Review: Mega Man Battle Network 4: Red Sun & Blue Moon (Game Boy Advance)

MEGA MAN BATTLE NETWORK 4 RED SUN & BLUE MOON

Genre: RPG

Platform: GBA

Rating: E (Everyone)

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Release Date: 06/29/2004

We’ve seen a lot of strange stuff over the years. We’ve seen the Metroid franchise devolve into an FPS. We’ve seen Mario jump into the world of 3D. And we’ve seen Mega Man become a digital avatar rather than a physical being of circuits and wires. For the fourth time in three years, Capcom graces us with another solid Mega Man RPG. Well, technically, it’s two RPGs; unlike most games where there’s dual releases, the two versions of Mega Man Battle Network 4 (Red Sun and Blue Moon) have a ton of different bosses and diverging storylines. This is in sharp contrast to Mega Man Battle Network 3 Blue and White, where the only real differences were a few bosses and chips.

STORY

If you’ve never played a Mega Man Battle Network game before, and you’re only familiar with the Blue Bomber’s original adventures, then you’re in for a bit of a shock. First of all, this series has no connection to any of the others, save for the reuse of names and similar character design (think of it as one big homage). Secondly, and most importantly…Mega Man and pals are not robots! They’re not even physically tangible! Why? They’re computer programs known as Navis (short for Net Navigators). Instead of running through fortresses and such, MegaMan.EXE traverses internet servers, pipelines, and other cyberworlds in his quest to rid the ‘net of viruses and other threats. MegaMan.EXE’s operator, Lan, is an elementary school student, and he factors just as heavily into the gameplay. There’s also a deep personal connection between ol’ MM and Lan, but I’m not going to spoil that one for you. At any rate, MMBN4 begins five months after the defeat of Wily in MMBN3, and Lan’s just starting 6th grade. Naturally, things start going wrong in cyberworld, and MegaMan.EXE is off to investigate the problem, which is of course part of a larger plot for world domination. Unlike past games, MMBN4 has more focus on tournament battling. You’ll be squaring off in the Blue Moon or Red Sun tournaments, depending on which version of the game you purchase, and there’s different bosses and subquests for each. (Rating: 9/10)

GAMEPLAY

There’s two facets to MMBN gameplay: the real world, and the cyber world. While using Lan in the real world, you’re often getting items, activating switches, etc. There’s no combat here; that’s what the cyberworld is for. As MegaMan.EXE runs around, he’ll deal with random enemy encounters as well as bosses. Combat itself is an amazing mix of realtime and and turn-based strategy, and is easily one of the best battle systems I’ve ever seen. You and your enemy both move around on a grid, and you can fire your weapons, use Battle Chips (you can only hold five at a time in battle), and dodge attacks in realtime. At the top of the screen, you’ve got a “Custom” gauge; when it fills, you hit L or R to bring up a Battle Chip screen, where you can supply MM with five more chips from your Folder. The rest of your chips are in your “pack,” and swapping them with chips in the Folder is all part of the strategy before going into battle.

Each successive MMBN game added “tweaks” to the gameplay; just a little something extra that would make battles more strategic, without taking any of the flavor away. MMBN2 added Styles, MMBN3 added the Navi Customizer, and in the case of MMBN4, we’ve got Soul Unisons, emotions, Counters, and Full Synchro. Seems overwhelming, but it’s really not; Soul Unisons, for example, replace the Style system. When you defeat certain bosses, you can acquire their “soul” and during later battles, you can temporarily fuse with that soul for special attacks. For example, defeating MetalMan.EXE and using the Metal Soul will make MegaMan.EXE look a bit like MetalMan.EXE, as well as give him that Navi’s punch attack. These only last a few turns, and they must be triggered by using a compatible Battle Chip (there’s icons on each to indicate if they’ll work or not), but they can really turn the tide of a battle.

Another new feature is MegaMan.EXE’s emotional state. During battles, there’s a small mugshot of him in the corner. He’ll likely be in “normal” mode, but he can also be panicky, angry, evil, or Full Synchro. All of these affect your battle effectiveness; the latter in particular really lets you kick some ass. More on that in just a moment.

Counters are self-explanatory; if you attack an enemy with a Battle Chip right as they’re about to attack, it’ll be a “counter-attack” and will boost you right into Full Synchro, if you’re not there already. Full Synchro lets you deal out double damage with most Battle Chips, and if you score another Counter while in this mode, you can paralyze enemies. Very handy, indeed.

Oh, there’s more. The Navi Customizer is back, though you don’t start out with it right away (this is explained, and the reasoning is rather humorous). The Customizer lets you add programs to MegaMan.EXE’s core, and these programs have varying effects, such as increasing your max HP by 100, speeding up your attacks, and so on.

