Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 1 Review – Nostalgic Future

    Title: Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 1
    Developer: Capcom
    Release Date: April 14, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Capcom
    Genre: Strategy RPG

At one point, the Mega Man franchise expanded across multiple genres, but one subseries I never delved into was Battle Network. Unlike the other titles, this series was distinct, focusing more on character-heavy stories in a relatively modern setting. Thankfully, Capcom revealed the Legacy Collections for veterans to revisit Battle Network and for newcomers like myself to finally give these titles a shot. After playing through Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 1, I’m pleased to say that amidst some gameplay confusion and odd design choices, the entries hold up well.

The Mega Man Battle Network entries occur in an alternate history of the original Mega Man games, where computer development has progressed to staggering heights, enabling the internet, colloquially referred to as simply the Net, to become the hub of communication, business, and just about anything else you can possibly imagine.

Utilizing such advanced technology also requires pioneering breakthroughs known as Net Navigators and Personal Information Terminals. The former, more commonly called NetNavis, are essentially programs that act as guides for humans and communicate via the previously mentioned terminals shorthanded as PETs. The Net is depicted as an explorable world of its own, loosely comparable to our own world, except with its expected quirks.

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Protagonist Lan Hikari, an elementary schooler seeking to become a renowned and skillful Net Battler, a position where one battles virus programs with their NetNavi, naturally becomes quite familiar with this realm. He’s quite a cocky and naive youth, though his NetNavi, Mega Man, tries his best to keep him in check. Throughout the three games in this Collection, you, by proxy of Lan, traverse a multitude of Net maps, thwart nation-to-worldwide catastrophes, and experience a rapidly evolving series of gameplay systems.

Still, the gameplay fundamentals are the same, no matter what title you’re on. Firstly, you explore the real world as Lan and the Net as Mega Man. Lan’s world really acts as a gameplay anchor for the Net, as he can obtain gear and complete quests that directly tie into that data world. You can then enter, or jack-in to, the Net via any device with an internet connection, highly encouraging exploration since countless items can be found in these areas. To elaborate, any random piece of technology you examine contains either its own Net world or a subspace connected to the rest of the Net.

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That subspace connection is what defines the simultaneously compact vastness of Battle Network as a whole. You can quickly lose track of time traversing every outlet to the Net and discovering how some locales are interwoven, like an indescribably intricate web. Still, for as addictive and satisfying as this practice is, the lack of viewable maps can be unnecessarily frustrating. While the screens alone can be understood entirely adequately, the larger picture of how to reach certain spots of the Net via specific jack-in points seems like a needless oversight that could have been remedied in these modernized releases. Granted, it’s not like this fault ruined any of the games for me outright, but it’s undeniably the most significant annoyance I had.

Combat is another point of uniqueness since it’s a melding of tactical strategy and real-time action. Happening on a grid where the initial spots for you and your foe(s) are 3×3; you can freely move Mega Man wherever you like, with the ability to shoot out projectiles while avoiding telegraphed enemy attacks.

But the real spice makes itself collectively evident via Chips, equippable skills you place in a folder that randomly distributes its contents mid-battle. Those of the same type can be equipped simultaneously while in fights as well, enabling consecutive usages. Further, the gauge at the top of the screen illustrates how long you must wait before you have access to the Chip menu, and it gradually refills on its own throughout a fight.

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The Chips are the crux of the gameplay and collecting since shops provide them, and enemies drop unique ones representative of themselves. Your playstyle is put on display here since you can approach battles in any way you want. Generally, you can hang back with projectiles and long-ranged Chips or take over opponents’ tiles and get up close and personal with sword-based or punching Chips.

Of course, some enemies are designed in ways reinforcing or even requiring particular strategies, but those instances teach you how to effectively embrace concepts you might have overlooked. Also regarding player individuality are the discoverable Power Up Chips, which can heighten one of three traits for Mega Man’s standard shots; rapidity, raw damage, and charging efficacy for the Mega Buster.

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The first Battle Network is endearingly simple since those traits are all of what the combat comprises. Health is also fully restored in between every encounter, so there’s lacking consequence necessitating you to play defensively. For the most part, you can go all out all the time and be good to go, so this entry is by far the easiest.

However, Battle Network 2 ups the ante considerably. Aside from altering elements of the Chip system to encourage greater experimentation, such as wild card Chips consecutively useable alongside any other Chip, Styles were added. This mechanic replaces the first game’s more simplified and honestly forgettable armor with element-centric equipment, completely changing the playing field. Sidequests are far more prominent in the early hours, too, though only one can be taken at a time which feels needless.

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Mega Man Battle Network 3 is a bit of a different beast that requires brief elucidation. This was the first title to be released with two separate versions, titled Blue and White in English. Akin to Pokémon, these two releases have the same storyline but differ in gameplay facets, with the most major being version-exclusive Chips and Styles. Interestingly, the Legacy Collection has both White and Blue selectable. Still, you can play whichever entry you’d like, as you’ll have roughly the same experience. I played through the White release and did a bit of research on the changes in Blue.

