E3: Mega Man Battle Network impressions

[05.19.01] » Also known as the Mega Man RPG.

    Though not what Mega Man fans might have been expecting, Mega Man Battle Network shows that the series still has room to grow in new and interesting directions. The E3 demo starts where the final game does; you take control of Lan in his fifth-grade classroom. There, his teacher gives a lesson on virus busting so that the students can protect themselves from the growing threat of the WWW cyber-terrorists. You'll fight your first enemies here, the Mettools which have been around since the beginning of the series.

    The combat plays out on a single screen, where both you and your opponents have a three-by-three grid to move around on. Since Mega Man can't jump, the only way to avoid enemy attacks is to dodge either horizontally or vertically. To fight back, Mega Man can either fire single shots from his blaster, which only take off 1 HP each, or use his Chips.

    At the beginning of each battle, you choose Chips to take into the fight. Each Chip is represented by a card showing a picture of its effects, the amount of damage it does, and its letter type. Five Chips from your folder randomly appear to choose from; and you can usually only take one Chip into battle at a time. However, you can stack two of the same kind of Chips (for example, if two Cannons are in the folder, you may take them both) or the same letter type (Area Steal and Sword, both of which are S type, may be taken together).

    Once you use a Chip in battle, you may not use it again during that battle, although it will go back into the folder for use in future battles. When you use up all the Chips you've taken into battle, you'll still have an opportunity to select more. A gauge at the top of the screen slowly fills up during battle; when it's full, just press the R button to access the Chip menu again.

    Chips have a variety of uses, not just offensive. Though you will most often use them to deal damage, since your regular buster is so weak, there are also support Chips. Area Steal takes one vertical line of squares from your enemy's movable area and adds it to yours, restricting his movement and giving you more space at the same time. There are also healing Chips and Chips to drop one square off of the enemy's space, creating a pitfall.

    The battle system plays more like a realtime RPG system than a platform shooter, and the rest of the game goes even further toward establishing the game as an RPG. You'll walk through ACDC DenCen City and talk to NPCs, as well as explore "dungeons" on the Internet complete with random battles and treasure chests. The translation so far is lighthearted and amusing, featuring dialogue such as "So I was like, no way!"

    Mega Man Battle Network is just the change of pace that the series needed, and longtime fans idly wishing for a Mega Man RPG have mostly gotten their wish. Look for Mega Man Battle Network on Game Boy Advance this September.

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