I think Batman should die.
And speaking of the dead, today’s game is Mega Man X7. Mega Man X7 is a bit of an odd duck, as the Mega Man X franchise came to a logical conclusion with Mega Man X5, which then transitioned into the sequel series, Mega Man Zero. But there was also a Mega Man X6, which released nigh concurrently with Mega Man Zero. And, because of some foolish adherence to front-facing continuity (look, no one would mind a Mega Man X “interquel”), X6 continued the story of X5, forced Mega Man Zero to retcon its practically brand new continuity (now queen elves had to be involved!), and brought the whole cast back (from a death coma) for an adventure where the headliners were somehow simultaneously robots of the future and too-old-for-this-shit zombies. And then, while the Mega Man Zero franchise continued and eventually gained its own sequel franchise stretching the world even further into the future, there was Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8 (and, to a lesser, more parallel degree, Mega Man Command Mission). Both of these titles attempted to leave the undead nature of Mega Man X6 behind and start brand new X stories with a continuity that was not even attempting to tie to past or future titles. No more overtures of Dr. Wily. Barely any references to a future where Mega Man X becomes Dictator X. Just the good ol’ Reploids hanging out and busting Mavericks with X and Zero.
And Axl. Axl’s the new kid.
Axl is, arguably, the lynchpin of both Mega Man X7 and Mega Man X8. In X7, Axl is the former protégé of the wannabe villain of the story, and his defection to the good guys’ team is the inciting incident for the whole struggle. In Mega Man X8, it is revealed that Axl has always been the prototype of a new kind of Reploid, and a new conflict arises when Axl’s virtual children/brothers inevitably decide to take over the world. X8 even ends with the implication that Axl has been possessed or somehow infected with his brood’s big bad, and a theoretical Mega Man X9 likely would have addressed this dangling plot tentacle. In short, after Mega Man X6, the Mega Man X franchise basically became the Axl show, with special guests X and Zero.
And… that was not the worst thing in the world.
There are a lot of reasons to not like Axl. For one thing, he pioneered “Silver the Hedgehog” character design before that ‘hog telekinetically hurled his first crate. This is a situation where the original hero was already an “edgy” take on an adorable mascot, his partner/rival was already the marginally edgier version, and now we needed someone that was the edgiest. Axl is literally introduced as an amoral assassin, and, despite living in a world where people have guns for arms, he makes a big deal about being a gangster that always has a piece (and often holds it sideways, just for an added cool factor). Axl joins the noble Maverick Hunters, and he slightly slots into the traditional rookie-working-with-veterans role, but he also never completely drops his general bloodlust. He might be the “kid” of the group, but he is the kid that is going to dual-wield pistols and earn his hunter rank through an abundance of “retired” Mavericks. And, lest you check out for any and all Mega Man X plot details (cannot blame you), Axl’s design exudes a sort of… posturing personality. Prominent weapons, spiky all over, and “robo hair” that looks like a flaming porcupine (or hedgehog?). His color scheme even darkens between games! In short, Axl could easily be seen as an X replacement that is trying too hard.
And, make no mistake, Axl was intended as an X replacement. Despite being the eternal cover boy of Mega Man X7, X operates much like a “hidden character” for Axl’s maiden voyage. You can only unlock Mega Man X through playing a lot of Mega Man X7 (either beat all 8 of the Maverick Masters, or rescue 64 generic Reploids [with a possible max of 15 per stage if they don’t die]), and once you have X under your control, you’ll find… he’s just a better Axl. Sure, he does not have Axl’s unique copy ability or hover, but he has all of Axl’s subweapons, and X’s default shot allows for a charge that blows Axl’s offensive capabilities out of the water. It is pretty clear that X ‘n Axl are both 100% based on the same gameplay style, and Zero is the only exceptional butterfly (Morph Moth?) in X7. And why would that be the case? Well, you really cannot convince me that Mega Man X7 was conceived as anything other than a chance for Mega Man X to finally retire.
Axl is the star of the Mega Man X franchise going forward. So why is Mega Man X even here?
In a way, Mega Man X has been on his way out since his virgin voyage. The amazing Mega Man X was originally conceived with a character closer in design to Zero in its title role, but Zero was demoted to unplayable sidekick for a more prominent Mega Man descendant. This was probably a wise move, as an entirely new robot character (with a laser sword!) clearly would have blown the minds of 90s kids, and Capcom did not want to soil its collective conscience with overhyping an entire generation of children to an early grave. But Zero gradually took focus from X: his body was all over X2, he became temporarily playable in X3, and X4 allowed for the player to use Zero to the point that X could potentially not appear at all. Further games began to reinforce a sort of partnership between X and Zero (when they weren’t killing each other), but Zero did eventually get his own franchise (with a version of X as the villain!) when Mega Man Zero rolled out. Couple Zero’s rise to stardom with X’s very vocal desire to retire and raise robotic raccoons (conjecture on my part, but what else is X going to do with his free time?), and you can see how it would be very easy to let another Reploid take over the X franchise. As long as there is a game with running, dashing, and shooting, who cares who is headlining? Mega Man aXl is good to go!
And Axl taking over for X would be a good thing! Continuity-snarling holographic doctors that may or may not be sentient lurking around airports in century-old capsules making zero sense multiple games in? Not a problem for Axl! In fact, the omnipresent problem of our hero kinda sorta being responsible for every Maverick War ever is not remotely an issue with new protagonist Axl. He can just have hover-based fun in his world, and maybe occasionally be sad about his Red dead friend. And, from a gameplay perspective, it works perfectly. Axl is not beholden to the “controls” one would expect of a Mega Man, but he also benefits from being a clear Mega-descendant. If the technology was there from the start, Mega Man could have always “transformed” into Robot Masters rather than merely change colors to match their weapons. X was gifted an adaptive, chargeable buster, but was similarly constrained by SNES-based abilities. Axl, though? Playstation 2 hero Axl? He could do his own thing! He did not have to be obligated to continue 8-bit traditions; he could do something new! And if he wanted to wholesale steal a robot’s body, he could do it!
And, dammit, we could use more heroes that are totally divorced from their original constraints and requirements.
Look, we have all been through the reboots. A wiki would probably provide the correct answer, but, by my estimates, we are currently working on Batman #6,381. But he is still Batman. He is still Bruce Wayne. He is still going to have a bad night in an alley. He is still going to watch his pal Harvey Dent endure some haphazard facial reconstruction. He is still going to pick up a young ward after the worst time a circus could ever offer. As long as Batman is Batman, he is going to be towing around nearly a century’s worth of “necessary” continuity. Same for Superman. Same for Spider-Man. Same for Goku. Same for Mega Man X. Same for so many protagonists we have been recycling and repurposing for years and years. And, while everyone is always going to recognize the likes of Batman or Black Widow, every comic, movie, or television show is going to have to pay the corresponding price of telling the same stories and being beholden to a reality that may be horribly outdated. “Wealthy Playboy Bruce Wayne” had a very different meaning in 1939, but we are still stuck with it in 2021, when the idea of a billionaire that actually helps people seems less likely than a flying white man from space. But can Bruce Wayne be anything else? Maybe for an issue or two, but he will be back to “iconic” by the next movie premiere. The audience demands that a Mega Man always works like a Mega Man, and the same demands are made of every new Batman. You can deviate in a story a little, but you better believe you need to be back on track by the time Martha Wayne is putting on her pearls.
So why not let Axl have his day in the sun? Why not let X retire? Why not let Batman die? The old stories will still be there for future generations, no one is suggesting we burn down the Marvel Library of Alexandria. But maybe we don’t need another retelling of Steve Rogers doing magical drugs until he got to punch Hitler. Maybe we can lay off the characters with decades of “stability”, and start something new. New people are born every day, so why not allow new heroes to headline breakfast cereals? Let X retire, and let Axl take up the torch. It will be new, different, and good for everyone.
… Though, come to think of it, if we are going to kill and replace Batman forever, maybe Abatmanl could get a better premiere experience than Axl….
FGC #596 Mega Man X7
- System: Playstation 2 initially, and now available on any systems that host the second Mega Man X Legacy Collection. Switch? Playstation 4? Xbox One? Whatever works for you.
- Number of players: You can switch between two Maverick Hunters, but only one person can control them at a time.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I might like the concept of the plot, but this is the worst Mega Man X game ever. Mega Man X6 is terrible, but at least it is recognizable as a Mega Man X title. Mega Man X7 attempts to shoehorn 3-D movement into the franchise, and it fails miserably. X should not have to aim! And everyone is so… weak! Every opponent soaks about a thousand more hits than necessary, and Maverick bosses have lifebars that border on the infinite. And robots can fall down for some reason! Just a miserable game to play.
- Worst Change of All Time: Zero’s jumping slash is now not a screw attack-esque spinning blade, but a simple forward slash. This makes Zero about as useful offensively as damp cheese.
- Favorite Maverick: Flame Hyenard’s battle is ridiculous in all the wrong ways (terrible voice clips, a giant horse mech, some kind of duplication power), and could be number one just for the novelty alone. That said, my money is on Vanishing Gungaroo, as we apparently have a Maverick that finally figured out how to use Ride Armor for nefarious purposes. See, Flame, you only need one gimmick, not seventeen.
- An end: Who cares about the ending when the final battle against Red is a 3-D recreation of the terrible final Dracula fight of Castlevania X? Teleportation and small platforms do not mix on a good day, but please do not also combine that with an X7-trademark unwieldly health meter. Oh, and it is the middle of a gigantic final stage also featuring every Maverick fight all over again? Awful.
- Watch it, buddy: Thanks to a weird “off-week”, this game was technically “chosen” by our Tuesday Night Streams. Missed watching it the first time? Well, here, give it a go:
Marvel as I find my sea legs via dying in that stupid Bamboo stage over and over again.
- Did you know? The back of the box shows Mega Man X in the intro stage. This is impossible, as, even if you have X unlocked through New Game Plus, you cannot choose your character(s) for that opening stage. So maybe this is evidence X was always intended to be more included…
- Would I play again: Man, if it wasn’t for the stream, this would have been the one game on the Mega Man X Legacy Collection I didn’t play ever. I am okay with never playing Mega Man X7 again, though.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! for the Nintendo Switch. It’s going to be a boxy good time! Please look forward to it!
Just don’t respawn this time