Final Zone II (Turbografx-CD) review
"The hilariously incomprehensible cinematics and the ill-fitting CD music bring the game down. Yes, thanks to the extra space afforded by the CD medium, this game is actually worse than if it had been a TurboChip! Pulling off such a feat is truly revolutionary."
Super Mario Bros., Zelda, Metroid. Gaming history is strewn with classics: revolutionary works, experienced by millions, that changed our lives. While these titles may eventually be outclassed and outdone by next-generation updates, the classics' impact on our hearts cannot be denied.
Then, there is an altogether different tier of games. This includes titles such as Sword of Sodan, Heroes of the Lance, and Alf. These are Eternal Classics: games whose badness transcends the boundaries of time, repulsing gamer after gamer in every generation. Producing fits of laughter at each playthrough, the putrid power of these titles cannot be denied.
Final Zone 2, at first glance, is an average (but hardly poor) game. Evidently realizing that it would someday be outclassed, NEC/Renovation injected extra doses of badness into this ailing title, striving for the realm of Eternal Classic. Yes, the game is playable. And quite honestly, the graphics are not all that bad. In fact, this game has a lot of good ideas going in its favor. But then, the hilariously incomprehensible cinematics and the ill-fitting CD music bring the game down. Yes, thanks to the extra space afforded by the CD medium, this game is actually worse than if it had been a TurboChip! Pulling off such a feat is truly revolutionary.
"You mean someone invented a story that my troop was revolting?"
As the game begins, Colonel Bowie receives a cryptic message from one of his men, something about the Zods attacking. Don't worry — the characters don't know what the message means, either. At this point, a gigantic laser beam hits Bowie's orbiting space shuttle, body after body falling out the hull. Or, as the male vocalist of the upbeat title screen song would say:
"Watching it fall, burst into flames, with bazooooooookas"
While most of the soldiers died in space, their lifeless bodies floating through the sea of stars, six managed to plummet thousands of miles through space, surviving atmospheric penetration and an awfully rough landing. (As an odd sidenote, you can play as only five of these. Nothing ever explains what happened to the sixth survivor.)
Now, it's up to you — taking the role of Bowie — to find out who destroyed your crew. Or, as the male vocalist of the upbeat title screen song would say:
"Bowie, this is the chaaaance that you've been waiting for, a dream you caaaaaaaan't ignore"
Bowie is quite the stoic sort, and he needs to be like that to find the other survivors and eliminate his nemesis, the mad scientist Alef Ruman.
"Let me show them some fancy action... now."
Final Zone 2 an overhead shooter, except that instead of flying, you strut around desolate landscapes in a mobile mechasuit (similar to Ikari Warriors). Instead of firing weapons straight ahead, you can shoot in any of eight directions.
Guide that mobile suit into an armored military compound, with robotic spiders emerging from the floor, firing spreading lasers across the screen! Bio-organic beasts approach from ahead, spitting blue globs of bile in your direction. And flying mutant-men will divebomb in kamikaze fashion, all while you're weaving through electrical barriers, metallic tunnels, and sliding doors!
Yes, that is actually really fun. Unfortunately, it's the last zone of the game. No doubt the designers made this level and basked in the glow of their achievement... until the executives explained that five-minute games don't sell well. "What, we need to make more?" The end result is five minutes of fun and thirty minutes of tedium because, for the larger part of the game, you stroll through scrublands and deserts and barren fields, fighting soldiers with machine guns, soldiers with bazookas, soldiers with grenades, robots with machine guns, robots with bazookas.....
"If you hate me that much, then shoot me — with your gun."
Despite the droning enemies and landscapes, I can't really say I hate the gameplay all that much. You see, although it's hardly fantastic, the developers did include a nifty character and weapon system in the game.
Although you only begin with Colonel Bowie, you will, throughout the game's seven levels, find four other comrades to join you. The two important ones are Momoko, who seems to be Bowie's girlfriend of sorts, and Velder. When you first gain control of Velder, he seems to be just another random character. What you don't realize is that he's the presumed-dead buddy of Bowie (and brother to Momoko). The reason you don't realize this immediately is because they call him Verda in the cinematics.
