The Mega Man Battle Network games are something special. They adapted the idea of Mega Man in a new way, combining it with its own tactical battle system, and made it all feel genuinely clever. When the original debuted in 2001, it felt so fresh, and subsequent entries offered welcome adjustments and additions. While Mega Man Star Force attempted to do something similar, it wasn’t the same. But now we can better appreciate how wonderful these past entries are with Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection, an admirable compilation that includes features like filters, Battle Chips, and Patch Cards and adds gallery and jukebox functions. It’s a hefty experience, and one that offers fantastic examples of why this line of games could be so great.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection relies and builds upon the relationship between Lan Hikari and his NetNavi MegaMan.EXE. It starts small in scale in the original game, introducing the grade schooler and his NetNavi as they end up helping people around the city of ACDC as cyber terrorists known as WWW do things like cause people’s ovens to start on fire or put a halt to standard subway operations. As the series go on and the duo prove themselves more, they end up called upon to assist in greater operations, eventually aiding government organizations and gaining greater powers. Granted, some entries’ stories may be a bit weaker than others, but they’re generally enjoyable enough.
Part of what makes each Mega Man Battle Network game so special is its battle system. It’s a real-time, strategy game involving 3×3 grids on the field for the player and their opponents. You create a “deck” of “chips” to determine which kinds of actions can be used during a round. This can consist of single target and AOE attacks, elemental assaults, melee and ranged actions, and supportive moves that could do things like heal, increase field spaces, or remove spots from the field. Chips with common properties can be sent to Mega Man at once, and you can also use certain combinations to create more powerful attacks when all of them are used at the same time.
It’s great, because once you realize this is a strategy game, it really comes together. You start thinking about possible combinations when building a deck, to ensure you have chips that work well with certain high-risk, high-reward attacks, but also pair well with others in case you aren’t getting the ones you need for the moves you want. The ability to wait briefly for more chips to be sent out also offers more control. However, there’s also that sort of action element to it all that we’d associate with Mega Man, as once you have chips you perform these active assaults and you always have the Mega Buster to more gradually whittle away at foes’ health. I just regret that I was unable to test out the multiplayer ahead of launch.
One of the biggest in-game additions tied to this great combat system is Buster MAX Mode, an option that makes the standard Mega Buster attack far more powerful. It’s essentially a way of quickly speeding through most standard encounters. However, that Buster MAX Mode isn’t a one-hit kill for bosses is really great. Yes, it still is a cheat. However, it does allows someone to more quickly get through a section they might find tedious or rely on a failsafe if a real-time strategy game is new to them. I’ll admit I used it to more quickly progress during the games during the review period, to ensure I’d be able to see enough of the adventures to properly score it. However, it felt like a last resort — much like the Mega Buster itself — as it is always optimal to use chips in your deck to wipe out enemies.
Though it is also pretty great to have all of the tie-in cards, chips, and Patch Cards, with online offering options to support usage of Patch cards. Not to mention seeing the Boktai special cards was a pleasant prospect, considering how disappointing their original exclusion was from the sixth entry. It feels full and satisfying. Plus, it’s honestly a great excuse to opt for this newer collection over doing something like getting out a Game Boy Advance. (Though, also, it is always a good time to get out a GBA SP or Micro.)
What’s also great about the series is how Mega Man Battle Network games involve both the real and virtual worlds. Lan’s “real” world tends to be vibrant and colorful. However, there are often ports to connect to the virtual world, allowing Mega Man to explore both isolated spaces and ones “online” that feature their own “citizens,” rewards, and fights. When taking part in story quests, there will even be moments when Lan needs to accomplish a real-world goal so Mega Man can progress in the virtual world, and vice versa. It always tends to be integrated so well from game to game, in a way some modern releases may not match.
Capcom also did players a service by not forcing a remastered appearance on players. People can choose between the original sprite-based appearance or a high-resolution filter, with the filter applied by default. It’s a substantial change, to be sure, but executed in a way that still maintains the original feel of the game. There are areas where having it on can make it feel a little unnatural, but it’s generally better than I expected. (Though, for the most part, I went with the filter off for nostalgia purposes.) Note that if you have the high resolution filter off, some elements of it will still remain in the menus to make them easier to read. Certain fonts are also forced upon you for the text, and I was surprised to see a number of spelling issues remain.
However, once you do have all six games together like this, it means you get a better view of every element. So if there’s an element of chip combining or net navigation you don’t care for in the first or second game, it won’t feel all that different by the time you get to the fifth or sixth entries. (Though you will get things like maps and additional ways to gain access to areas in the virtual world.) If you like a feature like Liberation Mission from Mega Man Battle Network 5, savor it while it’s there. It’s fantastic for continuity, because you’re constantly seeing the story play out and learning from past strategies when you move forward into newer games. But it also becomes clear that after a while, there are fewer innovations. It isn’t bad, because these games are a lot of fun and happen to be built on a strong foundation. It’s great to see the payoffs in real-time as you go through installments one-by-one or see the progression when you play or check out the huge art gallery or music player.
Mega Man Battle Network felt so different when it debuted in 2001, and it still manages to feel unique in 2023. The concepts and ideas are still fun, and the ambiance and art direction are timeless too. Yes, there might not always be earth-shattering improvements between entries, but every game is built on a solid foundation and enjoyable. Especially if you really get into deck-building and care about the characters and their world.
Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on April 14, 2023.