Monday, November 11, 2013

XCOM Tips Because I feel like it

Lately I've been playing a lot of XCOM.  You could say it's because Enemy Within is coming up, but honestly I've just been in the mood.  I started playing on Classic, with Marathon enabled.  Initially, I also had the Slingshot missions enabled, but I found that they actually make the early game harder without what I consider to be a worthwhile payoff.

Anyway, because I've been playing a lot of XCOM, I've been thinking a lot about XCOM.  And how I can play better.  This is some of the stuff I've come up with.

Don't let the loss of a few countries deter you.  Losing a country is heartbreaking,  because you often feel like there's something you should have been able to do to prevent it.  After losing a couple of countries I started to think about quitting and restarting.  Don't let the loss of a few countries throw you into despair!  Remember that the only way to get a game over in XCOM is to lose several countries (8, to be precise).  Even with a few gone, as long as you continue to expand your satellite coverage you'll still get the resources you need to keep going.  Just do your best to prevent it from happening again.  Which brings me to my next, contradictory point....

Do everything in your power to prevent countries from leaving.  Loss of a country is permanent.  Once they're gone, they're gone and there's nothing you can do to reverse that (except for reloading a previous save if you're not on Ironman).  The loss of money and resources is one thing, but losing a country also locks you out of getting access to that continent's collective bonus (like "All In" or "We Have Ways)".  Council missions and terror missions both typically reduce panic (terror missions in particular can really turn things around for you if you ace them), but your most reliable method of suppressing panic will be to build satellites.

Prioritize satellites.  The game doesn't quite convey how important satellites are to keeping things under control.  Satellites are extremely important, and you should devoting as many resources as you can spare to getting more of them up as soon as possible.  First of all, as soon as you launch a satellite, though it takes a couple days for it to be operational, the country you launch it over will immediately lose panic.  Second, each satellite adds anywhere from 70 to 180 credits (depending on the country) to your monthly stipend, as well as more staff (either scientists or engineers).  Having full satellite coverage of a continent nets you that continent's collective bonus.  Finally, satellites detect UFOs (which is why you're launching them in the first place).  Sometimes they'll be in flight (you'll need to shoot it down), sometimes they'll have already landed.  Either way, you'll want to send a strike team to kill any aliens in detected UFOs.  UFO missions are lucrative because they not only present a prime opportunity to capture aliens (including certain special types that mostly only appear in UFOs), but they're your main source of alien resources such as alloys, Elerium, and power sources.  You'll also often end up with damaged resources that can be freely sold on the Gray Market for some extra pocket change.  So, in short, more satellites = more money, more resources, and more perks.  Get them in the air as soon as possible.  If that means having to build workshops for more engineers and power generators to support the addition of more uplink, so be it.  Also, don't wait for more uplink to buy more satellites.  Each one takes about 20 days to build, which is quite a long time.  There's no consequence for having ones lying around that you don't have the uplink for, so as long as you can afford to, you should build them ahead of time so they can be ready to launch when you DO have the available uplink capacity.  It's also worth noting that satellite coverage cuts down on abductions.  Once you have full coverage abduction missions become extremely rare.

Prioritize weapons.  Armor is all well and good, but even with the best armor in the game your soldiers are far from invincible.  Dead aliens from more potent weapons are a much safer proposition than fighting live aliens with better armor.  I would recommend at least pushing for laser weapons as soon as possible.  If necessary, plasma can wait, but the conventional bullet weapons you start with simply do not have the killing power to effectively deal with Mutons and Chryssalids, two enemies you'll start encountering fairly early.  After satellites, weapons development should be one of your top priorities.

Stay together.  The average alien is significantly more dangerous than the average XCOM recruit, and aliens rarely travel alone so you shouldn't either.  Don't stay too close together, as that leaves you open to Thin Men poison clouds or worse, getting blown to hell by grenades.  But it's important that everyone stays close enough together to be able to tackle threats as a team.  Even as a Colonel, units shouldn't normally be expected to go toe to toe with some of the tougher enemies by themselves.  Eventually you'll have the killing power and squad size to split up into three man fireteams and generally still operate effectively (and in the case of larger UFOs this is probably the recommended course of action), but I wouldn't splinter the group any more than that.

