Hello all! Last week’s game was Metal Gear Solid 2, a game that taught me that change might not always be bad. Or something. The point is, it’s a great game.

Here’s a game that’s closely related to MGS 2, and for a lot of us, it’s the game that gave us our first taste of the Tactical Espionage Action classic.

Entire-ass game included with demo.

I bought this for the demo.

Maybe you did, too. Who among us could’ve resisted, seeing that label on the box. “Includes demo of Metal Gear Solid 2.”

Shoot, that was all the excuse I needed to pick up a game I knew nothing about (I was 12-13 years old and my only magazine subscription was Nintendo Power). I don’t even think I played Zone of the Enders first, electing to pop the MGS 2 demo in before tackling this game about…whatever it was about. There was a robot on the cover, I guess.

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Eventually, having exhausted the roughly 30-minute MGS 2 demo, it was time to play the demo’s bonus content, AKA the actual game I bought. Zone of the Enders is about a boy named Leo who, while fleeing collateral damage from a war, finds and climbs into a superpowered, experimental mecha named Jehuty. With the help of ADA, Jehuty’s built-in AI, Leo fights off enemy forces who had come to claim Jehuty for themselves. As is expected, this leads to further developments and melodrama.

Screenshot from HD Collection version, for clarity’s sake.

It’s a plot typical of mecha anime (in fact, that setup is exactly Mobile Suit Gundam), but ZOTE manages to stand on its own, largely due to the relationship between Leo and ADA. The angular, pointy mecha designs help give the game a unique look, too; realism is pushed aside in favor of coolness, and I’m totally here for it.

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ZOTE doesn’t stray too far from that typical mecha anime comfort zone it establishes early on, but it plays great; it’s fast, snappy, and features just the right amount of depth—it’s simple, sure, but you have enough techniques to keep the game interesting throughout the roughly 5-6 hour playtime. Jehuty is a riot to control, although I still wish there were more enemies to fight (this is rectified somewhat in the sequel, but still).

What brought me back for multiple playthroughs of ZOTE, back then, and what keeps me playing it now every so often, is the overall spirit of the game. It’s a somewhat trope-y plot, and it’s criminally short, but ZOTE is extremely earnest; it’s got heart, and it uses its tropes well. As I grew up, I came to better understand said relationship between Leo and ADA, and to this day I have fun playing as the powerful (too powerful?) Jehuty, tearing up enemy mechas at close range (or blasting them from afar, if that’s your thing, I guess).

And what I keep thinking about, as I write this, is that I bought it for the MGS2 demo. That’s what I really wanted, but what I got was one of my favorite games. Goes to show you that you might be pleasantly surprised when you buy a game just for the demo.

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Not a whole lot more to say about ZOTE, really, except it’s really great and I’m glad I bought that demo 17 years ago. ZOTE holds up wonderfully today (at least partially due to its general simplicity), and it’s still worth a play today. If the HD Collection is your only option, go for it; it’s not as bad as people make it out to be.

Brian writes about games sometimes and has a Twitter you can follow. Go yell at him, and suggest games you’d like to see him write about.