Ask any Mega Man fan what their favorite sub-series is, and there’s a good chance they’ll rattle off the classic games, the X sub-series, or the Battle Network spin-offs. Fans with a deeper attachment to the franchise might be privy to Zero, Legends, and Star Force, but rarely is the ZX duology referred to with the same fervor. More often than not, both ZX games tend to fall under the umbrella of the Zero series– something Capcom even officialized to an extent, packaging all six games together in the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. It makes sense as IntiCreates would immediately develop Rockman ZX following Zero 4, but it still begs the question: why has time forgotten ZX?
Perhaps “forgotten” isn’t the right word considering both ZX games have their fans and the first even outsold Zero 4, but the sub-series hasn’t left nearly as much impact on the franchise as its brethren. Of course, this is in large part due to the ZX games not only ending on a cliffhanger but ushering in an era where every single Mega Man sub-series save for Classic went on a quiet hiatus. Keep in mind that all four Zero games were released in yearly increments, all the while X games were still being made and Battle Network was chugging along on the very same handheld. The market was oversaturated with Mega Men by the timeZX basically released alongside the first Star Force. ZX Advent underperforming was an inevitability, but that’s a story for another day.
Following Zero 4’s powerful ending, ZX would need an equally as impactful opening to prove it could carry the Mega Man torch in a post-Zero world. As an introduction to a brand new sub-series with new characters to follow, new themes to explore, and a new world to discover, Mega Man ZX doesn’t leave the most lasting impressions. Although that’s less to do with ZX’s actual design quality, and more to do with its conflicting priorities. Despite very much having an identity of its own– with gameplay truly unique to this sub-series– ZX spends its first hour acting like it’s a Mega Man X/Mega Man Zero hybrid when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Of course, it’s hard to come to the conclusion that ZX has a unique identity when: the player character looks almost exactly like X in-action, a stage from Mega Man X is lifted right out of the first game mostly unchanged, and the mission system from the original Mega Man Zero makes an unexpected comeback. ZX is at least conscious of how much it lifts from the previous sub-series, lending the title some early-game charm if nothing else, but first impressions matter and letting your game’s first impression boil down to fan service isn’t exactly the best way to usher in a fresh start for a franchise. It’s a shame because, in spite of how much ZX wants to remind audiences of the series’ rich history, the game quickly finds its footing once the formality of the introduction is over.
With a few key exceptions, the Mega Man franchise is primarily filled with action-platformers. Legends, Battle Network, and Star Force all offer a decent bit of variety, but Legends is very much a result of the shift from 2D to 3D, whereas BN and SF can comfortably be considered mechanical spin-offs even if they are fully-fledged sub-series. While the main platformers (Classic, X, and Zero) always had their fair share of secrets, adventuring wasn’t exactly a series priority– even Zero 1, which made an active effort to feature a hub world and an interconnected map, wasn’t able to strike a clean balance between action & adventure, resulting in IntiCreates jumping to a more traditional mission structure for the succeeding three Zero games.
IntiCreates may have brought Zero’s story to a close, but Capcom wasn’t done with their partnership quite yet. With Zero 4 releasing on the cusp of the Nintendo DS and selling relatively well in spite of that, IntiCreates were commissioned for yet another Mega Man game: the title that would become ZX. With IntiCreates taking developmental reigns yet again, it would make sense for ZX to follow in the footsteps of Z4 and evolve the Zero series’ core combat. ZX was even made so it could “go either way,” as a sequel to Zero 4 and as a fresh start for Rockman. While superficially familiar to the Zero games, ZX does end up coming into its own.
Taking a page out of Zero 1’s book, ZX is the full-blown Metroidvania IntiCreates couldn’t make back in 2002. A subgenre stemming from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s 1997 release, Metroidvania titles mesh the adventuring found in Metroid with the action found in Castlevania, often as 2D side-scrollers, occasionally with RPG mechanics, and ideally with an emphasis on exploration. While Metroidvanias can still exist without all these three qualities coalescing together, it’s that penchant for adventure that arguably gives the subgenre its charm. There’s a natural appeal to being able to stray off the beaten path to explore, or simply the allowance of tackling a game non-linearly.
