JRPG Review

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection – Review

In the early 2000s, the Mega Man brand was in a much different place. During that time, the original iteration of Mega Man was pushed to the side in favor of a new kind of blue bomber. The new “EXE” iteration of Capcom’s iconic mascot would help to codify the massively successful line of Battle Network games. Just over 22 years out from the original release on GBA comes a remastering of the whole series. Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection has finally arrived.

Reality, Cyber Reality, and Mega Man

In the not-too-distant future of 20XX, the real world and cyber society have become one and the same. Everything, from basic air conditioning units to AI-controlled court judges, runs on complex cyber technology made to mimic the real world. In the wake of that comes Netbattlers, human-navi teammates who partner up to stop cyber world viruses from causing trouble. Middle schooler Lan Hikari and his NetNavi MegaMan.EXE are up-and-coming netbattlers who go through their day-to-day lives with an unfortunate penchant to frequently get caught up in cyberterrorism. That’s the basic gist of the story, and while there are a few twists and emotional moments throughout all six games, the writing isn’t the reason you’ll stick around.

Mega Man Battle Network’s core gameplay loop consists of four elements: the real world, the cyber world, customizing Mega Man, and battling. Although each game further iterates and expands upon the core foundations set in the first one, the core concept behind it never changes. 

In the real world, you’ll play as Lan and progress the story through talking to NPCs and interacting with the environment. You’ll also be able to buy things to help out Mega Man, such as special attacks that come in the form of Battle Chips.

In the cyber world, you’ll control Mega Man. Naturally, this is where the bulk of important gameplay occurs. Here, you’ll explore the cyber world and progress through enormous maze-like areas littered with items, NPCs, shops, side quests, and dangerous battles to partake in. The more you progress, the more you’ll be able to upgrade Mega Man by finding special perks and items.

Mega Man does not “level up” in a conventional RPG sense, there are no experience points to speak of in these games. Rather, as the player is given more and more option tools and ways to augment Mega Man, how he is built is completely player-driven. Besides the first two games, which have fixed increases to Mega Man’s stats, there’s no “correct” way to build Mega Man. Instead, the player must learn to deck build with various Battle Chips at their disposal to give him the proper edge in battle. With each enemy defeated, you’ll gain access to new Battle Chips to add to your deck that mimic the enemy’s skills.

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - Gutsman

Net Battling

The combat system of Mega Man Battle Network is a thing of beauty, and each successive game only improves upon it. When an encounter begins, you’ll start a battle on a 6×3 grid that is evenly split up between you and your opponents. You’ll also be able to draw Battle Chips much like you would draw cards in a game. Once you have your chips selected, you’ll engage in real-time tactical battles where you must move across the board and carefully time which battle chips you use to reap their maximum effects. After the end of each battle, you’ll be given a rank that affects your reward. These rewards can be Battle Chips, money, health pickups, or a special currency that can only be used in specific shops.

What makes this combat system so endlessly engaging is its chemistry system, rather, how there is logical and boundless cause-and-effect to just about every chip you can use. Chips can stun, sweep, destroy the flooring, restore the flooring, rain meteors, summon toxic gas, and a whole other boatload of things that I could talk about all day. Although these games are more than 20 years old, it still feels as though the full potential of these games has yet to be reached. It gives the combat system a nice feel of being easy to learn, but hard to master. 

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - Tactical Battle

Starting with Battle Network 2, transformations are even thrown into the mix for that extra bit of spice. With each transformation, Mega Man’s core move set changes, as do his elemental strengths, weaknesses, and which Battle Chips are strengthened. Certain transformations also give him distinct perks, such as a shield or the ability to fly over broken flooring. Battle Network 5 and 6 take this a step further by introducing transformations to the transformations. This allows for even more customization as the player is effectively given access to 11 different transformations at any time.

Volume 1, “World Three” Saga

Volume 1 of the Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection follows the “World Three” (abbreviated as “WWW” in-game) storyline that begins in Battle Network 1 and concludes by 3. This Volume of the collection only includes four games, as Battle Networks 1 annd 2 are completely standalone titles. Starting with 3, each game in the series would be split up into two versions with distinct gameplay elements a la Pokémon. Although in 3’s case, I would highly recommend playing Battle Network 3 Blue, as that game is an unambiguous upgrade from the White version.

