It’s hard to believe that the Mega Man series used to be a yearly franchise. Multiple yearly franchises. Capcom has only released one wholly new Mega Man game in the past 10 years, but during the Game Boy Advance’s life span, they released six Mega Man Battle Network games in six years. Nowadays, all Mega Man seems to be to Capcom is a source of material to harvest for compilation releases, such as with this latest collection, making all six Battle Network games available on modern consoles for the very first time.
Mega Man Battle Network has always been something of an absurd franchise to me. Capcom took a series that, until that point, was nothing but 2D platformers, and gave it one of the most radical redesigns I’ve ever seen for a franchise. It was a complete continuity reboot, the character designs were radically different, and it was a completely different genre as well. The weirder part was that all of it worked. And it still works, even nowadays.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection is available now for $59.99 on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Note that, as with some of the previous Mega Man compilations, when buying digitally, you have the option of buying the collection split into two separate volumes at $39.99 each. Volume 1 has Battle Networks 1, 2, and 3, and Volume 2 has Battle Networks 4, 5, and 6. This review will cover both collections as one cohesive package.
Story: The Internet of Things
Alternate timelines and multiverses seem to be a popular trend in media nowadays. From Spiderverse to Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart, everyone seems obsessed with the idea of exploring alternate universes. Capcom was on that trend 20 years ago.
The Mega Man Battle Network series is an alternate timeline to the core Mega Man timeline, born from Dr. Light (or Dr. Hikari as he’s known in the Battle Network games) pursuing a career in network technology instead of robotics, and convinced all of society to follow his vision of the future. As a result, the Mega Man world has been completely changed. The world of classic Mega Man was a nightmarish hellhole filled with neverending wars against killer machines. Battle Network’s universe, by comparison, is mostly peaceful, with humans accompanied by digital life forms known as Netnavis that make their lives easier.
The world of Battle Network is actually two worlds. The real world, where humans live, and the Cyberworld, where Netnavis live. In the Cyberworld, monstrous viruses run amok, causing catastrophic malfunctions in any technology they inhabit. There’s also the threat of cyber-terrorism, courtesy of this timeline’s Dr. Wily and his crime syndicate known as “WWW”. It’s up to 11-year-old hero Lan Hikari and his Netnavi Megaman.EXE to defend the world from evil.
I gave a general synopsis of the entire series instead of going into specifics on each game because while these games have many strengths, their narratives are not one of them. Each game’s narrative and tone vary wildly in quality. They range from Battle Network 3 having a surprisingly nuanced story with a lot of nice character drama, to 4 having some of the worst, most loony-bin insane writing I’ve ever seen in an RPG.
The games are structured like a shonen anime. Each scenario has Lan and Mega Man go to a new location, fight a villain of the week, and the main plot may or may not be moved forward. I like this structure, it helps give Battle Network a unique identity. The narratives are more fun than deep, with a lighthearted tone and lots of wacky side characters.
Translated by Idiots
The stories are not especially great, but the words that compose them might be worse. The Battle Network games did not receive updated English localizations for this collection. And that is a huge problem, as, even by the standards of the early 2000s, these games have awful localizations. It’s one thing for a translation to be full of embarrassing typos, but it’s another to obscure the function of items and make plot-critical advice vague, misleading, or flat-out wrong, as Battle Network’s English localization can do on occasion.
Battle Network 4 is the absolute worst in this regard. I can confidently say that it’s the worst English localization of any game that I’ve ever played. It may in fact be the worst English localization ever made, at least for a professionally released product. The amount of amateurish mistakes they make is something that must be seen to be believed. Capcom should be embarrassed that they approved this for release back in the day, and still embarrassed that they’re selling it 20 years later. The rest are nowhere near as bad as 4, but sloppy English translations just seem to be baked into Battle Network‘s DNA.
One last note regarding story, I’d actively recommend that you don’t start with Battle Network 1. It’s easily the jankiest game in this collection and might scare off people who would otherwise love the series. The Battle Network games, while they do have connective tissue with prior entries, are largely self-contained adventures, so you’ll miss very little from starting with Battle Network 2 instead, (or anywhere else for that matter).
