Waaaaaay back, probably during the 1up forums days or possibly a little later, I tried to make the case for Mega Man Legends squad mission. The biggest obstacle was that at the time the game was pretty tough to acquire. It has a PSX version, an N64 version, and an obscure Windows version. Physical copies of it, its sequel, and the spinoff are mad expensive nowadays. That will cease to be a problem when the original game hits the PlayStation Store on Tuesday September 29th. I know I recently started that Grandia II thread and I think I'll still occasionally use it to take a break from Metal Gear, but I feel I really must once and for all make the case for Mega Man Legends to the squad.
Mega Man Legends is one of my favorite games. Not favorite N64 or PSX games or Mega Man games or adventure games, just one of my favorite games.
I'll go ahead and admit I haven't touched my copy since I first played through it around 1999 or 2000 maybe, but at the time it had just about everything I wanted, and still want, in a video game. One of my perfect "dream games" would probably just be a more modern version of MML, which is why the sting of the third game's cancellation hurts so bad for me and many others and why I wanted so badly for the Red Ash kickstarter to not suck despite how much it did. I'll go ahead and admit what will probably stand out as MML's one major flaw to anyone who plays it in 2015: its controls are pretty outdated. I originally played it years before modern standards of third person shooters were established. You could say it's firmly in that early Tomb Raider era before people figured out TPS controls. The PSX version doesn't have any analog control, it's just the D pad, lock-on (you circle strafe everything in this game), and I think the shoulder buttons for the camera. The N64 version added analog control and vibration, but that's it.
Now onto actually making the case.
MML got a lukewarm reception back in the day because it wasn't like other Mega Man games. It isn't. Let go of any expectations of robot masters or navigating eight stages through a selection menu. Capcom recognized that it couldn't just paste the 2D design into 3D. That only ever really worked for Zelda and Metroid -- games about exploring places, which figures into what Capcom did with MML -- they made it into the secret best Zelda clone. The MML games are as close as we ever got to having a Zelda clone with guns. What sucked me into these games was their focus on exploration -- my favorite thing to do in video games. You explore caves, dungeons, towns, etc. The whole first game takes place on a single island and you pretty much explore every inch of it. The main characters are sort of like archaeologists/treasure seekers, like if Mega Man was Nathan Drake or something, and this island is full of just... stuff to archeologize. Imagine if you got stuck on Tristan De Cunha (look that place up) but found out it had a honeycomb of ruins underneath it guarded by robots. That's MML1. There's also a whole population of people with which to engage. As the game unfolds and you investigate more secrets you find out more about some of their individual lives as the island takes on a collective character of its own. I guess you could say a lot of those "quests" are more like adventure quests. You can spend a lot of time doing non-action things. MML1 is one of those rare games I was driven to 100% just because I wanted to. Even if I did care about achievements this was before their time, and I still sought out every last item and every last slice of dialogue. I just wanted to keep exploring that island until I squeezed every last discoverable thing out of it.
This also brings me to a question that has dogged me for a little while now (this is a tangent): Why have we almost never gotten shooters with exploration as a main gameplay mechanic? For FPSs that kind of level design ended when Half-Life 1 came out when you think about it (or so I'm told, still haven't gotten around to HL1). I'm told Quake 1 was sort of the zenith of the first person shooter that was about exploring and solving levels. Metroid Prime beautifully answered the question of whether you could do Metroid/Castlevania-style world design not only in 3D, but in first person. Why did no one else follow that up? In the world of shooters all we've gotten since roughly 1998 are linear set-piece-driven shooters and a few tactical shooters that are more about providing a sandbox with mission objectives. No shooters about really investigating a place. You also sort of have the System Shock games and Bioshock 1 (System Shock 1 mission anyone?) In fact I remember Ken Levine introducing Bioshock 1 in an early demonstration video by saying he wanted to make something other than these "cookie-cutter" shooters... and then Bioshock 2 and Infinite became structurally closer and closer to "cookie-cutter" shooters. They became increasingly linear and more about cinematic events than exploring and investigating places. If you read Levine's comments from throughout the developments of Bioshock 1 and Infinite it seems like he ran into market forces that made him compromise further and further in an attempt to get what he thought of as the "bro gamer" to pay attention to his ideas. As I hear it Bioshock 1 was going to be a lot more like System Shock 2, but whatever, I'm digressing hard here. Are Gone Home and the other first person adventure games all that's left of this type of first person game? But alas they have no guns. STALKER? I dunno. That game is dark and creepy, and I think it focuses more on CRPG-style story progression than action-based exploration. The new Tomb Raider tries to be this for TPSs, but to me it just felt more like the Ubisoft style of open-world game than anything else. I actually think the idea of an "open world Tomb Raider" should be nothing else but a Zelda clone with guns, where you explore a wide world filled with "dungeons" where you solve puzzles while shooting things.
Thus the main reason I find MML so unique. It takes that Japanese style of Zelda/JRPG/Metroid exploration, skillfully builds it in 3D, and attaches a gun to it. You don't just get that one gun either. You invest a lot into upgrading weapons and developing new ones, some pretty cool ones too. You get a machine gun, grenades, missiles, and other cool stuff I won't spoil. Because the enemies are robots they get to be pretty varied too. Some of the later ones are especially dangerous/menacing. In the action department I'll add that MML2 probably holds up much better due to its controls. Actually it'll probably feel surprisingly modern given it came out in 2000. It likely still relies heavily on lock-on and circle strafing, but it also has full dual analog control. It's actually the direct predecessor to Lost Planet's control system. Those of you who've played the LP games might find the physics and handling somewhat similar, even in MML1.
Last I'll probably go over why most MML fans like it: its overall "feel" is just a really good combination of atmosphere, art direction, and likable characters. The overall storyline is your typical anime/Japanese-game-derived-from-Laputa-Castle-in-the-Sky deal, but the moment-to-moment writing makes it all work, sort of like Skies of Arcadia or... The Raid 2. Unoriginal sure, but effectively executed. What originally made MML interesting to me before I bought it were in fact the art and character designs. The art looks simple to fit with the PSX's low polygon budget, but still really colorful. As a result, visually the MML games have probably aged better than most PSX or N64 games. The cut scenes are pretty much anime in 3D, and the graphics are almost cel shading before cel shading.
So, if you can spare $10 and feel interested in some well-designed exploration gameplay with possibly really dated shooter controls, the Mega Man Legends games are certainly underrated classics.