For the most part, I’m a fan of all things MegaMan. Be it the classic series of old, the Legends games, Battle Network, Zero, ZX and even Star Force, I tend to be a fan of the entire MegaMan franchise outright, in a way most fans of the various series aren’t. With one glaring (and for most people, offensive) exception: I’m just not really that big on the MegaMan X series at large. Don’t get me wrong, the first four games in that series were great for what they were, and I recognize that if the X series was never made, I wouldn’t have gotten Zero or ZX. But at the same time, I feel that the X series is extremely overrated. Perhaps it’s because of the whole Marvel vs. Capcom 3 roster mess. Perhaps it’s because I was falsely attributed to being a part of said MvC3 roster mess. I’m not sure why exactly it is, but recently, I’ve realized that there’s more to my contempt for the X series than just the internet’s hilarious reactions to having their beloved series icon reduced to being another character’s alternate outfit in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. What brought this whole topic up in the first place was the fact that I started having a heated discussion with Dari (you might recall him from another of my projects) where he was defending the X series and I asked him various questions regarding the MegaMan X lore (which was one of the key tenets of his argument), just to see if there was any hidden depth I had yet to find. Unfortunately, the only MegaMan game Dari has actually completed was MM6 (despite claiming to be a much bigger fan of the X series), so he was of little help. So, I decided to do a little research on my own and I was shocked by my findings.
But I’m already getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with some solid evidence that led me to my once-shallow dismissal of the MegaMan X series at large. Exhibits A and B: MegaMan X6 and X7. I’ll be honest, I never played X6 back when I still had a PlayStation: MMX5 was mediocre compared to the previous game in the series, so I decided I’d move onto the Zero games for the Game Boy Advance. Even more damning is the fact that I haven’t played X7 at all. Still, even the majority of the X fanbase recognizes the dismal quality of these two games and I can definitely vouch for X6 being, perhaps, the worst non-licensed MegaMan game in all of existence.
Of course, that goes without saying: MMX6, and the rest of the series, were never intended to exist in the first place. Feel free to skim and skip if you already know about this, but for the uninformed, it’s key to know that Keiji Inafune, former Capcom employee and both the (unofficial) father and steward of the MegaMan franchise since the 1980s, actually intended for the fifth game in the X series to be its last, with a sequel hook implanted for his own next project: MegaMan Zero, which in and of itself was what he originally intended the X series to be. In X’s “good” ending from MegaMan X5, which is the one ending that’s generally accepted accepted as canon, X and Zero are dealt critical wounds, X is able to pull through by being repaired by Dr. Light, but all that remained of Zero was his beam saber. So X picks up his old friend’s beam saber and continues to fight the Mavericks in memory of his friend. Flash forward a hundred or so years, a damaged Reploid identified as Zero awakens and is instantly thrust into battle with a giant mechaloid he can’t defeat with the buster gun he managed to score off a soldier’s corpse, when suddenly, RANDOM DEUS EX MACHINA (in reality, the Cyber-Elf ghost of X) gives Zero his sword back, bringing everything full circle. Unfortunately, X games were still selling pretty well, so Capcom screwed everything up by continuing the series and making X6 without Inafune’s involvement.
Another less rational problem I’ve had with the X series in general is that, from my own admittedly biased and warped perspective, it killed off the potential for any media-based console MegaMan games, leaving the series stranded in both the portable and digital download marketplaces, effectively stunting any potential any of the other sub-series had to grow. This is because the last disc-based console MegaMan title came out in 2004 and the culprit: MegaMan X8. Of course I’m aware that there are other forces at work here, but let’s face it: having a scapegoat is great and since there’s no love lost between me and the X series, X8 fits. If it weren’t X8, it would’ve been Command Mission: another of the misfit children that are the post-X5 MegaMan X games.
I guess the last major complaint I held with regards to the X games were, well, by and large, with the glaring exception of Zero, none of the major characters struck me as interesting. That’s not to say that the X series didn’t have any other interesting characters: I personally loved Dr. Doppler, Iris, Colonel and Dynamo. But with the exception of Dynamo, each of those characters really had only one appearance in the mainline MegaMan X games, and Dynamo’s second appearance in X6 was…well, random, almost seeming like it was just a bit of leftover code from X5 that the X6 devteam forgot to remove. Hell, even looking outside the mainline X games and to other media, you’ve got a few interesting characters, like Berkana and iX/Return X.
But I’ve gotten off-topic: let’s deconstruct two of the main characters of the X series. First, let’s take a look at the man of the hour: MegaMan X himself. I guess my big problem with X’s personality is that, quite frankly, he’s kind of a whiner. From his first lines in the original MegaMan X (“I guess I’m not powerful enough to defeat him…”) to the revelation in The Day of Sigma (the OVA packaged with Maverick Hunter X) that X’s unique ability that made him superior to Reploids was that he worried and hesitated (and then, later on in the OVA, he got the crap kicked out of him). Ironically, this fits with X’s designated role and history in the series: he was left in stasis for several years, testing his moral core, which in turn appears to be what makes him immune to the Maverick Virus in general. So the basic character of X in general is already not appealing to me, but what makes it even worse is the insane MMX’s fanbase’s take on X: that he’s this immeasurably powerful being who could effectively bitchslap Superman and Son Goku out of existence at the same — when in reality, the whole unlimited potential of X hasn’t really even been touched upon all that much in the games. Sure, X can definitely always improve, but it would appear to be more from a learning standpoint, as opposed to him eventually evolving into a planet-buster-class weapon of mass destruction. Even if that were possible, chances are his own personality wouldn’t even allow him to use that kind of power on any of his enemies.
