Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mega Man X4 (Playstation, 1997)

For the first time ever, I cover the X series debut on the original Playstation. This was RAD when it first dropped. Does it stand the test of time? Either way, it's more fun than Mighty No. 9.




We begin with some anime cutscenes. This was cutting-edge in 1997; the Super NES definitely couldn't do it. X and Zero get equal billing for the first time in this game, which remains the status quo for the remainder of the series.

The villains of this game are Repliforce, led by the General (seen here). Not sure why they're seig-heiling, that seems a bit on the nose.

Repliforce is actually not villainous; they're sorta the military of the Reploids. I think. The story of his game isn't very clear. The problem is that Repliforce are at odds with the Maverick Hunters due to the machinations of some evil force.

Luckily, X is here to get to the bottom of this situation...by calling people mavericks!

I bet the evil scheming manipulator is that hooded guy in the background. Also seen in this shot are the Colonel (the General's right-hand man), Iris (Colonel's sister...uh...yeah) and Double (the little yellow bugger). Double is a Maverick Hunter who radios in from the base, sorta the Chloe to X's Jack Bauer.

That doesn't matter though, because I'm playing Zero all the way here. It took four games to get a playable Zero for the full game, and I'm not missing it.

We start with a cutscene of Zero dreaming. That's right, these robots dream. Still not sure how far they are from being human, since they're clearly fully self-aware and sentient.

Zero has a vision of Dr. Wily, telling him to destroy X.

"DOOOOO ITTTTTT" he says. He's much taller and more realistically proportioned than he was in the classic series.

Tried to catch anything interesting that might be hidden in this cutscene, but there aren't many clues. We do see this image in the lab that indicates Wily knows Zero's inner workings, if we weren't sure.

Zero proceeds to lose it and clutch his head as Wily's programming tries to take over.

This Wily is WAY more menacing than the original series version of the character. Yikes. Question is...what form is he still around in now? It's a question without an answer. More on that in the Mega Man X5 post.

Start the game as X and you get a different, also-menacing cutscene.

Some shadowy figure - who is CLEARLY Sigma so why the subterfuge - is talking to...

...General, the leader of Repliforce. The shadowy figure is trying to turn Repliforce and the Maverick Hunters against each other for fun and profit.

The game begins!

Zero is as awesome as you'd expect, swinging a beam saber to annihilate enemies. He's also very stylish in the process. The only problem is that he's very much a melee fighter in this game, so he suffers in situations where you might need range attacks.

Zero runs into the Storm Eagle of this game: Magma Dragoon is a Maverick Hunter who has gone Maverick himself. He causes this flying ship to crash into a city, then acts like he doesn't know what's going on. Pretty sure he was the one responsible though. Also, flying ships crashing into cities? You'd never see this a few years later.

This is a catalyzing event for Zero to try and get to the bottom of things. Repliforce is also on the scene investigating, but as far as the Maverick Hunters can tell, Repliforce had something to do with it.

Anyway, enough plot, because here's another of the new innovations in this game: A giant, blaring WARNING sign before bosses. I could do without this, but it sorta grew on me over time. The rest of the X series has it.

The first boss is this dragon. Not only is it very impressive-looking (especially compared to the big bosses in the first three games), but it also has unique music that doesn't play anywhere else in the game:

This track would have been a good battle theme for the Repliforce leaders, not sure why it only plays here.

Speaking of Repliforce, Zero encounters Captain here. They're both suspicious of the other, leading to the rift that Sigma(?) wanted.

General proceeds to get some primo airtime to rile up the people: Repliforce is going to war. Well, that escalated quickly.

Sigma, meanwhile, watches all of this happen and cackles. How did he get a new body? Didn't his core get destroyed in Mega Man X3? Did Wily build this one for him, like what happened in the next game? What exactly happened in the first few minutes of this game? Did Repliforce think the Maverick Hunters brought down the ship because Dragoon was one of them? If so, doesn't that mean Repliforce is sorta in the right for calling out the Maverick Hunters, while Zero is essentially asking them to disarm and surrender to a group that to them appears evil?

The plot thickens further, as it seems Zero is in love with Captain's sister, Iris. This...is pretty weird. As things stand now, Zero needs to go and start taking out a bunch of mavericks that have appeared, as is tradition.

Stage select. We've got an interesting selection in this one: Aside from Fire, Ice, and a jet bike level, there are some rarer level types. There's a train level (that is waaaay better than the similar level in Mighty No. 9) and a few other very distinct levels. The bosses tend to be very distinct and memorable, too. Frost Walrus is the largest regular boss in the X series, making Flame Mammoth and Mega Man X3's bigger bosses look small in comparison. Split Mushroom is Gemini Man 2.0, following the same attack patterns throughout the battle.

