Mega Man X5: a game that’s purpose was buried under an avalanche of avarice and greed. As I placed this once concluding piece of an abused franchise into my PlayStation 2 to gather data for this review, I reflected on the eternal battle between the words “decent” and “mediocre” in my mind. When does a decent gaming experience become mediocre? Is calling any game decent merely a cop-out for those unwilling to be more decisive in their decision making? With many claiming that giving a game a seven out of ten in review leaves too much of a gray area for those that are reading, does that mean this take on what Mega Man X5 has to offer is doomed to be irrelevant?
Not quite. Like most gamers I’ve come across many games in my time. Some have been spectacular some have been horrible while most have been average. The sole constant in all these games is how their ins-and-outs tell a story. Like books, the quality of these stories varies wildly, with some having more important lessons to teach than others. Such a statement is hardly original, but I’ve found that regardless of the item being judged time rewards analysis. For example, even a bad game can inspire a well-written review. Still, I typically find that good yet conflicted products make the best writing fodder as reading through an unyielding wall of praise or negativity is just boring. A constant struggle between the good and bad describes a lot of games, but as I gazed over the ones I’ve acquired over the years there was only one game on my shelf that filled the bill: Mega Man X5.
A Full Motion-less Hangover?
With a valley as fertile as Mega Man X5, one might think that identifying a starting point would prove difficult. It’s true that there is a lot to talk about – the story, the DNA power-up system, character selection, music and a host of other things – but there is one area that deserves special attention since it is almost always brought up in review: X5’s general lack of full motion video. Many players (including myself) fell in love with its implementation in Mega Man X4 (and perhaps to a little lesser extent in Mega Man 8) which helped mark the franchise’s tenth anniversary back in 1997. Now given the three year gap between X4 and X5 I’m sure a lot of fans were expecting a bit more than what we eventually got with X5 - I know I was when Mega Man X4 blew my socks off and became one of my favorite sidescrollers of all-time – but the fact is many of Mega Man X5’s visual concessions are unfortunately necessary.
Unlike Mega Man X4, which followed the structure of its predecessors, Mega Man X5 attempts to turn its story into something else, something much more tangible than previous games. Whether or not it succeeds at doing that is a debate we’ll get into later, but because the story line is such a large part of the experience the structure of the game is changed dramatically. Because there are so many ifs, ands and buts that affect one’s progress through the game full motion video would have been an insanely poor choice. This isn’t to say it would be impossible – it could definitely be done – but would be real improbable and it wouldn’t surprise me if budget restraints played a hand in such a decision. It’s very possible that Mega Man X4 and Mega Man 8 had a larger pool of capital to work with than X5 did a few years later considering that 1997 was a banner year for the franchise. So while I’m not the biggest fan of how Mega Man X5’s story is presented, from a business-like point of view I understand it. That said the lack of full motion video is far from being the most interesting aspect of the game.
A Misleading Choice
After we view the game’s opening video – which is stuffed full of nostalgia (more on that later) – we come to the title screen. The big addition here is the training mode which mainly exists to teach the player about the two new features in Mega Man X5: rope crossing and ducking. Both of these game play elements are relatively safe expansions although it is worth noting that the concept of ducking was fiddled around with during Mega Man 3’s development – much to Keiji Inafune’s distain. Ducking was withheld in exchange for the now famous slide. As a gamer I’m somewhat curious as to what Inafune’s opinion is about ducking in X5 and beyond; I’m willing to bet he feels it serves the X series better than it would have served the classic games. Anyway, after thrashing a reanimated, abet weaker Magma Dragoon (an awesome callback to X4) we start the game proper and come to the player selection screen.
The player selection screen in Mega Man X5 is an odd place for a variety of reasons. However, the thing one should really take away from it is you’re not making the choice you think you’re making. Huh? On Mega Man X4’s “character” selection screen you were choosing who you’d be playing as for the entire game; on Mega Man X5’s “player” selection screen you’re only choosing who you play the first level as (you can choose who you want to use freely after that point, mostly) AND who gets to keep their initial power-up. If you choose Zero you get to keep the Z-Buster; if you choose to play as X you get to keep the Force armor - which is ironically mistranslated as the “Fourth” armor in the game. This is a really important choice. The unfortunate thing is the path to take is more than obvious and makes the entire decision making process moot. Most players will choose X because the Force Armor proves to be a much more valuable asset than the underpowered Z-Buster.
