Capcom, continuing their trend of “remembering Mega Man exists”, gave PlayStation owners some pleasant news last week: much-loved PlayStation 1 action-RPG Mega Man Legends would be seeing a release on PlayStation Network!
Presumably bolstered by the sales of series spin-off The Misadventures of Tron Bonne when that hit PSN earlier this year, Capcom saw fit to bestow us with what I, and many others, consider to be one of the finest action games of the 32-bit era, and at a price much more reasonable than its creeping street value on eBay starting September 29th. While a full review of the game is hardly necessary considering its original release was nearly 20 years ago, I felt it only fair and proper to at least explain why this is such a big deal.
Released in 1997 as the first fully-3D Mega Man game (and following on the heels of the totally underrated Mega Man 8), Mega Man Legends took the series in some…surprising directions. Perhaps seeing the difficulties that other formerly 2D series had encountered when making the leap to 3D (looking at you, Contra: Legacy of War) the decision was made to turn Mega Man Legends into a wide-roaming adventure game with light RPG elements, not unlike what Ocarina of Time would try to do for Zelda the following year. However, this sort of approach made sense with Zelda, but given Mega Man’s roots as a fast but deliberate action game, the title was met with some confusion…until people played it.
Boasting a whole new setting set on a waterlogged apocalyptic planet some hundreds of years after both the original series and Mega Man X, Legends recasts Mega Man and Roll as “Diggers”, airborne scavengers excavating the ruins of the old world for anything they can sell to stay alive a little longer. It’s not nearly as grim as it sounds, though – the world is presented in a bright colored, nearly cel-shaded art style not unlike many Miyazaki movies, all impractical vehicles and cartoon skulls and faintly European architecture. The whole effect is extremely charming.
It’s that charm that both won over gamers of the time and help keep Mega Man Legends at least playable in the year 2015, if not exactly relevant. Sure, the controls are kinda wonky, but they’re still better and more responsive than something like Resident Evil or Tomb Raider, and after an hour you’ll be too distracted to notice – heck, it even did Z-targeting before Ocarina of Time to help with the frequent combat you’ll find yourself involved in. Especially for the era it was released, Legends boasts competent and amusing voice acting, a plot that’s both silly and engaging, lovely graphics that stand up better to more ‘realistic’ interpretations of the human form, and a strong idea of fun.
The game introduced many things that were pretty alien to Mega Man in the past, like “talking to people” or “having an inventory that wasn’t just weaponry” or “strafing”. And, surprisingly enough, all of these things work very well. The combat feels good…once you get used to using a D-Pad and the shoulder buttons, but I promise it works and you won’t feel hamstrung by the camera like you do in so many other early PlayStation titles. Mega Man no longer acquires new weapons by directly vanquishing enemies, but upgrades and new items are equippable through the game whether you found them or purchased them (including Mega Man’s iconic helmet, which you spend a surprising amount of time not wearing). All of this came together to provide an experience pretty alien to Mega Man fans of the time, but one that resonated strongly with gamers – and still does today.
Alright, so let’s pretend you’ve never played Mega Man Legends before. Should you now? If you’ve got any fondness for either 90’s Zelda-esq action RPGs, Mega Man, or both, then absolutely. Really, it’s even worth picking up as a historical curio, a throwback to a time when changes in technology often meant radical reinventions of beloved characters and series – imagine if, on a new platform, suddenly something like Dynasty Warriors was a sprawling Skyrim-style RPG simply because the new system couldn’t do Dynasty Warriors like it used to. Sure, you might laugh a bit at the overly cartoony voice acting, and you might struggle with the controls, but Mega Man Legends has still aged much better than many of its peers and sits in the rare group of PS1 games truly worth revisiting in the modern era, no matter what sort of progress has happened in the meantime, and despite Capcom’s efforts to make sure we’ll never play a conclusion to the planned trilogy.
Besides, maybe if a ton of people buy this one they’ll put the second one on PlayStation Network, simply so we don’t all have to pay upwards of $80 for the privilege.