It’s safe to say that the original Zone of the Enders didn’t end up being the system seller that Konami and the press had hyped it up to be in the months before its release nearly two years ago. Let’s be frank, it was a disappointment. Luckily, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner improves upon the groundwork that the first game laid in nearly every respect. The result, a vastly superior, if somewhat short-lived, sequel that manages to crush any remaining stigma of being “that game that came with a Metal Gear Solid 2 demo.” But even with a stylish new makeover, a less whiny protagonist, and enhanced combat, The 2nd Runner still isn’t the epic sci-fi mech brawler magnum opus that we were expecting.
As anyone who followed the storyline of the first game (read: nobody) knows, the titular “Enders” refers to alien inhabitants of Mars and Jupiter, planets that the earthlings plan on mining rare resources from. This time around, you’ll play the part of Dingo Egret, an ice harvester on the Jovian moon of Callisto, who happens across an Orbital Frame (big cocky robot war-machine) while investigating powerful Metatron readings near his work site. This Frame is Jehuty, the same mech that Leo Stenbuck came across in the original ZOE. It isn’t long before imperialistic Bahram forces attack Dingo and his co-workers, forcing Dingo to work with Jehuty to fight off the onslaught. Thus begins the story of The 2nd Runner.
Just as in the original game, you’ll control the Jehuty Orbital Frame in a fast-paced, particle effect laden 3D experience as you lay waste to hordes of robotic enemies. The immense destruction that results from Jehuty’s melee and ranged attacks is home to some of the most intensely impressive sequences that the PS2 has ever rendered in real-time. Piloting your mech with maximum efficiency does take some getting used to, and the somewhat spastic camera doesn’t help matters either, but you are always provided with clear and concise instructions on how to deal with nearly every threat in the game, so the learning curve is minimal.
All the frenetic moves from the first game makes the transition here, but The 2nd Runner also offers up a heaping serving of additional maneuvers and sub weapons. Now Jehuty can grab enemies and swing them at other enemies or even throw them against other mechs causing major damage. Additionally, you can now simultaneously lock on to dozens of enemies and unleash a wave of homing lasers at them. You’ll also be able to flip between sub weapons with the D-pad and utilize various weapons that you’ve acquired during the course of the game. These sub weapons range from paralyzing ranged attacks, homing missiles, spread shots, mines, teleportation, and charged attacks. In total, you can expect to acquire 12 sub weapons, all of them uniquely useful.
Unlike the original ZOE, The 2nd Runner is far more diverse in terms of objectives. Whereas the first game was almost exclusively focused on combat, this game ekes out a completely new method of progression from mission to mission. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does have a tendency to trash any semblance of cohesiveness that the experience could have had if only you weren’t forced to adapt to the ever-changing requirements of each objective. One moment you’ll be navigating your way through repetitive corridors, the next you’ll be hunting down your allies and paralyzing them to avoid unnecessary civilian bloodshed. It’s really a hodgepodge of objectives that just ends up feeling a little too unrelated.
But one thing that stays consistent throughout the experience is the sheer joy you’ll get from pounding countless foes with a myriad of weapons while maneuvering with utmost precision and quickness. Demolishing enormous armies of enemy forces quickly becomes second nature and every set of objectives is capped off by clever and intense boss battles that often require strategic planning over mindless button-mashing. The beauty of Hideo Kojima’s pre-scripted sequences in the game, which often preface or conclude a particularly nasty battle, is something that simply must be seen in motion to appreciate. The production values instilled in Zone of the Enders 2 are off the charts, making for a veritable feast of tasty eye candy. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and The 2nd Runner is no exception, petering out at around 10 hours, cinematic cut-scenes included.
The original ZOE was no slouch in the graphics department but The 2nd Runner is considerably better looking all around. Aside from allowing for more objects and enemy mechs on-screen at one time, and an amazing amount of impressive particle effects that erupt from every explosion (sometimes taking up the entirety of the screen), Konami and Co. gave the whole experience a cel-shaded makeover that gives the game an edgy sense of flair while avoiding the cartoony effect that usually comes from employing such a technique. Also, the 3D cut-scenes from the original are replaced with hand-drawn anime cinemas that push the game’s sense of style over the limit. Occasionally, slowdown tends to creep up when too many things are happening at once and the camera can be problematic, but overall The 2nd Runner is an amazing looking game that is in a class of its own.
The audio elements are pretty good, though the voice acting blights an otherwise solid presentation. Konami really should have taken more care with the game’s localization because as it is, the intricate storyline often stumbles due to ham-fisted voice-overs. However, the sweeping musical orchestrations and powerful sound effects that come from immense explosions sound great, immersing the player in the world of ZOE with aplomb.
When it comes down to it, despite the game’s lack of length, shoddy voice work, and occasional graphical glitches, you can’t help but love Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner all the same. It may not take long to beat, but there is a good amount of unlockable missions, time trials, and a fairly entertaining versus mode to be had once you do. Overall, The 2nd Runner is a great candidate for a rental since it can be polished off in around 10 hours, but it is also a good choice for purchase due to all the additional goodies that come with the main experience. Recommended either way.