I take on this traitorous bastard first. After he destroyed the city, he hid in a volcano. What a rodent.

This is a fairly simple fire level with snazzy music. The music in this game tends to be very upbeat for the most part.

Oh, the reason it says "irregular hunters" above is that the Maverick Hunters have that name in the Japanese version of the game. Mavericks are called "irregulars".

The stages are split into halves in this game; this means that running out of lives during the second half of a stage only sets you back to the halfway point rather than the beginning. This was a MUCH needed change. The levels started getting too long in Mega Man X3 and they're even longer here. Now it's fine since we have these checkpoints. The two halves tend to be pretty different from each other too.

One interesting thing about Dragoon's stage is that you can get a ride armor towards the end. Hold onto this until the boss fight and you can bring it in with you, something I always wished you could do in the earlier games.

Zero talks to Dragoon. Yep, there are conversations before the boss fights, yet another first for the series. This game sure does have a lot of story, which is fine by me. I wish it were well-translated, though.

Do as much damage as possible before the ride armor expires, because this guy is TOUGH with Zero. He's very much a boss that they designed for a ranged fight, and Zero obviously can't do that.

After a few tries, I BARELY win this one. I feel pretty confident in saying that the game is harder with Zero than with X, but it's so fun that it's worth it. The most difficult part for either character is simply breaking into the boss circle.

This attack is a rising fire slash, and is almost definitely the best attack in the game for Zero. It's the reason I took on Dragoon first.

The next stage I take on is Cyber Peacock. This is probably the easiest stage in the game, but it's built around speed-running. The enemies are mostly just here to slow you down.

There are several sections in the stage that are timed, and getting a good time results in an S ranking for that section. This leads to equipment for X and Heart/Sub-Tanks for either character.

The first Sub-Tank is earned in the last section. That's one of two; this game has half the Sub-Tanks of the earlier games. Luckily...it's a lot easier than any of those games.

"Brother Zero! I knew you'd come!"

Cyber Peacock is a vicious bird. He's probably a difficult boss without his weakness, which is...

...the fire slash. This move essentially stunlocks him and makes him the easiest boss, in addition to having the easiest stage. Thanks for the Sub-Tank, moving on. Victory gets Zero the Giga Attack, which sends energy balls in all directions.

 It's the only Zero weapon that actually uses weapon energy; the energy refills as you take damage AND as you collect weapon energy, so it's full most of the time. Unfortunately the Giga Attack isn't very powerful. It can clear weak enemies out at least.

Next I take on Split Mushroom, who lurks at the top of a giant winding staircase. The backgrounds are very three-dimensional at times like this in a way that the SNES games couldn't really pull off.

Somewhat challenging miniboss halfway through the stage. It destroys portions of the floor until eventually you have very little room to stand on.

Split Mushroom is Gemini Man 2.0, as I mentioned before. He has a great battle arena, with the moon looming overhead. He doesn't look like much, but I found this fight more difficult than any of the other regular stage bosses. It was difficult to keep track of two targets at once and respond to their attacks.

Zero doesn't really have weakness weapons to use, either. You're pretty much using the same regular beam saber attacks against most of the bosses. Two of them are weak to the fire slash, but for the most part the rest are all on the same level of weakness-lacking. The few that have weaknesses to other weapons also tend to be very hard to hit with said weapons to the point that it gets rendered moot.

In any case, defeating Split Mushroom gets you the double jump. That's right, Zero can double jump in this game, much like Bass in some of his games. Not only that, but you also gain a very powerful spin attack in midair. It covers a lot more space than the original jumping attack and does more damage. In essence, it's a Screw Attack.

I take on Storm Owl's stage next. There's a new ride armor here with ranged attack capability...and lots of flying ships in the background that look like giant fish.

Storm Owl is a wee fellow, much like Split Mushroom. The Giga Attack makes very short work of him since it stuns him. I guess that's one boss that is weak to something besides the fire slash...

Victory here gets you a purple beam saber that can destroy most enemy shots. Supposedly it's more powerful now in terms of damage output, but I can't say for sure.

At this point if you're playing as X, I believe you have to fight Colonel as a mid-way boss. As Zero, the fight takes place in cutscene and you quickly get back to the eight mavericks. Interesting.

I go after Jet Stingray next. I was afraid to do it at first because jet bike levels tend to be so painful in these games, but it was fine. Much easier than most of the series' rail levels.