Don't forget about your Interceptors.  The Interceptor metagame--the mechanic of building and maintaining an international air force capable of defending your airspace against UFOs--is expensive, and a real time sink in terms of in-game time.  And it will often force you to divert resources (particularly research) away from other important things to focus on it.  But it is important, and if you neglect it you'll regret it.  If you're going to launch a satellite over a new continent, be prepared to have at least one or two Interceptors transferred to that continent too.  After all, there's no point in detecting a UFO that you can't touch.  UFOs that are allowed to roam freely on your watch--either because you have no Interceptors in the area to send after it, or because the Interceptors you DID send after it were shot down--are extremely dangerous to your panic levels.  Often, letting a UFO get away will lead to that UFO directly causing an increase in panic in that country.  Occasionally, that UFO will shoot down a satellite, which in most cases will probably lead to that country instantly hitting maximum panic, and you being unable to build a replacement satellite in time to stop them from leaving.  I know Interceptors seem like something that's expensive and don't really pay off (and technically it doesn't directly pay off), but they are necessary to keep things under control.

Interceptors are important, but Interceptor weapons don't have to be.  With just the basic Avalanche missiles, your Interceptors will eventually be outmatched by larger and more advanced UFOs, but you can compensate for that by simply having more Interceptors.  UFOs keep their damage from each encounter, and three Interceptors can probably take down a UFO that a single Interceptor couldn't, even with Avalanche missiles.  This probably won't work forever, but it will work long enough for you to bypass a couple tiers of Interceptor weapons and go straight to Plasma or EMP cannons, which will carry you through the end of the game.  And I find it more resource-efficient to just buy and maintain more Interceptors than to divert research time and money to regularly developing and deploying new weapons and equipment for a couple of them.

It pays to capture aliens.  Though you'll be forced to capture a few specific aliens to complete the game, there's no need to stop with just the ones that are important to the story.  All aliens other than robots and Chryssalids can be captured, which allows you to interrogate them for benefits.  Sometimes it's a new item to be researched or developed in the Foundry, other times it's research credit towards a specific category of stuff.  For example, capturing and interrogating a Sectoid gives you research credit towards beam weapons research, which halves the time it takes for you research all laser weaponry.  Furthermore, any alien you capture will have their gun (if they have one) confiscated in one piece, and that gun can then be given to your soldiers to use after you research it.  This is a cheap (albeit risky) way to get plasma weapons earlier than you would normally get them.

Be aware that alien progression works mostly on time.  It's been said that the aliens have their own agenda, and the invasion will progress whether you're ready for it or not.  There are only a select few aliens whose appearances are tied to specific events.  Chryssalids appear for the first time in your first Terror Mission.  Outsiders appear exclusively in UFOs.  Sectoid Commanders and Ethereals also do not appear until specific story events occur.  All other aliens appear on a somewhat loose but fixed schedule.  You can expect Thin Men to appear within the first couple of weeks, then Floaters and Mutons a month or two later, eventually followed by Cyberdiscs, Drones, and more as time progresses.  UFOs also get larger and more difficult to take down as time progresses.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

