Alright, this time around I’m going back to this particular article series’ roots again by jumping on top of something very topical for this past week. I’m going straight back into video game lore. On December 4th on the official Twitch channel for Capcom, CapcomUnity, they did a livestream announcing the future of the Mega Man series with Mega Man 11 – the first new title in the series in 7 years (game collections and cameos don’t count). “Ok Alex, thats nice and all and I can get that you are probably a huge fan of the series. But what the flying fuck does a fighting robot have to do with Men’s Righ….oh… Male disposability, soldier’s trauma and PTSD. Gotcha!” Ah good, you are learning.
Now considering that the metaseries has several iterations and from 30 years I feel that I need to denote which ones I’ll be covering for this as not all of them approach the same issues. As such this review will cover the main timeline of games. This includes an overview of Mega Man 1-10, Mega Man X 1-8 with Command Mission, Mega Man Zero, and Mega Man ZX. Mega Man Legends is considered to be the same timeline but millennia after the original games. However, its so far removed from the timeline that it can be contextually seen as a different world overall. Battle Network and Star Force are also their own timeline so they will not be touched upon here. The reason I’m going to touch upon ZX is it still has some connection to the original games and has shown essentially the fusion of humanity and reploid which we’ll touch upon when we get to it. With that all framed up and an understanding that I’m not going to avoid spoilers because there is no reason to claim you can’t access any of these games as they are on just about everything, Let’s Hammer this In!
In universe the first games occur within a span of a few years in is 20XX, the placeholder date for the series. This was originally shown as 200X in the NES games. However, the intent was to show that the idea that this takes place sometime within the 21st century, meaning that the tech in the Mega Man universe is supposed to be plausible in a science fiction sense. Considering that Mega Man’s Buster and Weapon Copy technology is supposed to be considered forms of nano-technology this makes sense and with how quickly we have developed tech in the past century of science fiction being prominent in the public eye.
The basis of the initial games is that the team of Dr. Thomas Light and Dr. Albert Wily have worked together to create the Robot Masters archetype. Robots on their own had existed before this point but they have been limited AI constructs that while they could learn still had a lot of trouble making judgements and using their own sense of self to make decisions on site, and as such required a lot of human influence and control since they don’t have proper sentience. Therefore the soon to be warring scientists designed Blues – also known as Proto Man, an advanced artificially intelligent robot with an experimental tool and weapon system that is now known as a ‘buster’. His specifically is called the Proto Buster. Thing is, Blues ends up developing too much of his own sense of self and when there was a defect in his personal power core he was so afraid of not coming back online he refused to be powered down for repairs, running away and performing his own self maintenance.
Rock, the titular Mega Man, and his sister Roll, were made more docile and humble than their much more willful brother. Once the kinks were worked out with them the two roboticists made the first six mass-producible Robot Masters that become the bosses of the first game of the series. Then Dr. Wily realized the military capacities of the more specialized equipment of the mainline masters. He then reprogrammed them and tried to use them to take over the city within which they lived. Rock, not having equipment at the beginning, being a lab assistant, showed his first parallel to being an adult human male: The will to give of one’s self for the sake of others by requesting to be modified into an advanced fighting robot. Using the upgraded armor and arm buster known from that point as the Mega Buster (Rock Buster in Japan) he can copy the equipment of other Robot Masters and use them against his opponents.
After Mega Man takes out the original 6 Light developed Robot Masters, Wily proceeds with his own for two games. Then for the second three games he uses an alias or proxies to push his agenda of world domination by robotic armies under his command. In the order of Dr. Cossack via kidnapping his daughter, Proto Man by making an imposter of him, and finally using the alias of ‘Mr. X’ to take over Robot Masters sent in for a formal tournament by hacking them in a way similar to how he hacked Dr. Light’s original units. He then spends two games going back to his own designs before taking units in the ninth game and talking them into resisting in order to fight for their lives because they were due to be disposed of. Then in the tenth game the Robot Masters are sent into a frenzy by a computer virus developed by Dr. Wily that resembled influenza. Perhaps it is being used as a premise to the Maverick Virus that is prominent in the following X series we will jump into in a moment.
To finish up on this front what we know so far about 11 is very slim and will concern an upgrade being made to Mega Man as a whole. This is also paired with the Power Battle games along with Mega Man and Bass which go into a mix of side story nonsense along with hinting at the future of the franchise with hints of the designs of both X and Zero, which are being developed at the latter end of the series. With these seminal games we are shown a Pinocchio-like figure in Rock who deep down wants to help everyone. Even after he is converted to a mechanical soldier he considers (at times naively) that fighting should be a last resort. That he will try his best to talk down his opponents first instead of just outright blowing them up.
