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The FEAR: remember that time Mega Man almost murdered a guy?

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Before trying out the 8-bit version of Mega Man 7, I played the original SNES release from beginning to end. The embedded video shows the ending of the game, and as someone who played Mega Mans (Mega Men?) 1-7 back to back over the course of a week, I found the game's conclusion...disturbing. To say the least.

I won't bother spoiling what happens in the video if you want to watch it, but suffice to say it's just goddamned odd for the series. When I was done playing, I felt a little unnerved, a little off-center. Scared. The happy-go-lucky series I'd been enjoying for the past few days suddenly got weird, and dark, and vengeful (by Mega Man standards, anyway -- Rockman doesn't turn into Frank Castle or anything), and I was as confused as I was interested.

Why did Mega Man act the way he did at the end of Mega Man 7? What does that say about the character, and the series to which he belongs? These are the exact questions normal, rational people do not care about, and thus I must devote an entire feature to them.

Hit the jump for a dissection of Mega Man 7's ending.

The Mega Man games have never been particularly heavy on plot. Though the games have occasionally and halfheartedly attempted to make Dr. Wily's position as the Main Bad Guy a secret, the plots usually never get any more complicated than "Wily wants to take over the world and Mega Man has to kill his eight robots." This is probably why I found it really, really surprising that at the end of Mega Man 7, Rockman up and decides to grow a sense of free will. And, with his free will, he decides it's killin' time.

It's important to note that not a single person dies throughout the entirety of the original Mega Man series. Mega Man is himself a robot, and the creatures he destroys are all reprogrammed robots. Narratively, Mega Man games are totally benign: the only humans, Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, are forever destined to fight each other over and over -- but it's okay, since no humans ever die in the process, not even as collateral damage.

And yet, at the end of Mega Man 7, Mega Man decides "I GONNA DO WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE YEARS AGO" and threatens to kill the dude. Though the next part of the exchange was changed for the American release (more on that in a bit), I still find Mega Man's decision here a little odd, if totally understandable. It's not as if Wily is an even remotely threatening opponent -- it's not as if he's the Joker, and letting him live almost guarantees numerous deaths later down the line -- but he does get pretty irritating by the end. I mean, seven games in and you'd also probably be tired of putting your life at risk just to watch Wily disappear once again, too. When Mega Man vocalizes his wish to get rid of Wily's whiny ass for good, I can sort of relate, even if it is unusually brutal and uncharacteristic for a completely murder-free series.

What I cannot  relate to, however, is the sheer joy Mega Man seems to exhibit when confronted with the first law of robotics. When he tells Wily that he is "MORE THAN A ROBOT," each word appears slowly, individually, forcefully. It's more than a little sinister-sounding, and made incredibly unnerving by his followup scream: "DIE, WILY!"

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As EvilLemmy pointed out in the Indie Nation post, this line is missing from the original Japanese game. Instead of throwing out a murderously angry one-liner when confronted with the fact that he can't hurt a human being, Mega Man just -- as Japanese characters are wont to do -- says "..." and the scene continues. Though way less scary and emotional, this ending makes way more sense for the series as a whole: the entire Mega Man X series is built on the premise that X is the first ever robot to be programmed with free will, and that the subsequent robot types squabble and war amongst themselves with that newfound free will. In the Japanese Mega Man 7, the original Mega Man is just a Pretty Cool Guy who, despite being a slave to his programming, is a decent enough dude.

In the American version, he's basically Bruce Willis. Or Neo. Or both.

I'm curious as to why this change was made: is it a cultural thing? Coming from a history of emperors and faithful samurai, are the Japanese more likely to be okay with a hero who, despite lacking free will, is still a good man? Comparatively, are the capitalist, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-or-some-such-shit Americans so focused on the individual that a mechanically impotent hero would just be too much of a bummer? I can't say for sure as I've obviously got nothing to go on other than my own cultural stereotypes, but it is, perhaps, worth thinking about why the American localization team decided it'd be fun to arbitrarily turn Mega Man into a murderer.

It gives the game a great big dose of pathos (despite how incredibly non-canon it is, many Mega Man fans, like the guy who drew the above picture, obviously seem to prefer the American ending), but, for the first time in a series which had previously required absolutely nothing of me either emotionally or intellectually, it actually made me frightened of Mega Man. I didn't happily fight my way through intensely difficult levels just to celebrate the death of the bad guy; that's not what the games are about. And it's not like Mega Man's sudden free will really goes anywhere, as Bass and Treble transport Wily to safety anyway. Perhaps the Americans just really hated the idea of Mega Man's inaction letting Wily get away, and so instead tried to chalk it up to pure dumb luck by giving him an intent to kill.

I dunno why I'm bringing it up now, but the whole ending just felt like something worth bringing up -- with Mega Man 9 reverting not only to retro design sensibilities but also the innocent, intentional lack of emotion or real character development, it's perhaps worth remembering the oddest, most intense, most memorable moments in Mega Man's character history.

[Image found here.]

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Anthony Burch
Anthony BurchContributor   gamer profile

Lead writer of Borderlands 2, curator of  more + disclosures


 


 



Filed under... #retro

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