|Title||Mega Man Zero|
|Release Date||September 10, 2002|
|Age Rating||E (ESRB)|
A century after the end of the Mega Man X series, the great heroes of that age are all but forgotten. Times have changed. The city of Neo Arcadia has been a land of peace for many years… ruled with an iron fist.
In Mega Man Zero, young scientist Ciel wants nothing more than to find a new source of energy that can help her resistance force break away from Neo Arcadia permanently. The only way she can keep her group alive, though, is by recruiting the ultimate soldier: the long-deactivated, barely-functioning, amnesiac legendary fighter, Zero!
That, of course, is you. Your first mission is to escort Ciel safely out of a storm of enemy robots, armed only with a modified Buster that takes the form of a handheld pistol (plus some totally sweet theme music). When she gets grabbed by a larger mech, though, it’s obvious that this weapon is not enough. Luckily, a mysterious program on a nearby terminal speaks to Zero, and offers him back his signature weapon: the Z Saber. That’s practically enough to take it out in a single hit.
From that point on, you basically work for Ciel, the sole human in the game’s cast. Zero is apparently the only competent one in the resistance, as he spends a lot of his time rescuing his fellow Reploids (combat robots designed to look like humans). You’ll have your choice of a variety of missions, all with their own unique purpose towards helping the cause. After enough of these, the main plot, shown in missions that you can’t refuse, will barge in to test you. This is how you learn Ciel’s true role, why Neo Arcadia is not all it’s cracked up to be, and the identity of your true enemy.
Zero performs his missions mainly by fighting his way through. Usually, that’s done with a combination of the Buster and Saber, as they’re the easiest weapons to master, but, eventually, you’ll also have access to two others. The Tri Rod is an extending spear that can thrust in any direction you choose, useful in a few specific cases. More useful is the Shield Boomerang, a fan-like contraption that deflects enemy shots and, when charged up, can be thrown at enemies. All of the weapons will level up as you continue to use them, rewarding you with longer combos and stronger charged attacks.
Attacking isn’t everything. To survive, you’ll have to master Zero’s quick dash and wall jumping abilities. There are several areas where platforming is crucial, but you’ll have to be even faster to dodge the attack patterns of the game’s many bosses. They appear in every level, though a couple will surprise you by showing up halfway or even at the very beginning of a stage. In true Mega Man fashion, these bosses are just as big a deal as the entire level leading up to them, offering the biggest challenge of all.
The bosses may drop one of three Chips—devices that Zero can use to add an element to his attacks, taking advantage of enemy weaknesses—or Cyber Elves. Cyber Elves can be found in a lot of other places, but, once obtained, have to be downloaded at a teleport station. They have a variety of abilities, like healing Zero, saving him from a fall, providing cover fire and even increasing his maximum health.
Basic Elves can be added to Zero’s three slots right away, to be used at any time, but stronger ones have to be fed Energy Crystals first. Between getting enough Energy Crystals for the good ones and trying to level up all of your weapons, you could potentially grind random enemies for hours and never get close to the power level you’d probably like. Normal gameplay will get you some crystals, but the most coveted Cyber Elves will cost you thousands. When the biggest unit you can pick up at one time is 16, that takes time.
Even then, the only way it makes sense to ever use Elves is if you don’t care about your mission ranking. Each mission gives you points for completion, speed, defeating lots of enemies, and avoiding damage, giving you a title at the end based on your performance. Points are taken away for dying during a mission and, you guessed it, using a Cyber Elf. What you may not realize at first is that Elves with permanent effects, like increasing your maximum health, also take points away from every mission from that point on. Ouch. It’s rather frustrating to work that hard to get them, only to be penalized later.
The points translate into a letter rank, which seems to average over all your missions, and a variety of titles (mine is usually “Sluggish Warrior”). Rumor has it that keeping up an A or S rank grants you access to a secret room at the end of the game, while also bumping up bosses with unique attacks. I wouldn’t know—I can’t get anywhere without lots of Elves.
Level organization is somewhat unique. Ciel gives you a choice of several missions when you talk to her, and as you complete each one, more unlock. These missions teleport you to a linear level, but after you’ve beaten each one, you can actually walk to each one by taking different paths out of the resistance’s base. This way, you may find lots of Energy Crystals, a couple of hidden Cyber Elves, or just a quick fight. Later missions might also revisit these same areas, so it pays to know them well.
What this whole system means is that an average-level gamer can beat Mega Man Zero using exploration, dedication, and sheer brute force. But only the most hardcore players, who are capable of learning every boss’s attack patterns perfectly and dodging every single attack, will truly be rewarded in the end.
By itself, this kickoff to the Mega Man Zero series contains only about 10 hours of play time. You can get the original Game Boy Advance cartridge on Amazon for about $12, but in my personal opinion, it makes far more sense to spend only two or three more dollars to get Mega Man Zero Collection for the Nintendo DS. That way, you’ll get not only this game, but the other three in the series. Stay tuned, because I’m going to have those covered, too.
Mega Man Zero is available on Amazon: