Here lies the Mega Man X series. Forever may it rest.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Mega Man X is one of my favorite games. Mega Man X2 and X3 are both great experiences, too, as, while they’re not as great as OG X, they both contain that same (exactly the same) enjoyable X gameplay. Then we get into X4 and X5, which introduced Zero as a (permanently) playable character. The jury is still out on whether or not this improved the series, but, for my money, there is nothing more joyous than double jumping around with a lightsaber and dicing mavericks to maver-bits. Then, starting with X6, the series tried to be experimental. And by “experimental” I mean “completely horrible”. If the stories are true, Inafune stopped formally directing the X series with X5 (so he could move on to the Zero series), and X6 was left in hands that were… slightly less capable. X6 may not have been the disaster some have claimed (it is an extremely unpolished mess, but it is still “X gameplay” at the end of the day), but then we got X7.
I’m probably never going to forgive Mega Man X7.
I’ll save the majority of this rant for when ROB inevitably pegs that Playstation 2 title, but, long story short, Mega Man X7 tried to do the “bring old franchise to the modern era” trick… but failed miserably. 3-D action areas were broken and slow, and the beloved gameplay of the SNES/PSX titles was forsaken for Flame Hyenard announcing his intention to “burn”. It was a rotten experience all around, and, while the drive to innovate is always appreciated, it certainly did not work out in this situation.
But, aside from the crummy gameplay, Mega Man X7 introduced another fine addition to the X canon: it firmly planted X’s head so far up his own ass, he could lick the inside of his own reploid ribcage. Only the buster on his arm knows for sure why, but the Mega Man X series always had a sort of maudlin sentimentality to the storytelling. It was mostly confined to the endings during the first three titles, but X4-X6 managed to wedge in conversations with Mavericks that often involved robots lamenting their sorry lots in life shortly before shooting homing fish at each other. X7 ratcheted that up a notch or two with a tale of betrayal, refugees, and Sigma that was, fun fact, the exact same plot as Mega Man X4. X7 managed to expand the talky talk of the X series, but still told the exact same story as ever.
The next logical step was clear: an endlessly philosophizing JRPG called Mega Man X: Command Mission. Wait! No! That’s a terrible idea! Please keep the franchise going! We like action games! Please give us a new Mega Man X game, and please let it be an actual goddamn Mega Man game! Please?
Well, we mostly got our wish.
Mega Man X8 should be lauded for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a return to (almost entirely) 2-D gameplay, so 90% of X7’s inane bullshit went right out the window. Additionally, X8 did its best to add an interesting facet to the series, so it allowed for character switching “in battle”, and based a number of scenarios, like escaping a grasping opponent or teaming up for a double attack, on the convention of having two combatants available. X got some curious armor, Zero scored a menagerie of weapons, and Axl’s “morph into a mook” ability got expanded to something actually viable. Couple this with some stimulating secrets, one of the better uses of “money” in the franchise, and your typical eight mavericks ready for a beat down, and Mega Man X8 is a pretty good game to actually play. Assuming you can forgive the vehicle sections and a few areas that are entirely instant death traps, X8 is an enjoyable experience.
But then there’s the story. It’s not that the story is bad (which it certainly is), it’s not that the story is somehow at war with its own continuity (thanks, Zero series!), and it’s not even that the story pukes all over the very concept of even basic science (Earth does not need a space elevator!); no, the greatest sin of the plot of Mega Man X8 is that is tries to be Mega Man Genesis Evangelion without the tiniest hint of irony or self-awareness. The subtitle is “Paradise Lost”. The first stage is Noah’s Park. The final battles are against Sigma as a fiery devil, followed by a fallen angel with beautiful wings. X whines about having to murder his fellow robots while battling the thinnest allegory for the Light Bringer in the history of gaming. Someone thought it was a good idea for Mega Man X, the robot built by Santa Claus to bring about world peace with his flamethrower arm, to play out some Bible fanfic while incidentally battling Bamboo Pandamonium, the nihilistic panda robot with swords for fingers. This is a thing that happened, and it absolutely could not have happened by accident. Someone… probably multiple people… thought this was the proper direction for a series featuring a robot that is occasionally named after granite.
And… it killed the X series.
There are likely a number of reasons Mega Man X8 was the final chapter. At this point, it was becoming more and more complicated to create realistic and cartoony graphics, and the general population wasn’t a fan of the latter appearing in practically anything. The man behind the Mega had already moved on to a new series, and the new home of 2-D gaming, the booming portable market, would wind up hosting a number of different Mega experiments (see ZX, Powered Up, and the X-based Maverick Hunter releases). And, hey, the original Mega Man series had stopped at 8 at this point, too, so maybe that’s just the cutoff for Capcom properties (sorry to be the one to tell you this, Resident Evil). The fact that Mega Man X8 had sagging sales compared to other Capcom properties may have been a factor. But, all told, it’s terribly unlikely that anyone looked at the plot of this bonkers adventure, acknowledge said bonkinality, and decided it was time for a break. But should we have received a Mega Man X9 on PS2, I have no doubt it would have continued the story of Axl, the lamest Maverick Hunter in the world, and maybe involved a parable about the sacrifice of Christ or something.
So I have to say this right now: Capcom, if you considering rebooting or reigniting the Mega Man X franchise, please, please ignore every X game since… let’s say… Mega Man X.
Look, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Zero is a lock for inclusion, and even Axl could be pretty interesting with his Bass-esque abilities. Include armor parts, weapon upgrades, and maybe even a chip system. That could all be pretty great. But please ignore the entirety of Mega Man X continuity. Please let X just be moderately conflicted, and don’t make him fight gods. Let him run, jump, and explore, but don’t let him in the same room as anything called “The Jakob Project”. X, Zero, Dr. Wily, Sigma: that is all okay. Fighting angels is not.
Mega Man X8 is where the X series died. Let it be dead, and pray that its next resurrection is decidedly less holy.
FGC #367 Mega Man X8
- System: Playstation 2, and PC a year or so later. Let’s hope the PC version fixed that glitch where the robot ant becomes accidentally trapped in his own box.
- Number of players: Two hunters at a time, but only one player.
- Best Reward for OCD: I normally disparage collectathon elements, but the reward for playing this game an unnecessarily long time is unlocking the three navigator lady reploids as playable characters. They’re just reskins of the main cast that are randomly weaker… which is not sending the best message… but they’re also the first you’ve been able to play as anyone with a rep-gina in the X series (give or take the JRPG). And Layer with Sigma’s humongous sword is a beast, so I will hear no detractors.
- Favorite Maverick: Gravity Antonion is an excuse for flipping stage orientation in a 2-D game, so he gets my vote. He’s also one of the few insect-based mavericks that is any fun at parties. Uh… don’t ask.
- Did you know? Dark Mantis‘ Pitch Black stage is located in Africa. Darkest Africa. Are you getting Capcom’s clever/racist joke!?
- Would I play again: I guess there’s an X collection on the horizon, so it’s kind of inevitable. Not looking forward to reclaiming all my hard-earned powerups from scratch again, nor do I want to hear X shout “Lumine” ever again, but, hey, sacrifices must be made.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter 4 for whatever system I can find! Hooray! Street Fighting times for the last article of the year! Please look forward to it!