With the Oct 30 release of Zone of the Enders HD Collection, we take a look back into the history of the series, what could be instore for the third episode and why you need to take a look at the HD Collection.
Almost every gamer who was around when the PS2 debuted has their short list of favorite titles, and to be fair more than a few franchises got their major boost at the time, including the Moto series, Midnight Club, and SSX, while other series greatly benefited from their presence on the newest PlayStation -- Madden and the NHL series come to mind -- but very few games have the deep and abiding emotional draw that provokes nostalgia like Zone of the Enders (ZOE to its fan base), and the sequel title, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner.
When ZOE launched its reception was open-armed by gamers all over the world, and it was strongly felt that it was the opening salvo in establishing a game franchise of the first order. Created by well known game visionary Hideo Kojima, ZOE was published by Konami, a studio and publisher that already had a well-established reputation for putting out quality games spanning everything from arcade to the fighting genres, and as gamers drank in the excitement and entertainment offered by the first title it officially became a series when Konami and Kojima confirmed that a sequel was in the works.
As the second title in the now officially branded "Enders Series" hit store shelves the popularity of the stories and the characters was affirmed as the game branched out into the sequel, a Game Boy Advance side-story, and an OVA movie as well as a twenty-six episode anime television series. In simple terms it seemed like the game and its calling were an established fact, and that there would be a lot more to look forward to. But then the third game in the main series just never materialized, leaving gamers all over the world both wondering why, and pining for another dose.
-- A Little Ender History --
If you were not around for the first two games in the series, you don't know that it was set in the late 22nd century, during an era in which man had succeeded in the colonization of Mars as well as other space colonies thanks to two scientific advances: the development of the Mecha Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle, or LEV, and the discovery of Metatron, a high-energy ore found on Callisto.
As the economic and power bases developed in the solar system, the powers that be back on Earth changed their view of the colonists on both Mars and Jupiter, branding them with the pejorative "Enders" and imposing harsh anti-Ender laws and taxes against them. Basically they sought to exert control over the Enders by restricting their access to Earth-created goods and resources, hoping to exert more control over them. That did not sit very well with the colonial powers, who adamantly opposed what they correctly viewed as oppression from Earth, eventually transforming their anger into direct action thanks to the Mecha called BAHRAM, Orbital Frames which were the proverbial iron fist with which the battle was taken forward, and other weapons that they could use to fight back, but in the process the line became blurred between oppressor and the oppressed.
While the story of the Enders includes a series of plots and subplots that span the two games, offering a rich cultural identity that is firmly based upon ancient Egyptian culture and myth -- a good example of this are the two main Orbital Frames, which were named after Egyptian gods -- with much of the story and its inherent emotional identity linked to the two, which were diametrically opposed to each other and served as the most obvious form of protagonist and antagonist in the story.
While the two Orbital Frames are often placed within the story as objects of opportunity with respect to the humans who end up allied to them, there is a clear moral and ethical undercurrent present that neatly defines the substance behind why they exist as opposing forces in the universe; that undercurrent can be most easily defined by the respect -- or lack thereof -- for human life that is held by the AI that powers the Frames and the people who either work with, or end up serving it. The AI for each of the Frames actually plays a major role and present as major characters in the story, as the protagonist AI continues to develop her relationship with the "runner" who pilots her Frame, while the antagonist drives their runner insane by taking over their consciousness and mind in order to control them!
-- The First Era Games --
The title that established the series, Zone of the Enders, tells the story of a boy named Leo Stenbuck, who is a colonist from Jupiter that accidentally finds himself piloting the Orbital Frame Jehuty, and through a series of likely and unlikely events finds himself facing off against a threat he could never have imagined. As he manages the process of learning to trust his own instincts and the guidance of the AI that becomes his friend he faces the ultimate challenge, and becomes the savior of humanity - sort of.
In Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (known as Anubis: Zone of the Enders in Japan), two years after the events of the first game a new pilot named Dingo Egret (surely a dnkum Aussie bloke having a name like that!) finds Jehuty on the Moon of Callisto, and as his story unfolds he finds himself battling against Colonel Nohman of the BAHRAM Army, the pilot of Jehuty's sister Frame and opposite, Anubis along with a superweapon that once again poses a serious threat to humanity.
The third title in the series really was not part of the main series at all, which is why most gamers and fans of the Enders do not count it as the third game in the series -- having been created for the Gameboy Advanced and all, but it does add to the depth of the stories that came before. Called Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars (AKA "Zone of the Enders: 2173 Testament" in Japan), the game presents as a side-story that details a conspiracy involving the construction of new Orbital Frames for Earth -- which any way you look at it is not a good thing. The protagonist this time is a young man named Cage Midwell who finds himself joining the resistance organization known as BIS and playing a pivotal role in what turns out to be a rather historical event.
-- The Return of the First Era in One Go --
At E3 2011 one of the surprise announcements was the "Zone of the Enders HD Collection" that marked a return of the games from the first era in the form of a complilation of the two main Zone of the Enders games to be released not just on PlayStation 3 as you might expect, but also for the PS Vita and Xbox 360.
The collection features an updated interfaces for HD resolution, completely remastered art, re-recorded audio, new rumble support for the gamepads, and an aggressive collection of Trophies/Achievements that have been added to both reward the player and provide incentive. The collection was presented not as a reboot of the series, but simply as a re-introduction that included all new platforms, Konami are releasing this HD version on October 30th, 2012.
However, there was another surpise instore for all ZOE fans at the E3 2011 presentation as it was revealed that a new game was also in the works! Fans at the show were stunned -- and happy -- to learn that the story that was long thought lost in the ether was in fact destined to return, and so it is!
-- The New Era Enders --
When Kojima announced Zone of the Enders 3: Enders Project, the details included that the Anubis Mecha would return as the focus for the game, but he took care to stress that the details being offered -- beyond simply confirming that a third game for the main series was in the works -- were intended to serve as information about the project and not set-in-stone elements of the game itself. Part of the reveal included hints that gamers can expect something of a prequel feel to the title, and that it may take place as part of a new era and story.
Information about the game has been very hard to come by, as the development team has held it close to the chest, though there have been plenty of hints -- at the E3 announcement a series of artwork and cells were on display that heavily emphasized the Egyptian feel and connections, leading to rampant speculation about the possibility that the game might focus upon the origins of the Mecha, the ancients, and perhaps even go back to the very roots of the creation of the pair of Mecha!
In April 2012 developer Hideo Kojima appeared at the Sony Manhattan press briefing, showed a trailer for ZOE3, and then stunned the audience by announcing that Zone of Enders 3 was to be a PS3 exclusive -- the information being received by the games media as something of a surprise, since the release of the HD compilation included the Vita and the Xbox 360, so naturally it was widely anticipated that the new platforms would be included for the newest title.
In addition to the exclusivity, the following details for the game were confirmed:
-- Drop in, Drop out Co-Op gameplay -- New Multiplayer component featuring orbital frame air battles -- Complete graphic redesign using the Fox Engine -- Leo Stenbuck and Dingo Egret will both be in the title and may be playable at some point. -- New Protagonist (No name or description offered)
A few weeks ago Amazon.com's Italian Website added Zone of the Enders 3 to its pre-orders section for video games, and in addition to the pre-order for PlayStation 3, also placed a pre-order page for Xbox 360, which contradicts the PS3-Exclusive announcement last April at the Sony Presser. The pages are still online at the Italian site, so there may be something to it after all, though calls to Konami could not confirm that the Xbox 360 is indeed an added platform for the title.
While the details so far have been sparse, we are assured that news is coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled to the news ticker and look for us to feature it when it becomes available -- hint: that could be very soon!