Have I ever mentioned I love a good mystery? Maybe it started with my childhood affection for Encyclopedia Brown books, or perhaps even earlier with my adoration of Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective. Whatever the case may be, my fondness for sleuthing didn’t really take hold until I got into the Ace Attorney series. The sorts of bizarre and colorful lateral-thinking puzzles that lie at the core of the many murder mysteries throughout the series clicked with me instantly. So it’s no wonder that when I read in the now defunct Nintendo Power magazine that Shu Takumi, the creator of the Ace Attorney series, was making a new game about an amnesiac ghost trying to solve his own murder, I was immediately intrigued. Read more Ghost TrickThat Was a Thing ›
I’ve mentioned it before, but here in the last year or two I’ve started frequenting used game stores. I’m not entirely sure why, but there’s something about stumbling across an old classic or hidden gem that I never got to experience when it first came out that I find immensely satisfying. And let’s not forget the warm and fuzzy feeling of getting said games for a good price!
One such game is Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe, an ultra-stylish, side-scrolling beat-em-up for the GameCube. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I think it was probably for the best that I waited until I was an adult to play it. It’s fobbing hard! That said, it’s an enjoyable kind of hard: it gives you a myriad of over-powered abilities but only hints at the best way to use any of them. It takes almost the entire game to figure out how and when to use each of your powers, which makes you feel all the more accomplished once you do. This game’s a good example of being tough but fair…except when it comes to the boss battles, those just plain suck. Read more Botched BattleViewtiful Joe ›
Every few days, a brand new game is announced for Nintendo Switch. We’ve started doing a news segment weekly and we can barely keep up! In this installment, we discuss the (blue) bombshell that Mega Man 11 is blasting his way to Switch next year, followed by the biggest surprise in a while… Portal is back?
“Exit the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Mega Man is at a weird juncture in its life. It has been five years since the last actual game release with Street Fighter x Mega Man. But since then, there have been fan games released, a “spiritual successor” in Mighty No. 9, guest appearances in fighting games like Super Smash Bros., a cartoon series and movie announced, and a “big announcement” coming in December for his 30th anniversary, not to mention several collections for modern consoles of some of his classic adventures. I guess you could say that he is experiencing his own mid-life crisis, trying to find his identity in these unfamiliar times.
Not to alleviate that, it is my goal today to tell him that the franchise that bears his namesake is not about him. It may be rude to kick someone while they are down, but I want to bring some reality to the situation. First, I want to prove that Mega Man is NOT the central protagonist of his franchise, then present to whom I believe the spotlight has shifted.
In talking about this franchise, I would like to get some terminology out of the way. First, I will be using “series” and “franchise” in very different ways. “Franchise” will refer to all things Mega Man (especially media considered “canon”), and when I use “series” I will denote the specific subdivision of the franchise to which I am referring (i.e. classic, X, Battle Network, etc.)
Also, I will be dealing primarily with the “classic” timeline. For those of you unfamiliar, the Mega Man canon is divided up into 2 main timelines. The first is what I will refer to as the classic timeline. This includes the classic series, X series, Zero series, ZX Series, and Legends series. The second timeline, in which Dr. Light pursued software solutions as opposed to robotics, contains the Battle Network and Star Force series. It is a little more complicated than that, but, as I said, I will refrain from using those sources when I can.
I will also try to refrain from boring you with storyline minutia, though some talk of story points is inevitable. Consider this a spoiler warning… If you ever cared about the Mega Man storyline being spoiled for you…
Who is “Mega Man”?
The difficulty in defining Mega Man as the star of his own franchise begins with defining who you are referring to when you refer to Mega Man. Do you mean the classic 8-bit rendition, or the reploid named X, which bears resemblance? Perhaps you are referring to Mega Man Volnutt, or maybe the persona created by the fusion of Geo and Omega-Xis?
If you were to count characters commonly referred to as Mega Man (by games of fans) you would come up with no less than five, or three in the classic timeline, and possibly as many as twenty or more depending on which renditions you “count”. Even if you were to only count three, all of them are separate entities with their own origins and personalities which they do not share with any of the others. Also, no one of those characters plays a major part in all of those games or series.
