As an alternate universe to the main Mega Man series, the world of Mega Man Battle Network followed the adventures of Lan and his best friend/AI buddy MegaMan.EXE. It was an RPG series released on the Game Boy Advance, with one on the GameCube, between 2001 and 2006.
In the world of 20XX (some time between 2000 and 2099), the world is entirely digital -- from toasters to cars, everything is capable of being controlled by a personal handheld computer known as a PET (PErsonal information Terminal). Each PET has a NetNavi, which helps you to explore the internet, and is customisable by the user. Lan’s NetNavi is special for a reason that you don’t discover until near the end of the first game. Combat saw you chose your battle cards and use them as you wish, whilst dodging attacks by moving on the battle grid as you wait for your next turn.
I played every single one of the seven titles as they came out, and was pretty bummed when the series ended. It was aimed at younger gamers, but damnit I don’t care that I was 17-22, they were fun games! So let me rank them, in case you wanted to take a look.
#7 - Mega Man Network Transmission
This was the GameCube game, which came out after Mega Man Battle Network 2, and the Capcom knew they had a hit franchise on their hands. It actually took place between the first and second games, and for anyone familiar with Mega Man from the Battle Network series was in for a shock. It was a platformer very much akin to the original Mega Man series, with some of the battle elements from the RPG wedged in.
A mysterious man known only as the Professor releases a deadly virus that infects Navis, meaning MegaMan and ProtoMan had to investigate and defeat the source.
It was more difficult than the RPG, given that the development team seemed to have taken cues from the Mega Man games, and made it quite difficult. The difficulty curve, not controlling Lan, and the major diversion from the battle mechanic mark this at #7. It’s still worth a go, but really only for those eager to follow the entire series storyline.
#6 - Mega Man Battle Network 4 Red Sun / Blue Moon
The changes it made to the formula were a little too far for me. The inclusion of an Emotion Meter on the screen to monitor MegaMan’s mental state was pretty stupid to me, as it really only had one function: it let you find out when you could use a Dark Chip during battles. Since the Dark Chips had a permanent negative effect on MegaMan, I found little reason to actually use them, and so the feature was practically pointless -- I wanted more health, not to use a chip and lose health!
With Nebula releasing Dark Chips across the internet, Lan and MegaMan take part in a tournament to find the best NetNavi to send into space. It’s mission: connect to the asteroid’s cyberworld and divert it. The NetNavi controlling the asteroid was trying to wipe out the large amounts of dark energy it detected (courtesy of the Dark Chips), but the duo convinced it to change course, thwarting Nebula.
Also, as you may be able to tell from the summary, it was pretty light on plot. I liked the plots, and getting to know the characters around Lan’s hometown of ACDC Town. So by making it basically a series of boss fights, it kinda ruined it for me. They made a game specifically about the battles and none of the RPG elements, in the spin-off Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge literally released just months earlier... As far as the RPG Battle Network games go, this is the loser.
#5 - Mega Man Battle Network 5 Team Protoman/Team Colonel/Double Team
This came in two editions (Team Protoman and Team Colonel), like Battle Network 4 before it, and like every Pokémon title. However, it was also released as a combined edition on DS, under the title Double Team. Although the next game was exclusive to the Game Boy Advance, the sequel series Mega Man Star Force would all be on the DS.
Lan and MegaMan team up with the Official NetBattlers (Net Police) to rescue his father, after the terrorist group Nebula kidnaps him and takes over the internet. Led by either Chaud or Baryl (their NetNavi’s named the two versions; Protoman and Colonel), the team grew through the game, liberating the internet and eventually defeating Nebula.
As with Network Transmission, Network 5 changed the formula -- though not as radically. Forcing you to team up with other NetNavis, rather than do things on your own, was a gameplay mechanic that I wasn’t too fond of. I had enjoyed wandering around ACDC Town, logging into things to solve everyone’s little problems (viruses in the refrigerator, fire engulfing the school…), but having to control multiple NetNavi’s as they cleared each area was a chore. It wasn’t there for the entire game, but when it was it was just less fun.
