The 2nd Runner M∀RS Review — Uncovering A Diamond in the Rough

After other studios have been nailing it out of the park with remasters, I’ve been surprised by Konami’s restraint. While they could easily aim at a Metal Gear SolidCastlevania, or Silent Hill remaster collection, their latest project strays from the banner series’ of their collection. Instead, Konami and Cygames decided to dip into a fan-favorite: Zone of the EndersThe 2nd Runner M∀RS, the anime-themed mecha combat game that remasters the Hideo Kojima-produced PS2 original.

Let’s take a step back and go over what Zone of the Enders is for everyone who jumped on the Kojima train late. Following the success of Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation (but before Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), Konami gave the reigns to Noriaki Okamura to design a mecha-based game story with a rich cast of characters and more mature, gripping story.  Development of the game was never even-footed, with ideas–like story playing out in-game and multiple endings–being ditched halfway through the game’s timeline. Instead of an incomplete or fragmented title, Zone of the Enders was an extraordinary mix of bizarre focus points that would resonate unevenly among both critics and gamers.

Likewise, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (released between Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) carried over a lot of what made the original game special–tight controls (for the time), anime cinematics, and a new director to control the flow of the game. More importantly, the game made it a point to address the concerns that critics had with the previous title. While the story was still there, action and combat were turned up to 11 and the story itself was shrunk to a 10-hour experience. Also, the visuals of the original were deemed groundbreaking at the time:

Diving into this remaster, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS automatically starts on a high note, namely because it brings a rock-solid mecha game into the PS VR (along with PC-based VR) ecosystem. It’s almost a shame that this title wasn’t a PS VR launch title, because it is easily one of the best games in the medium. Thanks to workable controls and how natural it feels to be first-person in the hull of an Orbital Frame (combat mechas).

The game itself feels like a cool throwback, even if you are entirely new to the series. Almost any remastered PlayStation 2 game will have some degree of jankiness that is baked in–it is part of the game and what makes it special. It isn’t anything to do with how the game plays, so much as the story beats, dialogue, and actual presentation itself.

The visuals of the game remain as a strong point, with a lot carrying over from the PS3 and Xbox 360 Zone of the Enders HD Collection that came out in 2012. However, there is a breath of fresh-air lifting this further, with “enhanced graphics” and 4K resolution support so long as you have the system that can push that.  On top of that, the sound design has been improved thanks to new surround sound features.

The story (as far as I can tell) hasn’t been changed focusing on the tale of Jehuty and Dingo in their quest to repel the BAHRAM forces and, more importantly, Anubis. Although the story is generally short–a criticism that the original version weathered in its initial release–it actually benefits the game as a VR exerpeince. As much as I was enjoying hacking-and-slashing other mechas into scrap, having the PS VR on my head for over two hours is always a strain. I found myself frequently alternating between playing the game on-screen and moving back to the headset.

Of course, there are still things wrong with the game which you will find kitsch or entirely outdated. Just like other older localizations, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS keeps most of its stiff script. Even worse, we aren’t given an option for a Japanese audio track. Perhaps I’m the type of person who remembers that fondly about classic games, but don’t expect Uncharted level writing and quips.

While the VR is an immersive experience, it is far more enjoyable in the beginning of the game for a simple reason: field of view. Given that the game was made to be played in a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective, both attacking and navigating tends to be much more difficult. The result is that late-game may get too busy to get through sections without trouble.

The true recommendation of this game will come down to your attitude on older games. As I mentioned, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS has had nearly two decades of development since it first released, and more than a few strides were made in game design. If you are interested in the DNA of content creators and preserving the feel of these increasingly-retro titles, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS will be for you. On the other end, there are so many amazing games that are coming out in 2018; I think it is equally valid to say your schedule is filled up.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS is both an antique and gem of its time, and one worth reexamining–especially if you’ve got a VR headset. But before diving in head first into an Orbital Frame, run a diagnostics on whether you are interested in returning to a PS2 game.

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