Also it is highly implied, though not confirmed through the franchise, that most of the robots are programmed with Asimov’s Three Laws. However the sense of danger comes from the thought that Wily’s programming supercedes those laws in his own numbers, and through the viruses he creates. The struggle of the laws is depicted near the end of the seventh installment when Mega Man considers breaking the first law for the sake of the greater good but doesn’t because his will to be the better person – the better man shows itself to be stronger than the desire to give in to base desires. Overall it proves that even something as inhuman as a robot can achieve the merits of a wereman. This as a whole should be considered a credit to the character as conceptualized by the team at Capcom, who ended up making a battle droid made to destroy into the most humane and humanistic character within all of gaming.
Moving on, we jump forward a century to 21XX to the Mega Man X series. The series follows the androids X and Zero, who have become Maverick (Irregular) Hunters who take out malfunctioning and rebellious reploids who owe their minds and bodies to the two protagonists of this series. (Reploid is a portmanteau of replicate and androids.) Both denote how this purely robotic race not only replicate X and Zero, whose physical data was used to develop them, but how they replicate the human mind and freedom of will. X was the first discovered and provided the original templates involved. Equipped with the equivalent base of what his predecessor had with appropriate version ups (Mega Buster Mk. 17 for example), he was originally meant to only go through 30 years of troubleshooting and testing.
Zero was originally developed by Dr. Wily, designed to replace Bass, a powerful yet ineffective Robot Master designed to be Wily’s version of Mega Man. Zero was developed taking notes on the mistakes he feels he made with Bass then installing the Maverick Virus in its purest form as the Zero Virus and setting him loose. This is suggested to have led to Wily being heavily injured by his creation if not outright killed for his hubris, going upon the differences in philosophy of the two creators. X was developed to be the future of a robotics meant for bringing humanity and the subsequent reploid race together in harmony and peace. Wily’s main intent with Zero was to prove his own perceived superiority. This extreme dichotomy of thought can be seen as an analogue to current standards as the resulting world that comes of the actions of these two minds end up creating ever-increasingly dystopian hellscapes.
When finding Zero, the then-leader of the Maverick Hunters, Sigma, takes on the berserk android and ends up damaging him, releasing the Zero Virus to eventually be changed (with his own ego overwriting it) into the Sigma Maverick Virus, an insane combination of the code from three different scientists in the forms of Light, Wily, and this series’ Dr. Cain – an archaeologist who designed the subsequent reploids based on X’s ahead-of-its-time technology. Sigma is Cain’s personal creation. Once the new virus fully manifests, it shows itself to be the embodiment of Sigma’s existence from that point forward, superseding the need for a physical body due to the virus’ nature as a nanotechnology in its own right. Then the first few games of that series proceed one after another showing Sigma as the prime antagonist. That is, until Sigma’s nature and influence from meeting a mental copy of Wily deep in the internet, similar to the artificial mind clone of Dr. Light in X’s armor capsules, is revealed in 5.
These games evolve the discussion of disposability by making going ‘Maverick’ an offense punishable by ‘elimination,’ meaning if these artificial beings even remotely step out of line they are labeled as such in a very authoritarian manner and subsequently destroyed on sight by an approved ‘hunter.’ Think Judge Dredd but with androids. This is well depicted in the badly voice acted classic of X 4 with the Repliforce, a reploid defensive army meant to act as an aid to the Maverick Hunters and replacement for a human army, something shown to be very dangerous come the following Zero series. After a misunderstanding and a desire by the Repliforce to have a nation of their own – a reploid ethnostate if you will – the entire army was labelled as Mavericks. In Zero’s storyline this is shown in the brilliantly cheesy but emotional scene in which Zero kills the love of his life Iris when she takes onto herself a battle program that corrupts her very core. This shows the pain of loved ones being on different sides of a conflict, because she wanted to avenge her brother who was also killed by Zero in fair combat.
This goes on throughout the remaining games in the X series, even going into what happens when mercenary groups get considered Maverick through no fault of their own or when a new batch of reploids who seem to have surpassed the Maverick virus get considered Maverick because they wanted the same thing as the Repliforce did just 4 games earlier. This is an issue of how do we approach sentience once we find it in something that isn’t human? While Mega Man in his universe is a very advanced artificial intelligence that simulated sentience, he still had set routines and limitations. X and Zero are the first to fully achieve sentience as we understand it. This is why Google’s AIs are very dangerous, because they aren’t sentient and won’t be for the foreseeable future.
