A su­perb ad­di­tion to the fran­chise

Business World - - Weekender - By An­thony L. Cuaycong

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)

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