The second half of the stage puts you outside as Jet Stingray himself gives chase. The second Sub-Tank is found here, and it's fairly easy to get. That makes two and a complete set.

I used to think Jet Stingray was difficult. His weakness is the downward ice-slash, which is hard to hit with; I'd always use this and struggle a bit. This time I stayed on the ground and did simple jumping slashes. It worked wonders, didn't even take a hit. That would have been much easier than fighting Magma Dragoon first. Victory here gets me the air dash, a fairly crucial ability for situational dodging.

Web Spider is the next one. This guy lurks in the jungle, which has some more rad music.

Here's the Giga Attack in action as I burn my way through some wooden barriers to get a Heart Tank. So far it appears that all of the power-ups in this game can be obtained the first time you run through their stage even without powerups (with a couple of exceptions that require Zero's double jump). I like this because it largely eliminates the need to keep track of what stages still need to be revisited. That can be fun too though if one is in a micromanagey mood. This is one of the things Mega Man X3 did very well: It'd tell you which stages still had which items in them. If you could tell apart the barely-different colors of the font, that is.

Web Spider likes to move off the screen and come back with ensnaring web attacks. As far as I know, there's no relation to Bospider.

Victory here gets you one of the cooler attacks in the game: Raijingeki (Lightning Stab, I think). This is a potent thrust (hee hee). Unfortunately it renders Zero immobile so it isn't actually that useful, but it can rack up multiple hits on a boss when used situationally in a spot where the boss is locked in some animation. Works well against Magma Dragoon, for instance, since his animations tend to go on for a while.

Frost Walrus' stage begins with a shot of a frozen Blizzard Buffalo in the background. As someone who wasn't crazy about Mega Man X3, I like seeing this. Another great stage theme here, very fitting for the icy visuals.

I love ice levels in games. Probably my favorite level type. This one is super-atmospheric and still looks better than Mighty No. 9's ice level two decades later.

The miniboss here is some sort of icy claw. It's one of the more interesting enemies in the game; unfortunately the fire slash makes short work of it. It's noteworthy that Chill Penguin is frozen in the background of this room. Too bad Mega Man X2 didn't have any ice bosses to freeze.

Frost Walrus is huge, but he's slow enough that you can vault off the wall and over his head pretty easily. Other than that...stuff happened. He's a walrus, and he's frosty.

Oh, fire slash OWNS THIS GUY.

Definitely the most memorable fight in this game out of the eight bosses. At least, I think so. Great stage, great boss, and I was looking forward to dishing out fire slashes on him.

Victory there gets you the polar opposite of the fire slash: The ice slash. Rather than rising into the air, this attack is a drop-down stab. It isn't anywhere near as useful as the fire slash, unfortunately. Jet Stingray is weak to it, but as I mentioned he's easier to defeat with normal attacks. This move is simply difficult to hit with.

Next up is the Military Train. Not only does it have nice backgrounds, it's fast-moving and fun. I think it might have my favorite stage theme out of any of the eight, too.

The music is synonymous with ride armor clanking for me because you spend a lot of the stage in a ride armor.

The boss here is Slash Beast, the werewolf form of Slash Man from Mega Man 7. He's probably the most difficult boss for me besides Split Mushroom simply because he hits so hard. Luckily he spends a lot of time standing around growling repeatedly. He's like a Mortal Kombat II boss, his weakness is that he talks too much.

The special move gained here is...one of the more useless ones. It's a dash-slash. Probably good for speedrunners who are zipping through everything, but I found that it didn't do enough damage to most enemies to one-shot them and thus resulted in my taking hits more often than not. Yeah, didn't really use this one.

With the eight bosses defeated (Already? Yep) it's time to head to the fortress levels. This game has the shortest set of fortress levels in the entire X series. While most of the X games have 3-4 full-sized levels and a short final level, this one has 2 below-average-sized levels and a short final level.

The first one is the Spaceport, seen here. Zero takes the fight to Repliforce while giant fish-ships fly by in the background.

After a stage that is both quick and unmemorable (...aside from the giant fish ships) Zero finds himself face-to-face with the Captain. It's beam saber versus beam saber, but will Zero be able to kill the brother of the woman he loves? .............err, wait, what

"This is why I'm the Captain!" screeches Captain as he no-sells Zero's ice slash. Man, that move is terrible. It could have been rad, too.

Regardless, this fight is one of the tougher ones in the game until you realize that he has a very basic pattern. He does have a massive amount of health for some reason, taking more hits than any other boss in the game. Most bosses in Mega Man X4 take surprisingly few hits to defeat with Zero, so this guy was a bit jarring. He's easier with X, like many other bosses.