#4 - Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar / Cybeast Falzar
The final game in the series, I’ve had to place this here due to the plot, but for a different reason to Battle Network 4. The game itself was fine, and it gathered everything that was great about the other titles, but both setting and storyline made it suffer. Admittedly, the areas that you could reach via bus from ACDC Town must have been used up by the fifth game, so it’s likely the developers wanted it to be believable. There were only so many times SciLab could be renovated, and areas of the Undernet to find…
Moving to Cyber City because his father gets a new job, WWW returns seeking to revive the legendary Cybeasts: Gregar and Falzar (naming the two versions). They are defeated by Lan and MegaMan, and the Cybeasts destroyed. The final scene shows Lan and his friends from ACDC Town as happy adults, ending the series.
Honestly, I’m not angry that this ended the series. All good things must end, and there is always Mega Man Star Force that I could get into (I’m still grieving over Battle Network…). What I didn’t like was removing almost the entire cast of supporting characters, that we had spent five games getting to know! Look at that final sentence of the plot summary -- the game shows us what happened to them after this game. What had been going on during this game? Who knows?
#3 - Mega Man Battle Network
It was the original, but unfortunately wasn’t the best. It brought out all of the cool ideas -- controlling both Lan and MegaMan, a fully digital world, battle chips, setting up the whole cast of characters… But most sequels surpass their originals, and this series certainly did.
As the terrorist organization called WWW (World Three) began gathering four element programs required to engineer a super virus to destroy the world, Lan and MegaMan get sucked up into the plot, and ultimately defeat them.
If you want to get into the series, you definitely have to play the original. It introduced the characters in a way that no sequel ever can reintroduce. Although every sequel went through the battle mechanics once more, it’s the characters and setting that shines through.
#2 - Mega Man Battle Network 2
Building upon the original, it refined the best features and improved the Net tenfold. The routes were easier to follow, there were hub areas and you could now use items outside of battles. It also introduced Style Changes, which altered combat considerably from just armour, to element based.
With WWW defeated, a new terrorist group called Gospel emerges. Causing seemingly random acts of destruction, they are actually trying to recreate an optional final boss from Battle Network: Bass.EXE. Lan and MegaMan go about putting a stop to Gospel, but something goes wrong, and Gospel’s copy of Bass.EXE is imperfect, turning into a wolf-like bug beast. Once it is destroyed, so is Gospel.
Although it did refine the first game, Battle Network 2 would be redefined over the next two entries, and “better” turned to “best”. This was the first entry I played, admittedly.
#1 - Mega Man Battle Network 3 White / Blue
Although this was the first game to be released in two versions, this has to be my favourite. It was more of the same, but not too different. No teams, no platforming, no stupid “legendary” beasts… what about the internet in 20XX is old enough to be a legend?! No, this was a great little plot with a couple of twists, and it introduced the NaviCust. It allowed you to change the layout of various plugins, and change MegaMan’s strength, defence and even allow him to walk on ice instead of slip.
Not long after defeating Gospel, Lan and MegaMan participate in the N1 Grand Prix tournament. However, they discover it’s a plot by WWW, working behind the scenes, trying to take over the world using the internet monster Alpha. The two defeat it, and World Three is crushed forever (until the last game).
The differences between the two games were mostly just different bosses and different battle cards. However, there were some graphical differences in places, which helped to differentiate the two games. Admittedly I only finished Blue, and not White, but I’ve never been one to play the same game multiple times in quick succession…
To Sum Up
If you’re a fan of Mega Man and RPGs, then you should definitely play all of the games. It’s a fun series, and the handheld games are fully available on the Wii U Virtual Console. You might struggle to find Network Transmission, but as it’s the worst one you can probably make do watching it on YouTube. It certainly didn’t redefine the genre, but these games only left my Game Boy Advance so that I could have a quick go on Pokémon or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, before playing more Mega Man Battle Network. Yes, even 4 Blue Moon.