"Although MMBN3 suffers in terms of pacing, random encounters, and terribly plain "dungeons," the robust customization and quick-paced combat will keep me coming back for more... just not yet."
Despite enjoying more than six iterations, the Mega Man Battle Network series gets kicked around by critics and gamers alike. Having grown up beating Mega Man 2 and 3 about twenty times each, I decided that I'd let myself be the judge of what seems like the billionth spinoff series. Beginning in medias res, I jacked into Mega Man Battle Network 3 (MMBN3) and enjoyed it far more than popular opinion would suggest.
Go to school and save the world!
The chief protagonist, Lan, attends a grade school, sometimes saves the world, and had better be home by supper or he'll get an earful. Although this is an exaggeration, it's not far from the truth. Players will have to suspend disbelief when playing MMBN3, since elementary school students not only voluntarily do what teachers, authorities, and scientists cannot, but are sometimes expected to do just that.
But just how do Lan and his compatriots go about saving the world? Like the other MMBN games, the third in the series features companions called "navi." Virtually everyone in this world has a navi, and these companions can do just about anything: cooking, cleaning, and saving friends from exploding bubbles. The adults in Lan's neighborhood only briefly mention their navi, but the children seem symbiotically entwined with their electronic comrades. From morning to evening, Mega Man keeps Lan on time, organized, and heroically-inclined.
Of course, what is a hero without a villain? The youthful Lan clashes navi with the elderly Dr. Wily, who is bent on destroying the WWW. Wily employs several navi and children to accomplish this devastating feat, which would not only cripple the futuristic society, but reign chaos as household appliances attempt to murder their former masters. This is the part of the review where I would like to assume that Capcom is using the series as commentary on our reliance on technology, but who am I kidding?
Radiant Historia didn't do it first
When children aren't learning to fight old men through bouts of vigilantism, MMBN3 offers tons of fun. Admittedly, the random battle system is now tired and old, but this game came out a while ago. While this doesn't extinguish the fact that random battles are annoying, they are quick and easy. Face-to-face on two 3x3 grids, Mega Man and his randomly assigned foes blast, slash, and lunge at each other over the course of battles that normally last 1 to 15 seconds. By default, Mega Man has the Mega Buster at his disposal, but at the beginning of the battle he can pick one of his previously assigned special abilities – chips – for more powerful attacks, each with its own style and pattern. Each attack is assigned a letter which determines the maximum number of attacks you can assign or special combinations you can make. After a few seconds, more weapons become available.
Though the battle system is novel, customization is where MMBN3 shines. Players can give Mega Man any thirty chips obtained from enemies, shops, or his friends. Robust variety offers the illusion of limitless possibilities. Sure, over time some weapons' effectiveness will wain, but they are usually replaced with ones possessing similar abilities, oftentimes just with bigger numbers. These weapons range from plain shots, to environmental changes, to global life drain attacks. Adding to the strategy element, Mega Man can morph into different specialties of his former self, depending on the player's style in battle.
In terms of difficulty, the bosses offer a decent challenge, but one which flows much like a sine-wave. In most games, this would come across as a complaint, but the battles can be so laborious at times that I welcomed a breather. Moreover, in traditional Mega Man fashion, hidden bosses offer chips not otherwise obtainable. Those who enjoy diverting from the main plot will find plentiful sidequests available throughout the game, which vary in difficulty. Some have Lan fetching MacGuffins, while others seem more like puzzles, often requiring the player to remember forgettable layouts across the WWW.
Of my few complaints, the map layouts make the game harder and longer than it needs to be. While this seems more like a graphics issue, the fact that the game forces players to backtrack frequently requires that they memorize routes rather than identifying landmarks in the back or foreground. Not only is this boring, but it got me lost, and sometimes killed.
A step into Japan, bleep-bloopin' the day away
Mega Man Battle Network 3 made me realize that most JRPGs do not include Japanese-specific imagery (i.e. yaki-imo carts). I noticed this because MMBN3 is full of cultural nuggets. To my recollection, Square Enix has yet to show a family in kimono and yukata sitting together playing mahjong on a kotatsu, or a traditional Japanese sweets vendor, cart resplendent with lanterns. The inclusion of these items gives MMBN3 considerable personality, and I was pleased at the detail and care with which these furnishings were presented.
Despite the town visuals, Mega Man and his enemy counterparts remain traditional in both sound and body. And though the game is musically forgettable, the high-pitched pellet-shots and enemy explosions trigger the pleasure receptors just right. Like Enix, Capcom has the good fortune of relying on old sound effects for the rest of time, because the fans have not only come to expect it, but feed on it.
Wait, I have to hold two buttons to move forward?
The controls are seamless. Typically, good controls make or break action RPGs, but MMBN3 enjoys ease of movement both in and out of battles. I'd draw a similar parallel to Super Meat Boy; if you die, you have no one to blame but yourself. Outside of battle, players will have to navigate their way through several layers of menus, which is never a problem in terms of controls.
The same as it ever was, the same as it ever was, the same as it ever was...
Mega Man Battle Network 3 was my first MMBN game. While I can't comment on how it compares to installments before and after, I can say that if the rest of the series is similar, I won't be concerned; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Although MMBN3 suffers in terms of pacing, random encounters, and terribly plain "dungeons," the robust customization and quick-paced combat will keep me coming back for more... just not yet.