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20 years ago, Mega Man Legends bucked series tradition and became a fan-favorite

by Ron Duwell | December 24, 2017December 24, 2017 10:00 am PST

Mega Man Legends turned 20-years-old recently, and Mega Man Volnutt has his blue butt stuck on the Moon. Capcom has yet to send a rocket his way to bring the poor guy back, meaning that a third game in Capcom’s beloved spin-off series still seems further away than ever. Even with the announcement of Mega Man 11, this game’s devoted following feels that they might never get the closure they’ve waited all this time for.

However, we’re not here to mope or pout. We’ve done our fair share of that since 2011, and nobody knows this more than those at Capcom who have to stomach it. Instead, we will take a look at the first game and how an incredibly progressive and forward-looking direction helped establish it as a classic that beat many masterpieces and legends of the video game world out their gate.

For example, when you think of an open world adventure with 3D dungeons and a fully fledged map, there is only one game that really comes to mind for doing it first: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This game is the blueprint by which most video games build themselves around. You have a mini-map, checkpoints, fully 3D environments with NPCs to interact with. Baddies are tackled with the aid of an efficient and effective lock-on system, and dungeons contain multiple levels with puzzles that take advantage of the game’s revolutionary 3D capabilities.

Ocarina of Time, there really wasn’t anything like it…

Except for Mega Man Legends, which yes, did all of these things in 1997, a full year before Ocarina of Time hit the retail shelves. The game’s setting, Kattelox Island, is a winding maze of underground and interconnecting tunnels, loaded with treasure, zenny, and upgrades for Mega Man’s armor and weapons. On the surface, Kattelox Island sports a large population of NPCs and even an entire community to interact with.

It is in this intimacy with the locals and how easy it is to memorize the map that fans constantly find new reasons to return to this game. However, Mega Man Legends also beat another classic out of the gate and used a tool that classic is famous for to boost and improve its own presentation an entire year earlier.

We’re talking now about Metal Gear Solid, a game that is somewhat credited for both utilizing voice acting in video games to make a cinematic experience and being the first noteworthy localization job in North America. While both are certainly true, these ideas also happen to be wrong in that they did it first. Mega Man Legends’ tale might not be as complex as Snake’s desperate mission in the heart of Alaska, but its voice acting does perfectly deliver by setting up a believable world covered with endless water and creating fun personalities, tense drama, and involving cutscenes.

And as for localization, Mega Man Legends has never been a slouch. The opening text crawl might come off as a bit whimsical, but each voice actor owns their role before the end of the game in ways that were unheard of in 1998. Mega Man Legends’ localization had it finished in August, Metal Gear Solid came out that November.

Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time provide examples of Mega Man Legends beating two games out of the gate with a razor-thin finish. If we look further into the future, we can see how Mega Man Legends helped lay the path for a good many games that have come out in the modern era.

One that springs to my mind is Valkyria Chronicles. Maybe Mega Man Legends didn’t directly inspire or beat SEGA’s cult-classic strategy game in any race, but many consider that the idea of “playing an anime” became fully realized with Valkyria Chronicle’s launch in 2008. While I won’t sit here and argue that Mega Man Legends is a flawless recreation of an anime, you’d be hard-pressed to say that it didn’t come close.

Given the limited technology, Capcom’s team created fully articulate character models for us to fall in love with. Those unmistakable anime eyes need only be drawn onto blocky skins, and voila, you have walking, talking anime characters. Maybe a little on the pixelated side, but again, this was 1997. Nobody cared. Those characters spend much of their adventure on a beautiful tropical getaway, uncovering the mystery of the island through episodic adventures, each which ending in a climactic battle with the space pirates or the ruin’s robotic defenses.

If we’re going to stretch it a little, you wouldn’t be mistaken for confusing a Mega Man Legends screenshot for the world’s most popular game at the moment, Minecraft. Mojang clearly modeled its open-world sandbox in the image of old PlayStation games, a given because of the previously mentioned pixelization, but when you start comparing and contrasting the greens, sky blues, and nature settings of Mega Man Legends mid-90s anime paradise, the two are nearly identical.

A stretch, but if you enjoy getting lost in Minecraft’s infinite expanses, perhaps Mega Man Legends would be a nice place to take a break to.

So why don’t more people remember Mega Man Legends for being so far ahead of the curve? Well, it’s obvious. Most fans wrote it off in 1997. No robot masters, no special weapons, no 2D action or blistering difficulty curve. This weird new game had 3D graphics, anime characters, cutscenes and drama… this isn’t the Mega Mani they grew up with! These diehards from the established fanbase struggled to try something new and forward-thinking, and their stubborn commital to tradition caused them to miss out on a genuine classic.

Thankfully, the game revitalized its reputation over time and is now considered to have weathered the storm into classic territory. Those who dismissed it back then have gone back to appreciate those lost memories and all that this wonderful game have o offer.

If all of this sounds somewhat familiar and relevant nowadays, as in… some other popular media franchise that just bucked trends and sent a lot of traditionalists into a tizzy… just remember, Mega Man Legends did it first, a full 20 years before… that other media franchise.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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