Friday, October 6, 2017

Mega Man X7 (Playstation 2, 2003)

This is debatably the worst game in the X series. I think Mega Man X6 is more of a chore to play, but it's close. My question is...who is that weird robed hologram in the background of the title screen? It doesn't resemble any of the characters in the game.

 This is our first introduction to Axl, and I think he's supposed to be the new hero of the story. The Mega Man X5 boss name generator being Guns N' Roses references wasn't good enough, we had to get an actual main character named Axl.

He's a reformed thief who got his act together and joined the Maverick Hunters as a rookie. I think he's supposed to be Zero's new partner, since X has retired to office duties (Read: Capcom wants you to play as Axl).

 Unfortunately, his former thief gang, Red Alert, has become essentially a terrorist organization. Or something. Led by this guy, Red, they're doing...stuff, and Axl must now stop his former friends. I guess. Let's get on with it.

 The Eurasia crash of Mega Man X5 has had far-reaching implications in this timeline. In the Mega Man Zero timeline it straight-up destroys civilization and the recovery takes a substantially longer time. Yes, the storyline is still very much diverged post-X5.

 Axl fires a gun, which is just weird. No arm cannon? He's also pretty generic in appearance. The good news is that he can lock onto enemies to fire, which is pretty much a requirement since this game uses 3D fields a good portion of the time.

The whole "rookie maverick hunter" idea has some legs, but they don't really get into it.

 Speaking of 3D fields, the next section of the intro stage switches to a behind-the-back view and you're free to run around in 360 degrees. This is a first for the X series and an interesting idea, but the controls are very sluggish and the gameplay feels a lot slower than previous games.

 The first miniboss is pretty frustrating. You have to shoot these four lights as they turn red, which is supposed to teach you how to switch your lock-on. In practice, the lock-on switch is hard to control here and not something you really need to use in the rest of the game, so this part is a big turnoff.

 lol, Axl is a D-Class Hunter

 Oh no, we're just getting started with this madness.

 The intro stage tries to throw some Mega Man X nostalgia my way with this giant wasp miniboss. At this point I try out the coolest thing about Mega Man X7: The character switch. You can tag your characters in and out at any point during the stages, and each has their own life meter. Zero is much stronger than Axl in terms of offensive output, but he lacks a ranged attack which really hurts his usefulness in this range-reliant game.

 Speaking of about the camera range here? I can't see shit! Luckily the platforming aspects of this game are downplayed a bit, which is good because you can bet you'll be fighting the camera when they do come up.

 Zero speaks for the player. Capcom, I demand an explanation for this!

 There are a fair amount of between-level cutscenes (not animated) and they've got better production value than Mega Man X6 at least. The weird thing is that the characters act like X is missing, when later we find out that X is just running command ops in the other room. It's like the designers couldn't decide what to do with X for this game.

It'd be great if you could play as X from the start, but I kinda understand why they did it the way they did it. This way, when you finally do get X, it means a lot more.

 Ride Chaser, you say? A rail/bike level, you say? ::holds up a cross::

 The first of the eight stages that I tackle is the Deep Forest. Most of the stages in this game are highly gimmicky, but this one is about as close as it gets to a standard 2D Mega Man level. It's a good one to start with.

 There are also a few easy-to-get and important items here that you can reach with Zero's double jump. That's right...Zero can double jump. Axl and X can't. It's super-useful, and makes up a lot for his limited range.

 The boss here Stonekong. Axl interrupts his regular schedule of getting stoned to lecture him on being a Maverick, and the fight is on! One thing this game does well: There are multiple checkpoints throughout the levels, and Game Overing won't set you back to the beginning. You can fight a boss an infinite number of times until you win, for example, without having to re-do anything. This is much-appreciated.

That familiar "WARNING" blare made it into this game, but it's a lot less obnoxious than it was in the PS1 installments.

 This is an interesting 2.5D fight where you run around a circular platform. Makes it a lot easier to avoid the boss since you have essentially an unlimited running surface.

 A major component of this game is rescuing as many Maverick Hunters as you can. It's easier said than done, since a lot of them spawn right next to enemies and if they get hit, they DIE FOREVER. At the end of a stage, dead Hunters appear with an X next to their name, and you basically have to hope that they didn't have anything important. Some of them carry items like health enhancements, while others give you points to spend on abilities. This screen is full of nonessential Hunters (denoted by the green icon), which still count towards getting X. I believe you need to rescue around 60 Hunters to unlock X as playable.