The best way around this is to hold to a view that Mega Man is not a single entity, but rather an idea centered around championing peace, justice, and the color blue to a troubled world. At that point, Mega Man is no longer a character, but a loosely-defined set of characteristics that do not find themselves clearly stated in the games, but are then defined by the player. It is an entertaining thought, but hardly a basis of a character.
One champion above the others…?
Now that we are forced to chose one Mega Man, we must choose wisely. First, we should immediately eliminate Mega Man Volnutt from the equation. His series takes place thousands of years apart from the other series, holding only tangential story ties.
Next is the classic Mega Man. It was with him that the franchise began, and I think that it is safe to say that he was the original protagonist of the series. But this Mega Man does not have any direct influence after the time of the classic series end. Though nostalgia may cloud our vision, he had to pass the torch eventually.
Lastly, we have X, which I believe is the best of the Mega Man candidates. We see his origins in the classic series, created by Dr. Light as Mega Man’s successor and an experiment that one day robots might be just like humans. X’s main story begins in Mega Man X, extending through the X series. He fights in the Maverick Wars against Sigma and his underlings. X’s influence is seen through the Zero series (though not being the main protagonist) turning into a cyber elf, still fighting for the greater good, but dying-ish in Mega Man Zero 3. His soul returns in the form of Biometal Model X in the ZX series, continuing in his assistance to the current heroes.
No doubt X’s influence is felt throughout these time periods. His help in defeating Sigma countless times, as well as other threats against the earth cannot be overlooked. But even with all of these points, the developers have not ceased to draw our attention to the real star of the show.
Zero’s the Hero
Was there any doubt when you started reading this article who I would land on as the franchise’s main protagonist? Not only does Zero have a great design, killer moves, and hair that makes all the ladies jealous, but Zero is the central character of the Mega Man franchise as a whole.
First, there is the issue of presence. Of course, Zero is not clearly present in the Legends series (yet), but, once again, the Legends series is so far removed from the rest of the timeline that we must minimize its effect. Zero’s story, as X’s did, begins in the classic series with Wily’s creation of Bass as a rival to Mega Man. Though Bass failed to live up to Wily’s expectations, he studied the energy he had used to create Bass (called Bassnium, lol) to create the ultimate weapon. Here we see Zero’s sinister origins.
Before the events of the first Mega Man X game, Zero is shown to be a maverick (read: “crazed, destructive robot”), unstoppable by any of the Maverick Hunters except Sigma, and only that due to a headache caused by the Maverick Virus, which is released from Zero’s body upon defeat. Sigma has Zero brought back to the Maverick Hunters’ base.
From this point forward, the storyline of the series follows two repeating themes. The first is Zero’s redemption. Though Zero fights for truth, justice, and all that jazz, his primary struggle is against himself. In fact, just about everyone’s struggle from this point on, for the next few hundred years, at least, can be traced back to Zero, either directly, or in the form of the Maverick Virus, or some other “chunk” of Zero that finds its way to a sinister purpose. Sigma, the main villain from the X series, turned evil because he was infected by the Maverick Virus. All of these things set the stage for Zero to not only become the primary hero of the X series (and beyond), but also the primary antagonist, as he must fight to redeem his initial purpose as a weapon of evil and his past (and recurring) destructive actions. X is a hero for good that pretty much stays good. Boring.
The second theme is sacrifice and rebirth. As you may know, Zero dies. He dies A LOT. His deaths are not just the result of his defeats, however, as he routinely sacrifices himself for the greater good (defeating Vile on MMX, Sigma in X5, etc.). But just as the evil part of him is consistently brought back to life by some wicked plot, he always seems to find his way to the land of the living as well. The cycle continues at least through the ZX series, and probably beyond.
The passing of the torch
The last thing I feel I need to address is the “when”. When did the focus shift from Mega Man to Zero? I think the easiest answer is Mega Man X4, as we see a greater, overt emphasis on Zero’s role starting there (X1-3 seem to focus on X, X4-6 focus on Zero, and X7-8 on Axl), but I think we can go back a little further.
