Last week saw the release of Rockman X Command Mission for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. The game is the latest entry in the Mega Man franchise (for those who haven't been up on his career in the last 15 years, Mega Man goes by Rockman in Japan), and marks another foray into the RPG genre. However, whereas the previous Mega Man RPG experiences have had a more action RPG spin, Mega Man X Command Mission makes use of a traditional turn-based system that has been tweaked to incorporate some classic Mega Man elements. We had the chance to try out both versions of the game, each of which has some unique content, and we are very pleased by the experiences they offer.
The game's story, set in the Mega Man X branch of the franchise, focuses on X as he's dispatched to infiltrate an artificial island called Gigantis. The island was established over the impact site of mysterious debris that fell to his homeworld. The debris has become the source for a mysterious mineral called force metal that has resulted in a revolution in reploid technology (reploids is the term used for X and his fellow 'bots). Unfortunately, a rebellion, led by the mysterious Epsilon, causes all kinds of trouble and leads the powers that be to send X in with a small strike unit. A dramatic confrontation, one betrayal, and a whole lot of exposition later, X finds himself up the creek on an adventure that will include old and new faces as well as a rich gameplay system to master.
So far, Mega Man X Command Mission divides your time between exploration and combat. Exploration is of your standard third-person variety and will yield all sorts of items and money that you can use in the game's shops. When in exploration mode, you'll be able to manage your party of characters as in any RPG and equip them with different items to enhance their abilities via the game's force metal system. The gist of the system is that X and his posse will collect different force metals over the course of the adventure. You can equip the crew with the metals in order to buff up their stats; however, the only catch is that the different metals have a unique point value that will alter their effectiveness.
Characters that you can equip with the metals have a unique limit on the total force metals they can have. If you go over the characters' limits, you'll notice that it will adversely affect their abilities. The system is given some depth thanks to the presence of Cinnamon, a member of your posse, who can create new, unique force metals from items you collect while playing. Crafting new metals will require you to have Cinnamon be at a specific level, with a recipe for the metal as well as the other proper items, and the energy to make it all happen--which you'll earn by taking out enemies.
Combat, which comes in both random and scripted flavors, follows a traditional turn-based system that puts a Mega Man twist to the brawls. A display on the lower left-hand side of the screen will show you the order of the combatants as well as their health status. Each character in your party has unique subweapons that you can trigger before performing a proper attack, which will then end your turn. Your attacks will be limited by the energy your character has accumulated during battle; it will go up slightly in between turns.
If your energy meter is charged and is displayed in green, you can use your character's special attack, which is initiated by the action trigger command. The special attacks vary per character and will require you to follow onscreen prompts to do controller actions that yield some spectacular and damaging attacks. For example, X can do a charge shot like in the traditional Mega Man action game series by holding down the A button and then letting go. In addition, you can have your characters enter hyper mode, which changes their physical appearance, ups their stats, and gives them a special ability, such as becoming invisible or avoiding enemy attacks.
Finally, a feature we haven't had the chance to do much with yet is the dispatch system, which seems to offer a La Pucelle-ish twist to the proceedings. Your party can grow to include enemy characters you've turned into friends who you can then send to different areas of the game. They may come back with new information or rare items, or just come back destroyed (destroyed characters will be automatically restored). The characters level up if you send them to various areas in the game, so it's best to dispatch them to easy areas first, and then to harder areas as they get stronger.
Command Mission's graphics offer a stylish and technically solid presentation across both platforms. The character models are nicely designed and feature a good amount of detail. The environments we've seen so far fare equally well and include all sorts of little touches to bring things to life. You'll see thunder and lightning flashing through a rainstorm, visible through the cracked walls of a complex, and you'll see airships flying around as you explore the first major area in the early parts of the game.
The graphics are given an extra layer of gloss thanks to a diverse array of special effects used for the various attacks during combat. As far as the visual differences between the two platforms go, the game looks comparably good on both the GameCube and the PlayStation 2. The PS2 will be a touch jaggier than the Cube, but it's not distracting. From a performance standpoint, the GameCube edges out the PlayStation 2 with quicker loads and slightly more consistent frame rates in a few spots, such as in the background elements.
The audio in Mega Man X Command Mission appears to be a basically strong package on both platforms, with one or two blemishes. The voice acting we've heard is good and features a convincing cast that does a fine job of bringing the colorful characters to life. The sound effects are also on point, with a satisfying array of audio effects used to sell the over-the-top attacks you'll be seeing. The music we heard in the early parts of the game is well done and catchy.
The only weak link to the package is the grating J-pop theme song that plays over a perfectly fine opening montage of the game's cast. We understand that, given the standard approach to scoring games in Japan, the alternative would probably be hair metal music from the 1980s. But you know, after sitting through the aggressively peppy tune, we'd be OK with some Japanese session musicians channeling The Scorpions or Motley Crüe. Still, with that one speed bump aside, Mega Man X Command Mission's audio is alright on the whole. Unlike the graphics, there is practically no difference in the audio between the two versions of the game.
But, while the game doesn't differ much on either platform in terms of gameplay, graphics, or audio, there are some content differences. The PlayStation 2 version includes a playable demo of Mega Man X8, the latest traditional platformer in the series due for the PS2. Unlike most games that make game demos accessible from the start screen, Mega Man X Command Mission requires you to find the pick up for it within the game. The demo pick up appears in the early part of the game and it is pretty hard to miss. Once you collect it, you'll be alerted by an onscreen message that you've got it. After you save your game, you can hop out to the title screen and find the option to select the demo. In lieu of a playable demo of a new game, the GameCube version will actually feature new items that you'll find by using good old-fashioned connectivity. When you hook up your GBA to the game, it will display a radar screen directing you to the goods that will only appear when you use a GBA.
So far, Mega Man X Command Mission is looking and playing well. We have been hoping it would turn out this way after we had our first glimpse of it last year, and we are pleased that it appears to be heading in that direction. The game looks good, has a solid combat system, and appears to be laying out a meaty quest for one to venture through. If you're looking to import the game, you'll probably want to hold off, as Mega Man X Command Mission is a Japanese-intensive RPG that will require some knowledge of Japanese to fully enjoy. With the game coming out this September, it's probably best to just hold on for a while longer. Look for more on the game, especially a look at the localized version of it, in the coming weeks.