Mega Man has always featured non-linearity to an extent, allowing players to choose the order in which they tackle stages from as early as the first game, but ZX tries to add meat to said non-linearity. Rather than picking a mission from a menu and warping to the start, players now have to traverse an interconnected world to reach each stage after selecting their mission. Warp points and shortcuts gradually unlock over the course of the game to keep adventuring dynamic, resulting in only the first hour playing out like a traditional Mega Man game. Once players have cleared Area D, the world opens up and ZX more or less leaves players to their own devices– free to explore the overworld and play through the story at their leisure.
It’s worth noting that despite Zero 4 and ZX sharing a scenario writer, the latter’s tone isn’t half as dark as its predecessor. Where Mega Man Zero was set in a dystopic future torn apart by perpetual conflict, ZX takes place 200 years after the events of the Zero series. Zero may be dead and gone, but substantial progress has been made since the Destruction of Ragnarok in Z4. A considerable amount of nature has returned to the land with a healthy population in tow. Not just that, the human/reploid racism that defined the Zero games is a distant memory with the two coexisting in relative peace. ZX offers a refreshing change of pace after four straight games of fairly dramatic storytelling.
“Those humans we fought so hard to protect hundreds of years ago have been lulled into a false sense of security by the empty promise of peace.”
Although the interconnected world is an incredibly important part of the game’s identity, ZX’s main gameplay draw is the Biometal system. Unlocked by defeating Pseudoroids (ZX’s bosses,) Biometals are basically boss weapons that have been given full move sets, each Biometal having combat & platforming properties that can shake up gameplay. On the subject of shaking things up, ZX is also the first game in the series to feature a female protagonist. While she’s presented as little more than a female alternate to the male lead, Vent, Aile is very much her own character. Even their stories, which share the same exact key beats, end up feeling fairly different due to how much Vent and Aile ultimately contrast each other.
Regardless of who players choose, the first Biometal Vent or Aile gains access to is Model X. Modeled after X himself, Model X plays fairly similar to how X did in Mega Man X2, complete with a double-charged shot that pulverizes enemies like nothing. Considering IntiCreates spent four games straight developing gameplay with Zero in mind, ZX’s introduction– while not a good indication of the game’s actual identity– has an endearing quality to it. With the first few stages intimately connected to one another, the first hour almost feels like an X game at times. Without other Models to play around with, the early stages make use of the basic dashing & jumping at the core of the X experience. Area D, ZX’s fourth stage, is even a revised version of the opening Highway level from X1.
As fun as it is to cosplay X, Model X is only available for those first four stages, replaced by Model ZX at the end of Area D. Model ZX is basically a watered down Zero from the Zero games, and the Model the majority of the game is designed around. Unlike Model X which only had access to a Buster, Model ZX has two weapons: Zero’s signature Z Saber and a Buster Shot. The Z Saber can still perform a three hit combo, but has a less responsive charge attack. Likewise, Model ZX can pull off an aerial rolling slash, but Zero’s grounded rolling slash is nixed. Thankfully, ZX’s Buster Shot operates exactly like Model X’s, albeit without the double-charged shot. Both Models more or less play the same, with the key differences being that X has a stronger Buster and ZX has a sword.
The four other main Models are fittingly based off the Zero series’ Guardians, with three of the Models replacing Element Chips in the process. Model HX is based on Harpuia and has Thunder based properties. Its dual blades might look like a single weapon, but the shorter blade can perform quick slices, while using the longer blade results in a heavy slash. Faster than Model ZX, HX’s blades have decent combo potential, with slice, slash, slice standing out as old reliable. HX’s charged attacks are particularly strong as well. A standard charge releases a homing attack that targets enemies, but pressing Up while releasing HX’s full charge will create a tornado that rips through bosses.
Unlike X and ZX who can only pull off the dashing & jumping expected from X and Zero themselves, Model HX is far more agile. Not only can HX hover mid-air, making certain platforming sections easier, players can do a vertical dash akin to a double jump and an air-dash when off the ground. In terms of pure mobility, HX is second to none. As is the case with the all the Guardian based Biometals, the DS’ touch screen adapts to the equipped Model. In the case of HX, the bottom screen showcases enemy weaknesses and health. HX is one of the better Models in the game, if not the most practical, but the other Biometals do hold their own.
