When you've been around for as long as Mega Man, the chances of you jumping the shark tend to increase with each passing year. Thus it was that we had the Battle Network alternate universe, where Mega Man is now the fusion of a young schoolboy and an alien called Omega Xis, and he goes on adventures torn from the pages of the very worst anime scripts.
Mega Man Starforce 3 is the next step in the series designed to make people say "oh come on, really?" This was really my introduction to Mega Man's RPG side, as I must say it's never really appealed to me in the past. In truth, I only played this because it arrived on my doorstep and I had to.
I must say, I am somewhat glad I did, because underneath all the overtly Japanese kiddy nonsense, Starforce 3 is actually damn good fun. Read on as we review Mega Man Starforce 3.
Mega Man Starforce 3 (DS)
Released: July 30, 2009
Megaman Starforce 3 takes a few cues on Pokémon, in that it's split into two different versions: Red Joker and Black Ace (the latter of which is our review copy). The two versions contain different "Noise Types," which can be used to transform Mega Man into a variety of different forms. Naturally, if you want all the forms, you'll need access to both versions of the game.
The main plot of Starforce 3 is both childishly simplistic and needlessly complex at the same time. As we explained, Mega Man is the result of a fusion between Geo Stelar and his "Wizard" Omega "Mega" Xis. Wizards are sentient digital lifeforms that power machines and help humans, even though their self-aware nature seems to make them much less efficient at their jobs, despite humanity's reliance on them. As Mega Man, Geo can traverse the real world and the "radio world" so that he can battle viruses within machines. Are you with me so far?
In Starforce 3, Mega Man has to deal with a villainous group known as Dealer, led by one of the most ridiculous villains in the history of videogames, who are putting playing cards on Wizards to make them go out of control so that they can suck up Crimson that's generated when there is a lot of Noise. Also, some people want to summon a meteor. That's the plot in a nutshell, and the dialogue reads like a kid's TV show.
The story is ludicrous and feels like a very bad anime sub-plot. What's worse is the game's annoying focus on things that do not matter. In Geo's world, every single person apparently has to form "Brother Bands" with other people and have a specific "Purpose" which they need to set on their personal "Hunter VG" devices (think an iPhone, but a sentient being lives inside it). The whole "Purpose" routine gets old fast, as characters keep talking about fulfilling them and apparently it's a big deal if people change their purposes. The game goes on and on like this, as if everybody's in some weird purpose cult, and perhaps it's a cultural difference, but I don't understand why they keep talking about it and it drives me mad.
Fortunately, the bizarre and often stupid plot is outshone by the gameplay, which is actually incredibly good. Although technically an RPG, Starforce's battles are a unique fusion of action/shooter and card game. Combat takes place in real time, with Mega Man facing a grid-based environment full of enemies. Mega Man can move sideways across the grid and shoot at enemies while blocking or avoiding their attacks. In order to perform special movies, Mega Man chooses up to three cards on the lower screen which he can use during battle. These range from powerful attacks, to defensive moves and regaining health. At the end of each battle, Mega Man can acquire more cards with which to edit his deck.
The battles seem complicated at first, but it's incredibly simple to get into and the real-time evasion and execution of attacks mixed with the card selection system makes for an addictive experience. Collecting cards, building a deck and entering the radio world to do battle are great ways for one to lose track of time, and the game is well-suited to portable play.
It's just a shame that dreary conversations and a bemusing plot hold the game back. Within a well-written and less silly game world, this would be an absolutely superb RPG. The game is also held back by senseless time-wasting, such as Geo having to wait for characters to slowly walk out of sight and the screen to fade out and then fade right back in again before he can move around. There is far too much dispoable claptrap in the game that slows the whole thing down.
The eagerness to get back into the game, however, spurs the player on and keeps Starforce 3 interesting even while it's boring your pants off. It has to be said that one particular scene, in which Geo and his friends talk about the forbidden art of taking one's shorts off underneath their swimming trunks so that nobody gets to see them naked, is genuinely funny.
Visually, the game doesn't look like much while Geo's running around the world. Sprites are simplistic and animations are rudimentary. However, the 3D visuals of the battle screen are quite impressive and the design of enemy viruses is quite memorable indeed. The game contains decent music as well, that won't give Uematsu a run for his money, but provide some fun little tunes.
Ultimately, if you play RPGs for their story value only, this game might not appeal to you. It really is some of the most convoluted and shark-jumping nonsense that I've ever seen in a game, and I play Metal Gear Solid. However, the gameplay is its own reward and once one gets into it, one finds it quite hard to get back out. It's a shame that the plot holds it back, but otherwise Megaman Starforce 3 is pretty bloody good, and well worth your time if you like your roleplayers with a little more action in them.
Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)