As far as abilities that you can put points towards go, the selection is a bit mundane. In this playthrough I unfortunately wasted two points on Axl's weapon power, which was a mistake since I'm going to switch him out for X as soon as I unlock him. Definitely should put all of your points down on Zero during the first half or so of the game if you're planning to get X, because once Axl uses up points...they're gone.

 Speaking of Axl, he has some cool abilities to copy enemies. Like Kirby!

...I never actually used them on this playthrough, though.

 Next, I take on the Radio Tower stage, which is one twisting room with an obnoxious miniboss raining attacks on you the entire way. If one simply dashes repeatedly/quickly with Zero, one can actually clear most of this level without getting hit (and while also rescuing a lot of Hunters along the way that you barely have time to get to if playing the stage normally).

A note about this level: Because it's essentially one big spiraling staircase, falling into a pit just drops you down a level. It's also possible to double jump with Zero to get to the floor above you if you jump in the right spots (where there's a pit above you). You can skip most of the level this way. 

 The boss here is the second-lamest in the X series. Tornado Tonion has insanely cringe-worthy voice acting that makes Mega Man 8 look like Uncharted 4.

 After he finishes his nonsensical monologue, he flips over and shows us his groin.

............I don't even. If the designers of this game treat it like a joke, the players will too.

Tornado Tonion spins a lot and chases you around. I fought the bosses in a completely random order for this game, since the standard arm cannon is so much better than the special weapons 90% of the time anyway, but it turns out that this guy is weak against Stonekong's shield weapon.

 At this point I took the time to play a bunch of stages just to rescue NPCs and unlock X, who I'll be replacing Axl with from here on out. He's missed out on a lot of powerups, but hopefully he can catch up.

This is like one of those rap videos where a bunch of guests rap and then finally the guy whose song it actually is comes in for like half a verse at the end.

 X's motivation for getting involved is weird. He's also a total pacifist now in the story, so I'm not sure how it'll work out having him destroying a bunch of bosses.

X has the same lock-on ability as Axl. He can't copy enemies, but he can fire a massive charged shot that does significant damage. Nice.

 The next stage I take on is the Battleship, domain of (sigh) Splash Warfly. No relation to Splash Woman, unless they're Chinese.

 The battleship actually comes apart at the seams as you progress, culminating with a miniboss fight against some dragon-heads. Man, Zero's beam saber looks really cool when wielded as he walks around. In the previous games I think it was hidden until he attacked.

Splash Warfly looks like what would happen if Toad used the despair of man to sculpt extras for a Prodigy video.


This is a pretty good duel shot. His battleship can be seen sinking in the background. That's fine with him, because the water is his natural element. Not unlike when Toad basks in the crisp air of the morgue.

Oh God, we're still on this weird-ass DNA stuff.

I remember when the X series was about badass Maverick Hunters fighting an army of renegade reploids. Now it's about a bunch of tired old men scraping DNA off of stuff.

Playing as X means you can find the four Light Capsules scattered throughout the stages. Luckily we're back down to one suit to collect, with each part giving you an individual upgrade. It's a lot better than how the previous game handled this stuff.

In any case, the Boots let X glide through the air for a bit of a distance, which is semi-useful for clearing long pits but not much else.

The whirlwind tour continues, as I nab the buster part. Charging special weapons is less effective than you'd think in this game; the special weapons aren't great to begin with, and charging them usually depletes something like half of their weapon energy.

Here's another problem with this game: Every time you try to do anything on the slow, plodding menu screens, you get a slow, plodding confirmation message from Alia. Are you SUUUUUUURE you want to do the only thing you can do at this point? And the cursor starts on No, so you'll frequently accidentally back up and have to re-plod your way through text in your efforts to get to the stage select and move on.

The Air Force level is my least-favorite. You spend it jumping from jet to jet while dealing with turbulence. This is a great idea in theory, but the camera and controls of this game make it a huge chore of a level.

The second half of the level has you back on solid ground, which is a bit better...except that the camera insists on zooming right up on you way too often here.

Dr. Light scattered these capsules all over the world in places where X would happen to fight, and yet he actually had some hope that X would never need to use any of them. You're as gullible as OG Mega Man!

