Beneath a cliched, anime-infused veneer, the Zone of the Enders series features thrilling midair combat, carried by tight controls and a surprisingly adept dynamic camera system. While the brevity and monotony of the original Zone of the Enders gave the impression that it was little more than a glorified concept demo, the arrival of the sequel, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, presented a greater spectrum of environments, scenarios, and emotions that would ultimately solidify its favor over the original.
It was also rendered at an impressive frame rate, further emphasizing the breakneck pace of combat. This detail comes to mind when contemplating the potential home run that an HD remaster of the series could be. Sadly, it seems that instead of swinging for the fences, Konami opted to bunt. The improved resolution and aspect ratio are welcome additions, but they unfortunately tax the frame-rate of the best game in the collection, The 2nd Runner.
In fairness, the remastered version of Zone of the Enders (the original game) does pick up the pace a bit, though that doesn't change the fact that the game can be completed in under five hours--five hours filled with repetitive environments, hammy dialogue, and embarrassing acting to boot. Anyone familiar with the series won't find anything new here that warrants slogging through the game yet again. At least the remaster of the original serves as an extended introduction to the world of the Enders and the Orbital Frames that rule the skies.
The sequel, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, is where you'll want to spend most of your time with the HD Collection. The scope of the narrative and the variety of missions and environments eclipse the best moments from the original. In addition to extensively upgrading the avatars and cutscenes, Konami contracted animation studio Sunrise to create an original animated sequence tying the two games together. There's also new content previously relegated to a special edition of the PlayStation 2 release that was exclusive to Asian and European markets, including extra missions, additional difficulty levels, and VR training features.
It's disappointing that the technical execution suffers so greatly. Though there are rare moments of speedy satisfaction, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions perform worse than the original. Oddly, the PlayStation 3 suffers more than the Xbox 360 version, dropping even more frames and producing odd graphical effects related to the oft-used motion-blur. Replaying the PlayStation 2 version after spending time with the HD Collection emphasizes the frame-rate discrepancy; it feels like it's on fast-forward by comparison. The remastered version is completely enjoyable and playable, but it fails to improve, or even maintain, the speed of the original SD version.
True, both titles suffer from technical and story-related shortcomings, but there are moments in each where excellence shines through and you see what made these games so enjoyable many years ago. Eventually, you find yourself participating in some of the most thrilling and engaging midair combat of this generation and the last. Battling against opposing Orbital Frames (Gundam-esque, anthropomorphized mechs) stands out as the essence of the greatness within the otherwise mediocre package. Thankfully, both games are entrenched in the nimble maneuverability of your Frame, Jehuty, as it gracefully charges, flips, and pans around its targets. Were it not for these moments, neither Zone of the Enders game would have a leg to stand on. Konami could have capitalized on these strengths even further by enabling online multiplayer, but it didn't. Combat is easily the most engaging and enjoyable aspect of both games, and online integration of the local Versus modes would have greatly extended the life of the HD Collection.
If the two games aren't enough, some people may be enticed into purchasing the HD Collection by the inclusion of the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo, though it's worth considering that the PlayStation 3 version presents game-breaking bugs linked to the bipedal mechs, known as geckos. Lock on to one, or initiate Blade mode, and the game freezes. The only remedy is a hard reset of the console. While it was easy to reproduce these bugs on the PlayStation 3, they were nonexistent in the Xbox 360 version during repeat tests.
The HD treatment, especially the widescreen aspect ratio, makes the pair of Zone of the Enders games more palatable by contemporary standards, but the chugging frame rate leaves the bitter taste of disappointment behind, inspiring thoughts of what could have been. The extra content, including the currently exclusive Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo, may be enough to justify the budget price tag of $40 to some, but it doesn't make up for the partial neutering of a game that wasn't broken to begin with.