Mega Man’s not a robot. Dr. Light didn’t create him. Proto Man’s a total prick. And the hero of our story is the best friend of an elementary school student.
What is this, the Twilight Zone?! No, this is the world of Mega Man Battle Network, a radical revamp of the Mega Man franchise introduced by Capcom in 2001. Taking place in the year 200X, society is very similar to our own. Robots are few and far between, but people are much more dependent on computers and digital networks. Almost everything has a network port on it; TVs, refrigerators, even traffic lights. Most people carry PETs (PErsonal Terminals), which are combination cellphones/PDAs/computers. Many of these PETs contain AI programs called Navis (Net Navigators). Navis have a variety of purposes: assistants, confidants, gophers, even virus-busters. Enter Lan Hikari, a typical student. His Navi is named Mega Man (MegaMan.EXE, to be accurate), and he was designed by Lan’s father, Dr. Hikari. Mega Man seems weak at first, but he soon learns the art of virus-busting and unleashes his hidden potential.
Mega Man Battle Network is a major shift in the world of Mega Man. While the other Mega Man titles were primarily action platformers, the MMBN games for the Game Boy Advance are RPGs. Plus, since Mega Man has no physical form (he’s a program, after all), actions in the “real world” must be performed by his operator, Lan. (For example, Lan may need to throw a power switch to shut down a firewall.) Battles are handled in quasi-realtime; this is one of the best (if not the best) RPG battle systems I’ve ever seen. Mega Man’s on a 3×3 grid, facing his enemy (or enemies), also on a 3×3 grid. You can move from space to space, but only on your side. You also can’t jump. You can attack with your regular arm cannon, or use up to five Battle Chips. The Chips are where the game really shines. During battles, a meter on top of the screen (the Custom Gauge) charges up. When it’s full, you can pause the battle by hitting L or R, which brings up your Chip Select menu. Battle Chips have all manner of effects, like elemental attacks, defense, battlefield modifiers, and escape. Some chips can even be combined into powerful Program Advances, which come in very handy for enemy Navi encounters.
Mega Man himself levels up over time, and items can be purchased to make him even more powerful. Aside from Battle Chips, there’s also PowerUP items (to upgrade MM’s armor and firepower), RegUP items (to increase your Chip Folder’s memory, so you can use more powerful chips), and HPMemory items (to give MM more life points).
What about bosses? To keep up the references to the original MM universe, most of the bosses are “EXE” versions of their original series counterparts. Fire Man, Ice Man, Guts Man, Elec Man, Magic Man, Magnet Man, and more have all made appearances. Capcom hasn’t stopped there, though; plenty of new bosses were thought up for the MMBN universe, like Number Man, Gate Man, Thunder Man, and Planet Man. There’s even some weird ones, like Japan Man and Bowl Man. Many of these characters have been radically redesigned, with only some passing resemblences to their original series counterparts. Also, their attacks are generally a lot nastier. Where did all these baddies come from? The World Three (WWW), a cyberterrorist organization headed by the nefarious Lord Wily. These guys want to take over the world, and we can’t have that!
MMBN was a lot to digest, but MMBN2 added even more. Here we’re introduced to the Style system, where Mega Man earns an elemental affinity based on the way he fights. This affects his offense and and defense. If he’s got the Heat Guts style, his charged shot is now a powerful flamethrower that will deal double damage to wood-based enemies, but MM will take double damage from aqua-based attacks. The threat was even stranger in this game; it even deals with merging the real world with the cyber world. Funky.
