Monday, May 1, 2023

MegaMan Battle Network - The Game That Made Me Who I Am

What makes a person? The answer? A lot of things. Who we are is determined by so many factors, that you can write entire books on the subject, yet never cover everything. Everything from genetics, to our environment influences who we become, and it is a never ending process. Sure, at some point people will become "stuck in their ways," but we are creatures that are able to adapt, and change as needed. So when asked "what makes you, you," many people will bring up things that were major influences on them. Not too long ago I made a post discussing how I grew up, but that's just one small part in the overall picture. As this is a gaming blog, I mainly discuss games and what not -- but there's so much more that has happened in my life, that it's shaped me into the person I am today. It's just sometimes games are at the center of such events, and sometimes these games lead me down a road I never expected to walk. When I look at everything that's happened to me because of games, then there's one series that truly made me who I am today. And that's MegaMan Battle Network.

Now, I'll be blunt. This isn't a short story. I'm sorry in advance if it feels like I'm rambling! But the simple fact is, this series means more to me than any other game series in existence. It's the game series that was the gateway to pretty much everything in my life, and because of that it really isn't going to be easy to explain it all. There's going to be a lot I miss, but I still wanted to take the time to go into what I can. I know I've mentioned some of these things in the past on this blog, but today I'd like to just get it all out there at once. I know it might sound stupid that a game had such an impact on me, but I hope you'll just hear me out, and maybe then  you'll understand. This is my story.

The first time I saw Battle Network, I didn't really care. I loved MegaMan thanks to my uncle letting me play MegaMan X, but I was limited on what games I could get as a kid (obviously). I didn't expect to play it, but I had to admit that the box art did look cool. I'd see it sitting on the shelf and look at it, but that's all the farther it initially went. This went on for an entire year, and up until the release of Battle Network 2 -- which again, I didn't expect to get. I was 10 at the time, and in my mind, I had other things to do, and other games to play. But then, things suddenly change.

I don't know why this happened, but I still remember the day clearly. It was the middle of summer, and I woke up at my mom's work home (again, I explained the situation in my previous post). It was a normal day, but for whatever reason I got this weird feeling like "you need to play Battle Network." I wasn't thinking about it or planning on ever getting it -- I seriously woke up with this thought in my mind, and a weird feeling that wouldn't go away. I didn't even know what the game was about. I just knew it was MegaMan, and at this point it might've even been months since I last saw the game in stores. (In fact, I know it had been months -- but I'll get to that later.) Even so, I just had to have it for some reason. It was seriously like something inside me was telling me to get it, and it wouldn't take no for an answer. I've only had this feeling a handful of times in my life, and this is the earliest example I can remember.

So what did I do? I listened.

Being 10, I didn't have a lot of money saved, but I had to come up with a way to get more. I knew later that day my mom and grandma would take me to pick up their paychecks, and usually we would go to Walmart after. So I got together all the change I had saved, and asked my mom if I could make a deal with her to earn whatever I was missing. She agreed, and I got to work doing chores around the house. I didn't know at the game I'd only need a few dollars, but as a 10 year old that was HUGE. Man, I can still picture myself running around the house doing everything I could possibly do just to earn a little bit more change... And then we got in the car and headed over to my grandparent's house.

The rest of that day went as usual. We drove 20 minutes away to the bank to get their checks, we stopped by McDonalds and sat in our usual spot, and then we went over to Walmart to get our weekly shopping done. At the time it wasn't a Super Walmart, but it still had the basics which were needed. Once we got there my mom took me over to the game section, and... It wasn't there. We looked everywhere, and we couldn't find a single MegaMan game on the shelves. Of course I was disappointed, but as we were getting ready to leave we noticed something -- the discount shelf. Apparently they did have it! For half off! Back then new GBA games were $30, and Walmart had one copy of Battle Network for sale for $15 -- such a great deal. I'm not even sure if my mom had to give me extra cash to buy it, but I didn't care! I was more than happy to give up everything I had for it. So that's what I did.

Walking around Walmart, I kept looking at and reading the back of the box. At one point though, for some reason the whole "Cyber World" thing bothered me. To put it bluntly, I was weird as a kid, and I'd refuse to play any game that had too much sci-fi or fantasy. I especially dropped things that featured magic, so this "entering the Cyber World" thing bugged me. Heck I actually put the game down on a shelf to leave it, but something inside screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IDIOT, PICK IT UP" and so I did. I ended up buying the game after all, and we went home.

