[Editorial Tuesday] The History of Mega Man

Just a few weeks prior to the initial drafting of this Editorial Tuesday, the eleventh installment of Capcom’s Mega Man franchise hit the shelves for present day consoles. Putting aside that it’s a 2018 release, it still presentably feels like the same 2D platform game that debuted on the NES a little over 30 years ago. So, how did this sleeper hit become a multimedia franchise that continues to last to this day? Read this edition to Editorial Tuesday to find out!

Rock ‘n Roll

Prior to the release of Mega Man, Capcom mostly made arcade titles and whatever they made for consoles, were just ports of their arcade hits. Thus meaning, Mega Man was the company’s first true home console franchise debut. During its development, many names were considered for the character. Some conceptual names include Mighty Kid, Knuckle Kid, and Rainbow Man. As to how the Rainbow Man name was conceived, it was because the character could change colors depending on an acquired ability from a boss he defeated. So, that tells us that feature of the game was already thought of before Rockman, Mega Man’s original name in Japan, was set upon.

Before we get into how he got the name Mega Man for its North American release, we should share what the series did for platform games at the time with its concept, and how it ties into its Japanese name. When you play typical NES platform games such as Super Mario Bros or Contra, you conditionally have to play the levels in a predetermined order before you face the final boss. As for Mega Man, you can freely choose a stage based on a boss. After you beat all bosses, you can finally face the the final boss, Dr. Wily. In a way, some can say this is the first ever non-linear game. However, players still learn by trial and error that to beat a certain boss, an ability acquired from such and such boss is required in order to defeat them, which adds a unique challenge to not just the first game but for the duration of the series. In essence, try to think of beating the bosses akin to rock-paper-scissors, which partially contributes to why Mega Man is called Rockman in Japan.

However, there is a more concrete (no pun intended) reason as to why he is named Rockman. It is simply a reference to rock ‘n roll music, and that his sister’s name is Roll (as for his brother Proto Man, he is named Blues in the Japanese version). As to why his name was changed to Mega Man outside of Japan, it just happens to be that Joe Marici, Capcom’s then marketing head for its North American branch, just didn’t think the original Japanese name would appeal to a North American audience (and he personally didn’t like the Rockman name).

Keiji Inafune and the True Fathers of Mega Man

Due to Keiji Inafune’s overwhelming contributions to Mega Man, he is often credited as the creator, when it really happens to be Akira Kitamura, Inafune’s mentor. In 2007, Inafune went out of his way to correcting gamers and the media in regards to calling him the father of Mega Man by sharing with them that by the time he was hired by Capcom, the game was already conceived. His main role at the time of the first game’s development was that he was the lead character designer.

When Capcom was making Mega Man, they felt an anime/manga approach to the designs would be a better representation of how they could transition it to sprite graphics during the 8-bit era. In addition, they also referenced Ninja Captor, a classic tokusatsu series, when it came to fighting different bosses of different abilities. When it came to Mega Man’s design, Inafune took inspiration from Astro Boy. As for the rest of the cast, Inafune just took inspiration from both manga and American comics. Kitamura originally wanted to make the character white, but by making him blue, it would be more effective in making him stand out to the player due to how many shades of blue were featured on the NES hardware. As for the inspiration to his weapons and arm blaster, it was just something taken from anime and the staff thought it was cool.

If there is one character that Inafune can be considered the father of, it is certainly that of Zero, one of the co-leads of the Mega Man X titles, which we will get into later.

Cult Hit to Gaming Icon

As previously stated, not only did Capcom’s American branch’s marketing division not like its Japanese name, they had low expectations of the game. After hearing of its success in Japan, they decided to localize it. In the rush to release it, a friend of Marici was hired to make a cover box art for the game within a single night. As for that box art, it is still considered one of the worst box covers in the history of gaming, and Inafune has been vocal about his disliking of it, and how it does not represent the actual game. However, Capcom has found ways to pay homage to it for the sake of self-deprecating humor through its recent releases.

