. All of this set up happens in the first half hour of the game, and all the subsequent cutscenes are really there as a way for us to catch our breath between the chapters of robot carnage. That’s not to say the story isn’t a solid sci-fi action experience, it just might not connect with everyone; especially if you didn’t grow up watching anime. All of that being said, ZOE doesn’t have a bad story, it’s just one that will feel familiar to most revisiting the title.
The biggest speed bump in Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS is getting used to its unique controls. Before games adopted a basic generic button layout, games like Zone of the Enders took a chance and tried to go against the gamepad norms. While the controls make sense after some time with the game, they’re definitely going to be the biggest learning curve for newcomers to the series, and even players that played the original titles.
Worry not though, the game has a fantastic tutorial section that lets you pick and choose what you’d like to learn, or familiarize yourself with. For those that remember what they’re doing, the entire tutorial section can be skipped. For those new to the series, the tutorials are quick segments that won’t demand too much of your time, and I seriously suggest doing them.
After you become familiar with the controls, the rest of the game goes rather smoothly. Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS‘s combat has held up remarkably well, and it was a joy to shoot across the field taking out anything that stood in my way. The long-range targeting system lets you take out a ton of smaller enemies at once, and the hand to hand combat sections, while repetitive, make you feel like a mech god; dominating the field and giving you complete control of the fight.
Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS is a great way to play one of the PlayStation 2’s greatest titles. Kojima fans will surely return to this earlier title of his, while it is the only way to experience the story of Dingo and Jehuty for any newcomers to the series. While the graphics are noticeably dated, they shine in the native 4K remaster.
Playing Zone of the Enders the 2nd Runner: MARS is like catching an episode of one of your old Saturday morning cartoons. It’s a reminder of how far technology has come, but it also pulls at all of the right nostalgia strings, and you just can’t help but smile as you take it all in, again.