When I first heard that a new MegaMan game was in the works for Game Boy Advance, I was excited. Having a portable game starring everyone’s favorite blue bomber just sounded too good to be true. However, when I learned that the game would be an RPG and wouldn’t feature the series’ traditional gameplay, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. First Metroid’s becoming a first-person shooter, now MegaMan’s an RPG? What’s next, a Street Fighter flight sim?
Fortunately, I get over things pretty easily and soon enough I found myself playing MegaMan Battle Network anyway. I’ve never met an RPG I wouldn’t try, and it was a MegaMan game, after all—doesn’t the fact that it merges two disparate styles of games like those old Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cups commercials (‘you got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter in my chocolate! Hey, wait, this is good!’) make it worth trying? You bet it does—and my open-mindedness was rewarded because MegaMan Battle Network is a great game.
Join MegaMan and save the internet!
In the year 20XX, online technology has taken over our lives. Everyone has a PET, which is essentially a palm pilot-like device that allows the user to receive e-mail, take phone calls, surf the internet, and plan their day. Each PET is outfitted with a Net Navigator (“Net Navi” for short), a digitized personal assistant who essentially runs the PET.
Unfortunately, all is not well in this digital utopia. The emergence of complicated networks and the vastness of cyberspace have led to an increase in hacking and lots of computer viruses are running amok messing up the world’s systems. Because of this, people have begun arming their Net Navi’s with battle chips—offensive and defensive programs to aid the Navi in battle with viruses inside the network.
The main criminal organization, a group called the WWW, has plans to sabotage the world’s computer systems and delete everything—both in cyberspace and the real world as well.
You are Lan, a fifth-grade boy with an advanced Net Navi named MegaMan.exe. Together, the two of you will work to thwart the WWW’s dastardly scheme, thereby insuring peace, liberty, and free internet porn for everyone (okay, I’m lying about the porn part—this is a wholesome game).
While MegaMan Battle Network seamlessly blends RPG-style elements with the action-oriented gameplay synonymous with the MegaMan series, the story is the one area where it falls just a bit short of excellence. The game’s plot is simple, silly, and lighthearted and seems far more in line with the plot of a traditional MegaMan game than an RPG. It’s a bit shallow for an RPG—seeming more like something you’d find in an action game, quite honestly.
This isn’t a bad thing, though—it simply seems odd for an RPG to be so light in terms of story. There is a story at work in the game; it’s just not very deep. Those looking for a complex and involving tale would be advised to look elsewhere.
Although the story isn’t all that deep or poignant, Capcom has done a great job with the translation. The game is text based, with no grammatical or spelling errors (or at least none that I noticed). The writing is good and fits nicely with the lighthearted feel of the game. If you need a break from the spate of dark, somber console RPGs of the last few years, MegaMan Battle Network should be right up your alley.
The story may not be particularly deep, but MegaMan makes up for that shortcoming with some excellent gameplay features—most notably an innovative battle system.
The game’s core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a console RPG. While in the real world, you’ll control Lan as he goes to school, explores various locations, and talks to his friends. Eventually, you will find items with jack-in ports. These ports allow you to send MegaMan into the system. Once inside, you’ll control MegaMan as he investigates his surroundings, looks for links to other parts of the ‘net, and finds money and battle chips.
While inside the cyberworld, MegaMan will encounter viruses. Battles are random, but luckily, the encounter rate isn’t too bad. Once an enemy is encountered, you’ll be whisked off to the battle screen—where things become interesting.
Battle is where the MegaMan influence really shines through. Rather than feature a traditional RPG battle system, MegaMan Battle Network employs something more in line with the regular MegaMan games.
Battle takes place on a grid, much like the ones you see in the majority of strategy RPGs out there. However, unlike strategy RPGs (which often play out slowly as each side takes turns moving all their combatants), MegaMan’s battles are all fought in real-time. You will move on your 3x3 side of the grid while the enemies move on the other half. You can increase your area by using a steal program, but the enemies can as well—making it so you can find yourself hemmed into corners.
At the beginning of each battle, Lan will upload five battle chips from your active folder. Each chip is unique— it can be a weapon, healing item, defensive item, or other Net Navi’s who can be summoned to assist you in battle. MegaMan has five slots for battle chips to use in each round of the fight, however, you can’t just load up five chips and go. Each chip is of a specific kind and has a letter code. You must match up chips of the same kind or same code in order to use more than one of the chips per round. This brings an insane amount of strategy to the game because while the chips Lan sends are random, you choose what 30 are in the folder. Therefore, you have to plan ahead and make sure you have similar chips with the right codes.
If you get five chips from Lan and don’t like what you see, you can have him send five more, but you’ll have to wait for the attack meter to fill up again. Lan can send 15 chips maximum, but if you’ve planned ahead, having 15 chips to choose from should mean that you’d be able to use four or five programs in that turn, dishing out significant damage. Trust me, it sounds a lot more complicated in writing than it is in the execution.