Sigma, on the other hand, while more interesting than X on the surface just by the virtue of being the series’ villain, still seems to lack more than your typical evil robotic overlord modus operandi: the elimination of humanity and the absolute rule of robotic “lifeforms” over the planet/galaxy/universe/etc. I’ll be honest: this always bugged me, but until recently, I never understood why. I mean, even just ignoring the fact that, supposedly, what caused all of this was a computer virus that Sigma contracted from Zero upon their first encounter and merged with his (for want of a better term) “mind” to form the “Sigma Virus”/Maverick Virus as we know it in the MMX series. Still, Sigma has one interesting trait: he was the first MegaMan franchise villain that actually started out as a good guy before going evil. Of course, at that point, the only arguable villains the franchise had were Dr. Wily, Protoman, Dr. Cossack and Mr. X, and everyone but Wily were effectively Wily’s pawns or alter-egos. Sort of like how Sigma manipulated the X-Hunters, Dr. Doppler, Repliforce and the majority of villains in the X series. But back to my original point, it was only recently that I realized what bugged me about Sigma’s “kill all humans” ploy: we never really see that many humans in the X universe to begin with.
Which brings me to that revelation I had while talking with Dari: the MegaMan X series doesn’t really appear to have much of a setting to begin with. I mean, clearly, it does actually have a setting, but the setting seems to lack much substance, which appears to be one of the underlying problems I’ve always had with the series, despite only realizing it recently. For every other MegaMan sub-franchise, the setting is easy to place: Classic takes place in the 60’s-style Astro Boy-inspired future of 200X-20XX; Zero takes place in the dictatorial “utopia” Neo Arcadia; ZX takes place even further in the future in a more utopian city, well, at least more utopian on the surface; Legends takes place in a further-flung Waterworldesque future where the majority of the world is submerged with water; Battle Network takes place in an alternate 20XX that focused more on internet technologies rather than the robotics of the Classic series and Star Force took place 200 years after Battle Network, although it’s own setting was extremely similar to that of BN’s. MegaMan X, on the other hand, seemed to veer between a more mature version of the Classic universe (perhaps more Casshern-inspired than Astro Boy) which is especially evident in the first game but eventually, seems to veer more towards an apocalyptic scenario (probably brought about by the Zero series), which is especially weird due to the aforementioned lack of humans in the X series, before eventually shifting back to a generic futuristic city.
Similarly, there don’t appear any civilians, or at the very least, non-combatants in the X series, besides of course, Dr. Cain. That’s one thing the Zero series definitely has over the X series, the setting seems a bit more real with all of the Resistance members and the Caravan from Zero 4 in the various hub worlds. Sure, it’s just a shallow addition, but considering the fact that Sigma’s explicit goal of Reploid supremacy seem all the more pointless if there isn’t a human population just waiting to get oppressed and/or exterminated. Sure, there was a human population in The Day of Sigma…for like 3 seconds. But, as I said before, the existence of humanity is kind of necessary to the main villain’s motivations.
So without a static setting and an expanded universe, the story has no impact. Some people may say that that’s not really a negative point against the series or that stories have no impact on a video game’s quality. Still, for something that was billed as a more mature take on the MegaMan franchise, it seems a little odd that the caliber of writing can’t even exceed that of the original, more kid-oriented series. I’m pretty sure even the Ruby-Spears MegaMan cartoon had better writing.
With regards to the gameplay, however, I guess my only real problem is that, MegaMan X’s gameplay feels…too safe. Classic MegaMan gave you less options, thus at least in the best games of the series, you were forced to use every tool at your disposal to win. MegaMan Zero, in some ways, gave you more options than the X series did (multiple weapons and different elements vs. using weapons taken from bosses), but at the same time, both ramped up the difficulty and gave you bosses with multiple health bars. So, it seems like that for many people, X would be the perfect game, just by the virtue of being neither too simple (like Classic) nor too complex (Zero). Unfortunately, I’m just the opposite: I tend to enjoy extremes over the moderates. If I want something more advanced than a Classic game, I go for a Zero or a ZX game. I want something simpler, I go for Classic.
So, I guess when it comes right down to it, the real reason I hate MegaMan X is because it’s an extremely overrated series. I’d argue that the original MegaMan X is an ever more overrated game than MegaMan 2, but clearly, that’s not the case. MM2 is really, REALLY overrated, after all. Not to say that either game is bad, they’re just not the end-all, be-all that most retrophiles seem to think they are. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call either one the best in their respective series. But that’s a topic for another month…