E3 Thoughts

A lot happened.  Take a seat.
  • Xbox Live Gold is gonna be offering some free games for the time being.  Sounds like they want some of that PS+ pie, but with Assassin's Creed 2 and Halo 3, they're not off to a particularly great start.  But it's something.
  • MS whispered some poison into Insomniac's ears, and now Insomniac's working the other side.  Oh well.
  • Quantum Break could be really cool or really dumb.  Knowing Remedy, I'm prepared for the latter.
  • MS is getting rid of Microsoft Points for Xbox One.  Thank god.
  • Titanfall sounds really awesome.  I'm glad it's coming to PC, or I'd be pissed.
    • I'm guessing it's a timed exclusive.  When will MS learn?
  • They didn't seem to have much to say about the Vita, which is saddening.
  • Square Enix couldn't even be bothered to send a damn intern out to LA announce two of their biggest franchises?  A fucking video message, yeah I'm kind of annoyed.
  • Final Fantasy 15 will be excellent.  Given that SE couldn't even promise it would be out by the end of 2014 (remember this game was announced about 5 years ago), we also probably won't see it any time soon.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 was a tease if I've ever seen one.  SE says it's coming.  I say it's coming in about 10 years.  Nice that they know what we want, at least.
  • Watchdogs looks alright.
  • The inFamous Second Son trailer was remarkably good.  It also looks like more inFamous, which is fine I guess.  I'm hoping it's a bit more evolved than it looked in the few bits of gameplay I saw.
  • Destiny looks really cool, though I guess I was expecting something a bit more revolutionary.
  • Sony kind of unloaded on MS when they got to the price and policies.  It was like watching a whole bunch of nuclear ICBMs leave their silos.  You knew whoever they were targeting was fucked.
    • Let's get this straight.  Sony made a superior machine (technically speaking) and is selling it for $100 less.
    • DRM?  No used games?  Online checks?  Pfft.  Only silly people do that, says Andrew House.
    • That's $400 with the Playstation Eye bundled in, just so you know.  No $450 "Pro" bundle.
  • Sony trotted a bunch of indies out on stage.  Some of their games, like Galak-Z and Secret Poncho looked really fun.
  • SuperGiant games announced Transistor is coming to Playstation platform(s).  Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is a turn of events, given Bastion's appearance on seemingly every platform available EXCEPT for Playstation (and Nintendo...).
  • Driveclub sounds neato.  Apparently you get it for free on launch day with PS+, but they emphasized that it was the "PS+ Edition," which leads me to believe it will be at least somewhat gimped.
  • The Order looked interesting.
  • Maybe the Gaikai streaming thing isn't a pipe dream after all.  Sony's announcing it for 2014.
  • The Last Guardian never coming out is a legitimate possibility.  I think if I were Sony I would trash the project.  There's no way a game like that will recoup the costs it has no doubt accumulated over the years.
  • Looks like PS+ will be required for online play on PS4.  Sony's finally taken that step.  All things considered, it's a minor negative, but a negative all the same.  Sony's only doing it because they know that it's one con in a sea of pros, and it won't make them look bad against MS, who's been doing it forever.  Won't effect me personally for the time being, as I have PS+ through 2015 or so, but it is unfortunate.
  • They started backtracking a little bit the day afterwards on the policies thing.  Tretton says publishers can do whatever they like where DRM is concerned.  Yoshida assured the Podcast Beyond boys that DRM wouldn't be a thing on PS4.  Sony is dangerously close to making the same PR mistakes Microsoft did just a couple weeks ago.
  • The system itself looks pretty nice.  The back is all pretty much all ventilation, except for where the ports are.
  • HDD is user-replaceable, which I appreciate very much.
  • So it seems like the $400 price point DOESN'T include the Playstation Eye.  Unfortunate, but probably a necessary sacrifice to keep the price down.  If I were Sony, I might have considered offering a $500 SKU with 1TB of storage and the Eye included, but after the SKU mess they had last generation with the PS3, I can respect them wanting to just have one version for now.
  • Though it didn't seem to get a lot of attention on stage, the Vita does have more than its fair share of games to show at the event.  Unfortunately, most of them are either ports, indie games or sequels/expansions.  No big new IPs, like Gravity Rush or Soul Sacrifice.  I don't think anybody can truly say the Vita doesn't have any games, but without a few big, unique titles to tether the other games, I think it will continue to have perception issues.
  • Wii U still doesn't look like much of a proposition at the moment.  Wind Waker HD alone won't sell me.
  • 3DS, on the other hand, is looking like just the ticket.
  • Fairy type in Pokemon sounds incredibly dumb.  But I won't knock it until I see it in action.

  • Mirror's Edge 2; another tease.  EA knows we want it, which is nice.
  • Garden know what?  Might be cool.
  • I almost forgot they announced a new Battlefront game.  I should be overjoyed...but for some reason I'm not.  Maybe I need some gameplay.
  • I guess I'm kind of a sucker for racing games, because The Crew got my interest.
  • For all its new trappings, Assassin's Creed IV looks like more Assassin's Creed.  For better or worse.
  • Ubisoft didn't say anything about Beyond Good and Evil 2.  Very tragic.
  • Metal Gear Solid 5 looks awesome.  I can only hope it can live up to all that potential.
So in short.  Microsoft made a turn for the worse, Sony made a turn for the better, and Nintendo and most publishers played it safe.


I don’t like the idea of turning this into something where I just post random thoughts.  I started this blog wanting to focus more on long form writing, and that’s still what I want to do.  But I rarely have time.

What I hate even more than the idea of turning this into a game diary, however, is the idea of letting this blog sit and fade away.  So I will write.  It probably won’t be a review, or an editorial, or something intensive, but I will write.

