Narrative in Video Games #12: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner

In the previous entry on Zone of the Enders, I mentioned that the game felt more like a proof of concept than a standalone game. Having played Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, I can definitively say that those feelings were entirely justified. The 2nd Runner feels more like a do-over than a sequel improving on every front from control, to gameplay variety, to story. The original PlayStation 2 version came out in 2003, but I will once again be covering the re-release included in the Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

Taking place two years after the previous game, new character Dingo, a miner on Jupiter’s moon Callisto, stumbles upon the hidden location of Jehuty just as BAHRAM forces arrive to retrieve it. Dingo rescues his fellow miners and subsequently boards a BAHRAM battleship where he is mortally wounded by Nohman, the pilot of Anubis and BAHRAM’s leader. A UNSF spy named Ken resuscitates Dingo and asks for his help to take down Nohman, using Jehuty as both life support and leverage. The previous game’s protagonist Leo returns as a supporting character, but the central conflict is between Dingo/Jehuty and Nohman/Anubis.

The biggest difference between The 2nd Runner and its predecessor lies in its restraint and overall game structure. The sequel ditches the open world map in favor of a more streamlined affair. Levels naturally flow into each other as the narrative unfolds like a solar system trotting action movie. This approach isn’t without its downsides, however, characters regularly disappear and reappear throughout, making them at times come across more like narrative pawns than real people; only part of the plot until they’ve completed their story beat. The most egregious is the comic relief Taper, who seems to exist solely to create an arc for the UNSF’s distrust of Dingo.

It’s rare to play a sequel that seems to nullify its predecessor. The original Zone of the Enders looks more like a prequel side story in the wake of The 2nd Runner’s complete story arc, but the evolution of the idea is fascinating. Who wouldn’t shoot for the stars if given the chance to try again?


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