Although Model FX doesn’t offer much in the way of platforming capabilities, it’s quite the heavy hitter. FX’s flame based attacks can be used to burn obstacles and FX’s Knuckle Busters more or less act as gauntlets that shoot out fireballs. They’re not only quite fast, the Knuckle Busters do more damage than ZX’s Buster Shot, making it easy to take out long ranged enemies fast. Model FX does lock into place when firing, so it’s not possible to attack while keeping momentum, but this is arguably offset by the fact Model FX can shoot vertically, taking out airborne enemies from down below. The touch screen is even used to customize the trajectory of FX’s shots, really capitalizing on FX’s offense. Accordingly, its base charge attack break blocks while holding down triggers a fiery earthquake.
Ice type, Model LX is based on Leviathan and is fittingly at its most useful underwater. Equipped with a Halberd, LX isn’t going to be pulling off any three hit combos or dash slashes. The Halberd covers a wide enough range, but it’s not built for offense. On land, that is. By dashing mid-air, LX can swim underwater, turning the Halberd into an utter beast of a weapon. By alternating both attack buttons back and forth, players can perpetually twirl LX’s Halberd, guaranteed to rip through underwater enemies– even the two underwater bosses– in no time flat. LX’s base charge notably creates an ice platform that can be used for platforming, whereas its Up Press charge summons an ice dragon to attack enemies.
In terms of platforming, LX is the go-to Model for underwater areas. With free range of mobility while swimming, LX can dash anywhere and everywhere, quickly killing everything in its path. The swim controls are quite fluid, in large part due to dash still being functional. Where underwater stages are usually a chore, LX manages to make ZX’s second water stage an incredibly fun area to traverse. Arguably the most useful feature of Model LX, however, is its mini-map. The bottom screen details stages as players traverse them, complete with pointing out any items along the way.
What should be the coolest form in the game, but is ultimately the most useless, Model PX is still fun to use by sheer virtue of being based on Phantom, the most elusive member of the Guardians. A ninja, PX can throw out Kunai that do poor damage, but at least cover a wide range. While the Kunai can be tossed out at a rapid pace to offset this, PX does at least have access to two decent techniques. PX’s basic charge attack swaps out the Kunai for a Shuriken with the potential to do some solid damage, and by pressing up with a full charge, PX will ditch offense altogether and put up a barrier which blocks one hit.
By pressing A, PX can enter its Overdrive mode and gain access to the Shadow Dash– a dash which allows players to dodge through attacks and even enemies themselves. All Guardian Models have access to an Overdrive, a super mode of sorts which gradually decreases the Special Weapon gauge. In the case of HX, FX, and LX, Overdrive triggers their elements, whereas PX gets a small buff and the aforementioned dash. Worth noting, PX features a map much like LX, but it’s zoomed in far closer and actually reveals any secrets in the area– perfect for hunting down Life Ups and Sub-Tanks.
Of course, no Super Sentai allusion is complete without a human form from which players begin their journey in. “Model” HU, filling in for Vent and Aile’s standard human self, is a non-combative form. HU can’t dash or jump, but Vent and Aile at least have access to a duck & crawl. Interestingly, while Aile crawls faster than Vent, she also gets pushed back further by enemies. HU’s main purpose is to allow players to speak with NPCs, as they’ll be hostile otherwise. While players are unlikely to get much use out of it during actual gameplay, most enemies go passive if Vent/Aile are in HU mode.
As mentioned, unlocking a Biometal requires defeating one of eight Pseudoroids, but the Biometals are actually split in two. Defeating a boss will give immediate access to a new Model, but the Biometal’s full capabilities will be locked until players complete the next stage associated with their newly unlocked Model. Making the most out of your Biometal takes more than just defeating Pseudoroids, however. This time around, bosses have actual weaknesses which, when damaged, inflict extra damage. The catch is that hitting said weaknesses lowers the player’s victory level.
