This article was originally published at Kombo.com on October 13, 2004.
Capcom's futuristic take on the blue bomber has resulted in some of gaming's most memorable side-scrolling platformer games, but in recent years Mega Man X has begun to slip somewhat. His more recent adventures have been half-hearted misfires, containing more frustrating moments than actual fun. Poor localization/translation has also dogged the series in addition to some rather dismal voice acting. The Mega Man X storyline has also been circling the drain for some time, as one game in the series contradicts another (the end of Mega Man X6 proclaims that X's Maverick Hunter partner Zero has gone into a deep sleep for one hundred years so that he can star in the spin-off series Mega Man Zero, and yet Zero appears alive and well in Mega Man X7 and X8) and, on occasion, one game will contradict itself. When Capcom announced that an RPG starring X and friends was in development many fans shuddered at the thought of the company that seemingly couldn't tell a consistent story in an action game taking a stab at a plot-intensive RPG. It would seem those fears are misplaced, as X's first RPG — Mega Man X: Command Mission for the Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2 — actually tells a coherent story and features voice acting from actors who can actually, well, act. Add in a deeply customizable battle system and plenty of playable characters and it would appear that if this is Capcom's attempt at bringing some cohesion to the Mega Man X saga, than they look to be successful.
Disregarding some of the more glaring discrepancies, the core of the Mega Man X series revolves around X, a futuristic robot whose design was copied to create a race of sentient robots known as Reploids. Initially humans and Reploids lived together in peace, but eventually some Reploids came to see themselves as superior and sought to rise up above humans and the Reploids that would support them. These rogue Reploids have been dubbed Mavericks and, led by former Maverick Hunter Sigma, have lashed out at the Reploid community time and time again (eight times now, actually, not counting spin-offs and ports to other systems). As we join the saga in Command Mission we find X and his Maverick Hunter partners Zero and Shadow searching for the latest leader of the Maverick Rebellion in and around Giga City. Over the course of the game X will meet up with a number of Reploids sympathetic to the cause ("the dregs of Giga City", Zero calls them) as he and his team seek out the force behind the rebellion in a series of missions. Ultimately X's party swells to seven members, some familiar and some new to the series. X, Zero, and Axl we know; they're famous Class S Maverick Hunters, after all. Newcomers include Spider the bounty hunter, Marino the thief, Steel Massimo and his massive battle armor, and Cinnamon the naive Reploid nurse. While only three characters can fight on the front line at a time, characters can be swapped without penalty or delay during battle. If Steel Massimo is about to run out of power, for example, a push of the L button can cause him to teleport away and bring Spider down in his place.
Command Mission consists primarily of two different modes of play: either X is roaming around a 3D environment acquiring items and talking to Reploids or he and his party are engaged in a menu-driven battle against Mavericks. Controlling X while roaming is simple enough; the control stick moves him, the A button speaks to nearby Reploids, and the B button causes him to dash (thereby smashing open item containers). The camera stick rotates the camera around X, although it cannot zoom in or out. The majority of the 3D environments consist of various enclosed corridors; X does not directly interact with the world around him with the exception of dashing into item containers. Doors open automatically when X approaches them and animated cinema scenes are triggered when X enters specific areas.
While X is walking from Point A to Point B he'll often trigger an enemy encounter; these encounters come as a surprise and cannot be avoided. Command Mission's battle system offers numerous ways to configure X and friends for battle. Each character has a fixed primary attack, two configurable secondary attacks, a unique special attack, and a powerful hyper attack form. For example, X's primary attack is his conventional X-Buster blaster; his secondary weapons can include swappable weapons such as missiles, energy charges, or status-changing blasts; his special attack is a charged X-Buster shot that can strike multiple foes at once; and his hyper attack form can inflict greater amounts of damage with each blast. On the other hand, Spider's weapons revolve around cards; his special attack involves playing a quick hand of draw poker with higher hands of cards inflicting more and more damage. Zero has his powerful saber, Axl can transform himself into defeated Mavericks, Marino uses a slot machine interface to determine which special attack to use, and so on. In battle mode the A button confirms menu commands and activates the primary weapon, the B button calls up the battle menu, the X and Y buttons activate the secondary weapons, the R button activates the special attack, and the Z button can be configured to perform any number of commands from replenishing power from a sub tank to running away from battle.
