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Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars (Game Boy Advance) review

"When one thinks of Japanese culture, they’re most likely to think of four things; anime and manga, giant mechs, video games, and pop (no, not the carbonated beverage). When you combine the former two, you get top-notch shows such as Gundam Wing or Evangelion. When you combine the first three, you get many notable games and series, with the most recent big-name series being that of Hideo Kojima's Zone of the Enders. In Zone of the Enders, humankind has advanced beyond ..."

When one thinks of Japanese culture, they’re most likely to think of four things; anime and manga, giant mechs, video games, and pop (no, not the carbonated beverage). When you combine the former two, you get top-notch shows such as Gundam Wing or Evangelion. When you combine the first three, you get many notable games and series, with the most recent big-name series being that of Hideo Kojima's Zone of the Enders. In Zone of the Enders, humankind has advanced beyond Earth and into Mars and the moons of Jupiter, but those who leave the Earth are afflicted with the derogatory term of Enders – those at the end of civilization. The very effect of this incident brought about wars between Earth and some of the Enders. The original ZoE was a short five-hour romp through the space station colony of Antilia as the preteen Leo Stenbuck went through the anti-Earth terrorist forces BAHRAM. A mere half year later would see Hideo Kojima and Konami farming out the series for a GameBoy Advance action-strategy sidestory to the unknown, unproven WinkySoft. Their efforts would yield Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, henceforth known as FoM.

Cage Midwell is, as a protagonist, very similar to Leo Stenbuck. Both are young children who have seen the effects of war. Both are attacked by disaster, Leo Stenbuck by the bombing of Antilia, and Cage Midwell with the destruction of the Bonaparte III – the ship that he was heading to Mars on, killing his best friend Ares with it, a theme of death and destruction playing, with hell and havoc forebode. The only way that he ever escaped was by accidentally activating a mysterious LEV (Laborious Extraterraneous Vehicle, a frame used for working in outer space conditions) with a blue-haired amnesic woman in tow who answers only to Myona Alderan, and then he ended up fighting an Orbital Frame (frame with flying capabilities) that looked like Satan himself. Saying that his story is short of believable would be the understatement.

However, Cage soon encounters the members of Born In Space, an anti-United Nations Space Forces (UNSF) union that believes it acts in the best interests of Mars. Meeting up with Ares, a survivor of the sunk Bonaparte III, and Myona going with whatever decision Cage makes, the three former passengers of the Bonaparte III join BIS. As they try to escape from the UNSF security compound holding Cage, Myona, and BIS leader Deckson Geyse, they encounter resistance, an alarm sounding off the start of several sound effects for many items in the game.

The original PS2 ZoE featured a 3D combat slightly more fighting oriented than the usual action-adventure, and you could throw javelins, charge up orbs of energy, and perform a slew more of attacks, some of which related to ancient mythology. More importantly was the fact that you fought from a third-person view. This was something that could not possibly be replicated on the GameBoy Advance. However, WinkySoft was smart, and as Cage and co. start moving their armed frames, we finally are thrust into the meat of the game – the Interactive Attacking System (IAS), the sirloin that will be your personal warzone for the entire game (the only exception to it's badassness is that your music always changes to the combat music while fighting, and while it’s ok, there are a lot of awesome soundtracks during the main battle and this one gets boring fast). In the IAS, all concepts of 3D and battlefields are gone. You are looking from the eyes of your personal frame. In front of you is a large 2D landscape, and your opponent. Your enemy, whether it be standard UNSF LEV, a customized Orbital Frame, or an unmanned warrior, will be flying up back and forth. You are given control of crosshairs that you must move around and try to attack your nemesis with to cause him damage. If you are on or within the shell of your foe and attack him before time runs out (or it is on him when time runs out), you will cause damage. Better yet, the ‘heart’ of the enemy body, a red dot usually in the middle of the frame, will cause a critical hit if you can manage to get your cursor on it. Alternatively, when YOU’RE the one being attacked, the enemy will shoot out crosshairs across the screen, and if your cursor gets caught in it, you will take damage.

Traveling across the battlefield is standard for a grid-based non-collectivization game – you choose to move a number of spaces, and you can either attack or your turn ends, depending on where you’ve been placed. There are also differences in possible movement around terrain, although the game itself doesn’t show off any data such as different grid elevations to this effect except for restricting you from moving as fast over painted on mountains and cliffs. The exception is the Orbital Frame, LEV-like frames able to fly, thus not being affected by any terrain differences, even water (although they can land on the surface at their leisure and lift up with the same ease). They are powered by the mysterious mineral Metatron.