“I’m not just a simple puppet like those Mavericks.”
Tiered from 1 to 4, players score a Lv 4 Victory by defeating a boss without touching their weak point. The more they damage the weak point, the lower the Victory Level. Defeating a boss with a Lv 4 Victory awards the player with a Biometal that doesn’t need any upgrading, whereas Lv 3 Victory Biometals and below require E-Crystals in order to increase the Special Weapon gauge.
With EX Skills and Zero’s ranking system out of the picture, boss weaknesses are a nice trade-off. They offer a unique and engaging difficulty curve. Lv 4 Victories incentivize players to fight strategically and truly learn boss fights, leading to some tense battles. On the other hand, weak points also make it so players can satisfyingly brute force bosses at the expense of a weaker Biometal– a nice compromise, both for those who need it and who simply want it.
Needless to say, the boss design is a highlight. Perhaps the bosses aren’t as consistently strong as the Zero games, but ZX makes good use out of its bosses. Hivolt in particular is a nice early boss that shows the weakness system in action. Attacking Hivolt head on will likely result in players connecting with his arms, Hivolt’s weak points. The goal becomes to strike Hivolt at the legs, reacting and waiting for him to reveal any openings. Fistleo offers a more aggressive early game challenge compared to Hivolt, jumping around the room in a frenzy and potentially locking Vent/Aile into some heavy hits. With his weak point his head, players need to be careful to hit Fistleo’s body exclusively– especially since he’ll periodically lower his head to punish players who are fighting too reckless. It can be frustrating, but it keeps the combat dynamic in a game with low combo potential.
At the end of (almost) every boss fight is a transerver greeting players, where they may log progress, warp to different areas, and take on new missions. But this actually brings us to one of ZX’s biggest problems: the interconnected world itself. It’s a fine idea in theory, and actually traversing the world is easy enough once you take the time to familiarize yourself with the overworld, but it does take time to get to that point. Although there’s quite a bit of visual cohesion making it clear how some stages intersect, areas are poorly connected on a design level. The “in-between” stages (Areas A through D) are fine starter stages, but become painfully boring once backtracked through half a dozen times.
The naming convention doesn’t help Areas either. As the game is non-linear, there’s no real purpose in alphabetizing stages in a way that suggests linearity– which is exactly what ZX does. It results in a messy world to traverse, a sin for the Metroidvania subgenre. Not helping matters is the horrid in-game map. The sooner players realize that it’s a chart showing how areas connect, and not a map showing them how to get around, the better. Honestly, the “map” might do more harm than good on a first playthrough. If nothing else, areas are visually distinct and tend to feature great music.
What’s really a shame is all the backtracking taking away from how well designed most Areas are. While the level design on a whole isn’t quite on par with the Zero sub-series, it’s by no means bad. Fantastic presentation helps keep each Area looking dynamic, making use of even better lighting and weather effects than Z4 (courtesy of the NDS.) The interconnected world might be a letdown, but most missions make good use of branching paths, enemy placement, and all-around fun set pieces.
Of the first set of Biometal missions, Area G has players heading into a Residential District that’s been set ablaze. If Model HX has already been unlocked, its charge attack can be used to put out fires in order to open new paths. Otherwise, players need to creatively platform around the flames, saving NPCs in the process by going through windows to navigate a burning building. Conversely, anyone who unlocked Model HX already has access to a mission in Area I. A warehouse caught in the middle of a rainstorm, the warehouse itself splits into branching paths– one filled with spikes, perfect for HX to traverse, and the other a dark room that requires either careful platforming or PX’s night vision.
As previously mentioned, Area D is an expanded version of the highway from the first Mega Man X. Since players have access to a dash already, however, enemies are more aggressive and the platforming is a bit more involved. Area D even features an upper half which becomes important later in the game after defeating all 8 Pseudoroids. This upper area not only branches expands upon the highway considerably, it branches into one of the strongest stages in ZX: Area O. The sight of Serpent, the main villain, bombing his own country as players rush through the stage is a sight to behold. In a fairly toothless plot, Area O stands out as ZX’s shining moment.
