Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars
Instead of rocking out with the hot mech-on-mech action you'd expect after playing ZOE on the PS2, TFOM kicks you in the noggin with old-school turn-based gameplay. For fans of the strategy/RPG genre, this game will invoke deja vu. You lead a band of anime stereotypes (unrelated to characters in the PS2 ZOE) through a series of story-driven missions. Movement and combat takes place over a grid map, where you and the computer take turns beating the crap out of each other. But unlike, say, Front Mission 3 or Hoshigami--two PS1 strategy games whose battles often boil down to pure mathematics and attrition of Mars has you play a minigame where you move a targeting cursor around to get a bead on your opponents. When you're on defense, you dodge the enemy's crosshair. Sound exciting? Well it isn't. These targeting sequences (especially the dodging bits) are so mind-numbingly easy, they end up being more repetitive than fun. Sure, you can bypass this crappy minigame, but then you get bent over by the computer since you no longer dodge all the attacks. As annoying as the combat can be, though, TFOM's political-intrigue storyline and light RPG trappings kept me coming back for more. Be warned, this isn't a pure tactics game, nor is it as deep or as repiayable as Advance Wars, but there's definitely enough meat here to satisfy gamers looking for a lite strategy/RPG.
Stomach ZOFs interpersonal melodrama and get to its gameplay guts, and you're in for a GBA treat. Fist of Mars' Interactive Action System (IAS)--a targeting game which puts successful attack and defense in your hands by challenging your motor coordination skills--puts a nice spin on typical turn-based strategy gameplay. A diverse set of LEVs (mechs), each with specialized upgrades, also adds another layer to gameplay depth. ZOE does tend to lose momentum, though, due to repetitive visuals and a drawn-out story that gets in the way of all the action. But for strategy buffs looking for a brief diversion from Advance Wars, it's worth a go.
ZOE certainly sounds enticing on paper: an involving anime-style storyline (well, involving for a GBA game, that is), turn-based strategy with customizable mechs, etc. Well, I went into the thing really excited and left feeling like I got burned on a bad used-car deal. ZOE is a sound game, no doubt. But it has so much more potential, enough to where it should've made Advance Wars look like Chutes and Ladders. ZOE's combat is very straightforward and requires relatively tittle strategy and thinking, which kills the whole point of this being a strategy title. As such, this game doesn't have enough to truly satiate the very target audience it was meant for.