While the Mega Man series is mostly known for its action platformer instalments, in a move to perhaps appeal to more audiences Capcom decided to try pairing the Blue Bomber with some other genres, first in the form of Mega Man Legends, an action RPG, and then again with this title, Mega Man Battle Network.
Released on Game Boy Advance at the turn of the century, this is essentially another attempt at making a Mega Man RPG, though with some vastly different gameplay to the Legends games. In this title you control two different characters — first you'll meet a young student called Lan, who you can control in the "real" world. Lan's gameplay is more exploration-based as you look around the isometric world, talk to characters, shop for items, accept quests and more.
When you switch to the Net, a virtual world, you take control of MegaMan.EXE, another incarnation of the blue hero and Lan's "avatar" that gets to explore dungeons in cyberspace, find items and fight enemies, which are referred to as viruses. As in most traditional RPGs encounters are completely random — there's no indication you're going to get into a fight before it suddenly happens.
The actual battles, however, are a little different from those typical of turn-based ones RPGs, as they're actually in real-time. As you enter a fight you'll be presented with a horizontally aligned battlefield consisting of 18 squares, 9 for MegaMan.EXE and 9 for the enemies, both laid out in a 3x3 pattern. MegaMan.EXE can freely move around the squares on his side of the field, and can fire from any one of them to try and hit the enemies, while said enemies can also freely move around and shoot back at him from their side of the field.
Further spicing things up are the so-called Battle Chips, special abilities which allow you to perform various special moves. These can have all sorts of effects, such as summoning allies, firing a strong attack, healing HP or destroying part of the enemy's side of the battlefield. These Battle Chips can be found and bought all over the place, so they're a key strategy to swinging the tide of battles in your favour.
Although this game takes place in an alternate universe of sorts, with the previous few series supposedly having never happened, there are still plenty of references for the fans. Among other things you'll encounter several heavily redesigned versions of past Mega Man bosses, such as ElecMan.EXE and WoodMan.EXE, who naturally retain their position as bosses.
If you simply rush through game's main story you'll find that it's relatively short for an RPG, though still clocking in at a little over 12 hours, but Mega Man Battle Network is not unlike other RPGs in that it offers a lot of optional content, which can easily double or triple its length should you choose to go for the 100% completion. Naturally, this extra content all leads to additional items, which can greatly assist you if you're having trouble with a particular part.
As it is a pretty early Game Boy Advance game the music, for the most part, is decent at best, but the game shines on the graphical side with big, colourful environments that house lots of little details.
Although the Mega Man Legends games never quite got the popularity they deserved, Capcom struck gold with the Battle Network series, creating 6 main titles and plenty of spin-offs which all sold well. This first title lays the baseline for its sequels, introducing players to a fun, unique battle system, plus an interesting world and characters. Its successors arguably do the job a little better, but the first game in the Battle Network series is still a great place to start.