Of course I played it on the way back. We had a 20 minute drive, and a few other stops to make. I remember sitting on the Town Square as my mom ran inside her work's main office for a second, and that's when I first heard the ACDC Town main theme. It's a song I would end up loving, and a song I still think about every time I drive through that square (especially when my iTunes would happen to play it on my drive home as I went around that square). Eventually we'd get back to my grandparent's house, and my grandpa wanted us to ride with him somewhere as well -- so once again we took off. "Look mom I'm on the Internet!" Exact words I said as I continued to play the game while riding in his van. By 3:00 PM we had to be back at my mom's work, but of course that didn't stop me from continuing playing. I basically spent the rest of the summer on that game, up until I got stuck in Elecman's stage.

When school started again, and I went to middle school, I made sure to tell my friends about Battle Network as much as possible. (I thought it was cool that both me and Lan were 10.) We would play freeze tag outside in the school yard, but we'd put our own twists on it. We would pretend to be our favorite characters, and everyone had a special "move" to protect themselves from being frozen. I chose to be MegaMan.EXE, and I wanted my special move to be the Elect Sword Battle Chip. I explained to my friends how the sword would come out of the gun on his hand, and would do 120 damage if you managed to hit someone with it. In freeze tag terms, this translated to "I can freeze you once for 12 seconds if I slash you in time." Of course my friends didn't really understand, but throughout the year that would slowly change. I'd keep explaining the game to them, and eventually by the end of the next year, (6th grade) the show had been announced for Kids WB -- and of course everyone decided to watch it. In fact, I remember at the end of the school year we got to have a free day at the local park, and I spent a lot of that free day explaining things that would eventually happen in the show to them. That's also when we all started "playing" MegaMan at recess.

I think the release of the anime is what eventually pushed me to finish Battle Network 1, and move onto Battle Network 2. Again by this point the game was up for sale dirt cheap, but me and my dad had to run allover the place to track a copy down. We eventually found it on the discount shelf at Target in a city roughly an hour away, but man... It was complete luck. Me and him ended up spending the entire day together because my mom had to work a weekend, and it took most of that day to finally find it. I had a lot of fun though, and it was one of the few times we did something like that. Just him and me I mean... I often wonder if he remembers that day?

That start of that summer was spent playing Battle Network 2, and swimming at my grandparent's house. I'd bring BN2 with me of course, but usually I was playing outside every chance I got back then. I have a lot of fond memories from the game however, and I remember it shocked me quite a few times. Seeing Lan cuss for example -- didn't expect that! Then you had the whole rap battle for whisky thing. (How did they get away with this?) It made me realize that Battle Network wasn't exactly a kids game, and now that I think about it, I think it was the first game I owned that actually had cussing in it. Er, except for Crazy Taxi on the DreamCast, but that's a little different... Anyway -- I loved BN2, and it is honestly still one of my favorite games. Going back to school the next year (7th grade) was me talking about Battle Network, and discussing the show with friends once again, but we also continued our new tradition of "playing" Battle Network during recess. Of course I wanted to be Lan, my friends Ryan chose Dex, Ian created his own character, and Keith was Chaud (little did he know he was the coolest character of them all)... But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Leading up to the anime's announcement the school year of 6th grade was kinda crazy.

A lot happened during 6th grade for me, but I guess I don't have much more to say related to BN. Yeah,  I kept playing both 1 and 2 non stop throughout the year, but this wasn't the moment things changed for me. It was actually that next summer that would start it all. Now at this point I was getting interested in the internet as a whole (thanks MegaMan), but my focus was actually more towards Sonic. I joined the Sonic Team BBS, and people there would talk about their own fan websites, so that's what lead me to create the "MegaMan BBS." It would eventually become a MegaMan/Sonic discussion forum, but it wasn't much more than us kids messing around at the time. I didn't get serious with forums until I used Invision Power Boards to create The Chao Hideout, which would become a focus for me and my friends during the rest of our middle school years. But even this wouldn't explode until a little later.