It’s true that the Force Armor has been somewhat downgraded since Mega Man X4 – it doesn’t allow infinite use of special weapons, has no giga attack and has the plasma shot over the stock shot – but you DO NOT want to play certain levels (like Duff McWhallen’s) with an unarmored X. Seriously, it is NOT fun. Such a situation really presents the player with how unbalanced Mega Man X5 can be. The Force armor allows you to start the game with a respectful amount of power, but if you plan on playing as X for a significant amount of time you really NEED that power. This helps take the thrill out of finding capsules because you already have a decent set of armor, something that is compounded even further by the fact that armor pieces are no longer equipped when you find them. There is no longer an instant sense of gratification when you find a capsule: you now have to find all four pieces to “complete” the armor before you can even wear it – the result of having a starting armor and X5’s new habit of having two new sets of armor hidden in the levels. Of course, the game gives you a real lame excuse as to why the armor can’t be equipped in the field – and it especially can’t be equipped if Zero stumbles upon it (which raises a whole host of questions of its own) but the more pressing question is do we really need four possible sets of armor for one character?
However, before we get too carried away with armor, let’s double back and talk about the road less traveled: the Z-Buster. Again, it’s real easy to pass on the Z-Buster on premise alone. Everyone knows that Zero was cultivated more as a close range, hack-and-slash character in Mega Man X4 and it brilliantly contrasted the long range style of gameplay X is known for. It was more difficult, and in my opinion way more fun, to play as Zero because you had to get right into your enemies faces. That extra element of risk perfectly defined Zero and is what separated him from X. With that degree of separation being so important why would you introduce a weapon that shortens that gap? Let Zero be Zero, let X be X and let them serve their respective player’s level of skill and expertise instead of trying to make both of them immediately accessible.
The Z-Buster fails in many other ways as well. Why on earth would I commit to an attack that nails Zero’s feet to the floor unless I know it’s going to destroy and/or stun my target? The wind up for the Z-Buster is so ridiculously long that even normal enemies can generally get off an attack in exchange and anyone who’s familiar with Zero will probably tell you a blow-for-a-blow philosophy with him is a one way ticket to a game over since his defensive capabilities are pretty much equivalent to an unarmored X. Still, the biggest reason the Z-Buster fails is Zero has superior attack options later on. Now when I say “later on” I mean fifteen minutes into the game, not halfway through or at the very end. Any Zero player worthy of the name will obviously make retiring Slash Grizzly their number one concern as the C-Sword (X5’s equivalent of Kuuenzan) you acquire from his DNA literally molests everything in the game. The only thing C-Sword doesn’t harm is Slash Grizzly himself – which makes an odd amount of sense. While you have to wonder why they would make such a game-dominating weapon to begin with (the C-Sword usually does weakness level damage to mavericks that have clear weaknesses to other weapons) the sad thing about this is the C-Sword is incredibly fun to use. With such a fun, cheap and free alternative available who’s going to use or miss the Z-Buster? Then there is the Z-Saber cancel trick that lets you rip through a boss like a knife through hot butter. Regardless of one’s feelings on that exploit, the fact is pre Z-Buster Zero was a well defined character that did not need any additional attack options.
The last order of business that deals with the beginning of the game has to deal with Alia. Mega Man X5 is the first game in the series to provide X and Zero with a navigator. Every now and then Alia will contact whoever is in the field and give them data or warnings about their surroundings. In many ways this is meant to enhance the player’s emersion and make the proceedings feel more personal. From a surface level this seems like a noble goal: there are many games that use this kind of communication to add a dash of suspense and intrigue to their atmosphere. The problem with this in Mega Man X5 is the situations the player finds themselves in don’t benefit from the additional chit-chat. As for tips, levels in Mega Man games should ALWAYS be self-explanatory. They shouldn’t have to be explained by a disembodied voice that disrupts game flow. By the same token, there are times where things should be left unexplained so the player can experiment and discover things on their own. For the most part Mega Man games haven’t had a problem doing this since their inception in 1987 so why is there a sudden need to do it now? Most gamers would probably be inclined to agree that trail and error is the best teacher and this is especially true now that X5 has one of the most lenient continue systems the franchise has ever seen.