All in all, the possibilities in battle are nearly limitless. With a load of Battle Chips to choose from, plus all of the Soul Unisons, how you fight each battle is really up to you. Oh, and if you’re thinking of linking up with friends to battle, then go right ahead; MMBN4 has a rich “networking” system for multiplayer battles, trading, and record comparison. (Rating: 10/10)

GRAPHICS

While Capcom essentially used the same graphics engine for the first three MMBN titles, it’s been altered somewhat for the fourth installment. Most notably, the sprites for Lan and his friends are redrawn and resized so that they look more like kids, especially in comparison to adult characters. Lan and crew are notably smaller, as well they should be. MM himself is a bit smaller on the ‘net screens, but he’s regular size in battles. As is the standard with Capcom, character and enemy design is flawless. Most Navis are throwbacks to classic MM bosses, like ShadeMan.EXE and SearchMan.EXE. Instead of outright copying the original robot, the EXE versions of these guys often have cool references to the original, or in many cases, they look very different indeed (especially in TopMan.EXE’s case). Animation and expressions look amazing, really showing off what the GBA can do. Special effects run rampant, but without detracting from anything else on the screen. Finally, everything is nice and smooth, with no evidence of slowdown. (Rating: 10/10)

SOUND

Crappy sound in a Capcom game is relatively rare. MMBN4 has a few remixes of classic MMBN themes, and plenty of new tunes that suit the atmosphere of the various locales. Techno-ish music fills most ‘net areas, and in some of the “darker” worlds, the music is suitably creepy. The sound effects are largely the same as previous titles, but the samples sound great and most attacks have appropriately different sounds. (Rating: 9/10)

CONTROL

The controls in this game are very intuitive, and everything is explained in an in-game tutorial. C’mon, it’s an RPG, fer crissake. Excellent control should be and is the standard here. (Rating: 10/10)

REPLAYABILITY

As with any RPG, there’s plenty of sidequests, items, and extra stuff to do, even after you’ve completed the game. Most Battle Chips can only be acquired by defeating enemies, so you’ll have your work cut out for you if you want to find every single one. Plus, helping out other Navis and programs can often earn you bonus items, like the every popular HPmemory (which boosts your HP, naturally). There’s no way you’ll get bored. (Rating: 8/10)

BALANCE

The difficulty curve’s not bad at all. While certainly not as difficult as some of the classic SNES and PS1 RPGs of yore, MMBN4 is a perfect moderate entry. However, for those sadists who really want a challenge, there’s other sidequest areas of the game (including some after beating the final boss) that are extremely difficult, where enemy Navis will really smack MM around. (Rating: 8/10)

ORIGINALITY

Taking a classic video game character, and updating it for a new generation of gamers while still retaining his unique charm? That’s what MMBN is all about. Rather than getting stale, Capcom continues to innovate the series, adding more Navis from their stable of old characters, as well as adding new ones. (Rating: 9/10)

ADDICTIVENESS

MMBN4 is definitely one of those games than can keep you hooked. There’s plenty to do, without a feeling of being swamped. A multitude of Battle Chips and trying out different battle strategies never gets old, and playing network games against your friends is a worthy challenge as well. (Rating: 8/10)

APPEAL

Aside from the obvious appeal to rabid MM fans, MMBN4 is still a solid game for any RPG fan, and even those who aren’t big RPG fanatics. The cool meld of action, adventure, and RPG styles really works to the game’s benefit, and should attract a lot of gamers. Hell, when it was released in Japan last winter, it outsold everything else for at least 5 weeks! (Rating: 8/10)

MISCELLANEOUS

Mega Man Battle Network 4 will be able to link up to the upcoming Mega Man Zero 3, due for US release this fall. How is this possible, since they take place in two separate universes? It’s all just for fun; basically, Zero will run around in a “cyber world” and fight off MMBN viruses in a side-scrolling environment. Meanwhile, fans of Konami’s Boktai series will be pleased to see that the hero of those games, Django the Solar Boy, makes a cameo appearance in MMBN4…just not in a way you’d expect. You can even get his weapon, the Gun del Sol, as a Battle Chip! And on a completely random note, MMBN4 has a Vanilla Ice reference. Rock on! (Rating: 8/10)

Final Scores:

Story: 9/10

Gameplay: 10/10

Graphics: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Control: 10/10

Replayability: 8/10

Balance: 8/10

Originality: 9/10

Addictiveness: 8/10

Appeal: 8/10

Miscellaneous: 8/10