Gameplay: The Most Fun Anti-virus Ever!
Battle Network’s battle system was completely original back when these games first came out. And even nowadays, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s such a product of its time. A mixture of speculative sci-fi with an action RPG battle system. Also, throw in a card-based battle system and a heavy focus on multiplayer, because why not?
Battles are arranged on a 3×6 grid, with Mega Man on one side and enemies on the other. The core of the battle system relies on Battlechips, which give Mega Man access to powerful, single-use attacks. Use a Sword Battlechip, Mega Man will swing a sword. Use a flamethrower Battlechip, Mega Man uses a flamethrower. There’s healing Battlechips, defensive Battlechips, Battlechips that summon other Netnavis to assist you, there’s even a Battlechip that summons corn.
The battle system manages to gradually evolve through the series, growing in depth and introducing even greater customization options. Battle Network 2 introduces transformations into the series, with 4 further expanding on them with the Double Soul system allowing Mega Man to take on the appearance and abilities of friendly Netnavis.
This combat system hasn’t aged a day, and with the explosion of deckbuilding games in recent years, it only holds more appeal nowadays. There’s a nearly infinite amount of options to build folders. And there’s an even greater incentive to build good folders because, for the first time ever (at least officially), all six Battle Network games have online multiplayer. As these were Game Boy Advance games originally, multiplayer required two Game Boy Advances, two copies of the same game, and the GBA Link Cable. Even arranging all that for Pokémon was virtually impossible, let alone Battle Network. Being able to play online is infinitely more convenient, and with solid netcode, you’ll never get tired of multiplayer netbattles.
The Troubles with Meatspace
While I have nothing but praise to offer the series’ battle system, the actual systems the battles are structured around are less than ideal. Lan and Mega Man both exist in different worlds. Lan exists in the real world, and Mega Man lives in the Cyberworld. Many of the series’ dungeons involve Lan and Mega Man working together to solve puzzles. Mega Man will encounter an obstacle he cannot pass, and he’ll need Lan to find a way for him to proceed. I do love this in particular. I can’t think of many RPG series that do a split-world mechanic like this.
The core problem with the Battle Network games is that they have absolutely no respect for the player’s time. The Battle Network games are fairly short for RPG standards, a casual playthrough of each game shouldn’t take much more than 20 hours. And of that 20 hours, I’d estimate that a fourth of it is meaningless busy work. These games are full of grinding and mandatory backtracking. Nothing encapsulates this better than Battle Network 4’s qualifier for the second tournament. Lan is required to find 50 “Battlepoints”, entailing a mindless scavenger hunt through previous areas. There is no plot development, no new enemies to fight, just an artificial means of extending playtime. This wouldn’t pass as a sidequest in a proper RPG, but here, it’s mandatory for progression.
New and Fresh
There is not much new content in these games. There’s an art gallery and achievements, and a neat menu frontend with a full 3D Megaman.EXE, complete with Andrew Francis, his voice actor from the anime, reprising his role. There is, however, a lot of “new” content. “New” content being content that was ripped out of the original Western releases of these games for whatever reason. All of this content is faithfully preserved in the Legacy Collection, letting people play it in English for the first time. The most significant of this “new” content is Battle Network 6’s postgame being fully intact, giving access to several new maps and letting Western players experience the Boktai crossover quest and exclusive boss fight, as originally intended.
The other source of “new” content is the Patch Cards, which I bet is “new” to most Japanese players as well, as Patch Cards in the original GBA releases could only be used with Nintendo’s failed E-Reader peripheral. Patch Cards are a secondary method of modifying Mega Man’s abilities. They grant access to special powers that cannot be obtained otherwise like wacky charge shot modifiers. Alternatively, they can also give Mega Man oodles of free items, including the previously event-exclusive Download Chips. Western players could previously only obtain these with a cheating device, but now the joy of summoning the final boss to steamroll your enemies can be had by all.