After that, it's onto stage 2: The orbital satellite of Repliforce. The miniature Stage 3 also takes place on said satellite. This place has good music, as is final stage tradition.

Zero encounters Iris at this point...and she has NOTHING TO LIVE FOR because her brother was slain by Zero. He can apologize until he turns blue and it won't make any difference. It's a tragic story of two would-be lovers caught on different sides of a conflict.

.....okay, this is just a little cringe-worthy because of the whole "they're robots" thing, but I'm trying to roll with it.

The actual fight with Iris is very weird. She's in an invincible ride armor, ala Vile Mk1. However, if you whack the armor enough, a crystal emerges and floats around that you can attack to damage her. It's a difficult fight unless you're super-aggressive with your onslaught.

"Win" and Iris dies, leaving us with the most famous cutscene from this game as Zero wonders what he's fighting for. This would have more impact if it were better translated/voiced. ...and if they weren't robots. Then again, maybe being robots makes it more impactful, since it's a Tin Man effect of them feeling something they shouldn't be able to feel.

Iris was just the mid-point boss of the stage. We're up in space now, and faced with a wall of spikes. Good thing Zero can double jump. Not sure how X deals with this obstacle. Don't worry, X fans, I'll play as him again for the next game in the series and probably the one after that too. Mega Man X4 really had to go to Zero since it's his big debut.

Before I continue, let's take a quick look at X. This stage is a little bit divergent if you're playing as him.

First of all, Double, that rotund guy from the intro...well, he has two forms, hence Double. He's also a spy for Sigma, hence...Double. If you're playing as Zero, this guy never even factors into the game, but if you're playing as X, Double gets bullied and freaks out, murdering a bunch of...humans? I don't know, they look like they might be bots, except for all the blood.

The fight with Double has unique music. As far as Sigma lieutenants go, he's no X-Hunter or Vile.

 You can see regular blue X above, but as usual he can collect four equipment upgrades that amp up his appearance and abilities. There's an arm cannon upgrade that gives him the super charged shot seen above; it's probably the best version of the X-Buster in the series. It's definitely worth playing this game as X in addition to Zero, even though Zero is the new must-play superstar character.

One can enter codes to play as Ultimate Armor X or Black Armor Zero, as if the game weren't easy enough. Ultimate X is incredibly powerful, while Black Zero isn't noticeably more powerful than regular Zero...maybe he takes less damage.

Ultimate X on the other hand has the strongest attack in the entire series, a body-crash Giga Attack that can knock off 25% of a boss' health in one shot. It's so much fun to use. I wonder if this attack is the genesis of Mighty No. 9's dash-based fighting. This armor, and ability, both return in Mega Man X5 to give extra longevity to that game. Ultimate X is like playing a New Game + on blast processing.

Moving on, here's my least-favorite fight in the game with Zero. The General is massive and can only be damaged with strikes to the head; this, as it turns out, is very difficult to pull off with Zero.

It's possible to hang off the wall and strike him from there. Another possibility is to double-jump over him as he flies across the room, dishing out a screw attack to clip him as you go by. Either way, it's a drawn-out and tedious fight. X has an easy time with this because he can just leap out from the other wall and fire shots across the room at General's head.

In other news...how generic are these names? "Captain"? "General"?

After defeating Iris and General, it's on to the final stage. This one consists of the eight Maverick reduxes, plus the final boss. It's the most difficult stage in the game, by far. Some of the bosses are still difficult for me, like Split Mushroom (for some reason) who I had to use a Sub-Tank on. I like the new background for Magma Dragoon here; all of the bosses now have various space backgrounds.

There's almost nothing here as far as stage layout goes - it's just the capsule room and the final room. Luckily there's a checkpoint between them and a way to refill Sub-Tanks at said checkpoint. You're pretty much set up. I recommend fighting the bosses that you have the most trouble with first, because if you have to use a tank you can refill it while fighting all the other bosses. As is tradition, you get an energy capsule after each boss, and unlike earlier X games, they refill your Sub-Tanks regardless of whether you're full on current energy or not. GREAT change.

Moving on from the capsule room and across the checkpoint, we encounter the final boss. Who is this shadowy reaper?

...it's Sigma, in his most malevolent form yet. Luckily, he only has two moves. He'll do one of them twice, then the third one. It's very easy to defeat him without taking a single hit, since the fire slash will stop him in his tracks on the move he does twice. Do that twice, then go to the left and climb the wall to jump over his other move, the scythe-drag seen here. Then repeat. It's extremely simple.

