A Tale of Two Mega Men

I beat my first game in over two months late last night, while catching up on Leverage. In fact, I beat two games. One was Dissidia 012, which was the culmination of 50 hours of plugging away at it in small doses here and there. The endgame was disappointingly easy, mostly because Squall ended up being a dreamwrecker. In the last post I went on and on about the Dissidia learning curve, but it turns out that Squall throws that out the window, since he started crushing things from the word go and never really stopped. It almost got boring after a while, because Squall doesn’t have any of the cat-and-mouse or positioning games that the other characters have to play; he just walks up to the other guy, Brave Breaks ’em, then takes ’em down in one shot. I stuck him at the front of my party for the final chapter and he ended up carrying me more or less the whole way, ending up twelve levels ahead of the next-highest character (Bartz).

The final boss was supremely disappointing. Backstep, HP Attack, watch credits. That was literally all there was to it.

There’s certainly more to see here, but it appears to be the sort of grindy incremental-gains numbers-for-numbers’-sake type of postgame that all-too frequently turns me off postgames, so it remains to be seen whether I’ll stick with it. The sheer number of things left to buy at the PP Catalog is simultaneously encouraging and daunting. I’d at least like to experiment with the villains, but grinding them up is no easy task.

The other game was Symphony of the Night, which I ended up turning to when I wanted to play something, but wasn’t in the mood for the twitchy pace of Dissidia or the extremely deliberate one of Final Fantasy Tactics. My thoughts on the game from my playthrough earlier this year still hold up, although I kept my promise and set aside my Crissaegrim this time around. I filled up enough of the castle to get the best ending, but I didn’t see everything — for one thing, I’m missing a relic. (The Nose Demon card, I believe.) SotN demands to be replayed, though, so I imagine this portable version will be a frequent sight in my PSP in the years to come.

To fill the void I’ve turned to a pair of Mega Man games: Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X. Believe it or not, I was on the scent of Powered Up even before Brickroad started LPing it. The only NES Mega Man game I haven’t beaten yet is 1, mostly because everyone keeps telling me it’s kind of mediocre — more of a necessary jumping-off point in the vein of Metroid or Dragon Warrior 1 rather than something that actually needs to be played — so I figured that a remake with a ton of neat features, including a buttload of alternate characters (Protip: If you want Tanto to like your game, add multiple playable characters) and a level editor, would be the ticket. Although Maverick Hunter X was on my radar, I hadn’t intended to buy it — unlike Mega Man 1, I’ve played Mega Man X 1 more times than I can count, and the new features didn’t seem worthwhile enough to justify re-buying it when I could just grab it on the Virtual Console. However, I was poking around on the PSN Store late last night and noticed that the game was on sale for five bucks, which more or less made my decision for me. Principle is fine, but five bucks is five bucks.

Contrasting these two games is of great interest to me. They’re similar in a lot of ways — they’re both remakes, they both use a kind of cruddy polygonal graphic style, both bombed hard enough to kill plans to extend them into series. But they’re different, too, both in terms of my experience with them and in their design philosophy. As I mentioned, I have very little experience with Mega Man 1, so I ended up lurching through the levels like a drunken baby, dying to just about everything that looked like it could potentially kill me. Part of that was inexperience, but at least some of it was the result of bad hit detection (Mega Man’s hitbox is quite a bit larger than his character model) and the fact that the screen is zoomed-in relatively close, so you don’t have the expansive view of the level you’re used to. In addition, I was trying to unlock all the Robot Masters as playable characters, which meant I couldn’t use their weaknesses against them (assuming I knew them, which I didn’t).

MHX, on the other hand, I’ve always been kind of iffy about. Initially I resented it, because it resulted in a gimped Mega Man X Collection. The story is, supposedly MMXC was going to be much more comprehensive — Inafune was going to rewrite the story to make it more comprehendable and rebalance some of the more bullshittier parts. (Seeing them make something worthwhile out of X6, on either count, would have been worth the price of admission by itself.) However, he was persuaded to hold off on these updates so they could be implemented in a full-blown remake series, the Maverick Hunter X series for PSP. The first one bombed, though, putting the kibosh on that and leaving us with unchanged ports on the Collection and a remake of the only game in the series that didn’t actually need one. Mega Man 1, you could argue, needed a remake because it was a flawed game. You can’t say that about X1, though — it was golden in 1993 and it remains golden today. There’s nothing there to fix.

Actually playing it, though, all that drama slides away. It feels like coming home. The levels were changed a little bit, but not much (the boots are in Flame Mammoth’s stage now, which merits a new stage order), and I sleuthed through half the Mavericks without dying once in the time it took me to beat my first Robot Master in Powered Up. It was so easy that I’m considering banning weapon use for future playthroughs — I almost felt bad for Spark Mandrill, as he didn’t even get to move as I Shotgun Iced him to death.

You can beat Vile in the intro stage now. I don’t know what’s up with that.

Beyond that, though, it’s interesting how the two fit together. You get the impression that these games are channeling the “true vision” for the series — Mega Man classic as cutesy, goofy, and fun, and Mega Man X as brooding and dramatic. It’s telling to me that the changes to Powered Up are almost exclusively in the name of making the game more varied and fun, while the changes to MHX are in the name of making the story more prominent. That’s fine for the initial entries — you can’t exactly make X1 more fun, as noted — but it becomes an issue down the line with regards to games like X3 or X5 that need serious trimming on the gameplay side, or X6, which needs a complete overhaul. And the story… let’s face it, the X series doesn’t have a good story. It’s the same “blue guy kills robots” stuff from the classic series, it’s just not as self-aware about it. Trying to polish that turd will only take you so far. You can cut “What am I fighting for” but then people might start noticing that the problems with X4’s story go further than a terrible translation and hokey voice acting, you know?

It’s probably good that both series petered out before they got too far. The additions both added were nice gimmicks, but I think they’d have worn out their welcome before too long. (Is anyone beating down the door to play as Top Man or Toad Man? How is playing as Flash Man or Bright Man going to differ from playing as Time Man?) Powered Up’s terrible engine would have reared its ugly head in games that are better on their own, like 2 or 3, and MHX would have found fixing some of the X series’s weaker entries to be a more challenging task than it had anticipated. Better that we get a taste and dream about what might have been rather than become inevitably disappointed by what ended up being.

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