Here lies the Mega Man Battle Network series. May it soon return to us.
In a way, Mega Man is videogames. He was right there at the dawn of the NES, and starred in a new, great title every year. He was one of the chosen few to star in Captain N: The Gamemaster, and he had a few shows of his own over the years. But all of his media traced back to one videogame franchise, and as the decades and technology went by, Mega Man grew and changed with them. Mega Man X heralded the dawn of a new, super age, and Mega Man Legends introduced us to the glory of polygons. And when Mega Man seemingly faltered on the consoles, he sought shelter on the handheld systems of the day. Mega Man Zero and Z/X continued the action-based gameplay of Mega Man X, while Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force made an attempt at the new action JRPG genre that had cropped up around gamers’ unpleasant need for games with more and more words. By the time the DS’s popularity was winding down, it was time for Original Mega Man to make his retro return to consoles, and thus could the whole cycle begin anew.
Except… Mega Man’s adopted father, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom in 2010, and the franchise has been slow to restart since. Mega Man 11 is apparently on the way, complete with its own tie-in animated series, but, by and large, Mega Man has languished in cameos for the past decade. Poor little metal boy, left all alone with nary an e-tank to keep him company! Where will we find that amazing Mega Man gameplay now!?
But that’s the joy of this glorious new future: we do not want for Mega Man games, because Mega Man so greatly influenced gaming, there are now modern successors to his legacy. Shovel Knight is totally its own thing and absolutely a Mega Man game occasionally starring Explosion Man trying to impress his fabulous girlfriend. Walking and gunning opponents until they give up their abilities seems to have become a staple of many 2-D games, and, even though the queen is dead, long live the queen. Mega Man may not have had a new official release in years, but the fan community has also kept the bot alive, and if you want to see the lil’ guy take out the Street Fighter cast, go ahead and download that exe. We’ve got Mega Man games oozing out of our arm cannons!
But we need a few more Mega Man Battle Networks.
Every (mainline) Mega Man Battle Network game is unquestionably a JRPG. What’s more, the entire franchise is basically Pokémon. You’ve got a shorts-clad protagonist that pals around with a bunch of random archetype kids, solves all of the world’s problems through pet (sorry, PET) battling, and, for some inexplicable reason, the villains that could potentially just kick over our rollerblading hero somehow lose to the power of friendship and teamwork. But all of that is just precursor for the best part of any MMBN/Pokémon game: futzing around in the world and becoming a Level 100 battle demigod. The post-game of this franchise is always amazing, and all that talky talk can get lost in the recycling bin for all anybody cares. Who doesn’t enjoy earning icons that forever signify your victory over the super, super, super hidden boss?
But Mega Man Battle Network has one thing that is completely missing from Pokémon: it’s actually fun to play.
Okay, as someone that has sunk a legitimate 400 hours into the last three Pokémon titles, I know that’s absurd hyperbole. Pokémon games are fun to play, in their way, but they are, at their cores, little more than chess. It’s all about strategy and planning, but the game itself could technically be played by a thumb attached to a jar (the jar, like most jars, contains a brain, duh). Mega Man Battle Network still relies heavily on strategy and planning, but actual physical skill is required for every battle. It doesn’t matter if you have the best chip folder on the net, you need to actually move that MegaMan.exe around the screen, dodge incoming projectiles, and maybe score an all-important counter so you can attack a weak point for maximum damage. Mega Man Battle Network is an action JRPG that amazingly adapts Mega Man gameplay. That’s no small feat! Looking at you, Mega Man X Command Mission!
And, what’s more, MMBN doesn’t make “action JRPG” a scary phrase. There have been many titles that attempted to add action heroes to the JRPG formula, and failed miserably. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood could have been an interesting adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog’s “gotta go fast” gameplay to the traditionally slow world of JRPGs (wait, this was always a terrible idea), but its constant need for timed hits every encounter quickly made battles a disappointing slog. There’s no such problem in MMBN, though, as, if you know what you’re doing, your average fight can be over in literally a second. And that’s not a glitch; you will receive all sorts of prizes for unleashing a 700 HP Program Advance at the starting bell. You’re encouraged to be as ruthless as possible, and that means snappy, fun gameplay. Just ask Kratos!
So it’s a bit of a pisser that this glorious action-JRPG gameplay from 2001 is apparently gone forever.
Full disclosure? At its core, the Mega Man Battle Network series is a card-based action JRPG. And I hate card-based games! I would sooner send the entire genre to the Shadow Realm than spend another moment of my life waiting to draw from my deck so I can actually do something. By my view, there are people that rave about the great gameplay of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and, on the other side of the aisle, there are sane people. Nine times out of ten, a card-based action JRPG just means you’re doing the same action you’d normally be performing, but maybe weaker, because you have the same luck as John McClane, and, by God, you’ll be walking barefoot over broken glass before you draw an actually useful card. I don’t care how dutifully you stack the deck beforehand, you’ll be wasting turn after turn waiting for the one card that completes your hand.
But Mega Man Battle Network doesn’t have that problem. Battles are snappy to the point of absurdity, and even if you’ve got a bad draw, you’re still essentially playing Mega Man (albeit one without jumping). It’s fun, exciting, and there isn’t the unending lingering found in its other card-based brethren. Mega Man Battle Network is wholly unique in its dedication to action and strategy!
And nothing else even comes close. So, please, Capcom, Inafune, or somebody, please bring back Mega Man Battle Network.
(But you can keep making regular Mega Man games, too.)
FGC #410 Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar & Falzar
- System: Gameboy Advance. It also made it to the WiiU virtual console in 2016, but fat lot of good that does us all now.
- Number of players: Like Pokémon, MMBN also always had a robust “meta game” where you could fight your friends. I… don’t think I ever had a friend that was also playing this game… so… uh… I’m sad now.
- Going to talk about the plot? Maybe if ROB chooses another MMBN game, and I’m not cripplingly nostalgic for the good ol’ days of its gameplay. Look, for MMBN6, just know that the internet was once inexplicably ravaged by a pair of magical monsters, and Dr. Wily wants to bring them into the real world because he’s mad at his adopted son (because his regular son has amnesia).
- Which version is best? There’s a lot to unpack there, because, not only are there unique Navis between versions, but both versions are direct sequels to the separate versions of Mega Man Battle Network 5. Which story would you like to continue? Which navis would you like to fight? What unique forms would you like to utilize? I chose Gregar version, because it includes a choo-choo.
- Favorite Navi (this game): EraseMan.exe is a play at featuring the grim reaper in a children’s game, and that’s always fun for everybody. He’s got guillotines for feet! He’s also known as KillerMan.exe in Japan, which is a little less subtle.
- Did you know? Speaking of EraseMan.exe, if Killer Cross, the version of MegaMan.exe when he’s fused with EraseMan.exe, attacks a virus with a 4 in its HP, the virus will be instantly erased. This is because 4 is a number of death in Japan… which must really make counting in that country a real pain in the ass.
- Would I play again: Cooooome on, Mega Man Battle Network Collection for Switch. You can do it, Capcom!
What’s next? Random Rob has chosen… Clayfighter 63⅓ for the N64! Is it just two thirds shy of being a good game? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!