Adventure, Humor, and Humanity's Utter End: The Enduring Appeal of Mega Man Legends 2

Adventure, Humor, and Humanity's Utter End: The Enduring Appeal of Mega Man Legends 2

It's not hard to understand why Mega Man Legends 2 still has a small but enthusiastic fanbase.

In the early hours of Mega Man Legends 2, lead character Mega Man Volnutt infiltrates Forbidden Island, a mysterious ruin cloaked in a perpetual snowstorm. His activities in the ruin inadvertently free a dangerous foe, but it also frees several adventurers who were put into a deep sleep years ago when they tried to visit the island.

The awakened adventurers—called "Diggers" in the Mega Man Legends universe—try to return to their old lives in the frigid town of Yosyonke. Mega Man can visit the local cemetery and talk to a revived Digger who stands contemplatively over the tombstone that was erected when she never returned from Forbidden Island. "This is supposed to be my grave," she says. "It's a strange feeling, to see your own grave while you're still alive."

The nameless Digger has a lot in common with the Mega Man Legends series. They're both dead, yet alive; forgotten, yet remembered. Mega Man Legends 2 turned 20 on April 20, prompting its small but fervent fanbase to ask—yet again—when we can expect a follow-up, or at least something in the vein of the recent Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection.

The fans' badgering is justified. Like its predecessor, Mega Man Legends 2 is an adventure game, not a platformer like the classic Mega Man series. The Mega Man Legends titles offer a rare example of a 2D video game mascot successfully transitioning to 3D with the aid of creative enemies, engaging fights, and a loveable cast of characters.

Super Mario 64 set a very high standard for 3D platformers. Most 16-bit mascots fizzled when they tried to make the change, but Mega Man thrived in his own way. | Nintendo

From visuals to sound to gameplay, Mega Man Legends 2 improves on the ideas Mega Man Legends started. Plus, it wraps its deep dungeon exploration in an intriguing story that explores fate versus personal desire, and what it means to truly be human. Its story ends on a major cliffhanger, which Mega Man Legends 3, announced in 2010, promised to resolve before Capcom shot down the project and left it to bleed in a gutter.

Mega Man Legends fans waited ten years for Legends 3, only to have it yanked away and put back in the ground. No wonder the fanbase is a little louder, a little more stubborn, than most. Twenty years later, they still hope, still believe, that Mega Man will be rescued from the artificial moon he was stranded on at the end of Mega Man Legends 2. Will they ever get satisfaction? Only Capcom knows, and it's not spoken of Legends in a long time.

Mega Man Gets Equipped with Z-Axis

In the mid- to- late-'90s, many of the mascots for 16-bit platforming games were altered for 3D environments. "Wrenched into 3D environments" might be the better term here: When the likes of Bubsy and Earthworm Jim tried to follow in Super Mario 64's genre-defining footsteps, they failed miserably because they didn't evolve to match their new surroundings.

Most of the PlayStation's games utilized tank controls, a poor fit for the running and jumping these failed mascot platformers called for. The N64 controller, by contrast, was revolutionary for its analogue stick, which was a comparatively better for 3D action games like Super Mario 64. Early 3D games also struggled mightily with their in-game cameras. Nintendo's best developers couldn't perfect Super Mario 64's camera after years of development, though they did their best; less experienced developers forced to make 3D mascot games within a handful of months never had a chance.

Perhaps what helped the Blue Bomber transition to 3D was unrelated to Mega Man's platforming roots. Longtime series producer Keiji Inafune regarded Mega Man as an anime robot hero foremost, not necessarily as a character who belonged specifically to platforming action games.

The anime-style faces and expressions in Mega Man Legends games aged much better than the static face bitmaps most 3D PlayStation games used. | Capcom/Source

"When people ask me, 'Who is Mega Man?', I reply, 'He’s a robot.' And when it comes to making a video game, being a robot means that he can be or do pretty much anything," Infaune told PlayStation Magazine in a 1997 interview about Mega Man Legends' impending release.

Inafune was eager to use his new Mega Man as a storytelling vessel, further inspiring him to make Mega Man Legends an adventure game with light RPG elements instead of a platformer. "I've always seen Mega Man as a kind of anime-ish character, and I wanted to continue that tradition—actually, I wanted to make MML even more anime-like in this game," he said. "Previous Mega Man games have had very simplistic, uncomplicated stories, but this time I wanted a story that even adults could enjoy, something a little more complex."

Wherein Mega Man Stops and Asks Himself, "I, Robot?"