A Game We Shouldn’t Play
With Mega Man X5’s greater focus on story telling it should surprise no one that this element bleeds over into the game’s power-up system. Beyond finding the usual items strewn about the levels – heart tanks, sub tanks and capsules – X and Zero can also obtain power-ups from the DNA of bosses. If this sounds odd - reploids having DNA - rest assured you’re not alone as Mega Man X5 is the first game in the franchise to mention this. However, it should be noted that this is not the first game that references it *timeline* wise. The power-up system at play in X5 is also used (with a few minor alterations) in Mega Man Xtreme 2 on the GameBoy Color which actually takes place before Mega Man X4. Unlike Mega Man X5, Xtreme 2 explains this process a little more thoroughly and even goes as far to represent it graphically with reploid DNA that drops from defeated enemies in the form of health-like pick-ups. It’s a little disappointing that X5 skimps on the details but the main thing the player should know is the concept of reploids having DNA becomes central to the plot of all of Mega Man X5’s successors.
Anyway, before one gets down to the nitty-gritty of using DNA to bolster X and Zero’s abilities, one needs to tackle the concept of time in Mega Man X5. Counter to practically every other Mega Man game in existence, the events in X5 are affected by its ebb and flow. This may scare some that are reading but do not fear: the time being counted is not literal. You’re not expected to race through every level at breakneck speed like it’s a time trail. After the opening level, the player finds they have only so many hours – or “units” – of time to destroy the plummeting Eurasia space colony before it collides with the earth. When you enter a level and then leave it (either by beating the boss or using the game over menu) you consume one unit of time. While exploring a given location you can continue as many times as you need to without elapsing any additional time. Time also affects the level of the game’s bosses. Like a role-playing game bosses now have a level assigned to them that determines the length of their health meter. The earlier the boss is defeated during the impact countdown the less life they’ll have; the closer the Eurasia comes to the planet the more life they’ll have. This concept becomes a lot more interesting when one realizes they can obtain more than a new weapon if they defeat a higher level boss. Weak DNA will just afford the player the defeated maverick’s weapon, medium strength DNA will yield the weapon and a life/weapon-up and strong DNA will produce a weapon, a life/weapon up AND a part.
Such a system allows the player to tailor the game’s initial challenges to their liking. First timers may want to defeat all the bosses as quickly as possible so they will face the least amount of resistance possible. A more accustomed player may want to purposely burn through some of the earlier “hours” to make the opposition stronger and receive the benefit of obtaining more power-ups, potentially making the end of the game easier. It’s an interesting decision since both roads lead to the same finale but the roads are bumpy and complicated because the player doesn’t always have total control over what power-ups they get. Much like life itself these roads are filled with choices that must be met with compromise.
Many may be wondering how choosing your respective power-up from medium and strong DNA becomes complicated. When it comes to medium DNA you get the boss’s weapon and the choice of a life-up (the equivalent of a heart tank) or a weapon energy-up. While the decision is really up to player preference, this decision is a lot like choosing X or Zero at the beginning of the game. Life-ups take obvious priority over weapon-ups because there are other, much more efficient ways to get more out of the weapon energy you start with. Taking the life-up over the weapon-up makes even more sense when using Zero, who only has two weapons backed by weapon energy and has the abusive C-Sword to fall back on. That’s all fine and dandy but what about strong DNA? Here’s where we start running into problems. With strong DNA player has the choice between a life-up and a part or a weapon-up and a part. The first problem is the game doesn’t tell you what part you’ll obtain for either option. Why is this secret? Parts are not random, so why is the player left in the dark about this outside of reading a FAQ? Second, say I want the part that comes with the weapon-up option but I don’t want the weapon-up, I want the life-up in the other choice. Too bad – if I want that part I have to take the weapon-up along with it – a power-up I didn’t want. Why does the game box me in like this? Given a decent amount of planning I should be able to build my characters in a manner that suits me; not forced to make two decisions with one selection.
