Revisiting a Beloved Game Series
In an industry where video game franchises endure for decades, it’s always surprising when a popular series comes to an end. That was the case with Mega Man Battle Network, Capcom’s much-loved tactical RPG series that still has a dedicated following to this day. The Mega Man spinoff burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, making its debut on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and delivering six mainline titles by 2005. However, its momentum suddenly halted, transforming the franchise from an annualized series into a defunct one in the blink of an eye.
Now, 18 years after the release of its final game, Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection gives the series its long-awaited moment in the spotlight. This compilation includes all six mainline games, some of which come in two different versions, similar to Pokémon. This means that fans are treated to 10 RPGs for the price of one, making it the best value game release of the year thus far. Regardless of whether every single game is worth playing, I would highly recommend it.
Unveiling a Historical Gem
What sets Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection apart is its status as a historical document. By presenting the busy few years of Game Boy Advance glory in chronological order, it allows us to both understand why fans have continued to love the series and see where Capcom went wrong in aggressively trying to capitalize on its success. It serves as a postmortem for Mega Man Battle Network, telling the tale while also celebrating its impact.
Jack in: An Engaging Adventure
The Mega Man Battle Network series is a creative spinoff of the classic platforming series that still feels fresh today. It takes place in a futuristic society where technology governs everything, from dog houses to classrooms. Naturally, this makes everything an easy target for cybercriminals and terrorist organizations like the World Three (WWW). Players assume the role of Lan, a young kid with the ability to jack into any web-connected device and combat viruses with the help of Mega Man.
Image used with permission by copyright holder
As far as ports go, Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection leaves very little room for complaint. All 10 mainline games are faithfully preserved here, and Capcom has even included special bonus cards that were previously exclusive to Japan’s Game Boy Advance e-Reader. While there is an unsightly filter that smooths out the GBA’s pixelated graphics, it’s a relief that players can toggle it off. My only mild critique would be the replacement of the dialogue fonts with a smoother one, which feels out of place visually and cannot be changed.
The games themselves have aged remarkably well, as is the case with many recent GBA re-releases. The core combat mechanics feel as fresh as those found in modern indie games in 2023, seamlessly blending genres. It’s a deck-building game where players assemble a set of chips for real-time tactical battles that unfold on a grid. Each time Mega Man’s energy bar fills up, players can pause the battle and choose a handful of chips to use, though they can mostly only equip chips that share the same letter code. The goal is to create a synergistic set of chips that generate more combo opportunities each time the bar refills and a new hand is dealt.
From the moment I started testing out the first game, I was instantly captivated by the combat system. It offers an engaging loop that consistently rewards clever chip combinations. While the abundance of random encounters can become tiring, each battle presents an opportunity to fine-tune my chip selection before taking on a larger boss fight. It’s incredibly satisfying to obliterate a screen full of enemies in a matter of seconds. In those fleeting moments, I truly feel like a genius engineer.
Image used with permission by copyright holder
There are aspects that haven’t aged as gracefully, such as obtuse objectives and repetitive world designs. However, given that the series is two decades old, these flaws are to be expected. The collection makes an effort to mitigate some of these issues by including an optional mode that boosts Mega Man’s damage output, allowing players to bypass random battles more quickly. Although it’s not as convenient as the fast-forward feature found in recent RPG remasters like Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamer Edition, it serves its purpose in aiding new players through the surprisingly enjoyable stories of techno-terrorists. The only additional feature I wish it had was an auto-save function to counteract the reliance on manual saves, which sometimes led to setbacks after forgetting to save for extended periods and losing progress in a random encounter.
Putting nitpicks aside, I’m thoroughly immersed in this solid collection of kid-friendly RPGs that harken back to a golden era of handheld gaming innovation. However, my fascination peaks when I begin to question why the series came to such an abrupt end.
Log out: A Continuous Journey
One immediately noticeable aspect when transitioning between games is how strikingly similar they feel. When I switch from Mega Man Battle Network to its sixth installment, it feels like I’m diving into a full-fledged sequel as Lan embarks on a new school adventure. The games in between seem more like incremental updates. When Mega Man Battle Network 2 begins, I am instantly transported back to the exact same classroom from the first game, complete with the same basic tutorial. The same pattern repeats when I progress to the third game, almost as if I am playing one continuous 120-hour RPG that resets players’ progress every 20 hours.
While there are subtle changes between games, the core formula remains largely unchanged. Later iterations of the battle system introduce new mechanics, such as Mega Man countering enemy attacks with precise timing or allowing players to add more chips during a turn. However, the fundamental concept remains consistent. I find myself traversing familiar overworlds as Lan, jacking into objects to explore digital spaces that gradually improve in design with each new game, and engaging in a multitude of tactical battles. Even the more significant changes in the fourth and fifth games don’t feel as groundbreaking now as they did at the time.
I don’t bring this up to criticize the series; each iteration of the formula is enjoyable, and the stories offer enough variety to keep me engaged. However, it helps me understand why the series ultimately reached its endpoint. It becomes evident that these games were released on a tight annual schedule, with Capcom frequently recycling assets, user interfaces, and systems. Each game feels less like a true evolution and more like another chapter in an ongoing narrative. If mainline Pokémon games were released only a year apart instead of every four years, you can imagine how the anticipation and excitement would diminish with each subsequent release.
This sentiment is echoed by reviews of the series at the time. Critics praised the first two games, but the consensus gradually waned with each subsequent entry. Reading those old reviews evokes a sense of fatigue, as it becomes clear that writers struggled to find something new to say year after year. Playing through each game now, I can feel Capcom’s eagerness to capitalize on a groundbreaking concept and create its handheld sensation, one that needlessly emulated Pokémon’s dual-release structure (other series, like Bomberman, would adopt a similar strategy on the GBA). Perhaps the fate of the Mega Man Battle Network franchise would have been different if the six games were spread across multiple handheld platforms like the GBA, DS, and 3DS. The rapid-fire annual releases inevitably diminished the impact of each subsequent installment, a sentiment that is palpable when playing them all back-to-back. If you’re not particularly invested in the story, simply playing Mega Man Battle Network 3 in this collection will leave you satisfied.
Even if that’s your preferred approach, Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection remains a must-own historical document for fans of the series and portable gaming enthusiasts alike. It offers a chance to perform an autopsy on a once-great franchise, ultimately making peace with Capcom’s decision to conclude it. After all, why continue churning out games when there’s nothing new to say? The six phenomenal games showcased in this collection are more than enough to keep the series’ legacy alive.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection launches on April 14 for Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC.
- The best video games of April 2023
- Tokyo Game Show 2022 Capcom showcase: how to watch and what to expect
- Everything announced at the June 2022 Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase
- Pac-Man 99 is pure battle royale chaos — in all the right ways
- Capcom will catapult Mega Man to the big screen with a live-action movie
Note: This article is written exclusively for OnSpec Electronic, Inc..