Inafune's attempt to tell a compelling, complex story through Mega Man Legends succeeded on a surprising level. Whereas the sparse narratives for Mega Man and Mega Man X deal with conflicts between man and machine, the Mega Man Legends games are about humanity's successors, "Carbons," struggling against an inhospitable environment and the threat of unseen "gods" who regard them as disposable.

Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Legends 2, and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne (a puzzle adventure game that bridges the two titles) take place on "a world covered in endless water." It's insinuated that an enormous disaster ripped the world apart centuries ago, but a little flooding isn't enough to suppress civilization. Adventurers known as "Diggers" explore the depths of ruins in search of the energy-storing Refractor gems that keep society running.

Digger, Listener, Runner. | Capcom/Source

The plot for both Mega Man Legends and Legends 2 mention the "Mother Lode"—an enormous score of Refractors that should supply energy indefinitely—but attempts to bring these legendary treasures to light awakens the dangerous remnants of human society. Unfortunately for the lifeforms that populate the world of Mega Man Legends, these ancient humans never regarded the "Carbons" they created as anything other than guinea pigs to test the habitability of Mega Man Legends' shattered world. Terra, the planet the Mega Man Legends games take place on, is bristling with diabolical machinery engineered to wipe out the Carbons, clone the extinct human species from stored genetic data, and then let humans repopulate the globe once the environment proves safe.

The story for the Legends' series sounds heavy in summation, but it's cut with a lot of humor. Mega Man Volnutt spends a lot of his time struggling against the Bonnes, a brood of sky pirates whose get-rich-quick schemes result in them crossing swords with Mega Man on a regular basis. The Bonnes can put up a good fight, but they're generally bunglers. Their antics, combined with their adorable Servbot minions and their familial love for each other, makes them easy to like.

Mega Man Legends' unfamiliar setting and total genre shift might make this hard to believe, but the series fits into the storyline shared by Mega Man, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, and Mega Man ZX. Its attachment to its predecessors is nebulous, however. While it's easy to track the influence of Mega Man's characters in the Mega Man X universe (and so on with Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX), we don't know a lot about Mega Man Legends' connections other than "it belongs."

Astute Mega Man fans can still catch glimpses of shared blood between the games: Enemies that resemble the Legends' series "Reaverbot" foes, or a sinister comment from a Mega Man ZX protagonist claiming, "this world needs to be reset"—insinuating that events in ZX lead to the disastrous flooding that defines Legends' world.

Mega Man Legends 2 characters like the enigmatic "Master" link the Legends series to the rest of the Mega Man games. You have to dig deep for clues, so to speak. | Capcom/Source

Nothing about Mega Man Legends' connection to the rest of the series is clear, and nothing is confirmed. That's part of what makes searching for story clues so much fun.

The Power of a Voice

The Mega Man Legends series' overarching story doesn't succeed simply because it sounds good on paper, though. Lovable characters, another factor that's vital for decent storytelling in games, define the games as much as its exploration and fights with Reaverbots, if not more. Legends fans want to reunite with the irrepressible Bonne family as much as they want to bring Mega Man down from the Moon.

In the PlayStation Magazine interview, Inafune elaborates how his team worked particularly hard on making compelling character designs that can be enjoyed by all ages. Looking back on the stiff, corpse-like faces of PlayStation character models is uncomfortable today, but Mega Man Legends' characters never had that problem. Their facial features are simple, but they remain bright and surprisingly expressive—very anime-inspired, as Inafune intended.

Another decision that was a big help in building Mega Man Legends' fanbase in the West was the use of professional voice actors for the localization. '90s gaming is practically defined by terrible voice acting, and Capcom gave us some particularly notorious examples. The world will never be over Resident Evil's "Jill Sandwich" or Mega Man 8's "Doctor Wawhee." These low-quality performances were usually the result of Capcom's Japanese development teams performing their games' localizations, including voice acting. At some point, Capcom realized voice acting of Mega Man 8's caliber wasn't going to cut it for a Mega Man game with a lot of banter in it.

The irrepressible Bonne Family: Made in Canada. | Capcom/Source

Its solution was unique for games at the time: Hire voice actors from Canada. Mega Man Legends' voice acting wasn't just competent, it was occasionally very good in a time period where "good" and "video game voice acting" rarely paired together in the same sentence. Rob Smith, the voice actor who brought the irrepressible Bonne family patriarch Teisel to life, even went on to become the "Alexander Keith's Guy," an over-the-top Canadian pop culture icon who peddled Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale in commercials. Years later, Smith was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography. Even if Mega Man Legends 3 ever happens, it's unlikely Smith will reprise his role.