The summer of 6th grade did change some things quite a bit as well. On top of getting Battle Network 2, the spinoff Network Transmission came out in the GameCube (which I ultimately ended up getting as well), but it wasn't my main focus. At around this same time MegaMan Battle Network 3 was also on its way, and my family decided to take us on a weekend get away around my birthday. The game would release around the same time, so she told me that she’d buy it for me once we found it. Our vacation wasn’t anywhere too far — it was actually to a city in Illinois called Bloomington, where we got to stay at a fancy hotel because of a deal my mom’s work had going on. So we took my grandparents with us, and spent the whole weekend just hitting all the stores and doing different things around the city. For me the highlight of the entire vacation was finding BN3 at the mall, but the trip was fun overall. I would play BN3 in the hotel at night, and on the way back home (of course), but even without the game it was still a nice trip. Once we got home however, I had to call Ryan and tell him right away that I was able to get it, and to my surprise so did he! This was a game changer.

Up until then it was always me talking about the games, and my friends watching the show. Now one of my best friends had the newest entry, AND to top it off, he bought Blue version while I had White. BN3 was the point in the series where multiple versions became a thing, and to 100% complete the games you needed to trade exclusive chips between the two versions. So since we both different versions, we were pretty much set. The rest of both of our summers (and the following school year) was spent playing the game, and it was amazing.

Both me and Ryan went to my church’s Bible School that year, and I remember we’d spend the car rides up (and back) Net Battling each other. Then every time we went to each other’s house, we made sure we always brought our copy of the game as well. We’d spend countless hours talking to each other on the phone, as we tried to complete everything and help each other, and of course we made sure to trade things to each other to help each other out. Eventually we did in fact 100% complete the game, but it was sooo much work, and took countless months and hours. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. It was a good 7th grade year. Although, me being “funny” about specific games did delay me some. (I’ll admit, the whole “demon” costume thing in BN3 bothered me at first.)

After yet another year went by, it was finally the summer of 7th grade, and my 8th grade year was quickly approaching. At this point I became much more involved with the internet, web design, fan sites, etc, and my friends were there with me. Chip Challenge would come out before Easter that year (which I've talked about in the past), but Battle Network 4 was the game me and Ryan would play off and on throughout that summer (again we got different versions), but the life changing stuff wouldn’t really happen for me until school started. Although we were getting older, all us friends kept role playing “MegaMan” during breaks, and that’s when I had the idea… “Let’s bring this ‘game’ to everyone.” And thus, Cyber Net was born.

Cyber Net was a MMBN rpg forum. We setup systems where you gained experience for every single post you made, and we used the profile signatures to give members their own personal navis. Originally we kept things basic, where stronger members would clearly beat weaker members, but we made sure everything was fair as well. If players had a creative way to win fights, then they win. It was all about using your imagination to come up with a way to win, while also staying within the limits of the Battle Network series. Shop areas were setup where you could gain different Battle Chips, some members opened their own "Custom Navi" shops for those who weren't experienced in graphic editing, and we kept up to date with what the series itself was currently doing. The Navi Customizer was there to add extra abilities and programs, and we allowed the form change and Double Soul systems as well. Basically we adapted everything that made BN into a forum RPG format, and it continued to evolve throughout the years. Eventually we borrowed from the anime, and introduced Net City as well -- a series of area based boards, each with their own functions and sub boards to explore. It became pretty in depth, and it attracted thousands of members. I never imagined it would become as big as it did, but... Yeah, it was a heck of a lot of fun. It's because of Cyber Net however, that I am where I am today.

CN (what I'll call it going forward) was what really taught me about the internet, and web design. It's what caused me to meet a lot of amazing people, and what got me more involved in the MegaMan community. I joined other fan sites and met great people (like Spikeman.EXE over at MMBN Online -- the guy who started the Rockman.EXE 4.5 Translation), and I learned more about the series in the process. One event that really changed things for me however, was when "Grave" attacked. Using the dubbed anime's version of "the bad guy's," we had a group consisting of unknown members attack CN. The group was lead by a member named Forte, and other members created alternate accounts to join under their ranks. These members were given extreme powers, and played out a story where I was kicked out of the site, and they took over. At the time I was using the username "Lan," but I rejoined my own site under the name "Netto" (Lan's Japanese name) to fight back against the Grave attack. As Netto, I united the members of the site, and went on an all out attack against Grave in CN's RPG. Grave made it clear that they would give up/return control of CN to "Lan" if they could be beaten, so it gave everyone a clear goal to fight towards. There were some members who were truly concerned about me/me losing the forum to a group of "hackers," but I ensured them that everything was okay. Eventually at the end of the story, Grave was "pushed away" and I revealed to everyone that I Netto, was in fact Lan, the creator of CN... But I didn't go back to being Lan. Instead, the name Netto stuck.

