The History of Mega Man Battle Network
This began life as me writing about the popular RPG series Mega Man Battle Network, but as I kept researching and writing it soon became apparent that it wasn’t fit for purpose. It was too long and went into far too much detail - so instead of that, I present you with: The History of Mega Man Battle Network.
Mega Man has been a Capcom staple since 1987, when they released the first game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. 28 games across multiple systems later, the Game Boy Advance saw the 2001 release of Mega Man Battle Network (MMBN), an RPG set in an alternate universe to the other varied Mega Man titles. The one point where history diverged was that Dr. Wily’s government research into robots was cancelled in favour of Dr. Hikari’s research into the internet.
Developed by Capcom Production Studio 2, MMBN was originally going to be a horror game with a device that measured your heart rate through your finger. It evolved and changed (and the hardware proved difficult), eventually being marketed towards kids. Card games were popular at the time, so that became the battle mechanic, and a Game Boy Advance launch title was created.
The year was 200X, and as the Internet of Things (IoT) grew, it required people having access in more ingenious ways. Cut to Lan Hikari, an elementary school boy who had just received his very own PET (PErsonal information Terminal) device, containing a NetNavi. His NetNavi was called MegaMan.EXE, and he used it to connect to the virtual world of the Net.
NetNavis were used to visit websites and chat to other people. Actually, there weren't a lot of websites in the games, more message boards and wandering around getting into battles with viruses. But in theory it was mainly for browsing the internet.
Battles in the virtual world took place on a 3x6 grid, with players able to move to any space in their colour. Attacks were Battle Chips that came at random from a folder created outside of battle, and only certain chips could be used together in one turn. Between turns, you were free to move and use your Mega Buster to whittle away at enemy health. Most battles were against viruses, but boss battles were almost always against another character’s NetNavi.
The antagonists in the first game were led by Dr. Wily, as part of the terrorist group World Three (WWW), trying to obtain the four programs which would make the LifeVirus - a super virus capable of wiping out the whole Net. Aiding Lan in defeating them were his school friends Mayl, Dex and Yai, and his rival Chaud - an Official NetBattler who works for the government despite only being slightly older than the other kids. They defeated Wily, and Lan discovered that MegaMan was actually an uploaded version of his dead twin brother Hub, which explained why Lan’s NetNavi was so different to anyone else's.
Mega Man Battle Network 2 came along in 2001 as well, at least in Japan, and took place a few months after the first. A “NetMafia” had risen from the ashes of WWW, calling itself Gospel. They wanted to recreate the “ultimate NetNavi”, called Bass, but it all went wrong and out of control, requiring Lan and MegaMan to step in.
There were a few changes to the game, such as new Battle Chips, more than one folder to allow alternate Chip configurations, and a Style system. Rather than just protecting MegaMan against damage like the previous title’s armour, different Styles could also increase his stats, and they each made him look different.
Late in 2002, Mega Man Battle Network 3 arrived in Japan, soon followed by a Black version which had a variety of bugfixes, as well as some different chips. These were made into a White and a Blue version for the rest of the world in the middle of 2003. Dr. Wily and WWW were back, now seeking out Alpha - basically a sentient early version of the Net. To do this, he set up the N1 Grand Prix, a tournament to determine the best NetBattler - for some reason. Wily gathered the TetraCodes he needed and unlocked Alpha, but everything went wrong and in the process of defeating him MegaMan sacrificed his life. Of course, Lan’s dad managed to get him back, because he was already established as the super genius tech guy who put Hub in the NetNavi in the first place.
Since Capcom Production Studio 2 had put some months into development, rather than the super fast turnaround between the first and second games, MMBN3 was graphically nicer, as well as including a few new ideas. The Navi Customizer was the main one, allowing you to use different programs (found across the overworld and Net) which would customise MegaMan in various ways. Increasing his attack power or defense, faster movement, being able to float above platforms - there were lots of options. Since there were two versions, that meant certain Battle Chips weren’t available in both versions, and each had a seperate optional boss.
In 2003, developer Arika released an MMBN title for GameCube, called Mega Man Network Transmission. Chronologically it took place between the first and second games, and saw the Zero Virus infecting NetNavis across the Net. Lan and MegaMan eventually stopped Zero, only to discover the LifeVirus had been brought back by WWW’s Professor. They defeated it again, and the final member of WWW was brought to justice.
Arika attempted to merge the platforming run-and-gun of older Mega Man titles with the RPG elements of MMBN. You didn’t directly control Lan, instead being restricted to moving to new locations with a map. Each MegaMan level was a side-scrolling platformer, but you could use Battle Chips when the Custom bar filled as special attacks to do more damage.
The WonderSwan-exclusive Rockman EXE WS, developed by Tose, also came out in 2003, but that was exclusive to Japan. It tried to be like Network Transmission, but is reportedly not as good.
