I just don't get it. I don't understand why people don't like the Mega Man Legends series more. I guess it's just America. We wouldn't know a good game if it hit us. When the original Mega Man Legends came out in late 98, it kinda got brushed off. Reviewers and gamers alike seemed to regard it as "an interesting diversion" spawned from the most famous of Capcoms many franchises, but nothing particularly special. Was I the only one who thought it was collectively better than the rest of the entire Mega Man series combined? Was I the only one who thought it had excellent gameplay, an ingeniously conceived visual style, and a story so quietly charming it single-handedly made up for more than a decade of mindless, episodic meandering?
I dunno. I guess I wasnt the only one since Capcom brought out not only the sequel, but its charming little spin-off, The Misadventures Of Tron Bonne, earlier this year. Apparently, someone likes these games: as well they should.
Mega Man Legends 2 continues the story from the first game, which smartly threw all of the previous Mega Man fiction (if you could even call it that) out the window and started over in a bright and cheery, yet oddly foreboding future where miners, pirates, and small city-states endlessly search for ancient technology in a network of mysterious ruins. As Mega Man Legends 2 opens they are on the verge of uncovering the legendary "Mother Lode", hinted at in the first game, which is said to hold the greatest treasure in the world. There are a few returning characters from the first game including Mega Man, Roll, the Bonnes, and several new ones. The plot mostly involves small conflicts as all these people scramble in an attempt to beat each other to the Mother Lode.
Although there are small additions here and there, the gameplay remains mostly unchanged from Mega Man Legends 1, which is fine with me since I found the original Adventure/RPG approach to be rather good. The game is played in the traditional trailing perspective of 3D games as you control Mega Man as he explores towns and ruins. Like the first game, there are quite a few NPCs to talk to and help along the way, as well as the opportunity to customize your weapons and do other miscellaneous but rewarding activities. True to the original, one of the special pleasures of the game is that therere lots to do besides fighting. For example, you can buy furniture and appliances for the Flutter (Mega Man and Rolls ship/home), take an honest-to-God quiz at school (which includes actual questions covering everything from Pink Floyd to Chaos Theory), and even send and receive mail at the local post office. And thats *before* you unlock the mini games. Also, the world of Mega Man Legends 2 is a lot more expansive than the original. People who felt limited by the modest scope of Mega Man Legends 1 will be happy to know there is actually a world map in this game featuring multiple towns and even multiple climates.
Graphically, Mega Man Legends 2 embodies, I believe, exactly what is wrong with American game design. It is a crystal clear example of how, when correctly applied, an abstract, simplified cartoon style can do wonders for digital storytelling. Playing Mega Man Legends 2 is like playing a living, breathing animation cel. The range and application of facial expressions and body language is perfect and has been expertly fitted for the PlayStation hardware so that it stretches the technology without bending or breaking it. I wouldnt be surprised if this game looks as good in five years as it does today.
Gameplaywise, as I said, the game is quite good, although I wouldnt quite say perfect. The control scheme plays like a bizarre, but effective mix of 2D and 3D. Since all of the architecture is built on 90-degree angles, the game is designed in such a way that it can be played only by making instant, 90-degree turns, which means you are almost always moving along a 2D plane. The result is probably the only 3D game where you dont feel like youre driving. The only time you experience true 3D movement is when you use the auto-aim feature, which allows you to lock onto an enemy and move freely in all directions while keeping it in view continuously. Unfortunately, this is the one aspect of the game that could have used some additional tweaking. With few enemies on the screen, it works well enough, but when there are more than 4 or 5 it seems to have trouble deciding which enemy to lock on to, and oftentimes locks on the one farthest away from you, without regard as to whether you are separated by walls or not. Although this can easily be dealt with with a little ingenuity, it can be extremely annoying at times, as you constantly pound on the R1 in hopes that it will lock onto the enemy that is endlessly shooting you in the back.
And what of the story? Well, first of all, anyone who thinks its strange that I should feel like devoting a paragraph to this topic obviously hasnt played the first game. One of the best aspects of Mega Man Legends 1 was the way it took the tired and boring Mega Man mythos and utterly transformed it into a genuinely charming tale about a series of characters that were impossible to dislike. Mega Man Legends 2 continues this tradition flawlessly, and even goes a few steps farther into some surprising seriousness, giving it a much broader scope and more epic feel than the original. Not that its anything terribly new if you are someone even the slightest bit familiar with anime (incidentally, a lot of it seems suspiciously inspired by Laputa: Castle In The Sky), but for a Mega Man game this is practically unheard of since the series hallmark has always been mindless franchise repetition. Mega Man Legends 2 is probably the only Capcom sequel Ive ever played that dares to actually do something with its story. (It even achieves *gasp!* closure.) All the characters are cute and/or cool and attractive, and serve the story well. I especially liked how Rolls domestic relationship with Mega Man was more emphasized this time as a counter-point to his romantic tension with bad-girl Tron Bonne in the first game. Its all very cute and warmly effective. This is due in no small part to the jaw-droppingly excellent American voices. While most American voice work in games has historically misinterpreted the nuances of their Japanese source material, the ones in Mega Man Legends 2 are almost dead-on. The men arent too gruff and the women arent too low. And the entire cast gives it their best and seems to maintain a consistent and acute understanding of how these people should sound. The only way they could possibly fit better would be if they were speaking Japanese. Just shy of perfect.
Unfortunately, having been released the same day as Playstation 2, Mega Man Legends 2 will probably slip between the cracks like its predecessor as yet another excellent and charming game that just didnt get its fair share of attention. It towers over the rest of the series in terms of graphics, playability, story, and just sheer style. Mega Man purists may scream blasphemy, but I could really care less. They can keep all their recyclable levels and [insert name here]men. Call me a dork, but Im much happier playing house with Roll, thank you very much.