My Endorsement Of Mega Man Legends


Mega Man Legends has just received probably the closest thing it will ever get to a second chance — a re-release of the original game on the North American PlayStation Store this week. Even today, with all the outpour from fans, it seems like a relatively underrated game, and I’m here to help make the case for it.

I actually wrote the following back in December 2009 and thought I should freshen this old post up a bit:

The reason Mega Man Legends deserves at least a mention alongside my favorite games of all time is simply because it contains pretty much everything I could ask for in a video game.  If you asked me for a vision of my “perfect game,” it would probably just be a more modern version of this game, which is why the sting of Mega Man Legends 3’s cancellation hurts so bad.

It’s perfectly understandable why it’s so underrated, it just didn’t meant people’s expectations of the franchise.  Mega Man is traditionally a hardcore action platformer.  You jump over obstacles while shooting at enemies in a generally straight line.  Legends however was a product of the problems Capcom faced in its time.  The game had to adapt, even if that meant flipping genres.

In the late 90’s, each of the staple game franchises stood at the precipice of its own crossroads, facing the question “how do we move into 3D?”  Some franchises like Mario and Zelda found their way immediately while others like Sonic and Castlevania still haven’t.  Many like to lump Mega Man into the latter category.

I like to compare Mega Man’s jump into 3D with that of Mario and possibly even Zelda – the dynamics had to change.

Mario was very fast and action-oriented in 2D, but in Super Mario 64 Nintendo had to slow him down – Mario spent less time hopping on enemies and more time simply navigating.  In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Link had more challenge solving puzzles than defeating enemies – a direct contrast from A Link to the Past.

Mega Man had to go through the same change.  Instead of dashing over spikes and charge blasting through enemies, Capcom in the third dimension had him exploring dungeons.  Mega Man had to transform from an action platformer into an action adventure game.

That’s what I love so much about Legends.  It has that core focus on exploration – my very favorite thing to do in video games, but still retains a fair amount of the traditional game’s action elements.  Many battles in its sequel even felt structurally similar to those of today’s shooters.

Mega Man in the Legends series is essentially a miner or tomb robber – digging for loot in buried and forgotten places.  That right there is the most fitting crux for a dungeon adventure game.  The entirety of the first Mega Man Legends is really just about excavating every last secret of a single island.

That meant discovering every part of the caves and mini dungeons you found in-between the four main dungeons.  The main reason I even wanted to upgrade my weapons in Legends wasn’t to better fight enemies but to explore more parts of the dungeons.

Eventually I was driven to find every chest, completely repair the city, and complete all of the game’s myriad Zelda-style side quests.  I spent probably months playing this game after finishing the main quest just to squeeze every last drop of discovery out of it.  Really, the Legends games are probably the closest thing we’ve ever had to a Zelda clone with guns. Today they stand out as a unique mixture of exploration and shooter gameplay. Adding that element of exploration is how Capcom decided Mega Man should get through the polygon ceiling.

To be fair to the haters, the action elements in Legends are lacking, especially compared to the twitch-based platformers of old.  The Legends games are third person shooters from an age when there were few good third person shooters, years before Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War established the modern blueprint for them.  Legends has some 20-odd different weapons to collect and upgrade in a full-fledged adventure equipment system, but in it you really just circle-strafe everything to death. The sequel however does have surprisingly modern dual analog controls for its time. Looking back today, I think you could call the combat in Legends a predecessor to that of the Lost Planet series (I think the controls or engines to the games had the same designer). The physics at least feel similar.

Beyond its gameplay though, what made Legends stick was its sense of charm.  A similar case I think would be Skies of Arcadia.  The game had a very bright and colorful aesthetic filled with warm characters whose antics alone made the storyline enjoyable. Unoriginal, but enjoyable.

Legends is probably one of the earliest proto-cases of what we today call cel shading.  It’s deliberately cartoonish graphics lent perfectly to the original PlayStation hardware and still hold up fairly well today, pixilated textures notwithstanding.

Furthermore, the Mega Man played in the Legends games is a sharp contrast to every other iteration of the character.  The original Mega Man is somewhat of an avenger for his creator, and Mega Man X is essentially a cop – a soldier.  The one in Legends is still Mega Man, but he’s the only Mega Man able to take off his helmet and be a regular 14-year-old kid. Cosmetically, Mega Man Volnutt is actually my favorite design of the character.

And so all that comes together to create a combination of the things I want most in video games. You’ve got gameplay focused on exploring locations that feel inviting and mysterious, an attractive art style with entertaining characters, and varied action gameplay. The action gameplay here falls a bit short of the other elements but never stopped me from enjoying the whole package. Part of my love for this game stems from the fact that exploration-based shooters are almost nonexistent these days.


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