What helps more than anything, though, is the boss fight against Prometheus & Pandora. By far ZX’s most interesting characters, Prometheus and Pandora appear multiple times over the course of the game, none of their appearances making their role any clearer. They’re characters completely shrouded in mystery, leaving only the smallest of bread crumbs to follow. All the same, they’re genuinely interesting and a highlight of the story. Each one is also fought once leading up to the boss fight in Area O, making this confrontation particularly meaningful.
Prometheus is fought first, at the halfway point of the game, and his aggressive play style means players need to get in their hits whenever they can while avoiding damage. Pandora is fought much later, right before Area O in fact, but she approaches the player from long range, requiring varied use of the Biometals to inflict consistent damage on her. Area O pits both of them against the player at the exact same time with little gameplay differences between their initial fights and this two-on-one duel. Area O’s boss fight even removes the walls present in their solo battles, making it much harder to avoid damage. The result is a chaotic fight that tests how well players understand their toolkit.
“Well, we’ve finally drawn the curtain and have arrived at our final act!”
In spite of the emphasis on story, ZX is a step down narratively from the Zero sub-series– though serviceable. Vent and Aile aren’t as compelling as Zero, but likable enough. Vent is basically X with his trademark pacifism traded for hot-bloodedness while Aile is softer, passive, and far more introspective than Vent. Serpent is IntiCreates’ weakest antagonist by a large margin, but as the President of Slither Inc, he at least continues the trend of power corrupting rooted in the Zero games. Vent/Aile and Serpent unfortunately never manage to strike up much chemistry, which can result in all three characters falling flat even if they aren’t poorly written.
The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better, but there are two notable standouts: Giro and Prairie. Although he appears to be Zero in all but name, Giro is more or less Zero’s antithesis. Though he fits the part, Giro is softer, kinder, far more talkative, and quite open with his emotions as evidenced by his paternal relationship with Aile. He dies fairly early into the game, but his presence can be felt throughout the plot and his role in ZX’s lore is intriguing enough. The fact Giro’s Model Z design is so cool admittedly does earn him a few points, as well.
Alouette actually returns from the Zero series under the name Prairie, the leader of the Guardians, more or less filling in the role Ciel once did– albeit with less of her charm and depth. Ciel was a character with a strong motivation and purpose within the story. One could argue that she was just as much the main character as Zero, and they frankly wouldn’t be wrong. Prairie doesn’t have as much of a presence, which is a shame as she’s a character with a considerable amount of history behind her. All the same, her relationships with Vent and Aile do end up shining some light on what happened inbetween the two sub-series: notably the revelation that Dr. Weil is still active via Model W.
Weil’s “return” is handled well enough, with Model W’s presence a corrupting one, true to Weil’s character & nature. Really, the most endearing thing about it is that Model W parallels Dr. Wily’s quiet role in the X series (as Serges in X2, himself in X4, and potentially Isoc in X6.) It certainly helps that Weil doesn’t return as the man himself. It should also be noted that while the plot itself is fairly dull, there is substance. In the same way the Zero sub-series focused on legends, specifically in regards to the influence they can have, ZX centers itself on destiny and how it rules us.
Serpent believes it’s his destiny to usher in the next stage of evolution, while Pandora warns of a “Destiny of Destruction” that Vent and Aile might potentially bring about due to the overwhelming power of the Biometal. All who possess the Biometals are destined to fight, as are they destined to suffer because of them– with Giro killed on Vent/Aile’s path to triggering Model ZX and Serpent wiping out his entire research unit under the influence of Model W. At the same time, ZX’s message is that destiny is merely a concept and one that can be controlled. Giro even goes so far as to invoke the definition of “destine” in Aile’s story– ”directing something towards a given end.” Destiny tends to be a bit bland as a theme, but ZX handles it well enough.
Bizarrely, it’s worth noting that Aile’s story reads more like a second draft of the main plot than anything else. Giro goes from having a friendly relationship with Vent to a paternal one with Aile, expanding his personality considerably. Not just that, where Giro seemingly gains access to Model Z at the same time Vent triggers Model X, Aile’s story has Giro being a member of the Guardians all along. Giro has been taking care of Aile for years while working for Prairie in secret as Model Z, something that simply isn’t present in Vent’s plot.
