A superb addition to the franchise
WHEN noted video game producer Keiji Inafune left Capcom at the turn of the decade, not a few quarters figured the Mega Man franchise, to whose success he contributed much, would grind to a virtual halt. And, for a while, those from the outside looking in were right; longtime developers in the company understood that the responsibility of taking on a successful intellectual property required following in giant footsteps. Only until Koji Oda of Resident Evil fame decided to do so last year did longtime followers entertain hope for a revival of the series. To be sure, fans remained hesitant to predict a bright future despite Oda’s involvement in Mega Man 11. After all, the last two franchise titles were pretty much remakes of the same old, same old — rendered in eight-bit graphics and presenting facets familiar to those whose memories hark back to the Nintendo Entertainment System. From the vantage point of skeptics, the idea of continuing to dip on a 31-year-old well held limited appeal to a marketplace afforded near-infinite choices. In this regard, the industry should rightly rejoice. Oda’s direction of Mega Man 11 effectively updates it while staying true to its roots. Featuring three-dimensional characters over twodimensional backgrounds, it represents a remarkable melding of the retrospectively revered with the relatively revolutionary. Certainly, the polygonal graphics lend a distinct appeal to younger players and newcomers to the franchise alike. Meanwhile, the gameplay remains faithful to its source material as a sidescrolling action platformer that requires no small measure of strategy, patience, and timing from its practitioners. Admittedly, Mega Man 11 is short on story, but manages to set up the premise well all the same. It begins with Drs. Thomas Light and Albert Wily, familiar series characters, in the early stages of their rivalry. Once close friends, they find themselves on opposite sides regarding the latter’s research on the Double Gear system, deemed dangerous by a committee of peers at the Robot Institute of Technology. They would grow further apart over time, with one continuing work on independent-thought robotics to help mankind and the other moved by jealousy to rule it. Relative to other titles in the franchise, Mega Man 11 forks its narrative to focus on Dr. Wily’s theft of robots for use as test subjects for his Double Gear system. He turns them into Robot Masters, appearing in the game as eight end-level bosses. Meanwhile, Dr. Light uses the same technology on Mega Man, a lab assistant turned super robot, to combat the threat to the world. The installation of the prototype grants the title character two additional skills aside from traditional ones; the Speed and Power Gears slow down the action and enhance weapon effectiveness, respectively, until their specific meters are depleted, after which rest is necessary. Parenthetically, the new feature makes Mega Man 11 both compelling and challenging. The game is less so in the Newcomer and Casual settings, the easiest of four, but those not familiar with the franchise’s exacting bent will appreciate their availability. In any case, rare are the players who won’t be frustrated and feel the need to lash out at one time or another; death can come swiftly and would, given the remarkable lack of checkpoints, often mean a level restart, requiring them to go through the same hurdles and overcome the same obstacles before advancing and, hopefully, getting through to the boss stage. Never mind that old reliable Rush is around to help on occasion, and especially during times when platforms seem too hard to reach alone. No doubt, the urge to put down Mega Man 11 would be greater were its level design not carefully thought out. As it stands, there is method to the madness, with the game providing subtle and context clues as to who players will be up against and what weapons and tactics should serve them best. Depending on the difficulty setting, there are also items that can be picked up on the way; concomitantly, upgrades and power-ups are accorded Mega Man after a well-earned triumph and, with a visit to Dr. Light’s laboratory, even an unfortunate demise. All told, Mega Man 11 is a superb addition to the franchise, offering novel concepts and updating old ones. Graphically and aurally, it pays homage to its roots; the visuals are colorful and vibrant, the soundtrack lively and apt for an actioner, and the voice acting a marked improvement from the old-school hysterics that littered previous releases. It’s the best from the series in recent memory, a decided improvement from its immediate past predecessor and a promise of better things to come.
POSTSCRIPT: Full Metal Panic! Fight: Who Dares Wins — Considering the timing, the release of the PS4 game was clearly meant to coincide with the broadcast of FMP! Invisible Victory in the middle of the year. The juxtaposition is justified, to be sure: It shares principal story elements with the 4th television series of the popular anime franchise. Ditto with the treatment and presentation; gamers are thrust in the middle of the narrative, with developer B.B. Studio assuming that they: 1.) already possess ample knowledge to follow it; 2.) figure to be satisfied with the modicum of information conveyed via the optional tutorial missions, and/or 3.) look to arm themselves with background material through appropriate research. The assumption isn’t unreasonable. Given the intrinsic pull of the Full Metal Panic! series, Bandai Namco likely figured that Fight: Who Dares Wins would be able to lean on a core set of gamers — including those familiar with mechanics employed in Super Robot Wars — from the outset. Concomitantly, it may well have conceded the title’s limited appeal outside of the captive market, hence its decision to eschew exposition that would have otherwise enticed newcomers. Which is too bad, really, because at the heart of Fight: Who Dares Wins is an intriguing storyline. As with Invisible Victory, it follows the exploits of Kaname Chidori, a municipal high school student with “whispered” capacities that grant her comprehension of future applied sciences. By her side is undercover agent Sousuke Sagara of Mithril, a private anti-terrorist entity resolved to protect her from elements keen on exploiting her abilities. In particular, they stand against Amalgam, promoter of dubious ideologies and employer of other Whispered in furtherance of black technologies. Thanks to B.B. Studio’s involvement, Fight: Who Dares Wins backstops the plot with solid gameplay straight off Super Robot Wars. Players get to control a four-strong Mithril battle party consisting of Sagara, Sergeant Major Melissa Mao, Sergeant Kurz Weber, and Special Response Team head Belfangan Clouseau. Buffing the skills of the protagonists serve to augment Arm Slaves, mechs with upgradable weaponry and special attacks. Combat is turn-based, with swiftness — or lack thereof — of movement and range of attack dictated by the stats of the machines, which have specific skill sets. In this regard, it bears noting that turns are determined by distinct agility attributes of individual mecha and not simply alternating between sides. At the same time, players need to choose between movement and attack on any given turn. During combat, they’re given the option to choose what part of the body to target; heads, arms, and legs have unique hit points, as opposed to overall hit points, allowing for easier attainment of specific mission objectives. In the latter stages of the game, however, any strategizing goes out the window. Against bosses, especially, aiming for the body becomes expedient and even necessary. Visually, Fight: Who Dares Wins is a mixed bag. The narrative is pushed forward via text over inanimate backgrounds in traditional visual-novel format, while battle sequences underscore the level of detail given to mechs and the lack thereof to the environs. The maps are workmanlike at best; the absence of variety and color tend to stunt the tactical value of positioning in battles. Meanwhile, the menus, while serviceable, are far from intuitive and user-friendly, not to mention pale in comparison to the depth exhibited by their Super Robot Wars counterparts. The good news is that Fight: Who Dares Wins possesses a soundtrack that stays faithful to its source material from start to finish. In no small measure, it’s propped up by excellent Japanese voice acting (with an equally remarkable effort to translate the dialogue in English). Parenthetically, the music makes full use of the Full Metal Panic! license, resulting in strengthened ties with Invisible Victory. The resulting mix is nothing short of pleasing to the senses, and adds to the intent of getting players invested in the story arc. By design, Fight: Who Dares Wins is a niche title catered precisely to wow followers of the Full Metal Panic! franchise. And to this end, it does its job well. While short for a release in the tactical roleplaying-game genre, it’s a competent companion piece to Invisible Victory and opens the door to better-planned and -integrated offerings across any number of media. (8/10)