At the beginning of the first Mega Man X game, we see X defeated by Vile, and Zero swooping in to save the day. While giving X a pep talk Zero says, “If you use all the abilities you were designed with, you should become stronger…you may even become as powerful as I am.” From this point forward in the game, whenever X gains an armor upgrade, he becomes more and more like, say it with me, Zero (this point is taken from Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson’s Mega Man X Sequelitis video. There is strong language in the video, so follow it at your own risk)! Though X is the central protagonist, becoming like Zero is his ultimate goal. What is the plot of the Second X game? Rebuilding Zero after his heroism in the first game! Even when he is not alive, Zero is given the center stage. Though the plot in X3 does not necessarily revolve around him, he is still given an increasingly important role, as he is finally a playable character, setting the stage for him to be the center of attention for the rest of the series and, after that, the franchise.
So, there you have it. All roads in the Mega Man universe lead to Zero.
P.S. Did I mention that he also appears in the Battle Network timeline as well?
Simeon is a bit of a Mega Man whiz. He’s a speedrunner and all-around know-it-all when it comes to the Blue Bomber. But can Scott scour the internet for obscure details about the franchise to take Simeon by surprise? Watch and see!
“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
In the first-ever installment of Live Show News, we’ve got our crystal balls out to talk about the ~future~ of video games! Wii Shop Channel? Mega Man? 2D Metroid? It’s all here, and discussed by Simeon and Scott!
“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
Note From the Author: The game discussed in this article, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Duel Destinies, has been rated M for Mature (ages 17+) by the ESRB for the following: violence, blood, suggestive themes, and language. That said, this article focuses only on the game’s mechanics and should be appropriate for all audiences. Please use care and caution when deciding what games are right for you and your family.
I typically don’t play story-heavy games during the school year: they take a long time to beat and all of that pesky suspense and intrigue makes them hard to pull myself away from. So when summer rolled around earlier this year, I decided it was high time I got around to playing a game I’ve been meaning to tackle ever since it came out way back in 2013, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.
After slogging through other plot-driven games in the past solely out of pride (I beat games, not the other way around), I figured that I—a busy adult with things to do—simply had grown out of those types of games. As such, I went in to Dual Destinies with fairly low expectations.
It didn’t take me long to remember one crucial piece of information: I like the Ace Attorney series…a lot. This game is no different. While not the strongest entry in the franchise (clumsy writing in places, too much hand-holding, and not nearly enough Trucy Wright), Dual Destinies still managed to impress me, especially where I least expected it: the game mechanics.
The Ace Attorney series is no stranger to introducing new gameplay mechanics and gimmicks, but until Dual Destinies, I honestly can’t think of a game in the franchise that took existing elements and trimmed the fat. Overall, the game has the best pacing and flow of the entire series, which is why I think it’s the perfect candidate for a case study on how to streamline gameplay mechanics. Court is now in session!
Dual Destinies managed to impress me, especially where I least expected it: the game mechanics.
Opening Statement: The Investigation Phase
Cases in the Ace Attorney franchise are generally split into two distinct parts: investigations and court sessions. For anyone not familiar with the franchise, defense attorneys in the Ace Attorney universe are two parts lawyer and one part private investigator. They question witnesses, search for clues, and sneak evidence out of crime scenes when the cops aren’t looking, all to prove their client’s innocence. This portion of the job is represented in gameplay with what’s known as the investigation phase and plays much like a traditional adventure game in the vein of the Monkey Island series or Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. These segments of the game are often the longest, and fittingly, most of the trimming the game does is in these portions.
Defense attorneys in the Ace Attorney universe are two parts lawyer and one part private investigator.
Exhibit A: The Search Command
Like many adventure games, players in Ace Attorney games must search the environment to find items they can use, in this case evidence to prove their client’s innocence. The examine command brings up a cursor that the player can then use to click on objects in the environment to investigate them. Now, not everything the player sees in an area is going to be evidence (Phoenix’s office plant, Mr. Charlie, for instance), and when clicked these objects, instead of advancing the plot, will just trigger some flavor text wherein the protagonist and his plucky sidekick humorously palaver on about the object in question (#TeamStepLadder).
