Megaman Legends 2

   Consisting of 30-odd titles over 15 years, the Megaman series has become something of a joke to many gamers, and even the most adamant fan has to admit that the concept is a bit long in the tooth. It was likely this weariness of formulaic retreads that Capcom was hoping to appease when they created 1998's Megaman Legends, the first 3D Megaman game. In breaking from the traditional linear stage-and-boss-and-secret-weapon structure of the original games, Legends alienated a lot of long-time fans of the little blue guy; but it also managed to prove that with an infusion of creativity, even the most cliche of concepts can be made new again.

 Where does an 800-lb. Reaverbot sit? Anywhere he wants
Please Reaver don't hurt 'em

   It's fitting, then, that Megaman Legends 2 closely follows the footsteps of its own parent series. Just as NES classic Megaman 2 was a dramatic improvement over its simplistic but promising predecessor, MML2 takes the components of the first game in the Legends series and rebuilds them into something much more satisfying.

   The basic elements are all here - running, shooting and exploration in three dimensions, well-produced cutscenes which move the story along at a brisk pace, enormous robots and machines to battle, towns to explore, and upgrades galore. The graphics retain their same cartoonish style, albeit with higher resolution, appealing special effects and more detailed textures (intrepid consumers who have purchased a PlayStation 2 will definitely want to play with texture smoothing on). The sound is of equal quality, with more sophisticated music and sound effects; happily, the voice actors who performed in the original game return to reprise their roles.

   But while it looks, plays and sounds much the same as the first Legends, MML2 is a significantly more sophisticated production. The game world is bigger, the dungeons are more varied and complex, and the plot is more ambitious and far-reaching than Legends' "save the town and find the treasure" premise. Game control has been refined and the addition of analog control and lock-on firing are welcome improvements that do much to make the lengthy dungeon exploration sequences more enjoyable. The story is also better integrated into the gameplay, as you'll frequently encounter story events besides Roll's helpful chatter as you scour the ancient subterranean ruins.

I love you, I would date with you
Tron's violent mood swings on an upward arc

   Those frustrated by the original game's rather unresolved ending will be pleased to know that MML2 answers many of the questions posed by the original, and solves the mysteries which unravel in the course of the sequel as well. The plot does take an unfortunate left turn into territory reminiscent of recent games such as Xenogears and Chrono Cross, but unlike them MML2 never loses its story or gameplay cohesion. Players who chafed at the happy-go-lucky feel of Legends will be happy to see a slightly darker and more epic tone to MML2, though the game retains much of the original's charm. The strength of the game is once again in its characters - the voices and expressions on display make the cast endearing. From the cutely indestructible Servbots to Megaman's friend and assistant Roll to the bumblingly dangerous Bonne family, each character has a distinct personality and half the fun is seeing their relationships and schemes unfold. Even newcomers Claymore and his cynical partner Bola should appeal to old-school Megaman fans; they appear to have stepped out of an 8-bit adventure. Name them "Steelman" and "Ninjaman" and no one would blink.

   In fact, Bola and Claymore are just the tip of the iceburg - MML2 offers much more fanservice for those mindful of the game's roots. References to older Megaman games abound, and the game certainly has much more of the feel of the classic series with its thematic dungeons and animal-like Reaverbots. Massive robotic wolves, frogs, dragonflies and jellyfish lurk in the dungeon depths, and one would almost expect to see Dr. Wily lurking in the shadows somewhere. Little nods like a TV show starring Protoman, a poster of Zero and a snowy island called Calinca add a nostalgic touch for those familiar with Megaman's 2D exploits. There's even a sequence involving underwater exploration in which Megaman, in traditional style, can jump much higher; unfortunately, he also moves much more slowly when submerged, which makes aquatic movement a bit tedious.

Dating is even more expensive when your girlfriend is a brilliant inventor
Pining for the days of "kill boss, get weapon"

   The game has its share of other flaws as well: the lock-on targeting is usually helpful, but has a tendency to pick out the wrong enemies in the heat of combat. Some of the longer and more complex dungeons can be excruciatingly frustrating when you explore for an hour or more with no save points to be found. Though longer than the original, MML2 can easily be finished in 15-18 hours, which will be disappointing to those hoping for something a little more time-consuming. And once again, many battles are won simply by running in a circle and shooting (though some of the bosses require serious strategy and skill).

   In a welcome twist, gamers can effectively set their own skill level by acquiring a better Digger's License, which opens new dungeons and boosts enemy intelligence and power. You begin the game with a B-Class license, but can earn A and S-Class rankings by passing the necessary tests wherever you meet Digger's Guild representatives. A higher class means enemies will drop more money, but they'll also be much harder to destroy, so the choice is up to the gamer. Be warned that the S-Class test is the single hardest feature of the game, a task more brutal than even the vicious final boss. Players who tire of challenging the Guild's rigorous requirements can pursue other mini-games, including a racing event and a trivia challenge with an odd emphasis on '80s pop music. There are a number of other extra features to while away time as well, such as a post office where various people you encounter will send you missives; you can even peek at Roll's diary, which changes to reflect the way you treat her in the game.

   Sadly, Legends 2 will probably be overlooked by most gamers due to the unfortunate fact that Capcom chose to release it in the thick of PlayStation 2 and Zelda:MM mania. While Megaman's latest adventure doesn't have the allure or polish of recent big-ticket items, it does offer solid gameplay and adds a sense of refinement to a promising series. It's a must-own for fans of the original, and will potentially appeal to many gamers who were turned off by the flaws of the first Legends. Whether future installments will avoid becoming as formulaic as the original Megaman series remains to be seen. For now, however, Capcom's designers have succeeded in creating an excellent sequel.

Review by J. Parish, GIA.
Megaman Legends 2
Developer Capcom
Publisher Capcom
Genre Adventure
Medium CD (1)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  04.27.00
Capcom offers Mega Man Legends 2 pre-order bonus
155 U.S. screenshots
7 character designs
Japanese packaging