Aile’s story also makes mention of a Game of Destiny, hinting at a larger story brewing in the background: a thread that would become the basis for ZX Advent’s plot. Serpent’s motivation is also made explicitly clear if Aile is the main character, while Vent’s leaves Serpent and the true nature of his character up to subtext. This is a particular instance where expanding the script in Aile’s story ends up hurting the plot.
As Vent, it’s only implied that Serpent is under the control of Model W. More importantly, however, Serpent’s parting message to Vent is far more philosophical: no matter what, nothing changes. Centuries pass, conflicts rise, and heroes always stand up to protect those they love, thus preventing real change in the process. Considering the cyclical nature of the franchise, it’s a surprisingly poignant note for Serpent to exit on. On the flip side, Serpent simply tells Aile that she’s related to Dr. Weil and leaves her with a personal crisis that, while fitting for her own arc, doesn’t resonate half as well.
It should be pointed out that Vent’s story feels truer to the storytelling found in the Zero sub-series as it’s very to the point. There are more references to the Zero series than in Aile’s plot, showing Zero & Ciel together while explaining the scope of Weil’s role in the story– something Aile isn’t privy to. In some respects, Vent’s playthrough does feel like the Zero 5 ZX could have been. Vent’s arc is a very traditional coming of age story, whereas Aile is deeply concerned over her place in the world and her role as the Biometal’s “chosen one.” Vent’s subtle arc fits the natural pacing of the Zero games, but Aile’s more involved arc speaks to the qualities unique to ZX, blatantly invoking the idea that this is a new chapter altogether.
“Forget the past. It means nothing. The power you contain within is the key to creating the future.”
Which is another reason Aile’s script reads like a second draft: confidence. Vent’s story is littered with Zero references from start to finish, trying to ensure there’s a glue between Zero 4 and ZX– outright mentioning the destruction of Ragnarok which occurred in the former. Aile strips away the Zero references, and gives the cast far more to say– giving the impression that there is a larger story brewing even if ZX isn’t going to do much with the information. That in itself is a problem, though. Aiel’s story is interesting, but the payoff isn’t satisfying since so much goes unresolved. That said, ZX Advent is said payoff so it isn’t as if the concepts introduced in Aile’s script are stuck in limbo.
Whether ZX is played as Vent or Aile, the story isn’t the draw of the game. It rarely is with Mega Man, but it certainly was a nice treat that all four Zero games managed to tell relatively high quality stories. Really, it’s the novelty of being able to explore this universe and embodying its greatest legends that makes ZX such a captivating experience. What Zero fan doesn’t love being able to switch from Zero, to Harpuia, to Phantom in seconds? Each one with their own unique skill set? It makes replaying through ZX a very fun experience, each Model fundamentally changing how you tackle each Area.
Mega Man ZX ends up being less consistent than any of the Zero games when all is said and done, but one area where ZX undeniably excels at above its predecessors is in the bonus content. Mega Man games are replayable by design, but ZX offers a generous amount of incentive to keep coming back for more. Beyond the Level Victory system making boss rematches far more engaging, completing the game as both Vent and Aile unlocks a permanent Model X for all future playthroughs. Instead of being replaced once ZX is triggered, Model X can continue to be activated for the rest of the game. As expected, its double-charged shot absolutely wrecks bosses, making running through the story again a blast.
NPCs themselves offer a healthy dose of sub-quests throughout the game, often rewarding E-Crystals and new pieces of equipment. Side missions not only help add flavor to ZX’s world, most are exploration heavy, actually encouraging players to go out and adventure. They’re by no means revolutionary side-quests, but the rewards they offer tend to be useful. More importantly, they simply add length to a series that often caps out shy of four hours per entry. “Quality over quantity,” or so the adage goes, but ZX makes a compelling enough case for the latter. Its overall quality of content may not be as high as Zero’s, but there’s a lot of solid gameplay to sink your teeth into. Sometimes that’s enough.
