Our friend Mega Man has seen many iterations over the years, taking different forms in various platformers. Though perhaps his most unique outing was through the RPG world, which began on the Game Boy Advance through the Mega Man Battle Network series of games. Taking place in a completely separate universe from any other Mega Man games, they hold almost nothing in common with the core series other than its namesake, and it can confidently stand alone as its own entity. The games proved to be quite popular, with the second entry selling about 1.5 million copies. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much from it since the glory days of the GBA have died down. It’s time to look at this rather niche series, and see just why it is beloved by so many.
Battle Network is an Action-RPG where players control Lan Hikari, a 5th grader from ACDC town, and his NetNavi Mega Man, his digital friend, as they fight against injustice on the internet. It is a series that spans 6 whole entries, all on the GBA- and much more than that if you count the various spinoffs and different versions of each entry. Over the course of these many releases, the games never necessarily dipped in quality, they just never found a way to inject new life that a series with so many entries needed. Given this, it is fair to say that many fans and critics alike grew tiresome of the same formula given the small, incremental updates that were found. Though on the bright side, this also brought a comforting sense of familiarity to be found within each new entry in the series; we could always count on Lan and his pals to be there, waiting for us to start the next new adventure to save the ‘net from sure destruction. One might compare the appeal of the series to a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s not going to offer something totally different and unique with each new episode, but you’ll always be excited to go on a new adventure with the same characters that you know and love.
The storylines and world of Battle Network are unabashedly cheesy, and this goes doubly by today’s standards. It is worth remembering that this series made its debut in the early 2000s, when the internet was still in its infancy, and the service was just starting to enter the public as a standard feature of computers. Because of this, there is a TON of 90s “internet speak” throughout the games, and it’s beautiful. We’ve even got main characters named “Lan”, “Mayl”, and “Dex”. How great is that? And yet, this is what makes the games so appealing- they exist in an endearing early prediction of what might come out of this new worldwide invention. In many ways, the Battle Network universe accurately predicted many of the now-common features that we see in the modern day, such as the many ways different devices are connected to the web, the Personal Terminal (which functions much like a modern-day smartphone), and the now-prominent issue of cyber crime (although the plans for world domination are still mostly exclusive to these games, thankfully).
In the world of Battle Network, absolutely everything is connected through the internet. Beyond the standard computers having an internet connection, everyday household objects are connected, too- from your piano to your dishwasher to the statue of a squirrel in the city park, the number of devices that are hooked up to the internet are just about endless. Players can walk up to many different things in the world and interact with it by pressing the R button, and if the object is internet-compatible, Lan will “jack in” to the system of the object, and will be free to explore its inner computer. There, players can find links to other places on the net, various helpful items, as well as NPC programs that are running the device. Talking to these programs can often result in some incredibly funny dialogue about their thoughts on the experience of being a program. For instance, in the computer of a stuffed animal, Mega Man can find a program saying, “I wish that I could talk sometimes, too… ‘Put me down, NOW!’, things like that…”.
Mega Man himself is a program contained within Lan’s PET, and he is able to communicate with him whenever he wants through it. Players will control Lan in the real-world universe, and Mega Man when on the internet. It’s very cool playing with these two connected universes. The internet sections play out as cyber dungeon-crawlers, where Mega Man will battle viruses and save the internet from its peril. These sections will often feature Mega Man making adjustments online such as deleting viruses or turning on programs that affect things in the real world. Playing as Lan in the real world offers the slice-of-life gameplay as he explores different places, jacks into various internet sources, solves puzzles, and talks with various characters. And by talk, I really do mean talk– there’s a lot of dialogue in these games. Yet, it all manages to be quite entertaining. Much of the content of these games are comprised of simple adventure gaming, with players exploring the various places of Densen City and watching story events unfold. The storylines of Battle Network titles may be a bit ridiculous, but they certainly do take themselves seriously and it’s fun following its many characters through their various internet escapades.
Another great feature of these titles is the battle system, which is a unique merging of Action-RPG and trading card game. Battles take place in cyberspace on a 3×3 grid where the player can freely move Mega Man around on each square, shooting enemies with his buster. These Battle Chips each have many different qualities and powers, making them engaging to collect throughout the game. As players collect different chips, they can put them into their battle folder and use them when fighting against viruses on the internet. There’s plenty of more detail that we could go into regarding the game’s battles, but those are the basics. It’s a very clever system, and one that offers a wide amount of diversity in terms of the way battles are played out. The difficulty of the games tends to gradually incline as the campaign continues on, offering some light action as well as some seriously considerable challenges. The game’s boss battles in particular stand out as a true test of players’ skill, almost always bringing something unique to the table in terms of how battles play out. It is this effective merging of chip collecting and semi-turn-based, action-focused battles that give Battle Network a unique flair in a world jam-packed with RPGs.
This is to say nothing of the presentation to be found in the games, which add to the overall experience considerably. The Game Boy Advance is not widely known for its sound card, but in spite of this, the games have managed to bring some truly excellent chiptunes. From the main theme of each game to the home theme of ACDC Town, Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki really managed to bring some awesome digi-songs to the GBA that fit the universe perfectly. The visuals are also colorfully detailed, making the environments into very charming cartoon places. Taking a diagonal viewpoint, each place feels like a detailed diorama. Exploring each setting of the series is always enjoyable because of this, and they make the experience of living in Battle Network’s world a pleasant one.
And in the end, that’s what Battle Network did best- it created an enjoyably cheesy, internet-savvy world where players can help stop the world from being overtaken by Cyber-Baddies, even though the odds are stacked against them. It’s not perfect, and its many sequels don’t necessarily take many risks, but it’s certainly a worthwhile GBA adventure that is worth embarking on for at least one entry (or more if one is so inclined). In fact, got its own great sequel/spinoff series Star Force for the DS later on, which features similar gameplay to this series, but also switched up many key aspects. Most recently, all of the main-series entries were released on the Wii U Virtual Console. With so much to explore and so many viruses to delete, it’s no wonder these games are beloved by so many. Mega Man Battle Network is a classic series that may have reached its conclusion long ago, but is certainly not forgotten.