Past installments of Sequel Showdown have featured a single editor’s opinion on multiple games in a series, but this time we’re going to do something a bit different. On the topic of Zone of the Enders and its sequel, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, two of our editors have very strong and contradictory opinions. Matt Beaudette and Jahanzeb Khan will both share their thoughts on the various aspects of these two games and come to their own conclusions. We’re not going to declare an overall winner like usual, instead we encourage you to come to your own conclusions based on the arguments made in this feature.
While Kojima and co. can’t seem to get their hands off Metal Gear Solid, we hope that this debate will encourage you to revisit, if not discover, this special series. Zone of the Enders 3 may be light years away from fruition, but these two games still have an important place in the current gaming landscape. Whether you hunt down the PlayStation 2 originals or pick up the convenient HD Collection, you’ll certainly find yourself experiencing two very polarizing games.
Though both games center around Jehuty and its pilots, the tone and scale of each game is quite different, leaving much of the discussion to personal taste. Zone of the Enders is a much smaller scale story, focusing primarily on the relationship between Leo and ADA as they attempt to escape the station. The 2nd Runner puts a much larger emphasis on the grander conflict that is only briefly hinted at in the original. Both games suffer from some poor english localization, but the very different nature of the plot and narrative structure left us divided on this topic.
I personally prefer the narrative aspects of The 2nd Runner over those of the original. While I can certainly appreciate the more intimate setting and character focus of the original game, the main sticking point for me was that I didn’t much care for Leo as a character. More often than not he came across as a bit annoying. I did find ADA’s progression as a character to be a highlight of the plot, but it wasn’t enough to make up for Leo’s presence. Additionally, the very unsatisfying ending that provides no real conclusion didn’t sit too well with me.
I had a much easier time getting into the story of The 2nd Runner, due in large part to the focus on fleshing out the fiction as opposed to revolving around the journey of character I didn’t care for. Dingo isn’t quite as interesting as Leo, and his relationship with ADA isn’t as well established, but the plot of The 2nd Runner is superior in my mind. The 2nd Runner has a vastly improved pace and a much clearer plot progression with a satisfying resolution. Additionally, the game does a much better job bringing substance to this fairly unique science fiction setting, which the first game really failed to do.
There’s something to be said for holding details back from the player, but I much preferred the sense of actually knowing what was going on in the world that The 2nd Runner provides over the first. I’m the type of person that loves lore, so much so that I go out my way to listen to every codex entry in Mass Effect and read every book I find in the Elder Scrolls. The approach The 2nd Runner takes in regards to lore and world building really fits my gaming sensibilities much more than the first game.
I enjoy strong character development above everything else when it comes to narrative, I also enjoy a game world that does not spend too much time explaining itself, instead letting me immerse right into it and feel like I’m a natural part of it. This is why I prefer the narrative of Zone of the Enders over its more epic and grandeur sequel.
A game world that doesn’t spend too much time explaining itself feels a lot more believable and natural, the vagueness in a way adds to the atmosphere and immersion (games like Shadow of the Colossus demonstrate this very well), and so just living through the shoes of the main characters in the space colony setting of Zone of the Enders made the experience more memorable to me.
The protagonist, Leo, was clearly inspired by Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion. But unlike his more pitiful inspiration, Leo actually grows admirably as a person. It’s a nice coming of age story for sure and more importantly his relationship with ADA, a mere operating system, makes for a compelling character driven experience. In my view, Zone of the Enders portrays a more heartwarming relationship between a human and A.I. than Halo did with Master Chief and Cortana. Leo tries to make ADA understand and appreciate the notion of being human and following one’s heart, while ADA inspires Leo to think rationally and learn to embrace challenge and responsibility. Despite the questionable dub and translation, Zone of the Enders still told a memorable story through its characters.
On the topic of narrative, we remain divided. Each game has specific strengths that appeal to our unique gaming preferences, and therefore this category is split.
Technically speaking, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner surpasses the first game in every way. It was an ambitious undertaking that really pushed the PlayStation 2 to the point where it would suffer from occasional slowdown (and understandably so). While the first game is still quite appealing and pretty even to this day, The 2nd Runner is objectively a far more richer looking game.