After the third to last mission in Area M, players gain access to the optional Area N. By heading to the bottom floor, anyone with Mega Man Zero 3 or Zero 4 in their DS slot can trigger rematches against four Mythos Reploids from each game. Blazin’ Flizard, Hellbat Schilt, Childre Inarabitta, and Deathtanz Mantisk all return from Zero 3, while Noble Mandrago, Sol Titanion, Fenri Lunaedge, and Pegasolta Eclair return from Zero 4. As far as boss fights go, Mega Man ZX might have its brethren beat. That isn’t all there is to Area N, however, as it is home to a secret boss anyone can access. Should they have the skills, that is.
Area N features a fairly challenging platforming section with vanishing blocks above a bed of spikes. While Model HX can trivialize the second half of the section quite easily, it’s still a tense section that’s made all the more daunting by the boss beyond the spikes. The final boss of Mega Man Zero 3, Omega returns harder than ever. Not only can he heal himself, but he can also lock the player into an extremely heavy hitting combo while tanking damage. Omega will kill anyone who goes in unprepared, making the bed of spikes the least of their worries.
Between IntiCreates’ two secret bosses (Omega here and Phantom in Zero 3,) Omega definitely takes the cake. He’s challenging, incredibly fun to fight, has a great boss theme, and an even better reward. Upon defeating Omega, players will find a Mysterious Stone in Area N. Once the game has been beaten, players can then return to the Guardian base and unlock Model OX– a form which looks exactly like Omega (basically a palette swapped Zero from the Zero games) with a moveset based on Zero’s X series play style. It’s a shame that Model OX is locked behind beating the game once, but replaying the final stage as Zero and dominating enemies with his wide array of moves makes for a nice capstone.
It’s hard to believe a game where you can play as X, Zero, the four Guardians, and unlock Omega has little presence in the franchise, but that’s what happens when multiple sub-series are running at the same time and competing with each other for attention. It’s also worth keeping in mind that while ZX’s fanservice is endearing now– in an era where Rockman only comes out to play every now and again– everything ZX shines a spotlight on was still relevant in 2006. The X games were still chugging along and the Zero series had just ended. There was no time to miss these characters and welcome their spiritual return.
More importantly, the mere act of trying to wipe the slate clean while serving as some pseudo-Zero 5 ultimately hurts ZX. The game does come together well, but the fact it needs to come together at all– more or less wasting its first hour– doesn’t exactly leave the strongest first impression. It’s hard to remember a game when it spends its opening reminding you of other, better video games. The tragedy here being that by the end of ZX, it’s shed away its X and Zero flairings in favor of its own design conventions.
In spite of its failings and fumbles, Mega Man ZX is more than just a successor to the Zero series, but a celebration of the franchise. Albeit a celebration at a time where Mega Man didn’t exactly need celebrating. All the same, it’s that very aspect that’s helped ZX stand out over time. Sloppy exploration and a mediocre story do drag the game down, but it isn’t enough to take away from the sheer gameplay variety or depth of content. Mega Man ZX was the start of a new chapter in Rockman history, and while time may forget, time has been kind to this Mega Metroidvania.
‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic
“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.
These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;
“The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”
Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether.
“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.”
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer
Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties.
Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy.
Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas.
Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.
There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.
With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG.
Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.
So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account.
The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library.
Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games.
The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.
Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.
The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.
In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum.
There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player.
All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda.
Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result.
Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all.
If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda.
Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense.
It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games.
In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand.
An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.
PAX Online: ’30XX’ and ‘Cris Tales’
Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.
Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
I’ve already given some of my thoughts on 30XX back when I took it for a spin at PAX East. To catch those who didn’t see that report up to speed, 30XX is a 2D side-scrolling roguelike with a hi-bit art style and gameplay reminiscent of many Mega Man games. It’s generally more forgiving than Mega Man in the sense that there’s a distinct lack of instant-death spikes and pits, but the tradeoff is that when you do die that’s the end and you have to start the whole game over from the start. Classic roguelike rules for ya.
