From Capcom Unity: Mega Man Zero Recollections

The following was originally posted by JGonzo on Capcom Unity in May 2010, and with the re-releases of the Mega Man Zero games on the Wii U Virtual Console, have been reposted here with permission for posterity.

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We have a little game coming out this June for the Nintendo DS called Mega Man Zero Collection and surprisingly, a lot of people haven't played the series!

Officially, it's the third series in the main Mega Man storyline (the game begins about 100 years after the events of the Mega Man X series) and features Zero as the main protagonist. Game Boy Advance owners were in a for a treat when the first game launched for the system on November 9, 2002. In order to familiarize people that have never played the game to the series, I've asked a few special people to share their recollections of Mega Man Zero. You can read Protodude's thoughts on the game here.

Today, I'm posting the recollections of LBD "Nytetrayn" who hails from the other amazing Mega Man fansite, The Mega Man Network!

Tune in tomorrow for another special guest who will be joining us to share their memories of playing through Mega Man Zero!

Hit the jump to read LBD's recollections and feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments!

From LBD (who is also on Unity):

The first time I laid eyes on some early preview material for Mega Man Zero, I knew we were in for something different.

Of course, given the art that would later decorate the Japanese box, how could you not? It carried an art style unlike anything we had seen in Mega Man to that point, and was filled with lots of characters we hadn't seen before, leading to more and more speculation.

Was that Zero? He wore red, sported a blonde ponytail, and carried a beam saber, but the design was unlike any version of Zero we had seen. And who was the blonde girl? Alia? Roll? And then there were the others, some of who looked sort of like characters we knew, but not.

Ironically, the name would prove to be no less confusing: "Rockman Zero," as it was first revealed in Japanese publications prior to its U.S. announcement. The name beget more questions, one of which was whether this was indeed a Mega Man game which starred X's longtime companion, Zero, or whether it was meant to serve as some sort of crazy prequel. After all, Capcom had never been shy about using "Zero" to designate such installments in other long-running series, such as "Street Fighter Zero" ("Alpha" in the West) or "Resident Evil Zero."

Eventually, some actual information came along to add context to the pictures we had seen. This was indeed Zero, the same Maverick Hunter which Blue Bomber fans had become acquainted with since 1993; it was a sequel set well after the events of the Mega Man X series, which we would later learn was originally supposed to have ended with X5, but instead carried on alongside this new successor.

For a long time, there had been fans who wanted a more serious, more mature, darker, edgier Mega Man game. As we would learn, that's precisely what they were going to get.

Mega Man Zero featured a grim setting amidst a dark, dystopian future. The hero of the previous series, X, had apparently taken the Maverick Hunter ideal to its most extreme, with innocent Reploids being hunted down and persecuted by an overwhelming city-state designed to nurture and protect what remained of humankind. Their last hope was Zero, who would shoot, stab, and slice his way through enemies, who now fell apart in more convincing ways. But beyond that?

There was blood.

Granted, the blood was heavily toned down in the Western releases of the title, but ask any teenager and they will tell you that blood means business. Blood is hardcore.

As it would happen, the setting and increased violence against robotic entities were not the only elements that made Mega Man Zero a more hardcore offering than its predecessors. There was also the gameplay, which was clearly designed to provide a much more difficult experience than what was known from a franchise which many already considered quite challenging in its previous incarnations.

While it was possible to complete the game relatively close to the status in which you began, it would be a long, hard road. It was possible to improve your odds, but this was not done in the way X fans were used to. Instead of defeating bosses or exploring off the beaten trail to find Heart Tanks and upgrade capsules, those who wanted to make Zero stronger were generally faced with one option...

Grinding.

In Mega Man Zero, Zero has four main weapons he can acquire, but all are relatively weak until he levels them up. And to level them up, he does it by killing his enemies and gaining experience, just as in many role-playing games. Some people will find a good respawn point and merely kill the same enemy or group of enemies repeatedly until they reached the level-5 maximum.

Zero could also make his weapons stronger by adding elemental attributes to them. This was done the old-fashioned way, the way which put Mega Man on the map: by defeating bosses. However, unlike games in the original and X series, there were only a small handful to obtain: fire, electricity, and ice. Once you had those, you were on your own.

Beyond that, most other items and abilities, such as increased health or Sub-Tanks, required the acquisition of certain Cyber-elves. But most were unable to do anything as they were when discovered; they would first need to grow in order to reach their full potential, and to do that, they needed energy crystals. And to get energy crystals? You guessed it: more grinding.

Supposing you did reach the point where you could use a Cyber-elf for your own gain, then the game would slap another of its trademarks on you...

Shame.

The developers, in a way, were something of a twisted, sadistic bunch, and I say that with all due respect. To use a Cyber-elf, a cute, smiling little imp who cheerfully occupies your subscreen, you have to kill it. It sacrifices itself for your gain.

If that wasn't enough, there was the fact that the game would grade you, rather harshly, on your performance. And to use a Cyber-elf would drag your grade down, despite all the work one might put into being able to even use it in the first place. To paraphrase what one person once said on a forum, "Mega Man Zero gives you all the tools you need to succeed, and then calls you a wussy for using them."

Fortunately, Mega Man Zero was released in a time when going online wasn't a standard feature of pretty much all current video game systems, so the only person to really know about the shame was yourself (or anyone who borrowed the cartridge before you remembered to wipe your lousy D-grade file). But still, you would always know deep down.

Of course, there are those who have actually taken everything Mega Man Zero has thrown at them, grinned, and said "I want more." And they would go on to replay the game again and again until they had mastered every nuance and trick there was to beating the game without grinding -- sometimes without being hit. To watch a speedrun of Mega Man Zero, particularly after witnessing your own failings, can feel like watching poetry in motion.

And when there is nothing left for those who mastered the game, yet still desire more? That's when the sequel comes out.