Of course to pull off a huge story like that, I had a lot of help. While many Grave members name's were unknown, some of my friends (who were also staff members) were a part of the group. This made sure Grave never gained too much power, and made sure they could not harm the site. Their attacks on specific staff members (such as banning their accounts/deleting their data from the RPG) was of course of their own doing (Staff Member B's Grave account, deleting Staff member B's Staff Member account.) Nothing was lost, but it made this evil group all the more convincing. I kept them under careful watch as well, and directed what they could or couldn't do. I wanted them to remain convincing, but ultimately it was all a game. What I didn't see coming however, is that eventually Grave inspired other members to form their own groups within the RPG as well. Without the same power of course, but these groups became new threats that members would fight against with a common goal. They were stories that I took part in, but had no control over -- and it was fun! This is how I actually met a lot of people, and made a lot of friends. These are people I would talk to for many years, and many of them would follow me to other projects as well -- including Netto's Game Room. Cyber Net as a whole shaped our lives at least in some way, but for me it was a huge impact... This site wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for CN.

During the height of CN's popularity, I didn't slow down. I still joined other fan sites as well, and went anywhere I could find to talk about Battle Network. That's when I got the crazy idea to check out the official Kid's WB forums. They had a MegaMan NT Warrior board to discuss the show, and I noticed a lot of people (most likely kids) wondering what happened next. The show got canceled after Axess in the west, but continued on for quite awhile in Japan. So I wanted to let them know that the series wasn't over, and that I had an answer to the question of "what's next." So I signed up for the site -- however, I ran into one issue. I couldn't use the name "Netto" and I wasn't sure what else to use. I didn't want to use "Super Shadow ?" like I was using on Sonic forums, so instead I went with the first thing that popped into my head. "NettoSaito." 

Netto, again, was Lan's Japanese name, but as for Saito? It's a little bit of a spoiler. Let's just say, it's a name MegaMan goes by in Japan. (The reasons why? You'll have to play the game to understand.) Anyway, I used this username originally just to join Kids WB, but it's what ended up sticking. Since that day I've been "NettoSaito" pretty much everywhere, and it's what would go on to inspire, well, things like this. Netto's Game Room. The name Netto would continue on since that day, and Cyber Net would continue to serve as the basis for pretty much all of my online projects. It's the reason I would branch out into fan game development, and the main reason I created an actual MMORPG for me and my friends (and those who happened to stumble upon it). But it's because of Battle Network in general, that I even got interested in the online world, and future technology. I never thought something like the PET would exist, but I always wished it would. Now days that dream has become a reality thanks to smart phones. So, in short, even my interests were influenced by this series, and it doesn't stop there.

While CN continued on, of course more Battle Network games were released. I was a 13 year old running a popular online forum, but I still had to make time to play the actual games as well. So Battle Network 4 is what continued through 8th grade, and Battle Network 5 was released the summer between 8th and 9th grade. For 8th grade graduation I finally got a PS2 so I could finally play the newer MegaMan X games, but for my birthday I managed to get a copy of Battle Network 5 as well. Actually, I didn't even expect to find it honestly. My cousin bought me Kirby Canvas Curse for the DS, and I wanted to use my birthday money to buy Amazing Mirror so I could unlock extras in Canvas Curse. When we went to Target though, Battle Network 5 happened to be sitting there on the shelf! Thankfully I had enough to buy both it and Kirby. What I didn't realize however, was that when we stopped by to see my grandma (on my dad's side) on the way home, it would be one of the last times I actually saw her. She had Alzheimer's and usually didn't remember who we were, but we still stopped by every time we were in the area to see her (and my dad's brother). I remember sitting there playing BN5 during the visit, thinking nothing of it... And then we headed home. It wasn't anything special honestly, and I'm pretty sure she slept the entire time like usual. But after that day, we didn't really make it back up there. In fact, that side of the family came to our house for Christmas, and my grandma passed away a few weeks later on Friday the 13th.

