You know, I think out of all video game series currently in existence on our perceived universe, Megaman belongs in the sacred pantheon of legends that require only a small introduction and the rest is magic that you wish you could forget to experience again for the first time, like a first kiss or that time you found out what bras are for. And today is a very special day, because it is the birthday of two things. One, a misunderstood gem was born in the late 90's, whose full genius is yet to be appreciated by the world. The other is Megaman X4. And since I’m a selfless man, let’s talk about that instead!
Released in 1997, X4 was caught in the weird time where 3D was the new cake that everyone wanted a slice of, but nobody knew yet how to cut the damn thing. For every Super Mario 64, there was at least two Castlevania 64. It was essentially puberty all over again for the industry, so a rough transition was to be expected. But X4 surprisingly didn’t make the jump to 3D (That honor would be reserved for Legends), staying true to its 2D goodness, that honestly, is where Megaman belongs. But does it holds up today, twenty years later? Yes actually. So let’s remember a few good and bad things about it, shall we?
Much like when Mega Man made the jump from NES to the SNES, X4 marks the entrance of the series into another generation of consoles, the PS1. The jump in generations allowed it for better-looking graphics, and while is not really 2.5D, there’s one stage (Bio Laboratory) that simulates a circular stairway that looks really nice and gives you the feeling of going up. Particle effects, characters and especially Zero, that gained seems to have gained some body after the previous game, got a nice upgrade taking full advantage of the increased space CDs offered. If I do have one complaint it would be that the Maverick designs vary a lot in the quality of their designs. Some I find super boring (Split Mushroom and Web Spider) and others like Colonel, Slash Beast and Magma Dragoon (he can Shoryuken your ass, and that is always a plus in my book) look great.
Let’s get this outta the way. Stingray’s level can go blow itself. The stage itself looks rather nice and the bits where you ride over the water were a nice touch, but the cruel layout that often got you stuck (touching the edge of the screen meant you lose a life) the doors that required so much mashing of the fire button that it was a miracle the cafe’s joystick didn’t break into a million pieces, added with the fact that you have so little time to react (just look at that screenshot above) mean that to beat this one, you’re going to die a lot just to memorize a route. Thank God the theme for this level is full of energy, so not everything about it sucks.
This wasn’t the first time you could play as the badass S-Class Hunter. He was playable in X3, but it was very limited. You could not do bosses and if you died as him, he was gone for good for the rest of the game. Still, it was a nice taste of what was to come. Playing as Zero has some differences both in the story and in gameplay, since most of the time you’ll be slashing things with your trusted Z-Saber, instead of weapons you gain techniques (that you execute with commands like in a fighting game, with one or two exceptions) from bosses and there’s an exclusive fight for X and Zero (more on that below) close to the end of the game.
X’s gameplay is largely unchanged, jumping, shooting, dashing and some combination of the three, but now you have a dedicated button for your special weapon, meaning you can fire your regular lemon shooter without needing to change back to the basic weapon. It’s a nice addition that makes the gameplay more fluid. The new pieces of armor are interesting and there’s even one for Zero this time. If you can find it, that is.
In this game, after the defeat of Sigma, a new Reploid force is created to defend peace called Repliforce, led by General and his second-in-command Colonel (Yes, those are their actual names. Easy to remember no?) alongside the Maverick Hunters. But a very mysterious figure (It’s Sigma. The game doesn’t even try to hide it...) the Repliforce ends up turning against the Hunters and the world -after a misunderstanding involving the fall of Sky Lagoon (A huge floating city) that killed millions of civilians, with the goal of forming an independent nation for Reploids only.
But this never really goes anywhere, the idea of an independent nation of sentient machines is never really explored, the implications of where humans stand in what is essentially a machine civil war are never brought up and a lot of other things that would’ve enriched the plot and helped flesh out the world of Megaman X. Granted the story was never the central point of the series, but when you have animated cutscenes as well as dub, you might as well use it for something good.
That’s the basic gist of it, but it changes slightly depending on who you’re playing as. X is really just doing his thing, and the big plot point for him is the reveal that Double, his operator for this game was really a double agent all along (Starting to sense a pattern with the naming here). His ending foreshadows some events of the Megaman Zero series, with him asking to be stopped, should he ever turn Maverick. Well, that is until MM X6 came along but that’s a story for another rant.
Meanwhile, Zero’s story is more interesting in my opinion if only because bits of his past are revealed or hinted at (he has visions of a mysterious doctor that totally isn’t Willy, for example) and there’s some drama involving him, Colonel and Iris (Colone’s sister and Zero’s operator) forcing him to kill em both. By the end, he wonders if all Reploids will just turn Maverick. Speaking of drama...
Truly, words are not needed here. There’s just so much wrong with this dub, from the choice of actors to the way it was directed, it’s all so bad, that this is the reason X5 doesn’t have a dub of its own. X sounds far too effeminate (Though to be fair, his Japanese VA is a woman, so points for Capcom?) and Zero sounds like... what you heard above. Everyone lacks emotion and engagement, it’s just a train wreck. I think Sigma’s voice (spoilers I guess?) is the only once acceptable but that doesn’t really mean much. Just for comparison, here’s the Japanese dub. Also, Iris’ VA was Yuko Mizutani (That you might recognize from Gundam, Sailor Moon Crystal, Digimon and Kingdom Hearts, if you play with Japanese voices) that died from breast cancer in 2016. Rest in peace Yuko.
Yeah, no surprises here. Although X4's OST is far from being as iconic as X 1's (but to be fair, what is?), it still has the quality you’d expect from a game of the series. The advantages of being on CD this time instead of cartridges are noticeable right away, with the usage of real instruments that just wasn’t possible back then, and the range of styles is actually pretty decent. From the retro futuristic style of Slash Beast’s to Frosty Walrus’ “cool” stage (that actually has two themes, one for each part of the level) trust me, your ears won’t be disappointed. Special mention to X’s opening stage, my favorite music from the entire game.
x4 is not the most innovative game of its genre or even of the franchise it belongs to, but it provided gamers with hours of 2D side scrolling action, great music, and it’s all around an entry worthy of carrying the name of the blue bomber. The series might be in this terrible indefinite limbo but the memories live on, and past games will always be there for us to revisit or even to show the newcomers a little piece of gaming history. So whip out your old PS1, put that disc in, turn the console upside down and go find out WHAT ARE YOU FIGHTING FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRR.....·