Anyway, I'm playing a lot of games.

Ace Attorney HD Trilogy; Capcom was kind of enough to release all three of the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games on iOS.  I'm replaying the first one on iPad now.  It's lovely.  The port isn't perfect--the UI could be better, and you can't fast-forward through text--but the ability to have all three games in one app running at Retina display resolution (complete with HD sprites) is worth any minor caveat.

Injustice: Gods Among Us; I bought this game on the cheap, mainly because I wanted to be awesome with The Flash.  To my surprise, while I still have the highest win ratio with the scarlet speedster, I'm having a lot of fun playing Hawkgirl and Catwoman, as well.  Still, having gotten into fighting games with BlazBlue, I have a hard time getting behind 3D fighters.  I don't dislike them, but they're just so...slow.  Injustice is nice for when I just want to sit back a little bit, but I'm used to every split-second being of vital importance.  Anyway, the story mode was also really cool.  It's kind of like a big, long, big budget superhero movie that happens to be interactive.  And they tease a sequel at the end!

Company of Heroes; I was excited for Company of Heroes 2, and resigned myself to the fact that I would end up buying it day one.  But then I booted up the original, and realized how little of it I had actually played.  I've played dozens of hours of Company of Heroes, but I never actually finished the campaign missions.  Considering there's like 40 of them, and each can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, that's not crazy, I suppose.  But I'm not going to get CoH 2 until I at least beat the campaigns in the original.

Anyway, I really love Company of Heroes, even though I'm really bad at it.  It just nails the atmosphere so well.  When you have dudes yelling and screaming and running as the ear-piercing sound artillery shells slamming into the ground mingles with that of bullets whizzing through the air and tank engines humming away, you know you've got a birds eye view of a battlefield.  It's gritty, it's nervewracking, and it's exciting.

Sleeping Dogs; I bought this game some time ago, and never got around to trying it until now.  It's pretty good.  A solid 8.5.  There are some spots where you can tell that it's been to hell and back in the dev cycle (the dating mechanic is stunningly underdeveloped, for example), but overall it's impressive that it not only came out, but came out to be as good as it did.  The voice acting and writing is excellent, the story is engaging, and the gameplay is competent at worst and really satisfying at best.  And--at least on PC--it looks gorgeous.  Just like Not Ping.

Remember Me; I like Remember Me.  I think it's a solid game.  It's not without its issues, but most of those issues reside in its somewhat simplistic gameplay, and its underdeveloped mechanics.  The world it's set in is fantastic.  Not since Mirror's Edge have I seen a game with such an interesting and well-defined setting, and such incredibly strong visual direction.  Neo Paris is perhaps even more fascinating to me than Bioshock Infinite's Columbia, another world full of wonder and intrigue.  The gameplay is fine.  It has its moments of excitement and fun, but in general never seems to achieve greatness.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

So the semester's over.

Not really relevant to the discussion, but an awesome image all the same.
Lately, I've been having a ton of trouble finding inspiration to write.  There have been more than a handful of games I've played that I felt I really wanted to write about, and would even keep notes on.  But when I sit down to write a full post, I just peter out.
It sucks.

I'm not really sure what to do about it.  But in the meantime, I've been reading some comics.  I started reading volume 2 of the Flash.  That's Wally West's run.  Written by Mark Waid, it ran for about 240 issues.  I'm a little over halfway through it.  It's really, really good.  Not just because Flash is my favorite superhero, but because they're legitimately entertaining, interesting stories.  And because Wally West shows more growth as a character than I'm used to seeing in a comic book.  The Wally West I'm reading about is very different from the one who first took up the mantle of The Flash in issue #1.  He's confident, he's experienced, and he knows exactly what he's fighting for.  All of these are traits that he gained, one by one, through various story arcs across Waid's run.  It's great.

I also read through Stephanie Brown's run as Batgirl (otherwise known as Batgirl volume 3).  While I adore Cassandra Cain, I've always been somewhat indifferent to Stephanie.  I don't particularly like or dislike her.  My introduction to her was in the later issues of Robin, and her frequent appearances throughout Batgirl volume 2.  Having finished Steph's run, I still don't think that as an individual she's a particularly great character.  Rather, I think that Stephanie is made a better character through her association with other characters.  The best, most entertaining parts of her existence have typically involved dialogue between her and other characters, like her consistently amusing banter with Damian, her friendship with Cassandra, and her partnership with Barbara.  If nothing else, Stephanie has a real penchant for bringing out better sides in the people she interacts with, and as characters, both parties benefit from it.