This PAX Online demo was very similar to the one I played at East. I chose between the blaster Nina or swordsman Ace then I went on my merry way throughout the two levels. One key difference is that I did not start out with any specials this time around and my maximum health was much lower. This is probably in-line with what it would be like to start a new game completely fresh as opposed to some upgrades as the East demo had. As a result, I actually failed my first attempt at this demo.
That’s where the first additional aspect of this build came into play, though, in the form of global character progression. Beating bosses in 30XX not only grants you a new weapon ability but also a currency called Memoria. Memoria can be spent at a shop in-between playthroughs to obtain permanent upgrades for Nina and Ace for every subsequent attempt. The pickings were rather slim for the demo, such as increased health and energy, but a wider variety is promised for the full release, and if anything it’s exceptionally clear how useful they’ll be to fully clear the game’s ten planned stages in one go. I also await the inevitable “no upgrade” runs that will assuredly come out of this, though.
The other neat addition to this demo is Entropy conditions, which are essentially modifiers. You can make it to where shop items cost more Nut currency to purchase per run, impose a time limit, and/or increase the amount of HP enemies have. Enabling these options also increases rewards gained from runs, adding a nice risk vs. reward factor that will probably keep things engaging even after you master the game’s earlier stages. More Entropy conditions are promised to be added into the full game that will allow you to fine-tune your experience even further.
The one concern I have for 30XX at this point is the number of dead ends I encountered with no reward to show for it. This is probably a result of the procedurally generated nature of the game, but the number of times I thought I was so clever for platforming up to a hard-to-reach area only to be greeted by a wall was more than I cared for. This is the “30XX Very Pre-Alpha Demo”, though, so it’s a flaw that can still be fixed in future development and with everything else that is being done right so far — the tight platforming, varied progression, and delightful aesthetics — it’s not hard to be hopeful for 30XX‘s future.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, and Stadia
Release: Nov 17th, 2020
I went into the Cris Tales demo after hearing nothing but its name in passing here and there. After finishing the demo, I’d recommend you do the same. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPG’s just download the demo and see it for yourself.
Cris Tales managed to constantly surprise and delight me throughout the entirety of its 45-minute long demo, firstly being the visuals. Playing through the game is like watching stained-glass art come to life with its hyper-stylized character designs that emphasize general shapes rather than specific details and environments chock-full of geometrical sharp edges. I was in awe from the word “Go”.
The story follows Crisbell, a chipper young orphan girl who spends her time happily doing chores for the orphanage and her dearest Mother Superior. After chasing a dapper young frog to a church, Crisbell inadvertently awakens the powers of Time Crystals hosed there and gains the power to see both the past and future at the same time. This manifests as the screen fractures into thirds with the left side showing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future at all times.
It was a trick that took a minute or two to register with me, but once it did I immediately set about traipsing all about the town I had just chased the frog through in order to see how it has and will change. It was a positively fascinating experience that put a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.
Crisbell can use this knowledge of that past and future to make decisions in the present such as locating a missing potion label or creating a concoction that will prevent wood from rotting and leading to dilapidated houses. Choosing which house to restore is also an irreversible choice that will lead to different outcomes depending.
Time manipulation also plays a major part in Cris Tales‘ turn-based combat in extremely novel and creative ways. Enemies attack Crisbell and co from both the left and the right, and you can attack them with your standard RPG basic attacks and skills. Enemies on the left side, however, can be forcibly sent to the past while enemies on the right to the future by expending Crystal Points. This means reverting a big brawny goblin into a harmless little child or aging it into an elder that can barely move.
That’s not all, though. Douse an armored enemy in water then send them to the future to cause it to rust and shatter their defense. Poison an enemy that has already been sent to the past then brings them back to the present to force them to take all that poison damage at once. Plant a damaging mandragora that would normally take a few turns to sprout then send it to the future to cause it to sprout instantly. These are the examples demonstrated in the demo but it’s abundantly clear that this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. It’s genuinely thrilling to imagine all the possibilities such a system is capable of. The best part is that we won’t have to wait long to find out as Cris Tales launches on all major platforms in just two months.
‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy
‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.
AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review
Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre: Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.
I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.
Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.
Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?
Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.
There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.
Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.
This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness
AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.
At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.
In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.
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