Zone of the Enders 2: The Second Runner (opens in new tab) is still impossibly cool. It should not be this cool, because 15 years have passed since its mecha designs and anime cutscenes and laser particle effects first wowed on the PlayStation 2. It should not be this cool because it stars a character named Dingo Egret, and the word dingo may be spoken more in ZOE2 than in any other game in history. Every time someone says dingo, it's hard not to laugh.
But here we are: this lavish 4K remaster looks remarkably sharp as Zone of the Enders 2 arrives on PC for the first time, and it's the best reason I've had to put on a VR headset all year. I spent about four hours learning how to pilot Jehuty, Dingo's prominently codpieced mech, in a wholly new first-person VR mode designed for the remaster. This VR mode, better than anything else I've played, sells the fantasy of being a mecha pilot in an over-the-top anime.
At first VR does feel a bit tacked-on: the opening minutes are cinematic heavy, and watching those cutscenes play out on a flat floating rectangle in VR is a reminder that this game was built for a TV screen. But once I got in Jehuty and started flying around, taking out other mechs, everything changed.
There's a whole new UI for first-person mode, which gives you a cockpit view that fills your field of vision. The adaptation works: in a few hours of playing, I never got queasy.
"To prevent motion sickness, we used a vignette when players move their heads during the game," developers from Konami and Cygames told me in an email follow-up. "Also, by changing the player perspective from third-person to first-person, it is a bit hard for player to recognize what they are doing during the game, so we displayed a hologram Jehuty on the lower-right corner in the cockpit view to make it clear what the player is doing." A ring floats around that holographic model of Jehuty, serving as a 3D radar.
To make navigation easier, there are new waypoint markers threaded through the environment that you can lock on to and easily move toward by pressing forward. It's a compromise that loses some of the freeform flow you'd have playing in third-person and gives ZOE2 the vague feeling of being an on-rails shooter. But those markers help make up for the lack of peripheral vision and keep VR from feeling too fiddly. And you're free to ignore them and jump the rails whenever you choose.
Combat got a similar tweak: every time you take out an enemy the camera snaps to another one, which is jarring but never made me motion sick, and it helped me stay focused on the action. That was welcome, because mechs in Zone of the Enders are not lumbering behemoths. Even on the new "VeRy Easy" mode designed for VR, combat gets intense quickly. Hordes of drones will flit around you like robot hell bees while larger enemies swoop in with beam swords or pelt you with lasers from afar.(opens in new tab)
Fighting them in VR is definitely clumsy at first, and will never be as speedy and balletic as it is in third-person, where you can see so much more. But that brings us back to Zone of the Enders' ultimate appeal: it is cool. I was in that cockpit locking onto a dozen drones at a time and watching a swarm of lasers erupt from my screen and blast them into particles. I hurled Jehuty towards enemy mechs with a boost and a flurry of melee combos before spiking them into the dirt. I charged up a giant ball of energy and flung it at another mech to disintegrate it in one shot.
A year before Zone of the Enders 2 was released, Capcom's Xbox game Steel Battalion sold itself as the ultimate mech fantasy with a giant controller that simulated the cockpit. Zone of the Enders 2 doesn't have that, but it does have the immersive power of VR on its side, and that's enough to make you feel like you're inside the most stylish mech game ever made.
A new Zone of the Enders made from the ground up for VR would be incredible. This one, in the meantime, is still as cool as it ever was. You'll occasionally remember it's a PS2 game, with simplistic missions and bland environments, but those never really stand in the way of how fun and flashy its action is in every battle. And it's occasionally stunning how good the mechs themselves look: Konami and Cygames created entirely new textures for them, rather than running old ones through an upscaler.
The added options and features—like Dolby Atmos, specific to the PC version—make this "M∀RS" edition feel more loved than the average remaster, and it was the combined effort of multiple teams. "The dev team at Cygames consists of many fans of the original version!" wrote Cygames' Kenichi Kondo. "Actually, we approached Konami and mentioned that we really wanted to work on the remaster before we even started development. Everyone on the development team played both the original and HD edition during the development process, regardless of whether they played ZOE previously or not. Also, the staff who were mainly involved in the quality improvement process of the HD edition also contributed to the development."
And the VR mode, a completely new way to play the game, is also completely optional. The game's out on September 4, and otherwise here as you remember it: same Dingo, same campy voice acting, and new textures to paper over the passage of time. May we all age so gracefully.(opens in new tab)