MMBN3 brought in more Styles, and you could even level them up! MMBN3 also came in two versions: Blue and White. Each version had a few different bosses and hidden characters, plus varying Battle Chips. Also, the insidious WWW was back, so you had even more problems to contend with! One of the major plot points in MMBN3 is the N1 Tournament. This is a monstrous competition for NetBattlers worldwide, and people came from all over to watch their Navis throw down. In fact, Capcom even released a game solely based on the tournament, called Rockman EXE Battle Chip Grand Prix (we’ll be getting it in a few months as Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge). This game’s not an RPG per se, but more of a “card battle” strategy game. You can choose one of six participants in the tournament (Mega Man, Proto Man, Guts Man, Roll, or one of two new characters, Ring and Turbo Man), and fight your way through various brackets to be the best! Plus, by defeating enemy Navis, you can sometimes earn their chips, just like in the MMBN RPGs. However, rather than summoning them briefly to attack for you, a Navi’s chip in this game lets you actually use that Navi as a playable character! This is definitely important as your progress through the various tournaments, as later Navis are much more powerful. The plot differs slightly from the tournament in MMBN3, where Mega Man obviously won the day. At any rate, the game is fantastic. One of the coolest features by far is one where you can generate a password based on your Navi, his/her level, and what chips they have equipped. You can then email this password to a friend, and by inputting it into their copy of the game, they can fight against your Navi! A very cool addition indeed.
While the MMBN universe began on the GBA, it’s since expanded a bit. One game’s been released for the Gamecube: Mega Man Network Transmission. Unlike the GBA titles, this game’s a platformer, very reminiscent of the original NES Mega Man games. In fact, MMNT is loaded with homages to the classic series, like sections of levels that are perfect reproductions of NES levels. Quick Man’s level even has those godforsaken laser beams from Mega Man 2! Anyway, this game takes place between MMBN and MMBN2, and features a few new bosses, like Needle Man, Gravity Man, Sword Man, Star Man, and Bright Man. There’s also a new Navi known as “Zero”…
One MMBN game that US gamers won’t ever get is Rockman EXE WS, released for the Japanese-only Wonderswan Color handheld gaming system. This game is a platformer like MMNT, but doesn’t feature any new characters. Nevertheless, it’s a great game for Wonderswan Color fans. (I should mention that there’s a version of Rockman EXE Battle Chip Grand Prix on the WSC, too, called Rockman EXE N1 Battle.)
Speaking of which, Capcom’s really gone all-out with MMBN in Japan, where it’s known as Rockman EXE. Gee, the Japanese get cool stuff that we don’t? Tell us more! Alright, I will. Overseas, they’ve gotten two excellent anime TV series (Rockman EXE and the current Rockman EXE Axess), loads of cool action figures, working PET toys, collectible card games, dice games, board games, and more. What did we get? A horribly mangled edit of the Rockman EXE anime called “Mega Man NT Warrior.” If you ever have to watch it, save yourself the trouble and jam a white-hot needle in your eye instead.
Continuity? While many MM fans have tried to fit MMBN in with the other series (obviously taking place well before them), it really doesn’t work, since there’s references within MMBN that really can’t be justified. For example, a shop has a poster of Vile from Mega Man X, while one of Lan’s classmates has a rug with a Servbot on it (from Mega Man Legends). Nonetheless, nitpicking continuity issues can still be a worthwhile source of amusement.
Anyway, the MMBN juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down. Seven games in 2 1/2 years, fer crissake! December sees the release of Rockman EXE 4 in Japan, complete with two versions again (Red Sun and Blue Moon). These promise to have even more differences than MMBN3‘s dual release; the new Soul Unison system, for example, lets Mega Man take on the appearance and abilities of defeated enemies. However, each version of RMEXE4 has eight Soul Styles unique to it, plus different Navis. There’s even a cameo by Django, the vampire hunting hero of Konami’s Boktai! US fans will get the game as Mega Man Battle Network 4 sometime in early summer 2004; in the meantime, you can nab Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge in January. And if you’re a MM freak like me, don’t forget to check out Onimusha Blade Warriors this spring, which features the MMBN Mega Man as an unlockable playable character! That’s right, friends…kick some samurai ass with Mega Man!
Next week, we go back to the future, and see what happens after Mega Man X is long gone…and Zero must fight in his place.