Next semester will the first in several years where I won't be taking a Japanese class (it's gonna be a general req semester).  So I've been looking for ways to compensate.  I figured it was about time I tried my hand at regular application of the language, so I picked up the visual novel Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate, which simply means "Love, Elections and Chocolate."  I chose this one because I saw the anime recently and enjoyed it, but like many adaptations I felt like there should have been more to it.  So I looked up its source material and found out that was a VN, and one with rather pretty art at that.  I guess you could say the stars aligned?  Anyway, it took me most of the day but I got it rigged up and working properly, and I've actually been progressing pretty smoothly.  Granted, it takes me maybe six times longer to read through a sentence in Japanese than it would take me to read it in English, but I imagine these things take time.  Maybe if I keep at it, eventually it will only take me three times longer, instead.  The thing with VNs is that they have an incredible amount of monologue, which I usually don't like.  But in this case I suppose it's good practice.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I predict a hiatus.

My bandwidth cap reset, so I used my newfound Internet freedom to resume anime watching.  In fact, partially because this semester is looking to be my busiest yet, and partially because I feel like I've let them become too central in my life, I intend to switch gears a little bit away from videogames, at least for the next few months.  I'd like to get back to my other hobbies, which also happen to be easier to engage in small chunks.

While I waited for my cap to reset, I settled into rewatching my favorite anime--Spice and Wolf--on the Blu-Ray set I bought a while back.  Just as good as I remember.

Though I have been playing games, there are very few that I feel like writing a post about.

Dead Space 2; Always on the lookout for new podcasts, I recently started listening to Rebel FM.  Going through their stuff, I ended up listening to their "Game Club" on Dead Space 2, where they basically go through the entire game from beginning to end, thoroughly discussing it on a moment-to-moment basis.  I imagine it was a rather exhaustive work, and listening to it compelled me to pick up DS2 again, like I've been meaning to.  I've already beaten the game 1.5 times (I left off my NG+ save in Chapter 6).  But I didn't want to pick up in the middle, so I started a new game.  This time though, I'm playing on Survivalist.  It's not nearly as harsh as I was anticipating, though.  I'm actually ending up with more items than I know what to do with, mainly because I don't get hit often and so far have managed to be pretty efficient with my ammo.  Maybe I should have gone for Zealot instead.  Anyway, I was entertaining the thought of doing a Hardcore run, but there's no way I'll have time for that in the near future.

Dead Space 3; Dead Space as a series seems to be suffering from the same thing Resident Evil did going into RE5, which is that everyone (Capcom notwithstanding) has their own idea of what the series should be.  Personally, I wouldn't really care that much if Dead Space went full action game.  I think the mechanics and fundamentals are in place for it to be an awesome action game with horror elements.  What matters to me is not whether the game is scary or not (I've never considered DS to be particularly scary, beyond the first 15 minutes of the original), but whether it is still Dead Space, and not trying to be something else.  Anyway, I played the demo for Dead Space 3.  It wasn't long enough for me to get a good read on what to expect from the singleplayer experience, but my impressions weren't bad, overall.  The one thing that they didn't advertise at all that surprised me was the gun customization.  With DS3, they've completely overhauled the Bench system.  Instead of having a set of available weapons like in previous games, you get materials and components, that you can use to build your own weapons.  If you want, you can build a Plasma Cutter or a Force Gun or any of those classic weapons, and they'll look and handle like you'd expect.  Or, you could build a Javelin Gun and attach a Plasma Cutter to barrel.  Or make a Line Gun with an underslung grenade launcher.  In a way, you can think of it as mixing and matching the traditional weapons' primary and secondary fires, but it's a lot more than that.  It's like they adapted Army of Two's gun customization to Dead Space, with the premise of basically sticking together a hodgepodge of tools with screws and duck tape and hoping it works out alright.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend; I've recently been playing a bit of this with my friends.  I still fucking hate fighting Tager.  Dude's jab range is absurd, and don't get me started on those grabs.  I remember when you used to actually fight guys!  With Tager, it's just three grabs and then the match is over.  Anyway, I've been trying to experiment with a different characters, but I was surprised to find out how difficult it is to really get behind a new character when you've been playing someone else for so long.  I have a newfound respect for people who can juggle multiple characters and be proficient with them.  It doesn't help that I find at least half the cast of the game to be fascinating from a gameplay standpoint.  Even Relius, who represents everything I don't typically want in a fighting game character, seems really fun to play as.  Back to Noel I suppose.