If you think this would be the end of this DNA-fueled nightmare you’d be wrong. Things are further complicated by the fact you don’t get your life/weapon-up immediately after your decision. It takes an hour to process the DNA into that item. What does this mean? You have to plan on which character you using at that exact point so the right character gets the power-up! What if you beat a boss with X, make the decision of what item you want on the mission clear screen and then play as the character you don’t want to give the power-up to the next time you come up to that screen? A system like this might have worked if Mega Man X5’s structure was set up like Xtreme 2’s extreme mode - and if there was no time limit - but X5 had to forgo such an option due to plot points in the later half of the game. This makes being able to play as X and Zero on the same save file near pointless; you’re much better off choosing one character to play as, build them up with all the items you can (Zero looses out here because of the items only obtainable with X’s Gaea armor) and leaving the other character to their own devices until your next game. Given all of this, I don’t see what harm it would have done to allow X and Zero to share the life/weapon-ups like the sub/weapon tanks. Making it so both characters are on par with one another wouldn’t have made the game anymore broken than it already is. To this end the DNA power-up system boils down to poor planning, poor execution and a lack of explanation and is the most bungled feature of the game. Future sequels would try and do a somewhat better job at this – it’s possible to get every single power-up in those games and distribute them much more evenly – but the folks at Capcom generally combined item collecting with some most irritating tasks which helped strip down the presentation and overall fun factor.
The Devil’s in the Details
When it comes to Mega Man games, most players know not to expect much of a story. It’s at a juncture like this that I usually point out that the Mega Man Legends series had a good… nevermind. I could go on why the Legends series deserves way more love and respect than it will ever receive but then I’m sure some would whip out the old “Legends isn’t a Mega Man game” defense. Endless debate aside, Mega Man X5 contains what is perhaps the most complex narrative a side-scrolling Mega Man game had for it’s time. Again, I’m sure some are snickering after reading “Mega Man,” “narrative” and “complex” in the same sentence but the structure of X5’s story clearly sets it apart from the earlier games in the series. However, before I really dig into the events of the game, I have to address some concerns that started to take shape when playing Mega Man X4.
Considering this is a video game we’re concerned with here, I realize that realism is an impulse we’re meant to ignore. If imagination can’t roam free in a video game – or any form of entertainment for that matter – where exactly can it? Semantics aside, for the most part I have no problem believing the future as it’s presented in the first three Mega Man X games. Sure, there are a few segments you could nick-pick over, but generally the games didn’t suggest anything too wild or irrational. This kind of changed with Mega Man X4 and its starting level the Sky Lagoon. Now, I know I’m not suppose to ask this question, but who in this imagined future said “you know what, I think building a huge, floating structure reliant on electricity over a huge metropolitan area is a good idea.” In all honesty why would ANYONE think that’s a good idea? Yes, I know I’m over thinking it, but there is a reason why. Okay, so in X and Zero’s “world” the Sky Lagoon fell and caused untold devastation. Given such a tragic event, you’d think the people of the world would learn from their mistake? Hell no! They build a freaking orbiting space colony with an artificial gravity device! This just REEKS of stupidity (especially with someone one like Sigma running around) although considering some of the dumb things our own elected officials spend money on this may actually boarder on brilliance. Regardless, the point here is I know the stories in games are fallible, but a scenario writer should not leave a trail of brain dead ideas through the later (and weaker) half of a series of games. Mega Man X4 and X5 have some gaps in logic but games like Mega Man X7 and X8 blow the doors off the believability barn. The lesson? Game developers should take care when cultivating the worlds they’ve created. If they don’t, someone will literally tear it a new one. And on that note, I won’t even begin to talk about the Final Weapon....
Somewhat back on track, let’s talk about the opening level. This city and its statue are seen in the game’s opening video prior to all the panic. Now, this is probably me over thinking again, but where is this city? Is it on the earth or is it within the Eurasia? The game is really vague about the setting and you really have to read into several context clues after the level to realize you’re not on the Eurasia. To most such a revelation is pretty much pointless, but this was the first time in the entire series where I was like “where I am?” Prior to starting the stage and reaching the base of the statue, we see that Sigma has returned from his latest defeat along with a new gun for hire, Dynamo. By this point I don’t think anyone is surprised by Sigma’s involvement, but I’ll give Capcom some credit for not trying to make the origin of this latest threat a secret, a pathetic charade we’ve never been fooled by and all know the end of. Dynamo on the other hand is a near-pointless character beyond his initial involvement with the Eurasia incident. The game even readily has him admit he’s nothing but a nuisance, a fly on the wall who lays down some ridiculously blunt foreshadowing about X and Zero’s future. So all-and-all Mega Man X5’s villains bring nothing new to the table.
Upon returning to headquarters after Sigma’s explosion in the opening level scatters the Sigma virus all over the globe, we learn that the Eurasia is on a collision course with the earth. After Signas (commander of the Maverick Hunters) explains the grimness of the situation Douglas (an engineer) outlines the two operations that may stop the falling Eurasia: shooting it with the ancient beam cannon Engima or crashing into it with a space shuttle. Both options need additional devices (upgrades) added to them to make them feasible. However, due to the effects of the Sigma virus these devices are all under the control of various mavericks. With X and Zero the only hunters free of the virus’ influence, the task falls on them to enhance the Enigma - or should that fail – power-up the space shuttle.