Even though the first Mega Man game did not sell well (and did we mention that Inafune and fans blame it on the cover art?), it was still excellently reviewed by the gaming media. Regardless of its North American failure, the original team persisted in making a sequel. As for Mega Man 2, it was really a passion project for the team, which Capcom allowed as long as they were concurrently working on other projects they officially approved. The team accepted fan input in regards to boss designs and implemented them (which was further expanded for Mega Man 3 through various contests), and added new features to address complaints of the first game’s difficulty such as having three items on hand, and having the choice of difficulty.

The North American cover art to the second game more accurately reflected Mega Man’s design, however, he was still holding a pistol, which fans and the media have forgiven. During the era of 8-bit gaming, we can admit that it may be difficult to comprehend whether or not he was firing from a pistol, or from a wrist cannon. Either way, Mega Man 2 became an international hit and solidified it as a leading franchise for Capcom to make up to a 5th installment for the original NES.

Mega Man X

Beyond having five games on the original NES along with the sixth and seventh games released on the Super NES, Capcom created a spinoff series with Mega Man X, which takes place 100 years after the original games. Mega Max X takes places in a dystopian future and appropriately gives the design a much edgier atmosphere. With the improved hardware on the Super NES allowing for improved sprite animation and detail design, the team wanted to make X’s armor stand out more with its colors. Which is why X is given such a unique armor.

X introduces new features to help improve the gameplay and help make it stand out as its own series such as cling jumping from wall-to-wall and dashing. In addition to the introduction of X, the series also introduces Zero, who we talked about earlier. Without a doubt, Zero is the perfect representation in context to how the world of Mega Man X differs from the main series. Zero is meant to be edgy and abides by a different sense of morals, thus making him an anti-hero. With Inafune and the rest of the team facing concerns that fans wouldn’t react well to him due to how different he was from Mega Man, his role was changed to that of a supporting character. Regardless, he was a hit with fans and he eventually became playable from the third installment of X, and eventually got his own series. X, on the other hand, was largely designed by a protégé of Inafune, Hayato Kaji.

Mega Man Legends

As 3D was progressively becoming the in-thing from the 32/64-bit era, Capcom decided it was also time to make a 3D Mega Man game, and that’s where Legends (or Rockman Dash in Japan, or Mega Man 64 for its Nintendo 64 release) comes in. Taking inspiration from 3D platform games such as Mario 64, that’s the direction Mega Man goes with Legends. In addition to making Mega Man 3D, this game took another interesting step in removing his trademark helmet and have his hair flow out. His name is this version is Mega Man Volnutt, meaning he’s an alternate Mega Man just like X.

Since it was an opportunity to do something new with Mega Man by making it more story oriented and introducing adventure and RPG elements, Inafune admitted in interviews that he and the staff enjoyed working on the game. The game was a hit and was given a sequel and a spinoff, The Mis-adventures of Trom Bonne. A third installment was in development for the 3DS, but was cancelled. In 2014, Capcom’s European Twitter said that lack of fan interest is why they didn’t pursue further development. However, many fans still express interest as does Inafune despite leaving Capcom circa 2010.

Mega Man Battle Network

In addition to X and Legends, Capcom made another spinoff to Mega Man, Battle Network or Rockman.exe in Japan for the Game Boy Advance. As opposed to being a traditional platform game, Battle Network plays like a traditional JRPG but with some of its own distinctive elements. The development of Battle Network is a unique story of its own. Seeing how Nintendo found success on portable gaming with Pokémon and with card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh becoming popular worldwide, Capcom wanted to capitalize on both booms.

