What’s Your Frequency?

When it comes right down to it, the MegaMan fanbase is a living contradiction. Less a united coalition and more a volatile combination, the fanbase is typically prone to in-fighting with regards to which sub-series is considered the most important to the franchise’s continued survival. Many place stock in either the original “Classic” incarnation or its first offshoot (the X series), citing that MegaMan is literally shorthand for “jump ‘n shoot man”. Others, generally younger members or those who started gaming later in life, hold the Battle Network series in high regard, due to the fact that it single-handedly kept the series from dying by reinventing classic concepts and implanting them into a new universe with totally new gameplay. Still others enjoy the Legends series the most, as we saw with the confirmation and subsequent termination of the third game in that particular series. Of all the series, there is one that is by far the least popular. Fittingly enough, it was also the last series Capcom developed for dedicated gaming devices: MegaMan Star Force, or Ryuusei no Rockman [Rockman of the Shooting Star] as it was known in Japan.

Truth be told, I actually liked the Star Force series. Maybe it was the fact that the Battle Network series went down a steep decline after the third game and the Star Force series, while extremely similar, changed things up enough to draw my interest once again. Maybe it was because I liked the character designs and the characters themselves, regardless of how stupid the English names for various characters were. Geo Stelar and Omega-Xis? Seriously, Capcom? Whatever it was about the series, I still proudly sport one version of each game on my shelf of Nintendo DS games.

What’s easier to understand is why so many people hated the series. The most common gripe was with regards to the gameplay. While the basic overworld engine was effectively identical to that of the Battle Network series, the battle engine was altered in fairly significant ways. Both games placed their respective MegaMans on a 3×6 grid in a real-time battle situation where you can either rely on a chargable buster or special attacks represented by a finite number of “battle chips”. To keep in-line with the MegaMan tradition of stealing abilities from downed enemies, you can even summon bosses that you defeated earlier on through special battle chips. There were a few significant differences between the games though. While Battle Network had an overhead view and gave you a default 3×3 area of movement, Star Force did an over the shoulder view and limited players to a 3×1 area of movement. In order to mitigate for the loss of the important tactical ability to move across two axes, Star Force also gave players the ability to lock-on specific battle chip attacks (specifically melee attacks like sword slashes) and to put up a temporary shield.

More importantly, people just didn’t take to Star Force for one very simple reason: it wasn’t Battle Network 7. People just didn’t bother giving the series a chance, because while it was extremely similar to the Battle Network series in design, gameplay and tone, it just wasn’t the same. Or perhaps, it just wasn’t different enough: the X games became extremely popular because they were a more mature take on the Classic series, despite being an equally derivative evolution of its predecessor in terms of gameplay. Perhaps if they had taken a more mature (read: darker) tone, it would’ve been better recieved by the general public, or at the very least in the West, where even the BN series didn’t enjoy mainstream popularity. Then again, the comparisons to the X series (in the sense that, like the X series, it took place in the far future of the previous [Classic/BN] series) may have drawn even more ire toward Star Force: maybe some people were hoping to fight Boomer Kuwanger.EXE with X.EXE when they first heard about the BN sequel series in the first place.

Even more telling was the fact that the most popular of the Star Force trilogy was the third and final game, which was commonly cited for turning the series in “the right direction”. What was this right direction you ask? Why, more closely aping the Battle Network series, of course! The series’ MegaMan got redesigned to more resemble EXE and BN’s Soul Unison system (where MM took on both the physical characteristics and the abilities of specific allies) came back as Noise Forms. Even the story imitated that of the Battle Network series; opting more for a terrorist organization as the antagonist, rather than an alien invasion or the resurrection of an ancient culture, like the first two games.

Of course, there was one aspect of the Battle Network series that the Star Force series retained much to their own detriment: multiple versions of the same title. Starting with the third Battle Network game, each iteration of the series released with two versions: each with their own exclusive Battle Chips, secret bosses and special power-ups. It’s speculated that this was done to either compete with or imitate the Pokemon series. Unfortunately, this also came into play with the Star Force series and the first game of the series got it the worst: it had not two but THREE versions, one of which ended up being a store exclusive in North America. The other two games shifted back to the traditional two versions, but at large, the idea never really worked as well with either MegaMan series. While the Pokemon series thrives on its multiplayer when it comes to replay value, both Battle Network and Star Force relied on more traditional JRPG methods: post-game dungeons with secret bosses and items. The multiplayer in MMBN and MMSF felt more like an afterthought than an integral part of the game itself.

By comparison, the MegaMan ZX series was similarly unpopular, compared to earlier MegaMan platformer series. Its sales were pathetic and despite the second game out-performing the first, Capcom decided to shelve the series before it was able to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, it still manages to maintain a cult following and Inti Creates, who developed both this series and its predecessor the Zero games, went on to create MegaMans 9 and 10. Of course, its popularity may be due in part to the fact that it takes place in the main MegaMan timeline and is even rumored to directly link the Classic-X-Zero timeline to the mysterious Legends games.
Of course, it’s a moot point. Star Force 3 brought the series to a …well, definite ending. The series is complete and there’s really no reason to attempt continue it. But that doesn’t mean we have to forget it. Maybe one day, people will be able to look back on the MegaMan Star Force games with nostalgia, rather than apathy or outright hatred. And hopefully, it won’t be because we’re looking down the barrel of a MegaMan XOver 7 release date.

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