There’s more Mega Man Battle Network! The first volume of Capcom’s collection provided a crescendo from humble beginnings to its robustly developed third game. in Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 2, the developers attempt to take the series in some new directions, which, while ambitious, fall short of revolutionary. They’re not so much a step down, as they deviate a little from the core gameplay, but they fail to innovate further in a series that’s always been about invention. However, that’s not to say they aren’t worth a look.
The three “generations” of games (six games in total) that comprise Vol. 2 don’t do much to mess with the series’ unique action/deck-building battle system, which is the heart of the series. But 5 and 6 take some experimental steps that at least add some new wrinkles for those returning to the series. The split between the two volumes is not only the midpoint to divide into two trilogies but also a break thematically. The second trilogy still resides in the same futuristic world where it seems that every constructed object is connected to the net for efficiency. While Lan is still saving the world by controlling Mega Man on the net, these newer games move away from exploring the possibilities and pitfalls of overly ambitious technology to a more grounded subject: the duality of good and evil in human nature.
Unfortunately, this collection kicks off with Mega Man Battle Network 4: Red Sun and Blue Moon, the start of the “Good and Evil” trilogy (not an official name). Lan has finally graduated to the sixth grade. For worse, not better, the fourth entry pushes the series in a new, purportedly more mature direction. The problem is less the theme and more the writers’ failure to incorporate it into the plot except as part of the villain’s motivation. The villain likes evil, and his version involves various levels of destroying the world. The threat in Mega Man Battle Network 4 comes from the one place uncorrupted by capitalism: space. An object from beyond our galaxy threatens the net and the entire planet. Lan comes into possession of the
One Ring Dark Chip, which he was told not to use let him be lured to the dark side of the Force. It’s obvious where the writers turned to for inspiration.
Although the good-and-evil theme doesn’t manifest much in the plot, implementing the dark chips in battle is a perfect example of connecting a game’s themes to gameplay. The dark chips are exponentially more potent than Lan’s run-of-the-mill chips used to program Mega Man in battle. But using dark chips comes at a cost: Mega Man permanently loses 1 HP each time he resorts to using one, so you have to weigh how much you’re willing to sacrifice. However, there’s no reciprocal effect in the story whether or not you use them. The difficulty ramps up to the point where it’s difficult, if not impossible, not to dip in the dark side at a few points, so the game assumes your capitulation at some point to show how eeeevil you are. Beyond good and evil, Lan is more preoccupied with becoming the LeBron James of NetBattling, devoting himself more to entering and conquering every single tournament than to thwart the villain. Lan’s obsession with winning makes the cheery youngster paint his most unlikable in the series. Mega Man Battle Network 4 is easily the most skippable entry.
Mega Man Battle Network 5: Team Protoman and Team Colonel is a return to form, maintaining almost everything from the fourth game but making it worlds better as if the previous edition never even happened. While it continues the microchip-thin good-and-evil plot, it also delves into the past of Lan’s family, the Hikaris, and the origins of the net. It provides the most emotional substance in the series as Lan learns about his grandfather’s work and why the Hikaris’ house has a doghouse but no dogs. There’s also a minigame that’s so integral to the gameplay that it’s more than a minigame: liberation missions.
The liberation missions are the closest Mega Man Battle Network the series comes with the generic “tactical RPG” label it always carries. In these liberation missions, you take control of a team of Navis, programs similar to Mega Man, who also engage in NetBattles, each possessing unique special abilities to take on a squad of bad guys. It’s an excellent diversion from the typical exploration and random battles making up the vast majority of the series’ gameplay. It finally lets you feel that friendship magic the series always strived for but fell short of previously. Liberation missions are good enough that the developers could have made an entire game centered around them. The only problem is that only a handful of them are in Mega Man Battle Network 5, and it could’ve used a few more. But maybe someday, we’ll get a game entirely based on liberation missions.
Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar is not that game, and unfortunately, the liberation missions haven’t returned. Instead, Mega Man can go into beast mode! In battles, Mega Man can take on the power of other Navis in a feature called crosses. The new battle feature is awkward and irritating, though necessary to get through standard battles efficiently. On the other hand, slamming the button to Beast Out and harnessing that extra power in boss battles feels awesome, and the strategic benefits are noticeable.
All in all, the battles are more of the same. Though the story in Mega Man Battle Network 6 leans a little harder into traditional RPG tropes, including a mysterious magical girl, it also feels like all the narrative elements finally hit their peak in this one. Lan’s dad gets a new job, so the family waves goodbye to their sleepy little ACDC Town and says hello to the big Cyber City. For the last game in the series, moving the main character away from everything that has been established feels odd. While there are plenty of fun and quirky situations and characters, new and old, the story ultimately feels too short to visit anything to have a significant effect. That’s a shame, as it finally raises some interesting questions about what to do when authority figures turn out to be the evil ones, though it doesn’t explore that in much detail. But Mega Man Battle Network 6 serves as a definitive ending to the series, calling back to everything that was ever important one last time to say goodbye.
Overall, the games in the second Mega Man Battle Network collection don’t so much fall short of the series’ standard as they fail to grow enough to feel necessary. Those who love the series will find something to appreciate about these games, but the first three games should be enough for many. With its liberation missions, Mega Man Battle Network 5 comes the closest to breaking out of the well-worn mold. Existing as a package improves these games, as each story builds on the previous entry and the sixth game completes the series. while Mega Man Battle Network 4 is the most skippable, those who enjoy these games will likely find enough there that it’s at least worth checking out. Having access to both versions of each pair is especially worthwhile, as there’s a significant amount of content exclusive to each. That includes not just chips but different characters and boss battles, and now, it’s conveniently all available for those who want to see everything.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 2 is overall the weaker half of the series, with MegaMan Battle Network 5 being the gem of the bunch. This collection is fine, offering more of the same excellent core gameplay from the first three games for those who can’t get enough. But none of the new additions are strong enough to make these games stand out individually. I’d still love to see Mega Man Battle Network: The Liberation Missions someday. But for now, it’s time to jack out.