At first, they wanted to make a horror game (though we can’t find any information if it was a horror game in general, or just a Mega Man game with a horror theme) through these gimmicks. They just didn’t find a way to make it work and instead, made something as a reaction to what was going on in society at the time. In addition to Pokémon and card games gaining popularity, internet access in an average first world home was increasing, and they wanted to make a theme based on all of that. So instead, they made a Mega Man spin off based on all these factors. Inafune personally designed Mega Man in a manner that represented this new take on the series, and wanted the character designs to be as simple as possible to the point that kids could easily draw them. In a way, think of Mega Man and the rest of the cast akin to Pokémon cards you can use in arcade games in Battle Network, but you control them like in a strategic RPG.

The game was a success in Japan for its time, and would gain cult status outside of Japan. It borrowed a lot of elements from previous games and introduced some fresh changes for both veterans and rookies for Mega Man to enjoy.

Multimedia Franchise

For Battle Network, it was popular in Japan to the point that it got 5 anime installments (and they were aired in North America courtesy of the notorious 4Kids)! Shortly after Rockman.exe had its run in Japan, Shooting Star Rockman, or Star Force, got one season of an anime series. Even prior to the anime to Battle Network, Mega Man received numerous adaptations beyond game form. In the late-1980s, he was featured as a supporting character to Captain N as Dr. Wily, his rival in the games, was a henchman to Mother Brain, the Metroid villain who was also Captain N’s main villain. As opposed to being blue, he is largely green, has a visor, and speaks in a very cracky voice, which has been a source of controversy to fans. In the mid-1990s, Ruby Spears made their own animated adaptation to Mega Man. This show was a faithful adaptation to the games and actually makes references to how he’s originally called Rock in the Japanese version. Despite its ratings and reception at the time, it was cancelled after two seasons due to budget concerns.

Around the same time the original US animated series was broadcasted, Japan had its own animated version to Mega Man in the form of a three episode OVA, Rockman: Wish Upon A Star. Think of it as a reverse Captain N. As opposed to a player from the real world zapped into the world of video games, it’s the cast of Rockman 5 being summoned to the real world. Its presentation and themes are more or less a Japanese version to an after school special.

After over 20 years, another original Mega Man North American animated series has once again debuted with Mega Man: Fully Charged for Cartoon Network. Like its predecessor, it takes inspiration from the classic games as opposed to the spin offs.

Mega Man as a whole has been seen a lot. 10 years after the releasing the eighth game and with many spin offs in between, it finally got a ninth game in 2008. Surprisingly, its presentation was a homage to its original NES releases, meaning it was an 8-bit game in a world that has moved on to the likes of PS3, Wii, X Box 360, and so on. Thanks to the rise of retro gaming through the Wii’s virtual console, it inspired Inafune to make Mega Man 9 like an NES game. Many can agree it’ll be hard to live up to the original games, but many fans appreciated it for going back to its roots and enjoyed it for what it is. A couple of years later, Mega Man 10 was released and followed suit. Like Mega Man 2, Mega Man 10 offered players the option to play at an easier difficulty due to feedback that the 9th game (like the first) was too hard for players. Both 9 and 10 featured ridiculous box art on its covers as a homage and parody to the release of the first North American Mega Man game.

Shortly after, the main branch of the Mega Man series went on hiatus and in that time, Inafune left Capcom to start his own company, Comcast. In the eight year gap between Mega Man 10 and 11, Inafune attempted to make his own homage to Mega Man, Mighty No. 9, which he successfully funded through Kickstarter. Even after numerous delays and reaching more than four times its goal, it was panned by fans and the media. Many accused it of not being varied with its gameplay, limited controls, lack of concept with its featured weapons, and that it wasn’t as fun as the original Mega Man games.

Final Thoughts

As for 11, it is still a 2D side scroller but with cel-shaded graphics as opposed to being 8-bit likes its two predecessors. As opposed to Might No 9, Mega Man 11 was well received and the future of the series is looking brighter (or bluer?) than ever.

Rockman-X-Mega-Man-X-407x500 [Editorial Tuesday] The History of Mega Man


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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