One of the most jarring alterations to Battle Network 3 specifically is its UI. The menus are far more organized with cleaner Chip division; honestly a relief for me. Because the Chip menus were so congested in the previous two games, I often stuck to what I had in scenarios where I should have modified my setup.

One last mechanic worth noting is the Navi Customizer that replaced the previous two games’ Power Up Chips. This is a grid interface where blocks of differing sizes can be placed with specific requirements, giving Mega Man useful abilities and stat enhancements. While the Power Up Chips did what they had to so suitably enough, the Navi Customizer is much more my style, as its creativity and on-the-fly management were immensely more engrossing and not simply a click once and be done with affair.

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Regarding my enjoyment of these three, or I guess four titles, Battle Network 3 is undeniably my favorite. The new gameplay systems, UI, and what I perceived as less confusing map design made progress almost entirely void of frustration. Further, its narrative is leagues above what the previous two titles put on the table. Actually, as I played these entries, I became increasingly aware of how despite there being a transparent childlike innocence to everything, especially given Lan’s age, there are pretty grim and mature implications and events. The third game heavily embraces this multi-faceted approach, which is likely why it compelled me the most.

On that same token, Battle Network 2 was a fun time, save for caveats. Even when taking my overall enjoyment into account, some dungeons were quite annoying with what felt like harsh difficulty spikes, and the story pacing was a little erratic. Most critically, a few intriguing characters and concepts are introduced, with little time devoted to them. The mature tone I referenced in the third entry is here, too, though it is more head-scratching than anything else because it’s not as cleanly interwoven.

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Map-wise, a series of mini-dungeons in one of the early chapters had viruses on the field that stole HP and money and transported you to other areas. Thankfully, the currency is at least recoverable in the end, yet these locations are where I struggled the most across the entire Collection since it required route memorization sans a map.

To reiterate, the absence of maps is my most massive gripe with this Collection. It seems like such a missed opportunity that they weren’t added to these new releases. The encounter rate, which truthfully isn’t all that egregious, feels far more unforgiving than it actually is because you don’t have maps. Getting lost amplifies that factor tenfold.

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The first Battle Network is where I’m the most mixed. Its story pacing is wacky and all over the place, and its map design is borderline awful. The greater distinctions in the second and third game’s area designs made navigation manageable with patience, but the first game’s Net was a taxing chore for me to fully understand the layouts of.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you play the first title, you should use fanmade maps. I usually don’t recommend guides on first playthroughs unless the mentioned case severely warrants it, and in this situation, I firmly believe it does. Still, the battle system’s comparative simplicity made me glad I stuck with it all since it was an appreciative appetizer for what the future games had in store.

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One concern I had with these games considering their abundance, was a potential over-reliance on familiar locations. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the introduction of new areas in every title alongside fresh interpretations of the navigable Net, preventing needless retreading. Moreover, a collectively shared aspect I wasn’t quite expecting was the immense amount of captivating fluff text.

Countless environmental objects can be examined, and several NPCs can be conversed with, adding genuine depth. Of course, don’t go in expecting anything on the same level as the Trails series, for instance, yet you’ll probably find yourself enthralled if you put in enough time exploring the world.

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Regarding the bonus features of the Legacy Collection proper, you can activate Buster MAX Mode, which raises Mega Man’s MegaBuster strength to trivialize practically any fight. This is an appreciated accessibility feature and excellent for those simply wanting to experience the narratives. Unfortunately, at least based on when I tested it, Buster MAX does not seem to cancel the in-game trophies you can achieve.

I find this pretty disappointing since this cheapens the sense of reward from those feats, though it’s ultimately minor. Aside from that, three button configuration presets, display settings for screen size and borders, and a high-resolution filter can be selected. I’m aware that such filters are often unpopular, but I tend to favor them, and it’s just an option, so you can stick with the original presentation if you so desire.

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The Gallery menu houses what you’d expect. Many illustrations of box art, character renders, concept art, and even promotional merchandise images are viewable, as well as a music player. These menus are sorted based on their respective games, so everything’s well-organized. Moving on, there are special Download Chips you can redeem that were initially obtainable from events back when the original titles were released.

They can be freely used here now, but they’re pretty broken, so I advise restraint if you seek the intended challenge level. Lastly, the Collection’s title screen has a voiced Mega Man who provides random commentary. This element may appear minor, but it’s a neat touch since I believe it’s the same voice actor that dubbed Mega Man in the Battle Network anime.

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Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 1 is a messy, delightful package that’s a decent bang for your buck. The four titles offer considerable content full of optional objectives and postgame events. The stories and characters, while hit-or-miss, become more engaging throughout the series. However, the lack of in-game maps brings forward a few issues, but if you can get past that, these are dense adventures coupled with celebratory Legacy Collection features that will assuredly delight any fan. Hell, there’s even online battling for the diehards.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.