Sounds simple enough, right? Generally it is, but there are a few story-based elements tied into X5’s gameplay. The first one we’ve already discussed is the passage of time. Fail to destroy the Eurasia before counter’s up or encounter failure with the Enigma and the space shuttle operations and you’ll not only lose an important character, you’ll receive the game’s bad ending. While it seems you would want to avoid that (especially if you collected a lot of power-ups with the character you lose) you will want to beat the game this way at least once to see what happens. The second gameplay/story element at play is the virus meter. While traveling through the environments in the game you’ll encounter purple apparitions that represent the virus. Making contact with these viruses first effects the virus meter, but make contact with enough of them and it will affect the amount of life in your character’s life gauge in one of two ways depending on your character. This difference is actually a key plot point in action and is one of the more enlightened aspects of the game. Clever as it is to show this reaction visually, the unfortunate part is the player can easily play through the game and never witness it. There are several “choke points” where the game is obviously trying to force this event to take place, but there are too many variables at play. This plot point is also conveyed through an important story scene but as you’d expect actually seeing it before you read about it makes much more of an impact.
A few other things involving the Mega Man X mythos are also thrown to the wind in Mega Man X5. With the increase of capsule and armor parts it seems that Capcom has given up on the idea that Dr. Light’s capsule holograms are recordings. Contrary to the other six pre-Mega Man X6 games in the Mega Man X universe Dr. Light now has the ability to engage in conversation. Are we for real here? Dr. Light is dead. D-E-A-D. Dead? How do these holograms know who Zero is? Forget Zero, how about Alia? Maybe Dr. Light is physic or perhaps he’s building power-ups from beyond the grave…! You might laugh at the last part, but the game – oddly enough – proves this is true. The first capsule Zero finds Dr. Light says he is sorry he can’t offer Zero any power-ups because he knows nothing about his body. Fast forward a few hours to the secret capsule in the second to last level and a time paradox later and we have the Black Zero armor! Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad this armor exists – but do we have to tear down things we think we know to include it in the game? Of course, the game actually has somewhat surprising answer for all of this but capsules go back to being pre-recorded messages in the proceeding games! Ah, bloody hell….
Vast inconsistencies aside, we should probably get back to the earth which was in peril a few paragraphs ago. So the planet’s in crisis and we have to save it with the Enigma or the space shuttle. Well, what determines whether or not these acts are successful or not? Is there a certain path through the game that guarantees success or some kind of a hidden trigger? No, not exactly. So if the player has no real control over what’s successful and what’s not (outside of running out of time) what force governs their path through the game? What separates the good endings from the bad one? That thing, sadly enough, is pure, straight-out randomness. There’s a part of me that wishes I was kidding about that but I’m not. To this day I have yet to see a fool-proof way of always getting the result you want. To those that are aware of what this means, this would seem to indicate that you have no way to completely remove the potential threat of losing one of your characters which could prove to be devastating if you assigned a lot of power-ups to that character. This is where you can cheat fate. Assuming you saved prior to either event (and didn’t save afterwards) you can keep reloading your save file until you get the result you want. Suffice to say if it wasn’t for this loophole the threat of permanently losing a character – without any possible way to prevent it – would severely affect Mega Man X5’s allure faster than Mega Man X6’s lack of English voice acting.
Still, regardless of how one saves the earth, there are some lingering questions. For example, let’s say the Enigma failed to destroy the Eurasia colony. What’s to stop the Maverick Hunters from firing it again? If the Enigma is truly a one shot deal, then why don’t they explain why? If the window for striking the Enigma is really that small, the whole idea of time-based game play X5 is based on is technically flawed since you can fire it at any point during the countdown. I’m sure I’m just over thinking again, and hey, we got to justify the back-up plan that is the shuttle which would be completely unfeasible in real life – so I guess I’ll just turn off my reality detectors again.