Strike Suit Zero; I have to admit, this game kind of felt like a love letter to a very specific kind of demographic, of which I am a part of.  The sort of fellows who thirst for an awesome mech game.  It finally came out (though I regret not partaking in the Kickstarter),'s neat.  If I have time, I would like to write a full post about it.  But in short, Strike Suit Zero has a lot of potential based on its premise, but doesn't follow through on a lot of it.  Still, when its at its best SSZ is an impressive effort.

Hawken; I think I might kind of adore Hawken.  I haven't delved into the deeper systems and haven't bought anything yet...but the moment to moment gameplay is just so fun and well-executed, both in terms of gameplay and presentation.  The more I play Hawken, the more I like it.

Devil May Cry; A buddy of mine got me the DMC HD Collection for Christmas.  Finally got around to trying out the first game...and it's not what I was expecting.  It's actually incredibly reminiscent of Resident Evil in its design, all the way down to starting out in some spooky abandoned castle.  But it's also not very fun, so far.

Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner; I will say this: it is clear from the very beginning of the game that The 2nd Runner is the game Kojima wanted to make (or at the very least MUCH closer to it). It is better and more fleshed out than its predecessor in literally every way. There's more mechs, the combat is better (though also tougher), it looks better, and it's more mechanically refined. And not only do we get a protagonist who is awesome, Leo's back and he's actually grown a pair. This is how you make a comeback.

Armored Core For Answer;  Yeah, I've really been getting my fill of the mechs, lately.  Plus, I just started watching Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.  It's awesome.  I will say however, that Armored For Answer is an absurdly complex game, and not necessarily in a bad way.  It just gives you so much control, I'm afraid to get too into it, lest I fuck up, because then I know it will be all my fault.  Also, I suck at the game.  I was able to completely rebind the controls (the default configurations are all kinds of backwards), but I still can't quite beat the AC Next in the test simulation.  But I'll keep at it!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Zone of the Enders

I finally got around to trying the Zone of the Enders HD Collection for PS3.  After watching a lengthy (but enjoyable) animated intro, I naturally chose to try the original Zone of the Enders first, before trying The 2nd Runner.  I didn’t know what to expect from Zone of the Enders.  I knew that it had mechs in it, and that it was a Kojima joint.  That’s largely it.

Essentially, Zone of the Enders takes place in a futuristic setting where humanity has colonized other planets in the solar system, namely Mars and Jupiter.  Earthlings still reign supreme however, and the space colonies are largely subject to their rule.  Tensions continue to rise because of this, until all-out war eventually erupts between the two sides.  Though Earth has the initial advantage due to sheer numbers, the discovery of a superior energy source known as Metatron allows the space colonists (or “enders” as the Earthlings have come to call them) to develop powerful new weapons known as Orbital Frames.  Orbital Frames are—you guessed it—giant humanoid mechs.  The colonists create two particularly powerful Orbital Frames, called Jehuty and Anubis, but the Earth forces steal them.

Note that almost none of what I just explained is really touched on in the game.  Zone of the Enders doesn’t really do much in terms of world-building.  Rather, this is a classic game in that you’ll learn a lot more about the setting and backstory reading the manual than you will playing through the story.

Zone of the Enders begins just as the space colonists are invading the colony that Jehuty and Anubis are being stored in, in an attempt to take them back.  In the process, they basically raze everything to the ground, terrorizing the population.  Though the colonists manage to retrieve Anubis, one little boy named Leo stumbles upon Jehuty and, hoping to hide from the invasion and chaos, clambers into its cockpit.  He accidentally activates the mech and soon enough finds himself thrust into a mission beyond his understanding.
Anyone who’s seen a Japanese mecha anime will be amazed by how closely this setup mirrors that of shows like Mobile Suit Gundam; particularly SEED and 0079.  A war between the spacenoids and Earth; a super-special set of mobile suits designed to give one side an edge; and most of all, an insufferable boy protagonist who ends up with one of said super-special mobile suits.