A Good Foundation, A Great Follow-Up

The critical consensus for the first Mega Man Legends game was positive to dismal. IGN declared it "Great," whereas PC Gamer criticized the game for looking half-finished. A few venues published comments as cutting as PC Gamer's, but generally Mega Man Legends was regarded fondly. It was certainly better received than mascot platformers like Bubsy 3D and Earthworm Jim 3D.

It's difficult to find numbers on how well Mega Man Legends sold, but a 2007 interview with Keiji Inafune suggests it could have done better.

"It didn't sell anywhere as well as I had anticipated," Inafune said. "I was really confident about the game during its development, considering how fun the game was. It was really something new, something that we thought would be unfortunate if gamers didn't play. And we released it, and oops!"

Marriage rituals are weird in the Mega Man Legends 2 universe. | Capcom/Source

Inafune believes Legends might have been ahead of its time, which caused people to turn away. "It was a sandbox style of game, kind of like Grand Theft Auto. One has Yakuzas and the other has robots, but it's kind of like the same," he said. "If we made it at the present time in modern quality, I believe that it would have sold a lot better."

Nevertheless, Mega Man Legends did well enough to warrant a sequel. If Inafune thought Mega Man Legends was too ambitious for its own good, he didn't show it when he planned and developed Mega Man Legends 2. Everything about Legends 2 is bigger and brighter than its predecessor. The graphics are much improved, the soundtrack is far more varied, its story is more serious, and its gameplay expands across several islands instead of centering around one. As a result, the dungeons in Mega Man Legends 2 are themed according to the biome they exist on.

By the time Mega Man Legends 2 released in April 2000, developers knew how to push the PlayStation past its limit. In fact, the PlayStation 2 had launched in Japan a month before Mega Man Legends 2 in March 2000. Inafune and the Legends 2 team squeezed all the power it could out of the PlayStation. Hardcore Gaming 101 has a good summary of the graphical and mechanical improvements over the first Legends game. "Aside from the more ambitious animations and framing for the narrative portions, the graphics have gotten a significant boost in character poly count, texture work, and Gouraud shading," writes Neil Foster. "In fact, everyone returning from the last titles looks completely redrawn in the engine makeover."

The fruits of the Legends 2 team's labors are occasionally astounding—even terrifying. The fiery Saul Kada Ruins is the dwelling of an enormous Reaverbot called Wojigairon. When Mega Man first explores the ruins, he can only glimpse Wojigairon through some lattice as it paces slowly but steadily around its pen. As Mega Man progresses deeper into the ruins, Wojigairon will suddenly bash its head through the lattice to grab the Digger. It's an effective jump scare that doubles as a possible tribute to the zombie dogs that smash through the windows in the first Resident Evil game. The ruin's strong build-up to a memorable boss encounter is a key example of how Inafune and Capcom strove to make Mega Man Legends 2 truly grand.

Kick Pigs, Gain Entry to a Crappy Club for Jerks

Another example of Legends 2's ambition is its surprisingly deep morality system. While you can act like a jerk in Mega Man Legends and have your armor darken to black if you vandalize vending machines (like I did), the consequences of being a dick are much more significant in Mega Man Legends 2. Once you don the black armor—easy to do if you go around kicking pigs—townspeople regard you with suspicion and merchants raise their prices. If you act badly enough, you'll break the heart of Roll, Mega Man's adoptive sister, to the point that she loses motivation and raises her prices for weapon upgrades.

Why turn bad, then? It's the only way to access Mega Man Legends 2's black market, which peddles unique items. You can also make Roll lose faith in humanity by saying "Leave me alone, busybody!" It's cruel, but it's also kind of funny.

One of your fights with the Bonnes can potentially wreck a town and its sacred artifacts. The townspeople won't be happy with you, but you can make amends by helping with the repairs. If you don't help, there are consequences. | Capcom/Source

Mega Man Legends 2's morality system shows how much thought the development team put into Mega Man Volnutt's character, and his role as a savior of Terra. Mega Man's character depth carries into the game's story, which, again, is bigger than the story for Mega Man Legends and comes with higher stakes. Without spoiling too much, Mega Man is forced to decide between following his destiny as a destroyer or finding his place amongst the Carbons his human master initially sought to cull before he had a change of heart. Mega Man Legends 2 is smattered with well-directed cutscenes that get you thinking about what defines humanity.

