Well now, this is interesting.

So, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS, hereafter referred to as just The 2nd Runner, is a bit of an interesting piece. A remaster of a remastered game, it's pushing the PS2 original even further from what it once was...But not only that, it stands as a symbol of an interesting new direction for Konami.

For a few years now, ever since around the release of Metal Gear Solid V, there's been this underlying tone to any discussion of Konami, where they were seemingly done making games outside of pachinko parlors. I've seen a lot of theories on why, or to what end, but the end result was that a lot of great franchises kind of disappeared.

I'd say Zone of the Enders was no exception, but really, that would imply it had been getting support before that in the first place. A franchise of only three games, all originally released within a two year period, the series simply never found the solid footing to get any kind of extensive support. It received some amount of attention with the release of the HD Collection on the PS3, collecting the two mainline games and sprucing them up a bit, but that was all the way back in 2012.

But then out of the blue comes this, a new, even more remastered take on The 2nd Runner. It's not even the only Konami rerelease in this season, with a Castlevania double-pack still to come as of this writing. Is all of this a sign of the company turning over a new leaf, or just a desperation play? That, I can't say.

But what I can say, is plenty about this game. History lesson's over. The 2nd Runner, as a sequel, builds a lot on its predecessor...But perhaps the simplest place it builds from is in sheer content. The first Zone of the Enders game is, in all honesty, practically a tech demo, with a very short story across only a few areas that mostly look similar. 

The 2nd Runner, meanwhile, does a lot to improve on that, with more actual story, more things to do, and more places to do them in. It's still a lean game without a lot of sprawl, but it feels like it's actually complete.

Rather than focusing on the protagonist of the first game, here we have an entirely new man stuck in the pilot's seat, one Dingo Egret. But the focus is still on Jehuty, the overwhelmingly powerful Orbital Frame (giant skaty murder robot) that is the central mcguffin of the entire franchise. The storyline side is all pretty straightforward.

The core gameplay is where things get...Let's call it interesting. The original Zone of the Enders games are an incredibly fascinating exploration of controls and gameplay loops, but they're still from the early days of the Playstation 2.

Some of the ramifications of this are small, like the remaster having to work around the fact that we no longer have pressure sensitive face buttons. And some are larger, like how the entire 3D movement system operates on a lock-on mechanism to orbit around targets.

Almost all of the interesting, good, and bad parts of The 2nd Runner can trace back to its vintage, in fact. Coming back to it is like opening a time capsule; cameras, control schemes, voice acting, none of these work like this anymore. When was the last time you played a game where the triangle and X buttons were for height control, and your attacks were on square and circle?

But I'll be honest, that's because not all of it works. The 2nd Runner's mechanics basically hold together, but as combat gets more intricate with larger groups of foes, the 'orbit around a single target' system starts getting really awkward, really fast. Instead of doing the intricate dogfighting the game wanted me to do in these situations, more often than not I found myself just trying to get enough room to lob charged attacks from range into the entire mob.

And the voice acting...Oh boy, the voice acting. Not just the actual voice work, but also the translation. This is from an entirely different era of translation, one that wobbled between extremes. And as could be expected from the game being produced with Kojima's help, the translations here lean hard into the attempted literalism.

But if you've followed the evolution of language translation in media, especially the recent shifts in how we deal with the ever so common Japanese -> English path, you'll know that doesn't really work. You end up with sentences that don't flow right, nuance gets lost, and sometimes the meaning changes entirely. And the whole situation gets combined with awkward voice acting that just...Like, I can't say with authority that it fails to capture the original intent, but it probably fails to capture the original intent.

I do want to be clear, I don't blame anyone who worked on this remaster, or even on the original release, for this kind of thing. A lot of this is just...It's a sign of how far we've come in the last 15-odd years(mother of god it's been that long...), that what was once a top notch performance now feels stilted and dated.

And that's kind of the recurring pattern I found, when I was playing The 2nd Runner. I'd continuously run into situations where the game felt good, I was enjoying myself, and then I was snapped back into remembering that this was a 2003 era videogame structure with a fresh coat of paint on it.

That's not to say that's entirely a bad thing. There's something a bit refreshing, in fact, in playing something that feels so different from the well-refined, well-worn loop of a more typical AAA title.

But I've got to acknowledge that it's got some stumbling blocks. And some of them stick out a lot.

So where's that leave the verdict? Well...A lot of the game works, and a lot of the problems weren't problems when it was made. So I'm leaning to Recommended. But it's a bit of a soft one, because some things age better than others. Take that how you will.