"How can we suck the fun out of this game?"
"Let's make it turn-based!"
Mega Man returns in the fifth Battle Network game (not including Battle Chip Challenge or Network Transmission). For those of you not in he know, the game revolves around a boy called Lan, and his online companion (PET), Mega Man. They've had a series of adventures involving Net Crime, where virtual terrorists try to cripple society by sabotaging the Internet to cause mayhem in the real world.
As Lan seems to be some kind of human magnet for crime, he gets caught up in yet another evil scheme for some crazy person to dominate the world. When Lan and his friends are visiting Lan's father, the computers suddenly begin to shut down, and during this time, sleeping gas is hurled in and knocks everyone out. A fiend known as 'Regal' enters, steals everyone's PETs (luckily, Lan was in a side room out of view at the time) and kidnaps Lan's father.
The plot sounds moderately exciting, doesn't it? Oh go on, it does. And so is the gameplay -- until a point.
You see, the main gameplay consists of alternating between the real world as Lan, where you explore and interact with characters, and the cyberworld as Mega Man, where you battle viruses and repair machines in the real world. This is the basic concept, and it's been followed for the previous Battle Network games. And it has been entertaining. A new element of play, called 'Liberation Missions', has been added, in order to try and make the game feel 'fresh'. But all they end up doing is making the game a tiresome experience.
Liberation Missions work thusly: Mega Man and a party of other Navis are controlled on a grid-based area. Each character can only move a certain number of steps each turn. The aim is to reach the Boss Navi (called a "Darkloid"). However, it's not just a matter of walking up to them, oh no. The Liberation Areas have certain panels called "Dark Panels". These panels must be "Liberated" (hence the name) in order to progress. You must walk up to a panel and select "Liberate" from a menu. You can either Liberate a single panel, or multiple panels using a special move which costs you "Order Points" (think 'Magic Points' or something similar from an RPG).
Battling also changes for no reason: instead of battling normally, you must complete the battle in three turns or less of the custom bar filling -- otherwise you fail the Liberation and a turn is wasted for that Navi. Viruses also can attack from both sides in Liberation Missions, so you can turn Mega Man using the L and R Buttons. In addition to controlling Mega Man, you can also control other party members, like Protoman, Magnet Man, and so on. Of course, they all control differently from Mega Man, and their own moves must be learned -- and don't forget that each Navi has its own preset chip folder that you need to learn to use.
It all becomes too complex for its own good when you were only previously sorting Mega Man's chip folder and a backup folder. Every Liberation Mission becomes an in-game roadblock, and every time you are told you must perform another one there's a sinking "not again" feeling. The rest of the game suffers incredibly when these missions pop up, as they have about the same heart-pounding pace as teeth extraction.
It's a shame, because if the boss battles were handled with the same pace as they were in the earlier Battle Network games -- that is, regular cyberworld battling as you make your way through tricky puzzles to confront the boss -- rather than the turn-based Liberation Missions that have been shoehorned in, it would have been a fun game. The story is certainly no Dickens, but it's interesting enough to make you want to keep playing.
Battle Network 5 is also the home of one of the strangest crossovers EVER. This game links up, for no apparent reason, to Konami's Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django. Why? Who knows! You can only use the Wireless Adaptor to play the cross-linkup mode, unfortunately. In this mode, both players fight against Shade Man, one playing as Mega Man, the other as Django. As you do damage to Shade Man in your game, you can send "Pesky Bats" to your opponent, which can create enemies, heal Shade Man, or make Shade Man use a special move on your opponent's game. Once you've both finished the battle, you'll earn 'Crossover Points', which can be used to buy special items. It's definitely one of the stranger cross-promotional tie-ins, right up there with Gummi Life Savers in Croc 2.
Mega Man Battle Network 5 can be summed up as follows: It's the same as the previous games, but battling bosses now requires that you slog through a turn-based map before you can reach them. If this sounds appealing to you, then enjoy! For everyone else, either wait for the inevitable next game in the series, or look elsewhere for your RPG kicks.