Good Things and Bad Things
(Zero Musings)

October 19, 2005

I’ve been playing a little bit of Mega Man Zero 4 over the last couple of days in between finishing up Battle Network 5. (A busy schedule means it’s going to take me a while to get to it seriously, but I’ve been stealing a few minutes here and there to dabble in it.)

Playing this has caused me to think back on the first game in the series. There are several things which set the first Mega Man Zero apart from all of the other games in the Zero series. And this is not unusual. Games in a series tend to evolve over time. For the Mega Man property, this usually means the first game of a series is left with unique features that vanish by the time of the sequel and never make a comeback. For instance, Mega Man 1 of the original series, and Battle Network 1 both have features which are unique to themselves as I detail on their respective pages.

Of course, just because these vanishing features are unique does not mean they should have stuck around. In the case of Mega Man 1, for example, some of the unique features are things such as lack of passwords and lack of Energy Tanks, both of which definitely improved the later games. In most cases, I’ll readily agree with Capcom with the changes they made in these games.

But into which category do the disappearing features of Mega Man Zero 1 fall?

One of the things I miss about the Zero series, one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen in a game of its type, was the fact that in Mega Man Zero 1 you could simply walk from the Resistance Base to the other stages. Practically all of the levels of the game were interconnected. It’s a minor point, but it was quite entertaining and set Mega Man Zero apart from other games, including all of the other Mega Man series games.

Another vanishing feature was the fact that in Mega Man Zero 1 you could permanently fail missions. This was an interesting experiment that Capcom tried for one game, then dropped like a hot rock. I won’t necessarily say I miss this feature. However, done correctly, it could have potential for lots of branching plot points, similar to whether or not you kill off Zero in various X series games like Mega Man X3 and Mega Man X5. Mostly what Mega Man Zero lacked was a method of placing this more firmly in the control of the player. Had the player been given the ability to choose whether to let the mission fail or to retry it over and over until he succeeded (rather than having to restart over from the beginning every time to avoid failing the mission), this could have been an intriguing (rather than irritating) feature.

On the flip side, one thing that has survived throughout all of the games in the Zero series: that is that the game doesn’t get entertaining until after you have cleared the stages. Revisiting stages is quite fun, but there is little entertainment value in the first run through each stage because of the ranking system. When you are given a time limit and scored by your performance, you don’t have the luxury to sit back and actually enjoy playing the game. Which is kind of a shame, when you think about it.

Based on what little bit I have experienced of it so far, it would seem that it’s possible that in Mega Man Zero 4 the ranking system might finally bear little to no impact on the game. If that is truly the case, then I can at last go back to simply enjoying it instead of worrying about getting a good score. Imagine that—playing a game to have fun.

Remember, perfectionists are not perfectionists because they get it right the first time. They are perfectionists, by definition of the word, because they require a lot of retries in order to be satisfied. Expecting players to perform well in all of the stages on the first run through is like expecting a perfectionist to get everything correct on the first try. In other words, a ranking system such that Mega Man Zero uses would be better suited toward repeat visits, not limited to the first visit to each stage. (A sort of “challenge” mode would suffice, similar to “time trials” in a racing game.) The key is to make it easy for the player to retry, while also allowing him to get on with playing the game when he doesn’t feel like being a perfectionist.

When you rank players based on only their first pass through a stage, and make ranks significant to the game (such as determining what items and weapons you receive), you are essentially forcing players to do everything right the first time, or else spend hours restarting from the beginning, undoing all of their previous hours of work, just to get that perfect run. Where is the fun in mindless repetition when there is so much more in the game to explore, if only the player is given a chance?

So here’s hoping this turns into another vanishing feature...

- The MegaMaster

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