For one thing it literally bombards you with a ton of pretty particle and lighting effects, to the point where it’s almost overwhelming. The environments and locations exhibit a ton of detail and impressive scope, with many of the set pieces showcasing a lot of technical prowess. The textures are stronger and variety is a lot better too, unlike the first game where all the areas looked the same. The amount of colors used is almost zany, giving it a much brighter and energetic look. All the nice graphical touches come together to create one hell of a visual ecstasy.
It’s not just the technical aspects of the visuals that are much better in The 2nd Runner, but the artistic presentation as well. The decision to go with slightly stylized visuals in the sequel was a great one, and it contributes an anime sensibility to the real time graphics that perfectly complements the cinematics . Not only that, but the slight cell shading allows the game to age much better than its predecessor, which is perfectly demonstrated in the HD Collection released in 2012.
Both games use pre-rendered cinematics to tell their story, and once again it is The 2nd Runner that comes out on top. For Zone of the Enders, the developers opted to go with CGI cinematics, and time has not been too kind. CGI is an ever-evolving form of animation, still racing towards a never ending finish line in terms of fidelity. The progress made over the past decade plus in CGI quality is vast, and that is clearly evident when looking at the cinematics in Zone of the Enders. The 2nd Runner, on the other hand, goes with anime cutscenes, and needless to say anime is a much more timeless form of animation than CGI. The anime cutscenes look as good today as the day the game released, which is certainly not the case with the first game.
We are both in agreement, Zone of The Enders: The 2nd Runner is the clear winner in the visual department.
Whereas both games excel musically fairly equally, they both come up short fairly equally in terms of voice performances. Despite a decent track record with the Metal Gear games, Kojima Productions was unable to put together a very good cast for either Zone of the Enders game. Each game is filled with flat delivery and incredibly unnatural sounding inflections. You may even find yourself laughing out loud at some of the ridiculously bad line readings, which is a real shame given how great the other auditory aspects of these games can be. Though they both leave much be desired in terms of voice acting, The 2nd Runner probably suffers from this a bit more due to the increased emphasis on storytelling and higher volume of dialogue.
When I think about which game has more impressive audio, it’s not an easy choice. Musically, I simply adore both of these games. The soundtrack of The 2nd Runner perfectly encapsulates the themes of the game, and serves as not only a great soundtrack, but a fantastic score. During some of the more eventful and bombastic moments of the game, the music contributes exactly what the scene needs to bring all the elements together. While the music of The 2nd Runner succeeds in capturing specific moments, the music of the first game does a phenomenal job of establishing a mood. The feelings of isolation and survival that define the game are brilliantly reflected in the soundtrack. Though I love both soundtracks, the music of the first game stuck with me a bit more. Combining that with the fact that the poor voicing acting hurt The 2nd Runner more than the original, I have to go with Zone of the Enders for audio.
Musically, both games are drastically different from each other, and they’re both strong soundtracks for sure. Zone of the Enders has a rather dark and mellow feel in its score, while The 2nd Runner turns things up by providing a more upbeat and energetic score. The respective styles fit perfectly in each game, where Zone of the Enders was a much slower paced game while The 2nd Runner was all about high octane action. Listening to both soundtracks in the HD Collection recently, I have to say that the first game has aged a lot better. It sounds a lot more mature and rich, as it really packs sincere and somber emotional flair which adds to the story and atmosphere convincingly.
The theme songs in particular showcase this. The 2nd Runner had this hyper energetic J-Pop theme song which sounded pretty cool in context at the time, but listening to it on its own today only garners feelings of annoyance. The theme songs of the first game are out of this world and are really among the best songs ever composed for a video game. The songs have these strong undertones of heartfelt sorrow and tragedy, which really helps you get invested in the story and care for the hardships that the characters face. Even the hauntingly beautiful main menu theme of the first game is something that still instills you with awe.
Though for slightly different reasons, once again we both agree: Zone of the Enders has stronger audio.