Then we push forward to a few centuries later with the Mega Man Zero series. At this point an event called the Elf Wars had occurred based around the aftermath of a conflict around the next form of AI known as Cyber Elves. This time X tried to make a Utopia by curing every Maverick instead of killing them outright. Then a man by the name of Doctor Weil, who intended to use the Cyber Elves as weapons, overtook Neo-Arcadia, which X created with a copy of X that he controlled, showing overall the flaw in X’s logic. X joined together in his disembodied state, having turned himself into a Cyber Elf to aid his old friend Zero, himself in a copy of his original body which was being used to house the mind program of Omega, another being Weil created to be another authority with which to keep control over society.
This eventually ends with Zero sacrificing himself and within a century of that final conflict and a series of items being created called Biometals (Live Metals in Japan). By this point due to Zero’s sacrifice, Humans and Reploids finally live in harmony to the point that for the most part people can’t tell the difference between one or another. Many humans having enhanced cybernetics and reploids are using organic materials in their construction. This is aided by the fact that in the society Weil created even Humans could be considered Maverick. Here, the main characters of the now ZX series use the Biometals of the Four Guardians of the Zero series as well as Zero and X together to transform into a battle format. A biometal gives the wielder the abilities of the mind sealed within after merging with it. The crazy part is it doesn’t matter if the wielder is a human or a reploid. They can use it all the same.
There is still an authoritarian catch here. Humans are made to require usage of cybernetics whether they want them or not, and reploids are forced to have lifespans comparable to humans even if they can live much longer. This, of course, causes its own slew of problems. It’s depicted in the last game of this series of ZX Advent, where the ironically named Master Thomas wishes to reset the world. It is hinted that this desire is likely what would lead to the Mega Man Legends games we are not covering today. The way these last two parts of the metaseries evolve the discussion of the disposability of ‘heroes’ and by proxy adult human males is that at the end of the day utopian constructs always end up failing. With how this relates to the world we live in today, even in our gynocentric society women can be seen as disposable if they are labeled as such. For an example of this look at TERFs in reference to any female or trans woman who disagrees with their worldview. They are all viewed as disposable ‘men.’ Their individuality is considered forfeit.
Likely a lot of these issues being addressed are unintentional in the original writing but as time went on the creators of the series probably acclimated to the fact that this was what they were coming to as an end result, viewing the deep storied lore that their writing created as a bonus. In fact the reason it took them 8 full years to come out with a new entry in the classic series was due to their desire to respect the series lore they saw some mistakes in the quick turnaround between Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. Then the fact that it took so long to get to number 9 though to be fair they were concentrating more on the X and other parts of the metaseries in that time.
This also ended up proving something else after the release of Mighty No.9 by former series lead Keiji Inafune after he went independent. The reason Mega Man was such a beloved and important series wasn’t due to solely its gameplay. If that were the case then Mighty No. 9 would have been a success. There is something at the core of Mega Man, X, and Zero as characters and the center of that storyline that keeps fans coming back each time. Even with flop games like Mega Man 6, Mega Man X7 and Mega Man 10, the bulk of Mega Man fans are loyal to the franchise, so much so that the Blue Bomber has even outgrown his original creative team – most of them having left Capcom.
We don’t know where Mega Man 11 is going exactly, but we do know this – there is plenty to learn from this franchise when it comes to developing a universe that several people have contributed to. If you haven’t given these games a chance I’d suggest trying them out and to use the colloquial ‘git gud’ at them because the story is wonderful overall, even with the limitations of the earlier games necessitating a lot of show don’t tell depiction. Oh yeah, for those who are long lived fans of the franchise? I beat Air Man first….every time! Ok, I tease, but I can do it on command. Now if you’ll excuse me I have the legacy collection to run through again. Ok so I only have the first legacy collection for the 3DS – bite me. I’ll get the second when it comes out on the Switch…and the X collection… Even if I have most all of these games on other platforms too… maybe follow that up with some R-Type. Sorry did I digress again? Oh well at least it was at the end. Please remember to Game Freely!
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 124: Nice Try Kotaku! This Won’t Work Though! - July 8, 2019
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 123: We Shouldn’t Go Straight to Mars! How Anime Got Space Right! - July 1, 2019
- Breaking the Narrative Episode 122: You’re Reviewing What Now? The Dissenter Web Browser! - June 10, 2019