So, not only can you select a character at the beginning of each mission, but each character has two separate weapons: a "weak" weapon (repeating rifle, beam sword, spreadshot) and a "strong" weapon (grenades, laser beams, or homing missiles). Although the characters for the first three levels are pre-assigned, this adds some much-needed variety to the latter half of the game.
Speaking of adding variety, NEC/Renovation thought it would be a good idea to break up their game with some helicopter-flying, vertical-scrolling arcade shmup action. The main problem is that now, instead of being able to shoot in eight directions as the screen scrolls upwards, you can only shoot in one. So, in their attempt to add variety, the designers actually made the game even more monotonous.
"I can't believe it. I thought you died in the Final Zone operation."
Between each level, you are treated to some of the worst cinematic story scenes to ever grace the Turbo, or any other system for that matter. The first crime against the gamer is that nothing explains, in the beginning, exactly what the first Final Zone operation was. But they keep talking about it. There are some hints late in the game, but by then I was thoroughly confused.
But if anything takes the cake, it's the bad writing and acting. Perhaps you've noticed a liberal use of quotations throughout this review? Those are all actual lines from the game! Yes, play Final Zone 2 and you too can enjoy such scenes as the re-uniting between Colonel Bowie and his girlfriend Momoko...
[The setting is Momoko's house. For some odd reason, the big, balding military man Hansen is in the house. Hansen has no relevance to this scene. Momoko, annoyed that her lover, Bowie, is leaving for another battle, confronts him.]
Momoko: "Why won't you quit your war games?"
Bowie: "Sorry, this happens to be my hobby."
[Bowie slaps Momoko across the face.]
The slap is a nice touch. That'll teach a woman to question a man's motives! As if that little bit of gender-bias weren't enough, the next scene takes place in a warehouse full of mobile suits. Momoko, exercising some feminine strength, spunkily decides to pursue the man she loves, even if it means taking up weapons and forgetting all the anti-war rhetoric she was spouting earlier in the game!
[Camera pans across green mobile suits in the warehouse. Stuck amidst all the green suits is a single, pink suit.]
Hansen (pointing to pink suit): "Hurry Momoko, put THAT on!"
[Momoko dons the pink mobile suit.]
That's some nice gender-coding the designers have got going! Not only does the hero of the game beat his girlfriend, but then NEC/Renovation tosses in a bit of sexist "girls have to wear pink" stereotyping.
Fortunately for us fans of Eternal Classics, the badness does not end with the extraneous story and voice-acting! You see, it would be possible (although bothersome, since there are so many) to skip the cinematics. In an effort to be more intrusive, NEC/Renovation threw some laughably inappropriate music into the mix!
I've already mentioned the title screen theme, which gleefully describes scenes of death and destruction. However, the real treat is the song that plays when you choose Momoko during Mission Four. As she sets out in her pink mobile suit, equipped with assault rifle and grenades, pouring forth from your TV's speakers in glorious stereo.....
A lovey-dovey pop song, belted out by a young female vocalist. Imagine playing Ikari Warriors, or Commando, or even Strikers 1945 with the following lyrics wailing in the background:
"Everything like a dream,
you always make me scream,
Just like a shooting star ran through my heart!
I know you're there, because you care...
About the revoluuuuuuution!"
Nothing screams "ACTION!" like a rousing chorus of "I miss you, baby".
Of course, if you instead select the muscular male, Hansen, you can skip the vocal song. You will instead be graced with POOM-CHA-CHA POOM-CHA-CHA bongo drums, with some guy humming along in the background. Yes, even when there's not a sappy pop melody chirping in the background, the music is still entirely inappropriate: either samba or Muzak-style lounge ambiance.
If you're looking for a gloriously bad time, Final Zone 2 is a solid piece of tripe that you can bust out every few months for a laugh. It might not be quite on the same level as a Deep Blue or Sword of Sodan, but it's still a crap classic that you'll never forget. It cannot be denied!
Staff review by Zigfried (January 16, 2004)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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