Needs More Quality of Life Features
A lot of RPG re-releases tend to improve upon the annoying aspects of their initial releases. Mitigating grinding, speeding things up, and papering over the annoyances that old RPGs tend to have. The Battle Network Legacy Collection’s only new quality-of-life feature is BusterMAX mode, an easy mode that modifies Mega Man’s basic Mega Buster attack to 100x its normal damage value. I never felt the need to use it. The Download Chips are more than sufficient in terms of breaking the collection’s difficulty. Drawing one of the Download Chips is basically an instant win button until the endgame, and you can add these to your inventory the moment you beat the tutorial. Here’s six quality-of-life features that I think would have made this collection 100 times better.
The first and most important quality-of-life feature Capcom should have added is an in-game map. The internet areas are confusing to navigate as is with limited visibility and an endless barrage of random battles distracting you. It only gets worse as later internet areas get stuffed with one-way conveyor belts and teleporter mazes.
Second is an adjustment to battle rewards. The main reason the games are grindy is that enemies will only drop money OR Battlechips on defeat, never both. Simply making you able to earn both money and Battlechips from fights would instantly fix any issues with grinding throughout this series.
Third is for Battle Network 3, which introduced the Navicust, letting Megaman equip programs that grant passive abilities. It’s also the only game that has Navicust parts used for overworld navigation. I’d love it if Capcom made these programs key items instead so you don’t have to screw with the Navicust every time you need them.
Fourth would be a rebalancing patch for the various games. Most of them have one absurdly broken chip or strategy that dominates everything. Since multiplayer is now far more accessible than it ever was, having better balance would be great.
Fifth would be an in-game glossary of hidden chip abilities, making it easier to find out what everything does. This is particularly relevant with the Varsword chips, which can perform different attacks if you input a button combination when using it, but there’s no easy way in-game to find the combos.
Sixth would be to make alterations to the most awful sections throughout the series and make them less annoying. The Battlepoints quest is one, but there’s also 1’s Power Plant dungeon, 2’s Ice scenario, and 5’s GargoyleComp.
I’d think Capcom would agree with many of these changes. Battle Networks 1 and 5 received enhanced DS ports that already include some of the requests I made. And as the versions in this collection are the GBA originals, none of these quality-of-life features have been included. While nothing in 5’s DS port was what I’d call absolutely essential, the same cannot be said for 1’s DS port. Battle Network 1‘s DS port (Mega Man Battle Network Operate Star Force to be more specific) fixes nearly all of the first game’s significant issues. It makes world navigation much easier, vastly overhauls Battlechip balance, and has significant new content. I can only hope that they include Operate Shooting Star when Star Force inevitably gets its own Legacy Collection, but its absence here is disappointing.
Graphics and Sound: Digital Style
I think the presentation of all the Battle Network games has aged just as well as the gameplay. There are two slightly different art styles across both games. 4 onwards has a bright, cartoony look, and 1-3 has a more “realistic” color palette. Regardless, the settings are richly detailed and full of life. Battles are well animated, with appealing-looking sprite work and trippy backgrounds. They’re not incredible for the GBA, but I still think it’s an effective visual style that holds up well. The core sprite work is completely unchanged, but Capcom has touched up certain other visual details throughout this collection, and I honestly think they shouldn’t have.
The main thing I’m referring to is their odd handling of fonts. The main font that the games originally used has been completely replaced. The GBA versions used an angular font that seemed suitably “cybery”, for lack of a better term. The Legacy Collection instead opts for an absurdly formal-looking serif font that looks completely out of place. I thought it might have just bugged me at first because I’m very familiar with the GBA originals. But then I noticed that other text assets are either AI retouches of the originals or completely unchanged, and the different fonts don’t fit together. I’m assuming the font was replaced because the new one is more readable, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have provided an option to choose between the two.
Mega Man games always have awesome music, and the Battle Network games are no different. The music throughout this series is consistently awesome, perhaps one of the best soundtracks on the GBA. The only somewhat disappointing note on the OST is that the remixed soundtrack used in 5‘s DS port is nowhere to be found. Not even the gallery mode has it. While I have no strong preferences on which is better, it is still somewhat disappointing to not have the OST of the version I grew up with. Regardless, all the music in this collection is pure gold.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection was reviewed for Nintendo Switch.