Progressive Toe Tappin’
When it comes to Mega Man music has always been an iconic element. Like the series’ gameplay, Mega Man music has become its own “brand,” becoming identifiable based on style alone. Those familiar with the soundtracks that have graced the various games this is rather amazing as – unlike a franchise like Final Fantasy – no one composer is responsible for the bulk of this work. Many different members of Capcom’s sound team have composed Mega Man tunes and they’ve all had the uncanny knack of being able to uphold an overarching sound that links it all together. Such heritage is important to note because the music of Mega Man X5 presents one of the first notable shifts in style. The change is subtle – you won’t be hearing a one-eighty change in direction – but X5’s music isn’t as straight forward as previous soundtracks like Toshihiko Horiyama’s (excellent) work in Mega Man X4. This time around, Naoto Tanaka, Naoya Kamisaka and Takuya Miyawaki created something that is a little more off beat and a little less focused, something that takes a bit of influence from the progressive rock genre. This vibe quickly comes alive when traveling through the levels that belong to Izzy Glow, The Skiver and Squid Adler and proves that many tracks in Mega Man X5 deserve a great amount of respect. I could really care less about the boss theme – yuck! – but X5’s soundtrack is important for another reason.
Out of the three composers commissioned to write music for Mega Man X5, Naoto Tanaka’s involvement would be a sign of things to come as he would be involved with creating music for the following three games in the series: Mega Man X6 (solo), Mega Man X7 (with an insane amount of other people) and Mega Man X8 (with Yuko Komiyama). It’s through his work on Mega Man X6 that we learned that he composed the thunderous “X vs. Zero” and the less impressive “Dynamo” since those tracks were reprised in that game. As a huge fan of video game music, Tanaka became one of my favorite composers with the previously mentioned “X vs. Zero” acting as a catalyst. It’s a shame we’ll likely never know what else he himself wrote for Mega Man X5 since the credits that were released with the soundtrack in 2003 weren’t comprehensive. Such is the case with many soundtracks, but unreleased information aside I will always remember the music of Mega Man X5 for introducing one of the franchises most interesting composers: a composer who literally saved Mega Man X6 from being a complete and utter bust.
The Nostalgia Bomb
Mega Man X5 attempts to differentiate itself from its predecessors beyond its slight departure in the music department. Given that X5 was planned to be the final game in the franchise the team behind its development paid homage to the previous games here and there with various references. Some of these are a little inconspicuous (bosses borrowing attack patterns from earlier mavericks and certain stages replicating memorable geography) while others (remixed music, returning adversaries and oddly familiar weaponry) are fairly obvious. In many ways it’s interesting to see things come full circle but does Mega Man X5 really benefit from its use of nostalgia? When you get past all the preconceptions that come with the word, nostalgia really is a perplexing concept. Despite being relatively young I am often accused of wearing “nostalgia goggles” because my gaming habits focus more on the older games I grew up with. My goggles can be pretty thick from time to time yet I will not hesitate to call out a game if it has not stood the so-called test of time. An opinion of what has aged well and what has aged badly can be contorted by the memories born out of nostalgia, but what about an experience that attempts to use it to make itself more viable?
While I can’t really say that Mega Man X5’s use of nostalgia is annoying – aside from the battle themes that play when fighting the Shadow Devil and Rangda Bangda – does it do anything to bolster the game’s identity, especially to someone who’s a bit of a sucker for that kind of thing? A situation similar to this played out in the 2007 role-playing game Wild Arms 5. This game marked the tenth anniversary of that series and the references to previous games were out in force. It’s true that Wild Arms and most RPGs have always been keen on cross-referencing ideas between their various games but something was different about it this time. Wild Arms 5 wasn’t referencing previous games in an effort to give the player a warm reflection on the series roots; it was referencing them to make up for its own deficiencies. In many ways Wild Arms needed to come to an end much like Mega Man X. The difference is while both games take a look back at previous – and ultimately better games – Mega Man X5 doesn’t sell out like Wild Arms 5 does. One is pandering while the other is respectful. Still, regardless of comparison, neither game truly benefits from the implementation of nostalgia.
