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My Year of Battle Network (Vol. 1)

Published on Apr 2, 2024
Megaman Battle Network Legacy Collection artwork

As has been well documented in my 2023 GOTY post, I'm a big fan of the MegaMan Battle Network series. When Capcom released the MegaMan Battle Network Legacy Collection last year, and made a big deal about doing so, it was huge for me.

I was, of course, there on day one to pick up a physical copy of the game, and joyfully tore into it as soon as was humanly possible. I spent the rest of 2023 playing through Volume 1 of that collection, which contains the first 3 entries in the 6-game series, 2 of which I had never played before.

I had always meant to blog about my thoughts on each entry in the series as I went, but those blogs sadly never manifested, despite keeping notes on my playthroughs of each game.

Lately, I've been thinking about Battle Network for reasons that will become clear later this month, and I got to thinking about blogging about it again. It's frankly criminal that I haven't blogged much about a series of games that is so dear to me.

So I'm finally doing something about that, and posting my combined thoughts on playing through the first 3 games — the first volume of the Legacy Collection — over the course of a year. My Year of Battle Network.

And hey, if Capcom can break its collection into 2 volumes, so can I. The fact that I've been playing 1 volume per year really works out.

Let's get into it.

MegaMan Battle Network

Having come to this series through Battle Network 2, I was surprised to see just how much this first game felt like a rough draft. Not necessarily unfinished, just barebones. A "minimum viable product" of the series to come.

Of course, the game is "missing" some features that would become series staples, like Subchips, Style Changes, and a list of Program Advances in the Library, but it can be forgiven for all of these, as those concepts (save for Program Advances) just hadn't been developed yet, this being the first game and all.

Battles feel a bit sluggish compared to the game's sequels, and the MegaBuster takes eons to charge up, but these can also be chalked up to a first entry that doesn't have everything dialed in quite yet. There are other growing pains that I found more grating.

For starters, all of the indoor & outdoor music is the same in every location. Meaning every interior location shares a single track, and every exterior location shares another track. Which makes the game feel repetitive to the point of madness, especially coming from memories of a series with fun, robust soundtracks. Every location feels robbed of the chance to develop its own identity.

Level design also feels like it hasn't quite found its footing yet. Traversing some areas felt like more of a pain than it needed to be. The Dentown area is a perfect exemplar of this, with its sequestered sidewalks, forced traffic stops, and lack of any major landmarks. The place is a nightmare.

There were also a few graphical/UI elements whose implementation just felt clumsy to me, with some elements of the world being drawn over your character (like a PC's jack-in/jack-out points) in a way that felt like they would benefit from a more bespoke animation (which they would get in subsequent entries). The fact that the chip selection screen doesn't dim, desaturate, or otherwise low-light chips that cannot be used with your current selection feels like an even bigger oversight for the amount of clarity that feature brings to the series' battles in future games.

I hate to rag on this game so much, it's just that, having gotten my first impression of this series from this game's sequel, the things that stood out most to me were the omissions, for lack of a better term.

Otherwise, it's all just about there. It feels very much like a proof of concept in execution, but the baseline mechanics are there, ready to be improved and perfected as the series evolves.

The story is very thin and incredibly short, even by Battle Network standards, which in some ways makes it harder to recommend that any would-be fans skip it. This game does contain some story beats that are important to the series going forward, and it was cool to finally see those play out.

I definitely got something out of finally playing this series' first entry, but I don't know that I'd want to come back to it.

MegaMan Battle Network 2

Okay here we go. This is a game. To be fair, this was my entry point into the series, and I played this game endlessly as a kid, so there's a lot of nostalgia at play that is quite frankly impossible to decouple from my feelings about the game. But oh man, talk about an improvement.

Level design, battle mechanics, locations, music, art, everything is more fleshed out, and feels so much more complete than the first game.

Every location has its own music this time around, both inside and outside. Thank god.

And there are so many more locations to visit, both in and out of the Cyber World! Lan and MegaMan go on a veritable world tour of netbattling compared to the first game! And every location (again, Cyber World included) is so unique and varied. Every place has its own character and feeling, with enough space in the story to develop those things.

Style Changes bring some more variety and strategy to battles, not to mention some cool new looks for MegaMan.

