Unfortunately, Konami “ended” this series too soon…
Ah, Zone of the Enders. The lovable mech-based action games from the PS2 era which time (and Konami) has forgotten. As fate and/or luck would have it, this series also happened to received a GBA entry. However, being a fan of the action based PS2 titles does not necessarily translate to being a fan of this entry. It is common knowledge that the GBA is nowhere near as powerful as a PS2, and because of this Konami took a different approach to the series: a tactics based strategy RPG. While this is a wild deviation from the formula that fans loved, elements of the action based gameplay were still included, which is very interesting to say the least for a tactics based game.
First off lets start with the story basics, what is an ender and why do they have zones? The Enders are basically people that have left earth to colonize other planets and space in general. So therefore you know, the “Zone of the Enders” is just places they inhabit. As one can expect, Earth still tries to govern the Enders, the Enders don’t appreciate this, and conflict happens. This conflict is fought with various forms of battle mechs, because what self-respecting Japan originating space opera DOESN’T involve mechs? As fate would have it, the main protagonist stumbles upon a generally more advanced mech suit than most enemies have and thus, destiny happens. Yeah it all sorta has a Gundam vibe in a way I guess. The plot centers around Earth forces and Mars resistance forces, hence the game’s title “The Fist of Mars.” Overall the story has its interesting moments, but I’ve got to say, years after playing this game it is not the story I remember it for. I mostly remember this game for its unique battle system and ultimately that is what brought me back for another play-through 10+ years later.
Ok now that the story introduction is out of the way lets talk about what you REALLY want to know, how exactly does a tactical strategy RPG based on an action series play out? The answer is, rather clever and innovative at first, then as more battles go by you realize it probably wasn’t the best idea (but it’s still damn fun and memorable). Battles are on a typical tactics-RPG grid not too dissimilar to Super Robot wars. You gain exp and money to level up/customize as you see fit. You move your units one by one, attacking other enemy units when they are in appropriate range, etc. you know the drill. However it is when you initiate an attack (or your opponent does) that the magic happens! You are switched to a first person view where you see the enemy unit and then you either have to actively dodge their attack or quickly aim and fire your blast at them. When attacking an enemy you have precious few seconds to try to move them into your cross-hairs (they will move around seemingly at random avoiding you), if you fire while they are in the cross-hairs you hit! If not, you miss. There are also “critical hit” spots that if you target dead on will score you a devastating hit. When an enemy attacks you, you must avoid them for a set amount of time moving your cursor around the screen while the enemy fires little cross-hairs at it. If your cursor is ever hit by an enemy cross-hair the evasion minigame ends and you suffer a hit. Though once you learn how to cheese the system you will never ever get hit again unless you sneeze or something during the evasion minigame.
Bonus Tip: How to cheese the evasion system. Hug the outside edge of the screen and just move around in a clockwise fashion. When you get to an edge, curve around it instead of tracing the 90 degree angle. If you trace the angle you will get caught by the cross-hairs most times, yet if you curve around it you will dodge most attacks 99.99999% of the time. So yeah, big ovals or round cornered squares is the key. Enjoy your victories!
Hmm, how interesting, I can hear your thoughts…You’re thinking “wow that sounds like it makes the game too easy.” Yes, you’re right, it sort of does do that. At least aiming takes some skill to do. If you constantly whiff your attacks the battles will draw out forever. You’re in luck though, Konami is way ahead of you! The targeting and avoiding minigames are entirely optional, you can turn them off to make the game more like a traditional tactics RPG, relying on percentages and what not. However, doing so is like turning the game into “super hard” mode as your enemies will almost never miss an attack and your allies will all start missing their targets like they were that cross-eyed guy from Spaceballs. Those are your options: Unique yet easy action/strategy RPG or Frustratingly difficult traditional strategy RPG…The choice is yours and yours alone.
As far as other bells and whistles go, the music is actually pretty good. It isn’t the most memorable of game soundtracks, but it IS worthy of remembrance. I’ve found myself humming or whistling the skirmish theme a few times in the years following the game thinking “why did that pop into my head?” But hey, in a world where you don’t remember 90% of the soundtracks to the games you play, there must be some merit to this one right? The game’s sound effects are appropriate and do their job…Except for one. In the between-battle, non-animated, “stationary background-with-mugshot-and-textbox” story cut-scenes there is one sound effect that is supposed to represent a hit or a punch or something but, to me it sounds like a kiss/smooch. It’s weird, it almost makes me question whether the intent of some cut-scenes were changed in translation. I’m just saying I always thought it was a bit off, I guess it could represent a wedgie/noogie/purple nurple (it’s just a weird damn sound effect). Whatever though, that’s about it, i’ll just stop nit-picking and take it at face value.
That’s it really, that is pretty much all there is to say about this game. The battle system and the underused Konami franchise are its claim to fame. Everything else is fairly run-of-the-mill. I believe there are two endings you could strive for, but from what I understand they aren’t TOO different so it doesn’t really encourage replaying. You’ll mostly replay this game if you enjoyed the battle system and want to experience it again. I know that’s what I did. I traded this game away after I beat it back in the day, then many years later re-acquired it for that exact reason. The unique system may make the game feel a bit easy, but come on it’s worth it to feel like some godly mech-pilot that nobody can touch. If you’re bad at tactics/strategy RPGs this one will make you feel like a king. If you’re good at that genre and feel the system makes it too easy, turn it off and test your true skills. I would say it is well worth a playthrough or two, in the end it is flawed yet fun skirmish.