There are 175 different battle chips in the game, and finding them all is one of MegaMan Battle Network’s largest sidequests. While the main adventure can be beaten in about 20 hours, finding all the chips will take longer. It’s also worth noting that by using certain chips in combination, you can gain access to rarer chips and stronger attacks. While I’m generally not a fan of the ‘catch ‘em all’ Pokemon mentality, those who are will find the quest to get all of the chips adds a considerable amount of playtime to the game.
After you’ve chosen your battle chips, you can also shoot MegaMan’s traditional buster. The buster has unlimited ammo, but doesn’t pack the same kind of punch as the programs. However, you will find upgrades throughout the adventure that will allow you to increase the attack power, the charge, and the rate of fire. Find them, because your buster is your best friend.
After winning in battle, you’ll receive a ranking based on how fast you defeated the enemies. The faster you win, the better the reward. At the highest levels, rewards are large amounts of zenny (money) or even battle chips for your folder.
Winning battles requires both a fair amount of strategy, as well as quick reflexes and an eye for patterns. It’s really a perfect blending of traditional RPG battle with the twitch-like gameplay of the regular MegaMan titles. Because of this, it’s one of the most innovative and interesting battle engines I’ve seen in some time.
Outside of battle, you’ll talk to NPCs, search houses that you don’t live in, buy things, and undertake numerous fetch quests in order to advance the plot. In this regard, the game is just like your regular console RPG.
Finally, the game has one really great feature that’s worth mentioning here—the ability to save anywhere. While playing MegaMan Battle Network, you will not have to traipse along looking for the next save point while your batteries slowly drain or your dinner gets cold—you can save anywhere outside of battle. More RPGs should emulate this approach.
While it lacks the visual flair of Golden Sun or Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, MegaMan Battle Network still features some fine graphics.
The game’s visuals often look ‘kiddy’, which complements the story and feel of the game itself, but they’re nice anyway. The game looks a lot like your typical SNES era title, particularly Earthbound in its presentation of modern day towns and whatnot.
The cyberworld is mostly comprised of narrow, crisscrossing paths with weird symbols in the background. There’s a real simplicity in the graphics in this part of the game, but it’s not bad—I’d rather see these graphics than a cyberworld comprised of constantly changing green numbers a la The Matrix.
Character sprites are nicely detailed and well animated. After a few hours you will notice that Lan seems a little floaty when he runs, but it’s nothing major and not worth deducting points over.
When characters speak, they get a portrait next to their text box. Honestly, this is probably the ugliest part of the game, graphically speaking. Some of the portraits make the characters look like something right out of Planet of the Apes. It’s not pretty, but it’s not something that will make you hate the game, either—it’s just a little disconcerting at first.
Unlike some of the early GBA titles, which were incredibly dark, MegaMan Battle Network is well-lit and easy to see. Playing with a light accessory will enhance the experience, but simply having a good secondary light source by itself is more than sufficient. It’s good to see that the games aren’t as dark as they were—it was one of the main elements that kept me from enjoying my GBA.
Not much to report here, other than to say that the control is good.
Since battles take place in real-time, you’ll be moving MegaMan quite a bit, while shooting your buster and your programs. Fortunately, the controls are intuitive and responsive for the most part. There is an occasional bit of hesitancy in the most heated of battles, but it’s minor.
Navigating your character through the screens outside of battle is simple. The controls are tight and responsive and there are no problems at all in this portion of the game.
MegaMan Battle Network takes advantage of the majority of the GBA’s buttons, including the shoulder ones, but gameplay becomes intuitive enough that you’ll have the hang of it all in mere minutes.
Overall, the controls, like much of the rest of the game itself, are excellent.
The game’s soundtrack is light and airy, essentially a perfect complement to the story and visuals. Most of the music is average—adequate for conveying the mood of the game and each particular scene, but not likely something you’d want to listen to after the game is turned off.
Sound effects are impressive—swords swoosh, explosions boom, and your phone sounds like a phone when it rings. The sound is good throughout the game, but it’s nothing that will make you sit up and take notice of it. You’ll appreciate it because it’s there, but you won’t be thinking about it after the game is defeated. I suppose being relatively unobtrusive is much better than being so bad you can’t help but notice, though.
While hardcore MegaMan fans may be disappointed to discover that the Blue Bomber’s latest outing isn’t what they’d expected, they’ll no doubt be pleased with the game. Rare is a game that defies expectations and manages to be successful anyway, but that’s exactly what’s happened with MegaMan Battle Network. It’s a fine blending of RPG elements with your standard MegaMan game, powered along primarily by an innovative and deep new battle system.
While it does seem a bit dubious that Capcom slapped the MegaMan name onto this game for its U.S. release (which guaranteed it more exposure and attention than it would have received otherwise), the end result is a title that takes a place alongside the rest of the classic MegaMan games—and you can’t ask for much more than that. Chalk up another excellent RPG for the Game Boy Advance.