Being the earliest games in the series, you would be correct if you were to assume that these are more mechanically relaxed than the games in Volume 2. Although there is steady mechanical evolution between each game, I wouldn’t say any of these reach the sheer density of options introduced in the second Volume. Instead, they focus on getting the most leverage out of the deceptively simple foundation laid out in the first title. They also provide what I feel are more in-depth single-player experiences, with 3’s post-game in particular feeling like a whole other experience in its own right.

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - Trophy

The obvious weak link of the Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is Battle Network 1. Being the game that started it all, it is naturally the shortest and least balanced game in the series. It also suffers from other issues such as a lack of important quality-of-life features. New players who don’t essentially keep a guide open will get lost a lot, and there’s no manual option to run from battle. Combat-wise it’s also barebones, lacking the tactical deckbuilding and transformations that would come to define the series’ later installments.

The best game of this collection is Battle Network 3, my vote for best game in the series overall. It’s easily the longest and most content-rich game in the series, and also expands upon ideas set up in Battle Network 2. On top of that, it introduces staple ideas such as Counter Hits and Full Synchro, both of which would become majorly fleshed out in the following games.

Volume 2, “Dark Chip” Saga

As the previous game had ended on a conclusive note, starting with Battle Network 4, the series goes through a soft reboot of sorts. The characters and their prior histories don’t change, but the storyline to follow is completely new and the games even adopt a modified art style to reflect that. Battle Network 4 is when the series starts to heavily push its multiplayer component through version differences, as all of the games in this collection have more drastic differences. Each game uses the same basic story outline, but some events will differ, characters may show up in one version but not the other, and Mega Man will also have different forms to take.

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - 6 Menu

While that would have been a pretty eye-rolling thing back then, I think the different versions within the context of this collection heightens replay value. If you play one game and choose to play it again, you’ll have a substantially different experience simply by choosing to play the other version of it. It helps that these games feature superior combat to their Volume 1 counterparts, with more creative chips and transformations that more drastically affect Mega Man’s behavior in combat.

That said, Battle Network 4 is unfortunately the weakest game in the whole series. Poor pacing, bad game balance for much of its runtime, and needing to play it several times to fully complete it just drags it down. It also features a laughably threadbare story that doesn’t start properly until, and I’m not kidding here—Battle Network 5. 4 is still a reasonably fun game for its good transformations, fun new chip selection, multiplayer, and introduction of the Dark Chips… But it’s also the game that gives me pause if someone were to ask me whether all of them in the collection are good or not.

Thankfully, things pick up dramatically by the time you reach Battle Network 6, which is frequently and rightfully in consideration for being the best game in the series. Although it’s not my personal favorite, the combat, customization, excellent PvP, and brisk campaign make it deserving of high marks. Unlike other branches of Mega Man, Battle Network 6 is distinct in that it also provides a proper and definitive conclusion to the entire series.

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - Fanboy

Remastering Overview

Rather than use emulation, each game in the Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is a from-the-ground-up remaster made to better accommodate modern hardware. For the most part, the games are still functionally indistinguishable from their GBA counterparts. The games look sharper than ever, provided you turn off the obligatory and always-ugly smoothing filter. On a Switch display in particular, they just look plain terrific. Each game has aged very gracefully in their detailed and expressive pixel art.

The first change that you’re likely to notice is the new font used for the entire interface. I’ll be blunt on this new font: it looks bad. The smooth, almost typewriter-like lettering clashes incredibly hard with the series’ amazing pixel art and its modern, sleek visual ethos. Thankfully, it was an aspect of the visuals I could eventually just tune out, but I’m still left wondering why this change was made when the original font was already perfectly fine. Even the Japanese language version of the collection uses a font that very closely matches the old GBA renditions, so I’m confused as to why the English version didn’t also follow suit with this.

