Saturday, November 2, 2019

Looking back at Mega Man and the "Real" Advanced PET

If you're not a Mega Man fan from back in the early 2000s, then the Mega Man Battle Network series may be unfamiliar to you. It was an RPG series on the Nintendo GBA, where the modern world has advanced to the point where nearly everyone is depended on handheld computers. They send email with them, constantly chat with friends, shop online, watch videos, set reminders and use day planners, and even use it as a credit card when buying things in person. The whole idea was pretty crazy, and something that we would most likely not see in our real world. Heck, in this world even people's TVs connected to the internet, and some had internet access in their car! I mean, really? Some modern world that was. And besides, why would anyone become that depended on a handheld device like that!? Yeah... I know... The only thing about these PETs that hasn't fully come true is the fact that each one holds an advanced AI. We're not talking Siri or Alexa style AI, but full on virtual intelligence that has a virtual body, and can think and act on it's own. They also have the ability to fight other "Net Navis" (as they are called), and delete viruses that have also taken on physical form. Overall it was a pretty cool idea, and it's no wonder it became so popular. "Wait, popular?" you might ask? Well, yeah.

Believe it or not, Mega Man Battle Network was actually a pretty big deal back then. The games had a pretty good story that spanned six mainline games total, but one thing that really drew people to it was it's competitive aspect. In the game you got to collect items called "Battle Chips" that could be then put into a "Chip Folder" and used in battle. These chips would then be drawn at random as you fought your friends, and whoever was able to kill the other first was the winner of the fight. Mix in the fact that each person's Mega Man would transform and take on different forms based on their own unique fighting style (and add in the pretty in depth Navi Customizer), and you have a PvP system that is unpredictable and constantly changing with each battle. It was just a lot of fun, and each game always improved upon this system, and added new features. That is until they started taking away features to replace them with others. But all of that's besides the point.

After the games took off Capcom didn't stop there. It wasn't long after their success that the Rockman.EXE (what it's called in Japan) anime was released. This anime series lasted over 200 episodes, and even had a full length movie. It was also brought over to the US to air on Kids WB, but of course this version was heavily censored with even full episodes being removed. Even so, this didn't stop the series from being popular in the US as well, which is eventually what lead to the release of the Mega Man Battle Network toy series. Although, these toys were also released for another reason -- a reason we never got.

When the toys started coming out it was during Mega Man's 15th anniversary. During this time Mega Man was cranking out game after game (such as the popular Zero series), and Mega Man Battle Network just happened to be a part of it. So we had the popular anime series going on, the Battle Network series was going strong, the X and Zero series were getting new releases, and you could find toys for not only Battle Network, but for the Classic Mega Man and X series as well. Model kits, action figures of all sizes, a Dr. Wily's lab play set (which I actually owned), and just so much more. These toys were in nearly every major store in the US, and for basically the first time we really saw a video game series being marketed in full force. It was pretty great, but sadly the "final" part of this whole marketing campaign never came to light for us.

(Yep, I've kept mine all these years. They don't call me "Netto" for nothing!)
With the release of these BN toys and Mega Man Battle Network 4 came the "real" Battle Chips, and the real PET. Every BN related toy would come with one of these real Battle Chips, but they also sold chip packs with random ones inside. These could then be used in the real PET to help your Mega Man fight off viruses or other players. This PET really wasn't that advanced (it was just your basic LCD electronic game), but it was pretty cool for what it was. You started it up, you met Mega Man, and then as you walked around he had a chance of encountering viruses to fight. You then gave Mega Man basic orders, or sent him Battle Chips to quickly finish off the enemies. Once the enemy was dead Mega Man would get slightly stronger, and eventually you could upgrade him which would allow him to use stronger attacks and Battle Chips. So yeah, it was a cool idea, but it's battery didn't last long. And to make things worse, if you didn't change the battery correctly (or fast enough), then you lost your progress and Mega Man went back to level 1. (Happened to me constantly.) As for the PET models, it did come in a Red and Black/Purple version for Protoman and Bass respectively, but Mega Man was the only character you could actually play as. (Which was a bit of a let down.) That wouldn't have been a problem though if we would've received the Battle Gate...

Besides the toy version of the Advanced PET, a second "PET" was being advertised along with these Battle Chips and games. The Battle Gate was a device that would plug into the Game Boy Advance, and it would work with Mega Man Battle Network 4, and the "upcoming" 4.5. In Battle Network 4 you could use it to physically send your real Battle Chips to Mega Man to help him fight, but in 4.5 it would've served a much larger purpose. You see this 4.5 game was actually made to be a Navi Simulator. You would start the game up, choose which Navi you'd like as your own (Mega Man, Roll, Gutsman, Numberman, Protoman, Bass, Junkman, Fireman, Aquaman, etc), and then you'd use them to fight viruses and navigate the net. These Navis would ask you daily questions to get to know you, help you plan out your day, and help you fight in tournaments. The game also ran on a real time clock, so you had to physically be at different locations in the game in real time if you wanted to progress through the story and complete different activities. Also like a real Navi, these Navis would control themselves in battle, and rely on you to command them and to send them Battle Chips. This was the real use for these physical Battle Chips that had been coming out throughout the year, but sadly none of this was ever officially released outside of Japan.

So here we are today, and nearly all of it was for nothing. While the real PET was fun for what it was, it came nowhere near being as good as Mega Man Battle Network 4.5 -- a real GBA game. Then shortly after all of this happened, the toys were discontinued, the anime was pulled from US TV after a cliffhanger at the end of the second series, and Battle Network 5 released to seemingly less success. The series popularity was slowly dying, and eventually it all came to an end after the release of BN6. Sure Mega Man Star Force followed it up during the DS days, but it too only lasted for three games, and was nowhere near as popular as BN was before. And then the series completely faded away, and was forgotten by many. (This event is what would eventually lead to the creation of this blog, but that's aside the point.)

Anyway, now here we are today and the real PET and Battle Chip Gate are nothing but relics from the past. On the bright side a fan translation of Battle Network 4.5 was finally released last week, but if you want to use the physical Battle Chips with it, that'll take a lot of extra work. Not to mention you'll need to track down a Battle Gate if you don't already have one. Still, it's nice that English speakers finally have a way to play it, but it'd be better if Capcom themselves would finally release it for real. But oh well, we can always dream right?


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