Now, in games prior to Dual Destinies, every location was searchable, even if there wasn’t any evidence there (I’m looking at you Wright & CO. Law Offices). This meant players were expected to search every area. Just because a murder occurred in, say, a public park doesn’t mean the player won’t end up searching an abandoned doctors office for clues on the whereabouts of the true killer’s lost shoes.
In games prior to Dual Destinies, every location was searchable, even if there wasn’t any evidence there.
Dual Destinies improves on this feature in several ways. First, the game limits use of the examine command strictly to crime scenes. This means that there’s only ever one searchable location for the player to worry about at a time, unlike previous games that let the player switch between searching multiple areas, each of which could change depending on event flags. More over, the game now has the courtesy to inform players when they’ve found everything they need, which too often wasn’t clear in previous titles. Lastly, Dual Destinies introduced the ever so subtle—but oh-so-useful—addition of having the cursor take the shape of a check mark if the object being highlighted by the player has already been investigated. Considering that many of the conversations triggered when clicking on something could be quite long, even with fast forwarding, this U.I. feature is something longtime fans can appreciate.
And to top it all of, despite the newly imposed restrictions there’s still plenty of that sweet, sweet flavor text.
Exhibit B: The Travel Menu
Locations in the Ace Attorney series are normally static, disconnected, one-screen “rooms” that the player travels between via selection from a menu. It’s about as utilitarian as it gets, and yet Dual Destinies still managed to smooth out the rough edges. See, for whatever reason, previous games in the franchise had a four option limit on the travel menu, meaning the player could only travel to four other locations from any given area. The way the developers got around this—quite frankly arbitrary—limit was to have each area have its own list of destinations. So, for example, if the player wanted to go from the detention center to the crime scene, they may have to travel to back to Wright’s Office, then to the front door of the building the body was found in, and then to the actual crime scene.
Of course, a sleek, afigimatiko-dynamic game like Dual Destinies isn’t about to put the player through all that for something as simple as getting from point A to point B! Enter the magic that is “scrolling”! With this space-aged technique, players now have the uncanny ability to pick any location from anywhere in the game simply by “scrolling” between options! (Restrictions may apply in accordance to plot demands.)
Exhibit C: The Notebook
Anyone who’s played an old-school adventure game can tell you that the worst thing that’s guaranteed to happen to the player at some point is getting stuck without any clear directions. This is why many modern games of all genres keep an objectives list or provide a character who the player can ask for advice at any time. Unfortunately, until Dual Destinies the Ace Attorney games fell into the old adventure game trap of not always giving the player clear directions on what to do next. To make matters worse, N.P.C.s had an annoying tendency to just up and disappear until the player triggered the right event flag. This led to the player constantly going back and forth after every event to see which N.P.C.s had returned to their post and who had new dialog options.
Dual Destinies introduced an extra section to the court record (basically the player’s inventory screen) for notes—which in this case is more of a checklist than a place for the player to jot down information. Any time the player isn’t sure what to do next, they can just open the court record, hit the notes tab, and be on their way. Admittedly, Dual Destinies’ plot is structured in such a way that the player rarely needs extra input, especially once you factor in the previously listed enhancements, but the handful of times I did need it, I greatly appreciated the fact that I could just hit a few buttons and continue the game instead of wandering around in circles for ten minutes.
Any time the player isn’t sure what to do next, they can just open the court record, hit the notebook tab, and be on their way.
What I hope to get across is how seemingly small changes eventually add up. Small U.I. improvements can help better communicate information to the player, which leads to less time spent on tasks that slow progression. Moreover, limiting when a player can perform certain actions—like investigating their environment—can keep them from getting side-tracked or lost. In Dual Destinies’ case, the end result is the first Ace Attorney game that didn’t have me at a complete loss for what to do next at any point. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, it’s not necessarily the best game in the series (my personal favorite is Apollo Justice), but I will say right here and now that it’s the best structured and paced, all because the developers weren’t afraid to make some compromises regarding many of the accepted, long-standing conventions of the series. I’ll miss you, dear glut of humorous flavor text, but I can’t deny the game’s pacing is better off without you.
About the author:
Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan and has been an Ace Attorney enthusiast ever since he first played Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney back in 2008. His love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming and is currently studying to get a masters in computer science. Despite his name and choice of professions, he is in no way related to Glen Elg.