Each special attack and secondary weapon is powered by that old Mega Man standby, Weapon Energy (WE). Special attacks can only be used when the WE status bar is above fifty percent, with larger amounts of WE inflicting more damage when used. Secondary weapons each have their own WE requirements typically somewhere in the ten to twenty percent range. The key to successfully advancing is planning ahead to conserve WE for moments when foes are open to attack. Fortunately, Command Mission makes it easy to keep track of upcoming moves. During a battle a series of gauges appear in the lower right corner of the screen to depict the order of attack for the next eight turns of combat as well as current health (“Life Energy”, or LE) for each character, both friend and enemy. If X or a member of his group can cause 75% or more damage to an enemy during a single turn, the powerful Final Strike attack can be activated, causing all three characters on the battlefield to rush in and inflict massive damage to the weakened foe. If X and friends win the battle they earn items, experience points, and zennys (i.e. currency) as well as another key aspect of the game: Force Metal energy.
Force Metal comes from fragments of a mysterious asteroid that fell to Earth near Giga City. Characters can resist various attacks and dish out additional damage by equipping Force Metal, and Force Metal can be both purchased from shops and found in various environments. For example, X can equip himself with up to four different pieces of Force Metal, whereas Steel Massimo is limited to using only two Force Metal fragments. Once X finds the Force Metal Generator he can synthesize specific Force Metal pieces on demand by combining specific items and a quantity of Force Metal Energy. Unfortunately, Force Metal’s innate qualities cause a condition known as erosion in Reploids that equip it. Each Reploid can equip a certain quantity of Force Metal before eroding, causing characters to lash out at friends, take damage at random, or otherwise become impeded. Another strategic aspect of the game is choosing which combinations of Force Metal lead to the greatest positive effect with minimal erosion.
Command Mission follows a rather linear path: when X is ready to begin a new mission he transports to the next environment. After progressing from room to room and fighting battles he’ll eventually come to the boss Maverick. After defeating the Maverick X returned to Giga City to recharge energy and purchase new items before embarking on the next mission. Along the way cinema scenes allow the story to unfold. It is also possible to revisit previous levels to fight battles to earn more experience points as well as search for missed items. The only other replay aspect in the game involves deploying captured enemy Mavericks to cleared levels. The player does not get to control the deployment units directly, however, and instead chooses which Mavericks to deploy to which places. After a fixed amount of the time units return with various special optional non-gameplay items such as conceptual sketches, music tracks, and trophy figurines that can be viewed in a special location known as the Sky Room. Occasionally the deployment teams will bring back keys that will unlock doors in cleared levels that lead to weapons and other useful items. By connecting the Game Boy Advance players can use the optional Treasure Map to locate secret treasure tokens that can be used to purchase additional Sky Room items.
Command Mission backs away from conventional sprites and rendered character models and instead renders X’s world in a cel-shaded format somewhat reminiscent of 2003’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, although less detailed. Like Wind Waker, Command Mission’s visuals are best appreciated in motion; screenshots do not do the game justice. One particularly impressive aspect of the game’s graphics involves a certain small buggy-type enemy that, when it becomes angry, swells to five times its size in a matter of milliseconds without dropping a single visible frame. Turning to audio, game music blends in to the background outside of battles, but when engaged in heavy combat the music swells and keeps one’s pulse racing in a fit of anticipation and anxiety. Some sound effects, such as X’s X-Buster shot and Zero’s saber slash, are lifted from past Mega Man X games. Each weapon impact strikes with an appropriate crack or smash, and some strikes sound particularly painful. Command Mission’s story is told in animated cinema scenes complete with voice acting, and thankfully Capcom hired voice actors who actually bring emotion and drama to the scenes. Optional text transcribes these scenes as well. The game even supports Dolby Pro Logic II.
The Mega Man X series appears to be getting back on track with Mega Man X: Command Mission. With the Mega Man machine cranking out sequel after sequel of essentially the same game it’s refreshing to see Capcom take the character in a new direction. There are a few missteps here and there, but for the most part X’s first RPG is a keeper. Each battle is exciting and the combinations of weapons and Force Metals ensure that few battles are ever alike. The game seems unpleasantly short, however in less than sixteen hours of play I had cleared six of the game’s ten story chapters. The storyline takes some surprising twists along the way as characters leave and rejoin the group depending on the plot point. In the end though I recommend this game to Mega Man and RPG fans alike. Command Mission accomplished.
(images via Mega Man Knowledge Base)