Oh No: The Evisceration of Mega Man Legends 3

Critics noticed the significant improvements Mega Man Legends 2 brought to the fledgling series. They looked upon it quite favorably upon its release, with a notable reduction in the harsher reviews the first game received. Reviews published on GameSpot, IGN, and our sister site Eurogamer praised its improvements in terms of graphics and controls, the lattermost site even writing that it's a "darn sight more interesting than their two-dimensional ancestors," crediting the narrative.

Despite the praise, Mega Man Legends 2 never found a huge audience. In fact, though official numbers are again hard to pin down, it seems to have sold dismally. That's not surprising for a niche game released in the shadow of the PlayStation 2's launch.

Nevertheless, a trickle of re-releases—including a 2005 PSP port in Japan and a PlayStation Store PSOne Classic release in 2016—has kept a dim light shining on Mega Man Legends 2 and the beleaguered series in general. Old fans strengthen their bond with the game as replays of Mega Man Legends 2 prove their love for Mega Man Volnutt's adventure was forged in more than nostalgia. Mega Man Legends 2 is a fairly popular subject for YouTubers and Influencers who review the game in retrospect and look back on what made it special. On ResetEra, there's a thread dedicated to people trying Legends and Legends 2 for the first time, and despite problems with the games' now-archaic controls, most of newcomers find themselves charmed.

It's hard not to love a game that took the time to thoroughly localize a 100-question quiz. (The answer is D.) | Capcom/Source

The support base for Mega Man Legends 2 is small but vocal—not unlike how the retro Mother/Earthbound RPG fanbase was in the early aughts before Nintendo finally re-released Earthbound on its modern systems. Cries of "Where is Mega Man Legends 3?" aren't heard with the same consistency as "Where is Half-Life 3," but the passion is there.

The story of Mega Man Legends 3's ill fate is one of the sadder cancellation stories to wrack the game industry. Keiji Inafune announced the game for the Nintendo 3DS at New York Comic Con on September 29, 2010, 10 years after the release of Mega Man Legends 2. Fans were encouraged to share their own character designs while Inafune's team worked on a "prototype version" that would serve as a playable prologue for the game.

When Inafune left Capcom on October 29, 2010, development on Mega Man Legends 3 quickly withered. It was canceled on July 18, 2011. If the Mega Man Legends fanbase is indeed small, it didn't feel that way when a flood of outrage washed up on Capcom's doorstep. Slighted fans vocalized their displeasure on Twitter, and the Mega Man Legends 3 Wiki page got a pretty good workout as well.

Despite the outcry, Capcom didn't just cancel Mega Man Legends 3: It annihilated it. Hiroshi Matsuyama, the CEO and President of CyberConnect2 (the studio behind Asura's Wrath and the .hack series that was also once attached to develop Final Fantasy 7 Remake), wanted to pick up the project. It didn't happen. Inafune even offered to come back under contract to finish Mega Man Legends 3. Capcom said no.

"THIS CLUB IS CLOSED. FOREVER." | Capcom

Capcom squashed everything to do with Mega Man Legends 3. In fact, it squashed everything to do with the Mega Man franchise for a long time. Though "Mega Man" is no longer a verboten term at Capcom, there's no sign the company will revive Mega Man Legends 3. Current Mega Man series lead designer Koji Oda says he's "well aware that there is a voice out there that wants something new for games like Mega Man Legends and Battle Network," but that's the only hint that Capcom hasn't abandoned the Legends series.

Ashes to Ashes

Most of the 2010s was a bad time to be a Mega Man fan. Capcom rarely acknowledged the Blue Bomber, though it's not clear if the silence was to spite Inafune, or because the company was shifting to mobile game development like a lot of studios at the time.

To make things gloomier, Inafune's own attempts at engineering his spiritual successor to Mega Man faltered. The 2013 Kickstarter for Mighty No. 9 raised over $3 million, but momentum sputtered out quickly thanks to delays and development drama.

Red Ash, the theoretical spiritual successor to Mega Man Legends, seems to be dead in the water. | Comcept

Inafune rubbed a fistful of salt into fans' wounds by introducing another Kickstarter in July 2015, before Mighty No. 9 was released. The Kickstarter was for "Red Ash: The Indelible Legend," a game that was clearly meant to be a spiritual successor to Mega Man Legends in the way Mighty No. 9 was supposed to succeed Mega Man. The characters and settings matched the fantasy/sci-fi mix that defines Mega Man Legends' visuals, but there was little fan excitement projected at the game. The $800,000 Kickstarter was in danger of failing until a publisher called Fuse saved the project. The rescue barely raised a cheer.

