Back in my days at Gamerz-Edge, I received fan feedback every once in a while but none more memorable than a few hate mail messages regarding some reviews on the Battle Network series. See, the misconception by my caustic critic was that I was not a true fan of the Battle Network series because I was urging Capcom to try something new with the format. Not that I’m a huge proponent of major changes if a format is fitting, but I hoped that some reasonable changes could begin occurring in the series to help keep the gameplay fresh.
See, I was a Battle Network fan from day one, picking up the original Battle Network and playing it into the ground, as well as its extensively larger sequel, Battle Network 2 (in which I actually attained everything in the game some 100 or so hours later). Early Battle Network was a blast to the hardcore RPG aficionado like myself due to its extensive amount of gameplay and extras to complete (Dragon Quest 3 comes to mind). Thus, you could say that I was one of the biggest Battle Network fans early on.
As with most Mega Man titles, Capcom continued the series with sequels and though there were some changes made in the battle format here or there, the games were all very similar in story, battle format and gameplay. This was where I began to feel the boredom of repetition and though I was very excited at the release of Battle Networks 3 & 4, my anticipation began to dwindle for 5 & 6. It’s not that I don’t love the gameplay or that the sequels are bad games by any means (in fact, the sequels all improve a few features making the gameplay a little better each time). Heck, if you singled out any one of the titles and erased all existence of the other 5, the existing game would receive as high of a score as any of the first several Battle Networks if not higher.
Loss of Luster
Nonetheless, the succession of multiple titles with little change is what hurts the series and what has caused a gradual drop in score from reviewers (check either Game Rankings or metacritic). It’s difficult to retain quality and sparkle in a series, especially if it’s of the RPG genre, if there aren’t many solid changes in either the gameplay or the storyline but it is possible. A good example of a series that has remained fresh with an excessive amount of installments is Final Fantasy. Sure, every game is set in a completely different time/world/situation than any of the other games but what really makes the games so successful are the deep story lines and major changes in the battle system from game to game. They have the same name and many of the games even have the same premise (Final Fantasy 1-5 all involve collecting crystals as the main story-driving element). However, each game feels like a different movie rather than an ongoing series of similar episodes, which is more of the case for Battle Network.
Still, when Mega Man: Star Force was announced as the rebirth of the Battle Network series on DS, I was more than excited to see what kind of changes would be present. The story included a completely new cast of characters…but was still essentially the same hackneyed story from the previous 6 titles. This time around, Mega Man is summoned through an alien…but the wave travelling (what used to be net travelling) is all too familiar and the battle system is dumbed down if anything (combat action is confined to left and right movement this time around rather than full 2D movement within a grid from the previous games). The setting is a brand new world…but the graphics are not much of a step up from the GBA incarnations and the overly flashy battle graphics almost take away from the combat in my opinion.
And so, after six installments on the GBA, a rebirth on the DS and not even a year later, we arrive at Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker x Ninja. As is the case with previous Battle Network/Star Force titles, there was a dual release of two very similar games (copying the Pokémon marketing strategy), with the only major differences being a few chips and a couple of style changes. There are a few improvements here or there in the already dumbed down combat system from the Mega Man Star Force series but the biggest qualm is the excessive amount of random battles. It’s difficult not to be disrupted in your journey across the EM world when countless numbers of lengthy (and drab) battles stand in the way of your destination. Also, the fetch quest style of gameplay makes excessive random battles even more difficult to endure.
As was mentioned before, the presentation is a little lacking for DS incarnation. Little improvement in graphics and sound from the GBA installments (as well as a less intriguing soundtrack than the first couple of titles) doesn’t help the game’s overall appeal. The saving graces are the online play, where players are able to trade battle cards online as well as battle or build your Link Power (something that strengthens Mega Man and encourages you to play vial Wi-Fi. Still, I must say that I am flabbergasted by the continual repetition in the series and only long for the next innovative Mega Man title that Capcom can contrive.