There are some interesting things to Zone of the Ender’s plot, though.  Though the space colonists are portrayed as an entirely villainous lot in the game, by and large they’re the underdogs here.  Furthermore, Jehuty and Anubis share a fun dynamic, always ending up on opposite sides of the conflict, and seemingly fated to fight each other, despite being developed for the same purpose.

None of this is to Zone of the Ender’s credit though, because none of it is explored in the actual game.  The classic red vs. blue rivalry between Jehuty and Anubis is only hinted at right at the end of the game, and as mentioned previously, everything about the setting and premise was derived from the manual, not the game.
Instead, during the actual game you get a much more focused plot that has Leo being tasked with delivering Jehuty to the transport vessel Atlantis in one piece, encountering plenty of obstacles along the way.  Such obstacles include a large microwave barrier, an army of remote-controlled Orbital Frames, and a snooty ace pilot who is also one of only perhaps two worthwhile characters in the game; the other being Leo.  ZoE’s cast is already quite small, but most of the few characters introduced ultimately play little or no role, such as Leo’s childhood friend Celvice, and the big boss of the space colonists and eventual pilot of Anubis, Nohman.

So not only do we have a cookie-cutter plot mostly populated with empty characters, but we also have a cookie-cutter plot that ends rather abruptly.  After a little over five hours, Zone of the Enders throws you against a final boss that is unbeatable by design, and then it ends.

Zone of the Ender’s primary saving grace is its combat, which is not only fun, but at times nothing short of riveting.  The controls are a bit odd and took some getting used to for me, but at its heart ZoE is a hack and slash affair.

Each of the handful of environments in the game are patrolled by squads of enemies.  Get too close and they’ll attack on sight, and battle begins.  Jehuty has two combat modes that it automatically switches between depending on how close you are to the opponent you’re locked onto.  At melee range it uses its fold out blade for hacking away at enemies.  Backing into longer range causes it to switch to its wrist-mounted blaster.  In addition to regular attacks, you have burst and dash attacks, each with melee and long-range variants.  Burst attacks—consisting of a Spirit Bomb-like orb of energy at long range and a spinning slash at close range—take a moment to charge up, but are unblockable and do more damage.  Dash attacks—an extremely quick side swipe in melee and a burst of homing lasers at range—are quick and keep battles moving at a swift pace.  Jehuty can also guard and grab enemies, and the two abilities share the same dynamic you’d expect: guarding blocks most attacks but is vulnerable to grabs.

In addition to its standard moveset, Jehuty can also equip a variety of sub-weapons found throughout the game.  These have limited ammo, but give you a bit more versatility.  For example, Phalanx is a short-range bullet sprayer with a wide spread.  Halberd is a sustained beam attack that cuts through enemies easily, but is slow and unwieldy.  Geyser throws out a set of pods that emit lasers upwards, setting up a trap.  There are about a dozen different sub-weapons to find and pick up, some of which are integral to progression, like the Decoy ability that allows you to avoid getting killed in one shot by one of the later bosses.

Bosses aside, there are only three types of enemies in the game.  But with one exception, these enemies have a similar moveset to your own (particularly at higher levels), being capable of guarding, grabbing, and burst and dash attacks.  Initially, enemies use only basic attacks and simple strategies, but as you progress through the game, both the AI and its repertoire of attacks and strategies expand, offering more challenge.  By the end of the game, nearly every enemy encounter can feel like a dance with death, forcing you to constantly stay on the move and use each ability at your disposal to avoid being surrounded or otherwise outmaneuvered.  Zone of the Enders teases you with the prospect of exciting one on one boss battles with rival Orbital Frame pilots, but in reality this only happens three times, and only one of them is a battle in the traditional sense.

With only a few exceptions, all of the environments in Zone of the Enders look bland.  The CG cutscenes are also pretty bad, and while it’s not fair to judge them by today’s standard, I do wonder if Konami (or High Voltage, who developed the port) couldn’t have done a better touch up job.  The one facet that stands above what is mostly a visually mediocre game is the mecha design, which is interesting.  Unfortunately, as very few Orbital Frames aside from the enemy grunts show up in the game, once more I can’t give Zone of the Enders a lot of credit for it.

Overall, Zone of the Enders feels like a low key game.  I understand now why people often see it as a tech demo.  The combat is great, but outside of that there’s just not much to it.