Co-developed by Inti Creates, Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge came out later in 2003 and ditched the RPG elements from the main series completely. Lan and everyone he knew entered the Battle Chip GP, but as usual someone nefarious was behind the scenes. Unlike the battle system in the other games, it was turn-based, and the battle grid was 3x1 so you couldn’t dodge.
Finally, also released in 2003, Mega Man Battle Network 4 hit the scene with Red Sun and Blue Moon versions. NAXA scientists had spotted an asteroid headed for Earth big enough to wipe out all life. After attempting to use a laser to send it off-course, they instead decided to find the world’s best NetNavi and operator team with a tournament - enter Lan and MegaMan. Fresh off of their wins at two local tournaments, they won NAXA’s tournament, and MegaMan was sent to the computer inside the asteroid (yes really). There, he defeated it in battle and convinced it to go away. There was also some story about Dark Battle Chips, and a crime syndicate called Nebula, but once the asteroid storyline came in, it was quickly forgotten.
The Dark Chips were more powerful than normal ones, and used in conjunction with the new Emotion Window, which showed MegaMan’s emotional state. If he got desperate in battle, Dark Chips would show up in his selection - but each one used would take 1HP from your total which you would never get back.
2004 saw the release of the Japan-only Rockman EXE 4.5 Real Operation, which utilised a Battle Chip Gate accessory for the Game Boy Advance. Using it, you could plug in physical Battle Chips for the NetNavi on-screen to use in the various in-game tournaments. The game was developed in only six months, which was tight even for Capcom Production Studio 2’s schedule.
Mega Man Battle Network 5 came along in 2005 with three versions. For the Game Boy Advance there were Team ProtoMan and Team Colonel. The Nintendo DS received Double Team DS, which contained both GBA games. Nebula had returned, and quickly took over the entire Net forcing Lan to team up with Chaud or a man called Baryl (one for each of the two GBA versions) to liberate it. It turned out to be a distraction while Dr. Regal, leader of Nebula, activated a project called SoulNet - a way for NetNavis and humans to connect in heart and soul. He wanted to corrupt it and turn the world evil, but was foiled by Lan and MegaMan.
The liberation of the Net was different as you could control NetNavis other than MegaMan. You had to find and defeat the Darkloid (boss) of the area in a certain number of turns, rather than running around blindly exploring as you would in past titles. It wasn’t the most well received of features by fans.
The final game in the series, Mega Man Battle Network 6, also came out in 2005 with Cybeast Falzar and Cybeast Gregar versions. Lan and his family moved from ACDC Town to Cyber City, away from his friends, and uncovered another WWW plot. This time, Dr. Wily intended to unleash Cybeasts (the titular Falzar and Gregar) in CopyBot bodies, allowing them into the real world to destroy it. MegaMan became merged with one of the Cybeasts (depending on the version you’re playing), and through a series of circumstances Wily’s plan was defeated, and the Cybeasts destroyed.
There were a few things from past titles that were removed - such as Dark Chips due to the factory being destroyed in the previous game - but after MegaMan absorbed a Cybeast he gained the ability to Beast Out. This gave him a rapid-fire buster and Battle Chips aimed automatically, amongst a few other abilities depending on which Cybeast it was. It was a decent send-off to the four-year old franchise, tying the story up while giving the fans the best features and removing some of the worst.
It had actually been decided during development, that the series would end with MMBN 6. The release of the Nintendo DS was part of the decision, as that meant the Game Boy Advance was coming to the end of its life, and the team had decided well before that if the hardware changed, they would end Mega Man Battle Network.
Capcom Production Studio 2 fulfilled that promise when they released Mega Man Star Force in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. There were three versions; Pegasus, Leo, and Dragon, and fans of MMBN were happy to have something familiar, if different. However, Mega Man Battle Network wouldn’t be seen again until 2009, when Rockman EXE Operate Shooting Star came out on the DS in Japan, which was basically just a remake of the original MMBN.
There was a plot added, however, that saw ClockMan kidnap one of Star Force Mega Man’s friends, and take her to the past. After Roll is kidnapped, MegaMan.EXE meets Mega Man and the two defeat ClockMan together.
The game was more than a slightly altered re-release of the original game, as it saw a load of graphical improvements, a multiplayer mode and even a little voice acting. However, despite it being well received in Japan, it was never released in the West. However, if you know how to load translation patches onto ROMs (and know how to get ROMs), there is a fan translation patch which was released earlier this year on the Rockman EXE Zone forums.
As for any new Mega Man Battle Network games? Well, we probably won’t get any. We might be lucky and get a collection, since Capcom have already re-released the Mega Man and Mega Man X games as collections, but nothing has been announced yet. You can still grab the old main titles on the Wii U Virtual Console, but that’s the only digital place you can get them.
Mega Man Battle Network is a fan favourite series (just check out the forum I mentioned, or the /r/BattleNetwork subreddit). By all accounts, the team behind it loved it too, and they were allowed to tell a great story across multiple titles. So, until we get a collection, let’s jack in and play through one or two more times.