Megaman Battle Network - Retroview

It's all in the battles
By: Phillipe Richer

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 8
   Music & Sound 5
   Originality 9
   Story & Plot 5
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 20-30 Hours  

No, the battle system is.
No, the battle system is.
Mega Man Battle Network

   Mega Man Battle Network came out in the fall of 2001 and stood-out as being one of the first good RPGs available for the GBA. Capcom's biggest persona had previously appeared in the Mega Man Legends RPGs, but those games were hardly fateful at all to the core concept of the original Mega Man series. On the other hand, Mega Man Battle Networks (MMBN) managed to propose the same fast-pace action found in the regular side-scroller shooters while not straying too far from the root principals that make RPGs what they are.

   You'll assume the role of Lan Hikari and his digital friend Megaman.EXE as they attempt to stop the evil WWW - a group of extremely powerful Internet criminals - as they corrupt the various network areas of the peaceful DenCity. Megaman will be your main hero in this cause and will act as the protector of every digital and computerized object found in the city. Fight old Megaman villains, obtain more powerful "battle chips", and put a stop to the infamies caused by the WWW.

   The battle system in MMBN is by far the game's high note and its main attraction at the same time. You'll be using no one but Megaman during your adventure, since Megaman is Lan's only "Net Navi", a digital organism with a life of its own living in the cyber-world. Encounters happen randomly in the cyber-world, and every battle takes place on a 3x6 battlefield. The field is divided among yours and the enemies' area, allowing nine squares of movement for both, unless somebody uses special chips to alter the terrain. Megaman can move at will across his nine squares while using his infinitely-loaded buster cannon, which can be upgraded along the course of the game, to attack foes. The big strategy comes from preparing your folder of 30 "battle chips" among all your possessions to provide a suitable arsenal of attack, curative, and terrain altering chips for Megaman's use. Each chip possesses a predefined damage rating and a code of one letter. You can also combine similar chips in combat to discover various highly powerful advance chip combos.

   At the start of combat, you'll have five randomly selected chips from your folder to choose from. You can select as many chips as you can during a turn, as long as their letter code remains the same. Or, you can select the "add" command to add five more chips to your arsenal. The fights are separated by imaginary rounds that stop once the custom gauge fills-up to allow access to more battle chips. There are a total of 175 different battle chips, each with several different codes, available by buying, finding, trading, or acquiring them after combat. Given their volatile and strategic nature, battles in MMBN are always different and exciting. Part of the fun comes from making the best use of your chips and managing your folder carefully. Even after fighting a dozen times against the same group of foes, you're never guaranteed success since your chips literally define who you are. Decimating enemies with your trusty buster cannon is also a lot of fun once you obtain more upgrades for it. The only hick-up is that Megaman's HP is completely restored after every battle, making fights less challenging by default. A "run" option would have been nice, although there is an "escape" chip provided at the game's beginning.

A secret pathway to escape the classroom.
A secret pathway to escape the classroom.

   Your enemy's HP is always displayed under them and there are no defense parameters per se. There are various elemental properties for your chips however, and you'll also be able to equip Megaman with some damage-halving armor later on. The "real" world in MMBN, the one Lan wanders in, is very small. The entire game is comprised of only three or four areas with plenty of people to trade chips with and digital objects to "jack-into". Once you jack-in somewhere, it's up to Megaman to explore the area. The Net is a huge cyber-area filled with monsters and linked to different terminals across DenCity. Arranging your chips and wandering around poses no problems in MMBN, while the battle controls are simple and intuitive. Once your chip library gets really big, you'll appreciate the many sorting options available to you. There could've been more information for discovering battle chips however, because completing your entire collection will prove to be very difficult.

   Music seems to have been relegated to a lower rank during the game's development because most melodies sound very dated and simplistic. The compositions don't make good use of the GBA's sound card at all. That is not to say that the tracks are absolutely annoying, but there aren't really any strong compositions along the soundtrack. The music is serviceable, but might get tiresome if listened to for a long period of time. Sound effects in battle are better, as they provide more enthusiasm than the battle theme itself. Most every chip has a different sound to characterize it, and the battle atmosphere is pretty electric.

   For the most part, the plot serves as little more than an excuse to push Megaman into various digital appliances and Net areas. You'll soon learn about a formidable group of criminals called the WWW who plan to take over the entire Net. Lan and Megaman will encounter many singular characters along their adventure, most of them scheming with the WWW. Your heroes will also make good use of their many friends' abilities to help them stop the digital plagues set by the WWW. The plot wanders from light-hearted adventures to more serious matters, but it's still cohesive and appealing enough to force you along Lan's adventure. There are a few twists here and there, and since it's rare to see a game centered on the cyber-world, the plot feels quite unique and enjoyable to me, though somewhat childish at times.

   Capcom did an excellent job with the localization. Since the game is very light-hearted, the casualness of the dialogues and the more colloquial vocabulary of certain characters fit the picture perfectly. There are absolutely no typos either, so the script feels very natural and well taken care of. It was nothing extravagant, but a solid effort nonetheless.

Megaman came close to getting impaled.
Megaman came close to getting impaled.

   MMBN doesn't offer much for those ready to go for a second playthrough. There are no side quests so to speak, no extra plot elements, and no escaping from the plot's linearity. The only incentive would be to acquire every single battle chip, which would be quite an arduous task, but also very feasible the first time around if one desires to do so. The game is also reasonably short, taking anywhere around 20-30 hours to complete on a normal run, depending on how obsessed you are with chip acquisition. Another big reason for the lack of replay appeal is the fact that MMBN2 is also out and proposes more or less the exact game with a few twists. Of course, that wasn't the case when the game first came out, but there is nevertheless not much to be seen on a second run.

   The game looks absolutely wonderful. Be it in battle or in town, the vibrant colors and the excellent character animations always shine through. However, the net looks very empty and devoid of atmosphere, and since that's where you'll be spending most of your time much more work could've been done to make the cyber-areas more attractive. Special effects are very well displayed during combat, while the slightly animated character portraits add more personality to the cast of friends and foes.

   MMBN is a very unique game that still caters to a wide audience. Hardened RPG veterans will appreciate the battle system's depth and the generous amounts of chips while strict Megaman adepts will also discover a new spin of one of the most renowned franchises. The plot and soundtrack lack depth, but the focus clearly wasn't placed on those elements either. MMBN provides an enjoyable experience for everyone and proves that a great battle system and enough originality can compensate for various shortcomings.

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