Defeat the reaper form and you get Sigma in a more traditional form. This fight can be either very easy or very hard, depending on your approach. He'll throw his scythe like a boomerang once, then throw it into the wall or floor near you. Always make sure he throws it into the wall on the second move, since that'll result in him using his easy-to-dodge attacks as a followup. If he throws the scythe into the floor, good luck, because his followup attacks are brutal in that case.

Again, it's an easy fight once you figure out how to manipulate the AI.

The problem is, Sigma's third and final form can be a doozy. There are two components to this fight: A giant head on the left and a weird gun-emplacement on the right. The head, seen here, is the biggest problem for Zero. You basically end up having to trade hits with him every time he appears, and you WILL need both Sub-Tanks to win. If you don't take any hits against his first two forms (entirely possible if you exploit their patterns) or the other half of this fight, it's possible to beat the giant head with one Sub-Tank.

The other half of the final battle. He switches between these forms every few seconds, and each one has different attacks. This side of the fight is easier to beat with Zero, while the head is easier to beat with X.

Zero can jump up and over the gun to strike the machine in the head; most parts of the gun don't even damage you if you go through them, so meleeing this guy works wonders. Very easy fight, but alas, there's still the other half to worry about.

After that victory, a battered General shows up again to save the day by making sure that the satellite doesn't crash into a populated area (which was Sigma's final endgame). RIP, General. He realized he was being manipulated too late to stop the conflict, but at least he was able to save a bunch of lives at the end.

Cutscene with the station blowing up and Zero sailing to safety.

This was a traumatic journey for him, to say the least.

He has more Iris flashbacks and laments a lot. That concludes Mega Man X4, definitely one of the better installments in the series. It tells a story and doesn't really have any missteps. Later games tried to do too much and messed things up, but this one succeeds by keeping things simple. Being able to play as Zero for the first time is very novel and exciting here.

That said, I think Mega Man X5 is the best of the three PSX games in the series in terms of gameplay/story/controls/bosses/art direction/visuals. Playing them back-to-back, it definitely seems that way. The only problem is that Alia absolutely ruins your first run through the game, and that problem alone is enough to move it below Mega Man X4 on enjoyment level.

The good news is that Alia only talks on your first run through any given stage. I've heard of people playing through the eight regular stages and quitting out of them before the boss fight just to eat up all of the Alia interruptions, then playing through the game normally once this task is done. I'd definitely keep a save with all of the Alia dialogue out of the way and load that up every time I wanted to replay the game. The fact that we have to do any of this is ridiculous though.

As for Mega Man X6... it falls short of the other two PSX games by a wide margin, except for one metric: The soundtrack. It has what might be the best soundtrack in the entire X series, something most series fans seem to agree on. So that adds a lot to it, plus they fixed the Alia issues. It's a lot like Mega Man X3 in that while I don't like it as much as the two predecessors, it's still more Mega Man and it's decent enough that I'm glad it exists. I'll cover this one soon enough.

In other news, I think I know why Mighty No. 9 wasn't very good: No Bamboo.




1 comment:

  1. That's exactly how I put it, the game is harder as Zero, but more fun. Until the final boss at least, that's much easier as Zero.

    Being able to use a Ride Armor for a boss is really cool, and it's probably a deliberate help for fighting Magma Dragoon as Zero. You have to win the rematch all on your own though.

    The split in Frost Walrus even has different music for each half.

    Cyber Peacock's theme is godlike, and he's an example of a number of the bosses that had their weakness changed to something Zero could hit it with. The lack of such a weakness change is one of the reasons Magma Dragoon is so damn hard.

    The best thing about the ice stab is that you can use the fire slash to propel yourself into the air, then come back down with ice. So much fun.

    Really, as long as they have sentience it doesn't matter that they're robots, theoretically they can feel however they're inclined to feel about anyone or anything else. That's probably the only part of this whole little story arc that's made more sense as I got older, as most of the rest is a mess from execution/localization. At least it's hilariously bad, and the Iris theme is a fantastic song in a game full of them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3fwy92svjU

    Oh, and the best part is that Zero completely freaks out over a robot dying as if they can never be fixed or otherwise come back. ZERO. Zero to whom death holds less meaning than a Dragon Ball Z character!

    ...well, maybe he was on to something as she never did come back, nor did anything from this game ever get referenced again as the follow-ups took things in a different direction. At least Iris got to have one more appearance in Mega Man Xtreme 2.

    If I remember right X gets over that spike wall with the Split Mushroom power.

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