This capsule has the Armor, which seems to diminish the damage X takes. It also gives him the Giga Attack, which functions similarly to Mega Man X2 here. You can use it once every so often to damage everything on screen, and it recovers as you take damage. Unlike X2, here it's actually very powerful; it's especially useful against bosses.

X says something about being a pacifist and whoever this guy is mocks him for it. I can't remember his name, so I'll just make one up in five seconds. It's about as much time and thought as Capcom put into these boss names: Diver Peacockbirder.

Wind Crowrang is slightly challenging since he dive-attacks out of nowhere, but once you realize how short-range his attacks really are, it's easy to dash out of the way and clip him after he does an attack.

Axl whines about his selfish friends and how they only care about their own power-ups. ...........yeahhhhh.

 Road Boarski? That son of a bitch Vladimir Putin! Now he's hacking Capcom's Stupid Boss Name Generator!

A loud ticking timer can be heard counting down as X Bauer tries to find THE BOMB.

The ride chaser stage isn't too bad as it turns out. There aren't any pits, you only have to collect bombs from the track that are all out in the open, and there are a ton of NPCs to rescue. Here's-a Mario, for instance.

The boss name-drops Punk from the classic series in what may well be the biggest classic series reference in Mega Man X7. No, seriously, they've completely de-linked the two by this point.

Boarski is fast and furious.

We cut to Red, the guy from Red Alert. A mysterious figure who is clearly Sigma appears and mentions how formidable Red is. An alliance is born! Man, they're really out of ideas at this point. To further muddy things, the shadowy figure refers to himself as "The Professor" for the whole game, which potentially conjures images of Dr. Wily. Of course, this game has nothing to do with Wily, unless Sigma and Wily have finally consummated their unholy union and become one. Naw, they just completely dropped that thread.

Snipe Anteator (sic)'s stage is sorta a 3D version of that trippy last stage of Mega Man X5. can flip the stage over, and doing so lets you reach various spots that are otherwise blocked-off. I'll need to revisit this to get the Helmet Upgrade.

Snipe Anteator (sic) makes a reference to Zero's "true mission" and his "deeper programming". I.E. his mission from Wily to destroy X. This has nothing to do with anything anymore.

Zero unleashes hell with the Z-Saber! I've found that a good way to wreck most of these bosses is just to wail on them with Zero from just outside their hitboxes and hope for the best.

Sigma and Red have an evil meeting! Sigma thinks that Axl's powers would be better served...working for the dark side. Could this story thread be going somewhere?* It'd be awesome if Sigma were planning to capture Axl and use him as a new body for Dr. Wily's program.

* - No, of course not.

I revisit the stage to grab the Helmet Capsule, which lets X absorb health capsules from further away. With that, the armor suit is complete, and...

...for some weird reason you can now choose between fully-armored X and not-armored-at-all X on the stage select. Weird. Not sure why anyone would want to downgrade back down to no-upgrades X at this point.

The next stage has pretty cool music, so here's a link. I'm talking about...

...the Tunnel Base, a weird underground facility with green acid everywhere.

Vanishing (sigh) Gungaroo is a two-part fight, as he starts the battle in a ride armor. Luckily the player gets to bring a ride armor too, so the battle is even. When you fight this guy later on you don't have the benefit of bringing a ride armor, and he ends up being one of the toughest boss rematches.

This is a good opportunity to show off Zero's strongest attack. As usual, it's his rising slash, and in this one it's a wind/electric elemental whirlwind. This is executed by special-attacking while dashing, which can cause some grief, but it does a ton of damage.

Speaking of super attacks, here's X's Giga Attack. It's pure carnage!

Winning that fight got me a pretty cool-looking Zero ability. Unfortunately in practice the beam is much smaller than it looks here and only travels a couple feet.

Sigma pretty much takes control of Red Alert at this point and Red seems to be rethinking his alliance.

::record scratching sound:: But wait! I have one boss left to fight, and he's the most vile and despicable of all Mega Man bosses. Gird your loins, because fighting Flame Hyenard can cause legitimate mental breakdown.

Like many of the other stages, this one is divided into two sections. First you've got a straightforward 2D section with some easy-to-get items.

Second, you've got a 3D section full of instant-death lava. Given that enemies send you flying through the air when they hit you, this section is an awful source of death.

So you're that Hyenard, indeed.