Beyond its attempt to take a look back at its long and storied history, Mega Man X5 presents a few other curiosities. One that history somewhat gave us a precursor to when Kinuyo Yamashita basically used Guns ‘n’ Roses “My Michele” as Neon Tiger’s stage theme in X3 is the naming convention used for X5’s mavericks. While Mega Man X4 had some strange concepts for mavericks – like Cyber Peacock and Split Mushroom – it’s pretty clear that inspiration was running low at this point in the game when it came to adversaries. It got even worse in the game’s that followed but was naming these bosses after the members of a self-destructing band from the 90’s really that clever? Yes, I’ve read in several places that Guns ‘n’ Roses has a particularly large following in Japan, but when I’m faced with a name like “Duff McWhallen” which is a hysterical amalgamation of words I start to think that the original, Japanese names are a work of art. The opening of Axle the Red’s Stage is another clear nod to the band yet when one considers what a joke the band has come since most of its members have left is this something that you really want to reference? I enjoy several Guns ‘n’ Roses songs – my personal favorite being “November Rain” – and hindsight is always 20/20 - but most people had moved on (musically) by 2000. Is it really wise to date your product even more with allusions like this?
Of course I’m just being a bit of a hard-ass with the above. I’ve become quite accustomed to these names over time and the same goes for the game’s various levels. X5’s levels take the best concepts from X4 and tries to recreate them with a varying degree of success. The Slash Grizzly stage is very akin to Slash Beast’s domain as jumping from truck to truck is very similar to jumping from train car to train car. The levels for Duff McWhallen, The Skiver and Squid Alder all have distinguishable goals that helps set them apart although this is not the case for every level. Axle the Red’s level doesn’t really have a gimmick, unless you count a lot of rope crossing as a gimmick – and Dark Dizzy’s Planetarium is nowhere as clever as it thinks it is with the background controlling the game’s frame rate. Playing a sloppy level like this really makes me miss a well done technological level like Cyber Peacock’s. X5 trying to replicate X4’s excellent stages aside, there are some sections that don’t look as good as they did in the previous game. The big offender is the spiral staircase in the Izzy Glow stage which was obviously swiped from Split Mushroom’s Bio Lab level. However, X4’s superiority in this area is far from being X5’s biggest problem. Mega Man X5’s biggest problem is the existence of Mega Man X6.
Damn the Machine
As we’ve dissected the various elements that make up Mega Man X5 and its strengths and weakness, we’ve avoided what is perhaps the most important aspect of the game as a whole: the various endings. You may wonder why I’d cover these separately from the bulk of the story but rest assured there is a method to my madness. Now, it’s kind of hard to explain why the endings are so important without actually running them, but all you need to know is what happens occurs for a reason. It’s these events that make Mega Man X5 the game it is and to a certain extent this is undeniable. But what happens when such dramatic events are double backed on, when the corner the writers purposely wrote themselves into is altered after the fact? You turn a meaningful moment into something cheap and tawdry. The fact is Mega Man X5’s ending once had a purpose, a purpose that was absolutely shattered by the story of Mega Man X6. In many ways it’s completely inexcusable to retroactively damage one product with another, but X5 looses out through no fault of its own. Greed, avarice and an inability to let go of an aging property all played a part in this and created an ugly, ugly situation. The real insult in all of this is despite there being three more games in the series Mega Man X5 is the last game of any importance. Mega Man X6 and X7 were not only terrible gameplay wise but added nothing to the franchise’s mythos. Perhaps what is more insulting is how Mega Man X8 tried to appear important but was anything but. The point? Mega Man X5 and the franchise would have been better off had this been the last game – there is literally no question about it. With recent releases like Resident Evil 6 and Devil May Cry and the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 many gamers have claimed that Capcom has “screwed the pooch” but many of them have forgotten that they’ve made some incredibly poor decisions before. The lack of respect they showed Mega Man X5 tells us a lot about the corporate culture of the company and – at the end of the day – games are a business and the almighty dollar is what is important.
The Ending Battle Dust ~ A Resolution
Still, as damaging as Mega Man X6’s recons are, in the end you can’t really blame Mega Man X5 for something its developer did after the fact. It’s true it’s hard to look past the nastiness – especially if you’re a fan of the franchise – but the fact is Mega Man X5 needs to be judged on its own merits. Having done that above (save for the second to last section) how does the game hold up? After revisiting it for the first time since 2005 Mega Man X5 is not the mediocre game I rationed it to be in my mind. It’s true that there are some parts that needed some extra attention and that the overall level of inspiration was beginning to wane, but the truth is it’s still a respectful product. Mega Man X5 is also a better ending to the series than Mega Man X8 could ever hope to be, proving the game fulfilled its original purpose quite well. However, this begs the question of which is more interesting: the game itself or the story behind it and Mega Man X6? The answer to that is likely to vary from person to person, but to this reviewer Mega Man X5's intended purpose will never be forgotten regardless of Capcom’s failures.