The cynicism was inevitable. At the time, it was looking less and less likely Mighty No. 9 would be the salvation Mega Man fans ached for. (They were ultimately right.) Red Ash seemed to be a compelling Legends substitute, but confidence in Inafune was low. Red Ash's ill-timed Kickstarter only served to remind Mega Man Legends fans that Mega Man Legends 3 had been whisked away from their grasp at the last second, and it was probably never coming back.

To date, we've not seen neither pixel nor polygon of the promised Red Ash game. That said, in December 2017, we did receive a 23-minute animation (funded by a separate Kickstarter) that introduces us to Red Ash's world and characters. Like Mega Man Legends, Red Ash takes place in a world suffering environmental troubles. Adventurers brave ruins for money and glory, and there's a simmering class war between people born with nanomachines in their genes versus "pure humans." It's an interesting concept, but it's also a sad reminder that Inafune's innate talent for world-building might never be fully realized ever again.

The Legend Endures for Good Reason

Will Mega Man Legends 2 see a follow-up? Will we get to revisit the Mega Man Legends universe at all? It's hard to get a read on Capcom's attitude towards Mega Man, period. After sitting quiet and still for years, fans went slightly berserk with the announcement of Mega Man 11 in December 2017. It came out in October 2018 and racked up impressive sales numbers. Since the release of Mega Man 11, however, Capcom hasn't offered anything in the way of new games for the series, not even the much-begged-for Mega Man X9. It's seemingly taking things slow with the Blue Bomber, a big change from the days when the Mega Man content tap ran all day, every day.

I hope Capcom at least gathers up Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Legends 2, and the Misadventures of Tron Bonne into a single collection. Capcom is big on collections right now; even the barely known Mega Man ZX games were folded into the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. Logic suggests a Mega Man Legends Collection should be coming sooner or later, but something about the possibility seems distant, too.

The Mega Man Legends series ranks among Keiji Inafune's favorite works, and he did not make friends when he departed Capcom shortly after saying Japan makes "awful games." Mega Man, including Legends, seemed to be taboo for a long time after Inafune's departure. In a 2018 interview with VentureBeat, Mega Man 11 producer Kazuhiro Tsuchiya admitted "The atmosphere just didn’t feel right for anybody to raise their hand and say, 'I want to be the person that makes the next Mega Man.'" Tsuchiya's work on Mega Man 11 helped put an end to the stalemate, as did the warm reception to the Mega Man Legacy Collection. Mega Man X Legacy Collection and Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection followed thereafter. So why does a Mega Man Legends Legacy Collection feel like an unlikely prospect?

Hopefully, a day will come where we can again feed troll answers to Roll's deep concerns. | Capcom/Source

There's no official word on how Capcom and Inafune feel about each other these days. Inafune is laying low, and hasn't been having much success with his own game projects. But in past interviews, Inafune's made it clear Mega Man Legends is his favorite Mega Man series. It's telling the Red Ash Kickstarter was supposed to give us a spiritual successor to Mega Man Legends—not Mega Man X, or Mega Man Battle Network, or any of the other Mega Man series he headed. If there's still bad blood simmering between Capcom and Inafune, it's doubtful Capcom wants to turn the spotlight on a series that's associated so closely with the former Mega Man producer.

We might wake up to some kind of good Mega Man Legends news someday. Don't expect it any time soon, though: Capcom is erasing 14 years of fan-created works, including the Mega Man Legends 3 Devroom content. That's a bit callous. To me, it feels like a sign Capcom isn't especially tuned into the fans, let alone their wishes for a new Mega Man Legends game. Or, to put it another way, "Willie hears ya. Willie don't care." Still, Mega Man Legends fans have been standing in Capcom's front yard for over two decades. They can stand a little longer if it means even the smallest possibility of news.

Mega Man Legends 2 demands a follow-up. Not just because poor Mega Man is stuck in outer space, but because the game's appeal has held fast for two decades now. The enduring admiration surrounding Mega Man Legends 2 proves Keiji Inafune's experiment to bring Mega Man to the Z-axis is a success. If Mega Man Legends 3 is ever revived, no one will ask "But why?" Fans will simply breathe "Finally." Then they'll get down on their knees and pray they won't get screwed again.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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