You’re Not Excited About Mega Man Battle Network Enough
I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. Everytime some random SNES game or ancient Japanese port gets announced for the Switch, I see a bunch of people on social media celebrating. They tweet “Oh my god they’re finally remaking Warrior Adventure 6 that’s my favorite game!” or “Can’t wait for everyone to experience the masterpiece that is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army!!” Nine out of ten times, I have no idea what anyone is talking about. But today is my day. All ten Mega Man Battle Network games are coming to Switch next year specifically for me and me only. Let me tell you a little about the beauty and the majesty and the wonder of such titles as Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar – a real ass video game that I definitely played more than once.
Admittedly, the Battle Network series probably isn’t quite as niche as something like Devil Summoner. I’m sure most people have at least heard of Battle Network or maybe even played the first one. I am not suggesting that a series with more than a dozen games and full sequel series (Mega Man Star Force collection when?) is some underground indie jam, but I do think I’m among a very small group of Battle Network appreciators. I’ve played every game in the series and I’ve seen most of the anime, MegaMan NT Warrior. So ya, I kinda know what I’m talking about, and I think you should be excited for this.
Forget everything you know about Mega Man and his platforming roots. Battle Network is a real-time tactics game about a fifth grade boy named Lan who solves cyber crimes with the help of his NetNavi MegaMan.EXE. Lan lives in a Ready Player One-like world where all aspects of life, from basic necessities to commerce to government, is irrevocably connected to a virtual hellscape called the Net. All people, including children, have avatars called NetNavis that act as their counterpart within the Net, so Mega Man is essentially Lan’s virtual assistant and best friend.
Early in the game, the pair discover a series of seemingly disconnected plots to disrupt life and cause chaos in Lan’s home town ACDC. While Lan investigates these happenings in the real world, Mega Man does the dirty work of virus-busting on the Net. Lan and Mega Man thwart several crimes, including stopping a public bus from getting blown up, rescuing people from suffocating in a building that has lost oxygen, and saving students at Lan’s school that are being brainwashed. I’ll save the political analysis for another day, but suffice to say Battle Network fits into the cautionary side of Cyberpunk dystopian fiction.
I have to talk about the combat of course. It’s what first pulled me in and after all these years I still can’t believe real-time tactics isn’t a full genre. While exploring the Net, Mega Man collects Battle Chips and builds Folders, similar to the way you collect cards and build decks in a trading card game. In battle, Mega Man can move freely around a 3×3 grid and activate his Battle Chips to dish out a wide variety of attacks and abilities. Some attack the viruses on the other side of the board directly, while others affect the board itself. You can use an ax to knock out a few tiles and restrict where the enemies can move, then follow up with a focused, precision attack to deal big damage. Battles get more complex as you build unique folders and develop synergies between your abilities. As much as I love the story and world building, the combat and chip collecting is really what makes Battle Network so great.
Capcom pumped out a new Battle Network game every year from 2001 to 2006, and unfortunately there’s very little growth throughout the series to justify so many entries. It’s a shame that Battle Network developers weren’t given the time to iterate and mature the series because the core concepts are incredibly strong, but franchise fatigue set in and by the time Battle Network 6 came out the audience just wasn’t there for it anymore. To make matters worse, Battle Network 3 onward split each game into two separate versions in an obvious attempt to ape Pokemon, but the differences between them were even more shallow. The sequel series only lasted three games, and by late 2008 the real-time tactics genre was effectively dead. There has been one revival: a roguelike indie game called One Step From Eden that attempts to recapture the magic of Battle Network’s combat. It is exceptional, if a bit difficult, and I highly recommend it while we wait for the Switch ports next year.
There’s also some pretty significant differences between the Western version of the series and the Japanese version. There are multiple spin-offs from the main series that have never been released outside of Japan, including a well-regarded remake of the original called Rockman EXE Operate Shooting Star. There also weren’t two versions of Battle Network 3 in Japan, though an enhanced version with bug fixes and improved graphics was made exclusively for the Japanese audience. Battle Network 4-6 also had crossover support with Hideo Kojima’s Boktai series, but only in Japan. The Japanese version of Battle Network 4 came with a Battle Chip Gate expansion that would allow you to play as different Navis using a custom battle menu.
I don’t assume we’ll see anything more than what was included on the original Western releases in the upcoming collection, which feels like a bit of a shame. This would be a great opportunity to bring the remake or some of the Japan-exclusive side games to the rest of the world for the first time. The collection could have included some of the awesome spin-offs like Network Transmission and Chip Challenge. There was also a huge multiplayer component to Battle Network 3 that I’d love to see working in the collection. If it were up to me, every boxed copy would include an Advanced Pet, a Tamagotchi-like toy that used collectible Battle Chips so kids could NetBattle in real life.
I will be happy to see the series finally playable on Switch, even if it ends up being pretty barebones, and I think it’s at least worth checking out the first game, which some would argue is the best one. As society hurtles towards a technocratic dystopia, cyberpunk media like Battle Network – however child-friendly it may be – are getting more popular than ever. While it went to great lengths to rip-off every popular aspect of children’s media at the time while failing to create much of a legacy of its own, the Battle Network series still holds a special place in my heart, and its gameplay is far too good to have been left behind on the Game Boy Advance. Who knows? Maybe this collection sells like gangbusters and Capcom sees the potential in a series reboot. A cyberboy can dream.
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