That Christmas was interesting... I got MegaMan Zero 4 (from my mom's mom), and Battle Network 5 Double Team DS as a present, but also Animal Crossing Wild World and Mario Kart DS. It was my first real experience with an online games, and it's because of these games I was able to help keep my mind off of my grandma. MegaMan Zero 4 stayed in my DS and was always there to play when I needed it, and Animal Crossing WW became my "I have to take it everywhere, and play every day" type of game. I didn't care as much for BN5 DS, simply because it wasn't too much different... But it was found in a clearance bin at Walmart despite being new (so I knew I was getting it), and it was grabbed to be just something extra to give me. Personally I was more excited for the future of the series, and Animal Crossing took over anyway... So yeah... Overall the end of 2005 was great, and I was pretty hopeful going into 2006. But then my grandma passed away, and I learned what it was like to lose a family member.

Summer of 2006 was when I finished my freshman year of high school, and it's also when Battle Network 6 released. The game was set to be the end of the series, and I was pretty sad about that (obviously). By this point Cyber Net was really booming, and BN6 would be the last game to give us content to keep building our RPG off of. But I was still excited to play it, and so were most of the other members on CN. With BN5, many discussions were opened about the game, and the whole community worked together to get through everything and 100% complete the games. With BN6 it would go on to be the same way, but it was the last time this would happen. It was sad, but cool to see at the same time -- the ending to the story we all loved so much. I remember talking to Ryan about it in PE as we were packing our stuff up from the locker room (as school was ending for the summer), but by this point he had moved on from his GBA. So this time around it was just me and the members of CN going through it. We couldn't play against each other of course, but it was still fun. And so, that's what I'd spend my next summer doing. Playing BN6, and wishing the series wouldn't really end.

CN continued on after BN6. We introduced the Cyber Beasts to the RPG, and members continued to create their own stories. Memberships declined, but it was never about the popularity -- it was about the good people who were there making it a place you wanted to visit. I met so many great people, and many would continue to have an impact on my life for the years to come.

Eventually MegaMan Star Force was announced as a follow up series, and we all somewhat got our wish. The series continued in a new form, and of course we all jumped on board. Cyber Net began focusing on the changes made by the Star Force series, but we made sure to not stray too far from our BN roots. Star Force 1 released not too long after I got my driver's license, and it was the first time I took off on my own in a car to get something I really wanted. Tracking the game down wasn't easy, and it was my aunt who eventually found it for me (I just had to go pick it up). I hated driving, so it was a big deal to me -- but Star Force was worth it! Star Force 2 released the summer before my senior year, and it's one of the last games I got to play while I was at my mom's worth home/office. It would close later that year. And then you had Star Force 3 releasing that next summer, right before I started college -- which was terrifying. Although these three games didn't have as big of an impact on me, I did enjoy them, and they released at the end of my childhood. They were the games that sent me off into the real world, and the true end to the series I had just spent the last 8-9 years of my life playing. From the start of middle school, up to graduation and college -- they were there with me through it all.

As for Cyber Net, it continued on up until interest died. The thing about a fan site is, it only lasts as long as the series it's based on. Discussion about Star Force continued while the games were coming out (if it wasn't for GlacialLeaf helping everyone out with SF3, who knows when we would've finished "that" section), but with only 3 games being released -- there was only so much to talk about. Eventually things died down, and the new members joining didn't even know what Battle Network or Star Force was all about... Which was fine, but it caused stories to go in a completely different direction. Eventually their interest died out too, and the site faded into history -- sorta. My other fan projects continued on, and members of Cyber Net jumped over to those projects as well, and eventually the CN spirit would be rebooted over at Capcom's official Capcom-Unity where Netto's Game Room was born in 2011. Then eventually during the summer of 2013, we'd open, and break off on our own -- where we are to this day! Ultimately, this blog wouldn't even exist if it weren't for Battle Network, nor would I have met all the great people over at Capcom-Unity either. So much happened in my life because of this series, and it all started with me getting a funny feeling. 

Crazy how things work out right?