Zone of the Enders is embarrassingly short, repetitive, packed with piss-poor weapons and has a plot that makes no sense. Yet somehow I found myself quite enjoying it.
I think I’m right in saying that it was one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 2, and at the time reviewers were wowed by its next-generation graphics. Even in the HD edition it looks a bit dated nowadays, particularly the cut scenes, with their weird approximations of human beings – imagine the odd-looking humans in the original Toy Story after they’ve survived a terrible plastic-surgery mishap. But the robot-on-robot action moves at a terrific pace, and I can imagine many PS2 owners wheeled out this game to show off the prowess of their new machine.
That said, I do remember seeing preowned displays practically knee-deep in copies of this game not long after its release – probably because you could finish the whole thing in a day. I saw off the story in about 7 hours, but you could easily do it a lot quicker, and there’s not much reason to return. It’s something that would have annoyed me 20 years ago, but nowadays with my boring, responsible adult life, a lovely short game that I can finish in a couple of nights is a real blessing.
The actual gameplay involves boosting about in your ‘orbital frame’ (i.e. massive robot) and essentially whacking the square button as fast as you can when you encounter any other massive robots. There are about ten or so secondary weapons you can collect over the course of the game, yet all but three – which you get right near the end – are utterly useless. I mean REALLY useless. I tried using them occasionally as an alternative to just going up to enemies and whacking them in the head with my big fancy sword, but I may as well have just been breathing heavily on them for all the damage they cause. It’s a shame, because just flailing your sword around all of the time gets old pretty quickly, and it doesn’t help that there are only three (yes, three) types of enemy – all of which require pretty much the same tactics. That is – you guessed it – smashing them about the body and face with cold steel (or whatever your future sword is made of).
And yet. AND YET. I still found it strangely enjoyable. Perhaps it’s just the catharsis of beating things up while piloting a big robot. Perhaps its just the frenetic pace of the battles. Or maybe its because I just really love how sparks fly from your pointy metal feet when you boost along the floor. (I never got tired of that – sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going.)
I even started enjoying the utterly bizarre plot. Some bad enemy robots attack a space station around Jupiter for some reason, and a kid who looks about nine ends up piloting an advanced robot for some reason, then some crazy woman in a kick-ass robot starts murdering everyone FOR SOME REASON. Then it ends with a climactic battle that I won’t spoil for you here, except to say that IT MAKES NO SENSE.
Still, the game gets noticeably better as it goes on. The first dozen or so levels are pretty much identical – go to an area, kill all of the robots there, repeat – but the final string of bosses are great fun to fight, and just before the end it mixes up the gameplay a little by charging you with finding bombs while fighting off bad guys. If the ideas from those last few levels were expanded across the game as a whole, it would have been much better. As it is, it’s a pretty weak and repetitive game that’s worth playing through to get a glimpse of the PS2’s past, but otherwise hardly a classic.
It’s basically FINE.