Another reason Mega Man Legends is really great

I did something shocking last weekend: I played a video game for my own enjoyment. Not a big deal, you say? But see, that’s something I haven’t done all year. It was the first time in 2010 I had taken an entire day away from working, from hovering over my chronically ill fiancée, from worrying about 1UP projects, from plugging away at GameSpite Quarterly, to ditch everyone and everything and spending a few hours absorbed in pure escapism for my own benefit. I don’t think I realized how much I needed the escape until I actually took it, but yeah. It probably added years to my life.

I actually had a tough time deciding what to play, because I knew I could probably only invest ten hours or so and didn’t want yet another addition for my growing pile of perpetually unfinished shame. So I went with something I knew I could complete and that I’d enjoy: Mega Man Legends.

Toward the end, I suddenly realized this might be one of my all-time favorite games ever. I’ve certainly played it to completion more than any other PlayStation game, and more than any other Mega Man game besides 2 and 3; I’d guess this was probably my seventh trip through the adventure, which doesn’t even include all my false replay starts over the years. The whys and wherefores of my affection for the game deserves a full essay (which, I’m sorry to say, you’ll have to suffer through in GameSpite Quarterly 8), but toward the end of the quest I stumbled across a situation that neatly summed up what makes Legends such a great game.

A Servbot on the roof.

There he is against the twilit sky, spotting for the Bonnes in the eerily deserted Old Town portion of Kattelox Island. This happens in the final hour or two of the game, and it’s easily missed. In fact, I had never noticed them before this playthrough, and this time it was only by complete accident. I just happened to exit the Main Gate dungeon to trigger the battle with Tron Bonne’s ultimate war machine, Theodore Bruno, and randomly looked around the city from atop the warehouse where the fight begins. Much to my surprise, I noticed a tiny Servbot across the street. Panning around, I quickly spotted another, and another.

All told, there are three of the little guys keeping watch around the city. I assume they show up once you open the Main Gate. They’re easily missed, since you would never notice them from the ground due to their size, the game’s resolution, and the limitations of the camera interface. Also, the Old Town area isn’t easily navigated by rooftop, so there’s no real point in climbing the houses, meaning you wouldn’t likely see them that way, either. But the game’s creators put them up there anyway as a subtle little hint that you’re getting close to the final showdown with the Bonnes (who are presumed dead at that point in the story).

Even better, each of them has something to say if you take the time to talk to them. Incidentally, you can’t just hop over the fence from the warehouse where I spotted them — there’s an annoying invisible barrier that forces you to go back underground. (Even Legends isn’t without its lazy design flaws.) But if you retrace your footsteps underground and find a way up to talk to them, they’ll give you subtle hints about where you should be heading next. Or, in the case of this guy, just act helpless and hapless. They are Servbots, after all.

They say God is in the details, although I suppose that’s debatable depending on your perspective on theism. But good is in the details, too. Despite its clunky controls and the really childish narrative of the game’s first few hours (it does get better), Legends holds up precisely because of the detail the developers lavished on it. After all this time, it still stands as an example of how to make a really satisfying adventure: the setting is compact, yet open. The island is freely explorable, but it’s more structured than a sandbox game. The contained environment and relatively small size of the world allowed Capcom to update the setting repeatedly throughout the quest; there’s a finite number of NPCs who constantly have something new to say, and odd little details show up where you might miss them. Like these Servbots, here.

This is something that was lost with Mega Man Legends 2 amidst the game’s aspirations of scale and global drama. I suppose it’s probably too much to hope that Legends 3 will recapture it, huh? Really, it’s kind of a lost art altogether these days, as Japanese developers tend to create smaller worlds with restrictive interfaces while western designers give you vast, empty worlds to explore and no real reason to dwell. Honestly, this creative philosophy wasn’t especially common when the original Legends debuted. I suppose that’s why it still holds up as a unique creation.

17 thoughts on “Another reason Mega Man Legends is really great

  1. Cool, I didn’t even think to climb the roofs in the old part of the town when I first played the game.

    You say that Legends 2 lost some of the little details that the first game had, but would you still recommend it to someone who has played the first game? I say this because I hope to play it sometime between know and the release of Legends 3.

  2. Oh, absolutely. MML2 is a great game that improves on the first in many ways. It just lost a few of the original’s incidental strengths when Capcom sanded down the rough edges.

  3. You know, given that fans have actively tweaked the PC version of Final Fantasy 7 over the years, I would have thought there would have been some neat hacks for the PC version of MML (hi-res, analog, making the sound actually sync up with the video, that sort of thing), but there don’t seem to be. Might have something to do with the PC version being awful.

  4. Wow, I felt the same way when I played Persona 4. There’s a lot of detail that you could miss, like certain people being around on certain days and forshadowing future events, and there’s a lot of detail. I guess that kind of design facilitates a smaller world, because then you can get to know the people in that smaller world better than say, a game with many more locales.

    • Wow, I can’t believe I repeated myself…I failed there. Omit the “and there’s a lot of detail”.

  5. “…hovering over my chronically ill fiancée…”

    Man, going just from your posts, it seems like she’s been sick for over a year solid now. When you’re constantly fighting against your own body life can be pretty difficult.

    Best wishes to you both, and here’s hoping there’ll be more chances to find the good in the details soon.

  6. Man, it’s games like this that make me regret that the height of the PS1 era was when I was poor and pretty much out of gaming. Also, though this is already known, I was amused while watching the New York City news tonight to see a report about an iPhone daylight savings alarm bug featuring stock footage of one Mr. Parish.

  7. I don’t think it’s a lost art – one of the strengths of Arkham Asylum was that the developers chose to build one location in the Batman universe that they could do a lot with. Arkham Island updated throughout the game, as the plot advanced, and it was filled with lots of little details that were entirely unnecessary but very cool. (Many, but not all of them, were explicitly pointed out by the game, though.)

    Thankfully, unlike Mega Man Legends 2, Rocksteady appear to have realised that their success came from creating a contained environment that they could make lavish and interesting – Arkham City is ‘set in’ Gotham, but it’s in a walled-off section of Gotham that Batman can’t leave, functionally equivalent to an island.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that about Arkham Asylum. I really need to play it sometime, although man do I hate the aesthetics of the game.

  8. It’s strange to see that one of the best games in the mega man series, a series that is based on shooting and platforming, is the Legends series on the ps1.

    I think looking at the library of the ps1 and seeing peoples top favorite games. I see that all types of action games on the system hadn’t aged well. The restrictive dpad only controls and the console having only ability to barely produce 3D certainly helped that. Which is why other than MML1&2, crash bandicoot, spyro, and soul reaver, most of the popular remembered games on the ps1 are either RPGs, SOTN and other 2D games, Fighters, or survival horror titles, all of which use the 3D element mostly as esthetics.

    It’s like if the ps1 is the atari 2600 of 3D games.

    • Damn it. I thought this new site would have an edit button.

      Well just watch out for the grammar mistakes I got there if that helps.

  9. That’s awesome! Love going back to older games and finding this sort of hidden nods. Alas, first now I have to find my Mega Man Legends disc. I know I kept it…somewhere.

  10. You’ve inspired me, sir. After I finish Mass Effect, I’m going to play through MML (and possibly MML2) again. I never knew about these hidden Servbots, but I’m sure as hell going to hunt for them now!

  11. I recently replayed Megaman Legends 1 &2 again. I do it for each game once a year, it’d seem. That animated sequence on the TV in the bar in Yonsyonke never gets old, but finding it for the first time blew my mind.

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