I’ve been spending a good amount of time lately playing old PS1 games, either by getting them on eBay or, if that proves too expensive, resorting to emulation. It’s given me the opportunity to go through games that my stupid 10 year old mind couldn’t appreciate, or in some cases couldn’t even bother to finish. I’ve gone back and spent some time with the likes of Legend of Dragoon, Chrono Cross, and Legend of Legaia. What really kicked off this classic gaming binge was the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, which sparked a desire to play the first two games since I hadn’t done so since I rented them when I was a kid.
Fortunately enough, copies of Mega Man Legends aren’t horribly expensive on eBay. Well, not for the first one at least. I’ve yet to see a decently priced copy of Mega Man Legends 2, and have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have to emulate that one and will never actually own a copy of it. But I have the first one at least, so that’s a small victory.
Mega Man Legends mesmerized me as a kid. It presented a massive world open to exploration, and there were characters and narrative and (pretty bad) voice acting. It was an entirely new creature, unlike anything I had played at the time. There were other adventure games, with the obvious example being Ocarina of Time, but Mega Man Legends was the first time I encountered a game with one sprawling dungeon that you could freely explore. It was a whole new experience for me and something I remembered fondly, so I was eager to go back and see what I thought of the game today.
It’s an understatement to say that Mega Man Legends hasn’t exactly aged well. The core gameplay itself is fine, you run around and shoot at stuff. It’s a pretty basic concept that hasn’t changed much over the years. What really makes Mega Man Legends show its age is certain control aspects. Simply put, the game doesn’t support analog sticks. “Big deal,” you may be thinking, “back in my day all we had were D-Pads and we liked our games just fine.” This is true, and the D-Pad works just fine for moving Mega Man around. Unfortunately, without analog sticks there just isn’t an easy way to move the camera around. You can move it left and right using the shoulder buttons, but if you want to look up you have to stop moving completely and hold down the R2 button to move the camera around freely. This creates a problem when dealing with flying enemies because you can’t always see them, and it’s generally not safe to stop moving for extended periods of time in the middle of a fight. Of course, this leads into the next problem.
The game has no lock-on system. Okay, that’s not really true. The lock-on system is just completely worthless. Locking-on is done by holding down the R2 button, which you’ve probably noticed is the same button that lets you move the camera around freely. There are a couple problems with this. Like when moving the camera around, you’re stuck in one spot when locking-on. Locking-on can also interfere when you just want to look around because it will automatically lock-on to an enemy if they get close to you. It’s lucky that you never actually need to use this function because it’s not helpful at all. You’re better off just running in circles around your target, turning the camera towards them, and letting the auto-aim function take care of actually hitting targets.
Not that the auto-aim is without its own flaws. For enemies with multiple places to hit, such as many bosses, the auto-aim won’t always shoot at what you actually want it to, which is problematic to say the least. It can also cause problems if there are two or more enemies directly in front of you, since you can’t tell which one you’re going to end up shooting at. The central issue here is the lack of an aiming reticle, or any indication of any kind to tell you what the hell you’re aiming at. Most of the time you’re left shooting blind and hoping that you and the game agree on which enemy to shoot.
Despite a few quibbles with the gameplay, I still really like the game. The best part is still the ruins underneath the island the game takes place on. It’s a vast network of tunnels, all connected to one another. It’s like Metroid but with a slightly less intense feeling of isolation. It’s a game that encourages exploration, with the rewards of exploring the area being some hilariously overpowered weapons, or just boatloads of money. There’s a real feeling of uneasiness when exploring because you never have a chance to save once you’re down there. If you want to you’ll need to find an exist, which isn’t always an easy task. Given Mega Man Legends age, it doesn’t exactly have a forgiving game over system. When you die you don’t get to hit retry and go back to the entrance of the room. You get kicked back to the title screen. Any progress you made while exploring, any items you picked up, all of it is gone.
Luckily, dying isn’t something you’ll be doing very often, assuming you’re at least competent at playing games. I’m sure this game was hard when I was 10 and didn’t have good reflexes or Internet access, but now it’s pretty easy. In my entire playthrough I died once. I was in a near death state and ended up going into a boss fight because I didn’t know it was going to happen. That was it. Eventually I got the Shining Laser, the best sub-weapon in the game and something I wouldn’t have been able to get back when I was a kid, and it’s a game breaker once it’s fully upgraded. The final boss would be a legitimate challenge normally, but with the fully upgraded Shining Laser I beat his second form in about 30 seconds. First form was a little harder because it wasn’t as easy to hit with the Shining Laser. But yeah, whatever challenge existed in this game when I was 10 is pretty much gone now, which is a little disappointing.
One thing that really mesmerized my 10 year old mind was the story. Not that it’s a particular deep or amazing story, but I didn’t know at the time that games could actually tell stories, so it was a new idea to me. Although Mega Man Legends doesn’t really tell much of a story. For the most part it’s just “Go here and get this, then go here and get this, then fight this boss,” over and over until the last area of the game. During the end there’s a giant info-dump about who Mega Man really is, hinting at some grander story that might be lurking in the background, but the first game never really gets to that part of the story. All it has are those few hints, and Data, one of Mega Man’s companions, literally saying he’ll tell you everything some time in the future.
Mega Man Legends may have been lacking in storytelling, but it made up for this with atmosphere. I’ve spoken about the exploration aspect of the game before, and the isolation one feels when down there. This is compounded upon when you include things like the quiet eerie background music, the distant sound effects of reaverbots moving around, and sudden attacks from enemies you can’t see. Other really creepy areas are the sub-cities. These are old, abandoned residential areas that are sealed underneath the island. The look of them, and the fact that they’re crawling with strong reaverbots, creates a genuinely creepy setting. Especially when the music stops and you’re entirely alone in the area, just wandering around a bunch of abandoned buildings in a place completely devoid of life.
While Mega Man Legends certainly shows its age, both visually and through gameplay, it’s still a fun adventure game. It may not leave me quite as mesmerized now as it did when I was a kid, but if you can put up with the somewhat frustrating controls it’s still a good game. It has great atmosphere and a great deal of exploration that easily eat up hours of your time without you even realizing it. It’s definitely worth getting your hands on a copy, through whatever means it may take.