The overall look, feel, and function of the game just feels so much more developed. The rough edges have been sanded down.

Everything in this game is, to me, the rock-solid, base-level, platonic ideal version of a MegaMan Battle Network game, from music to characters to world-feel to mechanics. It's not the flashiest or the prettiest, but it's a perfect foundation. This is where the series found its footing.

And it's got an outstanding post-game. This is where the series really started leaning in to secret areas, secret bosses, extra little story bits, and more to unlock after beating the main game. I still remember freaking out as a kid when I got my SSS License and found the WWW Area. Like I said, nostalgia, but it all still hit for me this time around, 20 years later.

Some other little tidbits from my playthrough: the hardest chips to find to complete my Library were DropDown (of course), and oddly enough PoisMask, because I needed a specific letter code for a Program Advance. These games are really weird about the ways they hand out different codes of chips.

Anyhow, in case it wasn't obvious enough, I had a great time replaying BN2. This remains the only Battle Network game I have 100% cleared. And this time, I finally did it without using a GameShark 😅

MegaMan Battle Network 3

Having finally played the first entry in the series, this was the last Battle Network game that I hadn't played yet. I didn't know what to expect from 3, outside of hearing that some people recommend it as the definitive Battle Network experience if you're only going to play one, and that this is where the series started splitting its releases into two versions (Blue and White in this case), Pokemon style.

While I still think BN2 tops this one for me, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it! I mean, it's Battle Network, I was always going to like it to some degree, but you never know! Luckily, the series continued its upswing in quality after a rocky start.

From the jump (almost immediately, from a UI standpoint), I was surprised to see just how much of Battle Network 4 is in here. The Start Menu UI is exactly the same, save for the color.

The Navi Customizer also makes its debut here, as well as an early version of the counter system. In this game, landing a perfectly-timed counter hit on an enemy rewards you with some BugFrags on top of the usual battle reward. I thought this was super interesting! Cool way to hand out BugFrags!

Towards the end of my time with the game, I had kind of been plowing through because I could smell the end. Not totally detached from it, exactly, I was still invested in building my chip folder and Navi Customizer and such.

But there were some tedious missions that I was definitely just Getting Through, and I ended up really not loving Shadow Style (the new Style Change exclusive to the Blue Version), and I was stuck with it for a while, so. Y'know. These games like to make their final mission the most annoying.

And then I finished the game, and it hit me with this very emotional ending that made me realize that actually this game's story had been quite good, that I love this world and these characters, and that I'd been sort of bee-lining to the end without taking stock of everything.

Then it hit me that this was the last MMBN game that I hadn't already played as a child. I closed the loop without even realizing that I was closing it, or giving that moment any sort of forethought or reverence.

Again, it's not as if I was super detached and going through the motions, I was super invested in the final battles with Bass and Alpha, and found them quite fun to puzzle out! It's just that, while I knew I was heading towards the ending, I didn't realize it would end? You know that feeling? Does that make sense?

So I spent some more time with it, and checked out some of its endgame, just to give it more of the time I felt it deserved. I liked what I saw! That secret area is really neat!

Maybe one day I'll go back and dig through it all. By this time, the end of the year was closing in on me, and there were other games to play. In any case, it'll always be there waiting for me.

Anyway, in the cold light of morning, I realized that all means that I liked this game quite a bit! I'm interested to see where it ranks once it's solidified in my head over time, and once I've finished replaying the rest of the series!

In conclusion

I had an absolute blast getting to finally play the last two Battle Network games that I'd never had the chance to play as a kid. I can't believe how rough the first game seems, compared to even just the very next game in the series.

I'm delighted by how much I ended up liking 3, and also fascinated by how much of it feels like a test bed for features that appeared in 4, as well as some things that never reappeared (virus breeding). These things also cast 4 in a whole new light in some ways!

The Navi Customizer, the counter system, and the menu UI are bridges connecting two halves of a series that I always assumed, based on the change in its visual style, had made a clean break in design between 3 and 4. Fascinating!

This has been a very enjoyable journey so far, and I can't wait to see what new insights come from playing the games in Vol. 2, now that we're firmly in replay territory.

Until then!