With the recent release of Mighty No. 9 it seems to be an appropriate time for me to write about how it will never live up to the might of the Mega Man franchise. Regular readers may have an inkling of how I felt about Mighty No. 9, but to make sure we’re all on the same page, it makes me sad. It makes me think of people whose little brother deletes their old file on Pokémon to start a new game just as they were about to beat the Elite Four. Think of all the progress that’s being lost!
I haven’t played the game, but I hear it’s a disappointment. That argument bothers me a little though; I mean, wouldn’t anything be a disappointing followup to the tragic cliffhanger and legacy of Mega Man? This is a series that not only represents the epitome of perfection in progressive game design, but also perfectly encapsulates the conflict between business and art.
Pretentious and potentially contentious claim deployed, proceed with clarification.
The foundations for this argument lie in the basics of Mega Man design. Most of these elements are explained and discussed in Egoraptor’s Sequelitis video for Mega Man X.
If you don’t have the time to watch that video, it details improvements made from Mega Man Classic to Mega Man X and how the developers and designers took concepts and ideas that worked from the first series and improved and refined them moving into the sequel series, along with introducing new concepts and ideas, and how that is a good.
But further examination and analysis shows that the fundamentals of this evolution, can, in fact, be found in every entry in the series, and in every series in the main-sequence evolution, which I will right now clarify as Classic, X, Zero, ZX.
If you examine every game, from game to game, each one improves existing mechanics and introduces new ones. New things that didn’t work are disposed of and the good ones are retained. There are numerous examples throughout the franchise, but I want to directly cite ZX and ZX Advent. Both games have sidequests and minor RPG elements, but after a lot of fetch-questing and tedious treks to the transservers in ZX, ZX Advent streamlines the process by having sidequests exist as side-objectives that are always active under whatever you happen to be doing, and making them all about exploration and shooting things, which you would be doing anyway.
Of course, the immediate counterargument to “every game is an improvement” is X7.
X7, alongside Sanic Adventure, is the UR example of poorly converting 2D gameplay into 3D space, as laid out in the ProJared video up there, and it has numerous other problems as well. How could that possibly be an improvement on X6, which, while ungraceful, still felt like a Mega Man game?
Sit down, fool, I’m getting to that. This article is all about the series as a whole, so we have to examine X7 in the context of the other games. Yes, X7‘s clunkiness is in poor taste compared to the copy-and-paste corporate cash grab that was X6 (YES CONTROVERSY AGAIN I WILL GET TO THAT LATER), but let’s look at the other end: X8. X8 completely strips out the 3D levels and puts us back in traditional side-scrolling gameplay. Notably, for the rest of main sequence, the franchise never attempts this again, and I will get to that in a few. However, X8 also retains the character-swap mechanic from X7, and improves it by differentiating Axl from X and making their gameplay styles different.
Furthermore, as I mentioned above, the Mega Man franchise never ventured into the realm of 3D gameplay again after X7, not even experimentally. Throughout the Golden Age of console gaming (GameCube/PS2 era), when “generic” games started being these floaty 3D platformer collect-a-thons, Mega Man opted to switch developers to IntiCreates and move over to handhelds, which at the time didn’t have the hardware to support 3D gameplay.
This choice to maintain gameplay identity, even though it would have appeased wallets to try to go 3D again, is a good segue into the other part of my argument in this now very bloated article. It’s not necessarily common knowledge, but this franchise suffered heavily from corporate interference. Keiji Inafune and Capcom had a very heated custody battle over the Blue Bomber that rivaled Kramer vs Kramer.
While also not necessarily common knowledge, it’s pretty well-documented that Inafune intended X5 to be the last game. That’s why the secret ending has Zero sealing himself up in a capsule. That capsule is supposed to be the one in the beginning of Zero 1! Furthermore, X was actually intended to be the villain of the Zero games, which was to continue the whole plot thread of “if I ever go Maverick, kill me” conversation between X and Zero.
Capcom fucked all that up by going off and greenlighting X6 behind Inafune’s back. As an artist, I am physically revulsed by the idea of this. Imagine if Tolkien’s publishers told him to write a Book 4 to LotR and he said no, because the ring’s fucking destroyed already, so the publishers went out and found some random twat to write a Book 4 that contradicts The Silmarillion and Tolkien was forced to go along with that shit. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO KEIJI INAFUNE.
The most important lesson to learn from this half of the article is probably that if you are a former business major and you want another installment of the series but the artist refuses, maybe come up with a different way to pay for your yacht than blithely pushing ahead anyway. As IS pretty well documented, each individual series in the Mega Man franchise gets worse and worse as it drags on beyond where the guy that knew what the hell was going on planned out.
I’m not saying that auteurism should rule. I know too many assholes who ruin everyones’ lives on a production for that. But there’s a reason business types come to creatives for ideas: The ideas.