Metatron – the Angel closest to God. It is a highly reactive mineral excavated only on the Jupiter moon of Callisto, and is the prime factor for many human advances – the Urenbeck Catapult, which is responsible for moving spaceships at extreme speeds, Self-Supporting Armor, a material which can regenerate over time, and of course, the Orbital Frame. More importantly, though, it is the driving cause of much of the plot’s misery and unfortune. After some battles of going through the political turmoil on Mars, and the corruption of the UNSF, Metatron shows itself to be highly influential on the human mind. With a dangerous amount of compatibility to the brain, experiments have been carried out by the main antagonist Dezeele Zephyrs, whom has learned how to connect a frame runner to the machine itself. Owing to this capability, the runner can therefore perform a number of gruesome deeds, such as being able to control the frame’s action by brainwaves alone, a ridiculously increased amount of speed and strength, and worse of all, able to shoot out a giant beam of light obliberating everything in its path.

Such is Metatron’s responsibility for the intentions of the evil. Bolozof Velasgo, a malicious and soulless military man who cares only about the thrill of battle, is one such adversary who outperforms the clown villains of today. With only the slightest hint of nobility buried by his black heart, he will do whatever he can to hurt people. Only the first time that Cage and BIS meets him, he feigns a shot from a civilian rioting force on an UNSF LEV, just so he has an excuse for bloodshed. Later on, he will take random people off the street and pose them as BIS members to execute, and puts his own assistant, Nadia Candido, to the block as well, merely because she failed her last few assignments. He is a bastard without any remorse, and when Metatron begins to play it’s role on his mind, he loses any humanity he had left. When this happens, he is not afraid to tell industrial secrets so long as the truth hurts, and his crazed personality will drive him forward until he finally dies, eons after his path of destruction started.

Another notable villain of much evil is Ned Noachim. When we first meet Ned, he has hijacked a transport carrying a vital pharmaceutical product, and plans to sell it at a more expensive price. His crimes are numerous, starting with framing BIS for his own actions, blowing up a hospital, kidnapping children to put on automated LEVs, detonating a bomb on one of his own troops, and attempting to blow up an orphanage. When he returns, he becomes even more sadistic, as his very identity is an anathema to the members of BIS.

The rest of FoM is packed with text and on the occasion, anime cutscenes. Although it seems at time that you’re drowning in new plot, there’s always a battle right ahead of you, resulting from dealing with the interesting issues of colonial backlash, and sometimes it seems almost prescient in it’s background. Newton’s law “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is really proven here, as victory can be turned into moral defeat, and your every positive effect on Mars is undermined by your inhuman foes. Backed up with a steadily decent translation (I only noticed a single error in the text-intensive script), and aided by brief anime cutscenes that are nevertheless gorgeously done, every single character is developed throughout the course of the game, and is additionally accomplished with several unique sprites for each character, and many different tracks. For example, Cage himself is almost a bit whiny at the beginning of the game, used to misery, dependable on his friend Ares, and with the removal of his companions, loses a huge crutch. However, with loss and gain, with sorrow and joy, with pain and healing, his whole personality evolves, as he slowly becomes independent, and a formidable fighter at that. Even lesser characters, such as the quiet-but-confident Warren, are developed throughout the game.

Although the battlefields makes the game look like it was created in three months (actually, it probably was!), FoM still remains one of my favorite games to this day. The amount of polish that it retains has so far been very hard to match for most games. There is nary an error in the heavy script, which in itself makes several cool mythological references, such as the Indian Demon King Ravana and Ifrit, the jinn spirit of fire. Never do characters drone on and on, and every single important person is intensely developed. Many awesome music tracks are played throughout the game, sound effects are around for everything from the whirring of a motor to the sounding of a siren to the closing of a door, the various emotional sprites of each character fits them, and much more. A quirky and semi-unique battle system (the IAS had a parallel version in Konami’s Ring of Red, but nowhere else have I seen it) calls for fun I’ve not had in a time, a plotline able to evoke vast emotion in my heart at the death of major characters and plot twists of sorrow, along with beautiful aesthetics (except for those crappy battlefields) and an array of stimulating songs make it clear to me; Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars had much potential in it, but fell flat on it’s face short of it’s goal thanks to the average gamer’s ignorance and/or casualness. Nevertheless, I still treasure it as one of, if not my most favorite GameBoy Advance game, and I would commit seppuku before I willingly give up my copy.

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Community review by yamishuryou (May 28, 2005)

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