I hope you fully girded your loins when I told you to, because NOW IT'S TOO LATE. Behold, Flame Hyenard.

...don't ever bother with this game.

With all eight bosses defeated, we go through the usual routine of locating the fortress of the big bads. It isn't much of a fortress this time around, so we're bringing this one to a close quickly.

The first stage is kinda cool: Palace Road. It's located somewhere on the east side of Siberia, and has you running down a crumbling highway while being chased by a giant mech.

The music here is good, too.

After a couple sections of fleeing, you finally get to battle the mech one-on-one and it's the easiest boss in the game. Moving on...

After a short, highly-forgettable second stage, we find Red. This guy is essentially the Vile/Agile/Doppler/Gate of this game, but I can't say he's particularly memorable. I thought he was turning good earlier, but I guess not. Let's get this over with.

More references to The Professor. When I first played this in 2003 I probably got momentarily excited at the prospect of Wily making an appearance in this one every time The Professor came up.

...also, it makes zero sense to call Sigma "The Professor".

Red is possibly the most difficult boss you'll find in this game, but he isn't that bad once you realize how repetitive he is. The double-ended scythe is a really cool idea. This fight and Flame Hyenard are the only bosses I needed to use a Sub-Tank on, and it's important to note that once you use a tank on this fight you need to be very careful to actually win the fight after that. Fail (twice) and you'll be out of Sub-Tanks and essentially stuck at the fight.

Red talks to Axl and falls into a pit.

Axl wants to help his old friend, but no avail.

Finally, the last stage. Yep, the fortress only has three stages. Two of them are super-short, too. This third and final stage goes on for a while, but it has constant checkpoints so it isn't difficult.

The boss capsule room isn't the usual. It looks more like something from a Persona game, with coffins denoting the boss warps and creepy music playing. Does this mean the bosses are reanimated corpses at this point? Damn you, Sigma!

Our heroes finally learn the identity of The Professor!'s Sigma.

Yep, we're back at this well again.

The good news: The music that plays during the Sigma fight may well be the best Sigma battle music in the entire X series. Holy shit!

One last Warning blare. You fight Sigma on an elevator here that seems to be rapidly dropping. Not sure what the story is there but it makes for a really cool visual.

Sigma is weird in this one. He wields a big gun and fires shots that bounce off the walls while sluggishly walking around the room. Between this and Axl, I'm not sure what the X7 dev obsession with guns was all about.

He also transforms into a gun! This laser is super-devastating, but he telegraphs it so much that it's pretty much impossible to get hit by it.

Defeat that form and he transfers into a giant, Gamma-like body. I guess we're up in space now. It's important to not use a Sub-Tank against his first form because A) It is totally unnecessary once you learn his patterns and B) Once you're at this second form, dying will put you right back at this fight.

This is a trickier fight for sure, and it's possible to need a Sub-Tank to finish it. Then again, I didn't.

The main threat here are his Superman Punches, which are tough to dodge and take off like 40% of a character's health. If you see the punch coming and step out of the way, you can switch to Zero and wail on him with the saber a bit after the attack.

Fight over. As far as Mega Man final bosses go, that was one of the easier ones. I basically did the whole fight with X and used Zero to slash him after Superman Punches.

We get a cutscene that is surprisingly well-done for this game. It's animated and everything! Axl turns in horror to see...

...My God! Sigma still isn't dead!

We get some pans over his decrepit, falling-apart body.

He tells us what we already know while twitching and crumbling.

Well, all things considered... as much as I'd like to see the story move forward and give us something with Wily... fighting Sigma until the end of time isn't the worst thing either.

Red, apparently not dead, arrives to help Sigma. Not sure what's going on here, but I think Sigma tried to possess Red's body or absorb it or something. Red, in turn, Does The Right Thing and blows up, taking Sigma with him.

The rookie hunter, reeling from a concussion, points out that he too did stuff.

The final shot leaves us with Zero having a premonition of Future X stuttering and going on about Mavericks. This is without a doubt the evil X from Mega Man Zero, in what appears to be some kind of weird half-assed attempt to link this game to that new series. Why? They're on completely divergent story paths. At this point the story of these X games is essentially a shambling husk of what they developed in X1-X5, lurching along because they don't know what else to do with this series.

Stay tuned for Mega Man X8, when they kinda remembered how to make a good game.

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