This wouldn’t be so bad if they at least took the opportunity to update the English scripts of these games, but they didn’t. This is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the entire collection, as almost every game in the series (barring Battle Network 6) have a notable number of translation quirks. Battle Network 4 and 5 in particular live in infamy for having translations that are so bad, they border on unreadable at times. While I’m not expecting full overhauls to the old scripts, some effort in at least fixing the more glaring issues would have been appreciable. Infamous lines such as “Leg’s go, Lan!”, “There’s so many electrical store!”, and “What a polite young man she was!” still live on in their full, horrific glory.

Thankfully, things start to pick up again when you examine the contents of each game. Due to memory limitation issues, many international releases of Battle Network usually had content from the Japanese versions cut. This could range from small things such as the ‘plug-in’ and ‘NaviCust’ animations from Battle Network 3, to much bigger things like post-game content and special battle chips in Battle Network 6. As of this release, that is no longer the case. All regional versions of every game in the series now have full content parity with each other. 

Even things that were never translated before now are given special treatment. Having played these games extensively on old hardware, I was delighted to see the effort put into getting these games back into proper form for the re-releases. Engaging with all this content is also an actively rewarded proposition, as there is now an in-game achievements list that tracks specific tasks from game-to-game. 

Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection - Who R U

Always Connected

One of the biggest draws of Battle Network in its heyday was the inclusion of an incredibly extensive multiplayer component that greatly informed its gameplay loop. Players could compete in competitive PvP, trade battle chips, and even trade forms and builds of Mega Man. The big question coming into Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection was whether all of that could be preserved in any notable fashion. The short answer to that is not just yes, it’s actually better than before.

Each game has full online connectivity, allowing for all of the same functionality you’d expect from them back on the GBA. Aside from during story-critical moments, you always have access to online play through the pause menu. Here, you can either connect with a random player or use a special passcode to link up in a private room with a friend. From here, you can either compete in casual matches, ranked matches, or wager chips in battle to heighten the stakes. 

Having tested the online experience with the most popular competitive game, Battle Network 6, I have to say that I am impressed with the online implementation. Battles are smooth and new rules are introduced to accommodate the new online setting. Everything works as intended, and playing the games as if I’m always connected to thousands of other players via an invisible Link Cable is actually kind of uncanny.

Outside of multiplayer, there are also Download Chips. As the name suggests, Download Chips are a special variety of chips that you can get by connecting to the internet. The ones distributed are the same as those that were distributed through special events or promotions throughout Japan many years ago. Naturally, that means most international players will be seeing most of these chips for the first time. I recommend using the Download Chips function only after clearing each game, as they are meant to be seen as bonus rewards and are often outright banned from competitive play. Trying to use them in the middle of a normal playthrough will completely destroy any semblance of balance the games might have had.

Extras

When you’re not playing any one of the games, you’ll be sitting in a menu styled after a PET (that’s “PErsonal Transmitter”). MegaMan.EXE will be your guide through all of this, giving out voice lines and fun little exchanges that do an excellent job of mimicking his personality throughout the games and anime. Take a screenshot and he’ll react appropriately, posing for the camera. Shake your Switch and he’ll even scold you for it. He’ll also react to what goes on in the games, such as congratulating you when you finish one or acting strangely when you install the “Humor” program onto him.

These are small touches, but they help to emphasize the love this collection was crafted with. MegaMan.EXE is voiced by Andrew Francis, who voiced him in the anime’s ill-fated and short-lived English dubbing. Hearing his surfer dude voice again after so many years is strange, but it definitely feels right for something so celebratory.

Outside of these, you also have more standard inclusions to the Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection, such as a full art gallery and sound test. There are also a handful of new remixes of various songs from the game, which are of generally good quality and combine a wide range of genres.

Verdict

If not for the still remaining translation quirks, I’d have been tempted to give this collection a perfect score. Mega Man fans have been clamoring for Battle Network’s comeback for a long time, and in almost every regard it was well worth the wait. Excellent online functionality and the restoration of lost content brings up each title featured to their definitive forms. With six RPGs featuring lots of content, it’s also an excellent value proposition. Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is undoubtedly a collection done right.

MEGA MAN BATTLE NETWORK LEGACY COLLECTION IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Humble (PC Steam)

If you enjoy JRPGs, then perhaps you’d like our review of Fire Emblem Engage

Many thanks go to Capcom for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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