After spending much of 1997 investigating every last inch of Rockman DASH, playing through Mega Man Legends in English for the first time — with 21 years' difference — was a pretty surreal experience. It wasn't the first Japanese game I later revisited in English, but it was probably the most immersive. The sights and sounds provided a familiar hug, but my context to understand this world was now much clearer. I appreciated this, though some of the mystery was lost — who was this nondescript person, and why did they have voiced dialogue? Oh, they're just a nondescript person, but for some reason they happened to have voiced dialogue? That's...well, that's kind of amazing in itself.
Mega Man Legends is a game that, although I revere, I dreaded going back to. Its controls were dreadful in its day, but you put up with them, because underneath the jank, Mega Man Legends provided the type of experience that Ocarina of Time would be praised for an entire year later. I didn't know if I'd have the patience to dig into what truly makes this a special game — I certainly didn't when I attempted to replay it last year. However, when tasked with playing it for Retro Encounter, I soon found I couldn't put it down. Although it undoubtedly takes some getting used to, it's ultimately all-too-brief. Mega Man Legends' most charming moments are the ones found in between its critical path; giving advice to painters, listening to CDs at the music store, stopping at the library, or just clambering up to the highest rooftop you can. A Mega Man slow life sim may sound like an April Fools' punchline, but Mega Man Legends is essentially that, and is at its absolute strongest when experienced as such.
It's easy to forget there was a brief time in gaming history where 3D adventure games such as Mega Man Legends were played before we had analog controllers. Oof.
Clunky controls aside, replaying MML was a delight. Playing it specifically at this point in time worked well, since I can now appreciate how forward-thinking it was. There are a ton of aspects in Mega Man Legends that would feel at home in a modern-day open-world action RPG. Not every one of them was fully fleshed out, but that these facets existed at all in a PlayStation game in 1997 kind of blows my mind. Freeform side quests which inform scripted events and key items, ever-changing NPC dialog based on story events, the sheer amount of objects you can examine, and a last-minute reveal of the true depths of an overarching story come together to create an experience that's just so fun and fascinating that I stopped caring about any of those shortcomings.
There are some games and series that just resonate with certain people over the years. The Mega Man Legends series is definitely one of those for many gamers, including myself. I had an absolute blast playing this again even if the controls are almost archaic for a 3D adventure game. From the fun and bright atmosphere of Kattelox Island to the depths and darkness of the Sub-Gates, it really is a joy to play still.
I think the one thing that will always make this game and series timeless for me will be its characters, and the micro and macro interactions with them all. Everyone really stands out, even the generic NPCs, and it helps that voice acting and the facial expressions in this game are pretty impressive for 1997. In fact, all the attention to detail is very impressive for such a short game. You just didn't see stuff like this back then, but nowadays we expect it games or they are often seen as failures. I just wish there was more to the series after all these years, but I will never give up hope!
Mega Man is one of my all-time favorite video game heroes; I've sunk hundreds of hours into Capcom action games; and I have a lot of positive nostalgia for the OG PlayStation. So why did I think Mega Man Legends was just okay, and not a classic?
Mega Man Legends is a competent action game with some interesting boss fights and customization options (never got tired of making and upgrading weapons), but is held back by bad 1997 controls and awful maps and camera. Kattelox Island's town is weirdly empty in its layout and weirdly detailed in some of its indoor environments. The old 3D character models were colorful and expressive, but the polygons haven't aged well at all and Mega Man's helmet has never been uglier.
Mega Man Legends is every bit a 1997 action RPG. It wasn't enough Mega Man for me to scratch my fandom itch (I'm still baffled that you don't get new powers or even new items from defeated enemies), and its ruins were too homogenous for me to get excited to explore more sections of the island. Mega Man Legends isn't bad, but I found its age and its flaws too noticeable to love it.