Mega Man Zero Retrospective: Zero 1: Rocky Beginnings

Mega Man Zero is a series that’s close to my heart. Though I only played them last year (and even then, I never finished 4) they had a strong impact on me. I’ve been a Mega Man fan for as long as I can remember, and saying that most of the Zero series is the absolute peak of the franchise is some of the highest praise I can give it.

Considering how much I adore this series, and how Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection just came out, I thought it’d be fun to go through them all again and write out all my thoughts on each game. I’m bad at introductions, so I’m going to go into some background.

Mega Man Zero is the first notable title developed by Inti Creates. They technically did three games before it but, uh…does anyone care about Speed Power Gunbike, Love & Destroy, or Kurohige no Golf Shiyouyou? Genuine question, I’ve never heard anyone talk about these. Anyway, they went on to become somewhat prolific. Making games like the Azure Striker Gunvolt series (I’ll talk about you someday my love…), Mega Man 9 and 10, Blaster Master Zero, and, uh, Gal*Gun, but we don’t talk about that one.

Something I should clarify that might be confusing to non-Mega-Man fans:, Mega Man Zero is not a prequel. It’s a sequel to the Mega Man X series starring the deuteragonist of those games, a swordsman named Zero. Though, you could argue he became the protagonist of that series too, but that’s a topic for another time.

Also, some other important details I’d like to establish before I start: I played the original GBA version of the game on an emulator. This is worth noting for two reasons; 1. The GBA version does not have access to the easy scenario that was added to the game in the Nintendo DS collection (this will hurt very much). 2. I did use some save states.

The decision to use save states probably seems disagreeable, but I did give myself a ruleset for using them. I could only use them at the start of bosses and during story-important stages. I’ll go into more detail on why I did this later, but for now, I think I’m ready to talk about the actual, uh… game. Fair warning, I’ll be spoiling the plot, none of the spoilers in this game are really that big though.

Mega Man Zero begins with Ciel, one of the major characters, running through an underground lab with a few members of her resistance army. They’re being chased by a much stronger army, which establishes pretty clearly and efficiently how small the resistance is in comparison. The enemy army also consists almost entirely of robots that look like X from the Mega Man X games… Ciel finds Zero, who has been asleep here for hundreds of years. He wakes up, then the intro stage begins.

Off the bat, Zero is equipped with a dash and a gun. I’ll say right now, he controls extremely well. At the end of the intro stage you get the Z-Saber, which gives you a melee attack too. This essentially makes the game feel like a 2D Devil May Cry, you can use the gun for chip damage and the sword for the majority of it. You can also just focus on using the gun, but that’s Not How I Roll.

The weapons start out not too great, but you unlock additional abilities like more hits in a combo and charge shots as you go on, and they’ll get pretty good a few stages in. I think I’d prefer to have more stuff from the start, but again, not a big deal.

Now, I want to talk about how the stages work in this game. They’re… odd. Most Mega Man games have you pick between eight bosses that you can do in any order, then castle stages after you beat all those. Zero, however, has you select an objective that you’ll have to complete in one of the 5 or so areas this game has.

Interestingly, it’s sort of open world? If you want, you can leave the resistance base and make your way to the other areas. But there’s no real reason to do this aside from grinding, which… ughhhhh more on that in a bit.

There is a glaring flaw that goes hand in hand with the stage system; the lives system. The game starts you off with three retries. They do not refill upon completing a stage. If you run out of retries, congratulations, you’re stuck with 1 (one) try on each stage for the entire rest of the game. Unless an enemy drops a retry item, but that’s extremely rare.

THAT’S NOT EVEN THE WORST PART THOUGH!!! If you run out of lives on a stage, you are then locked out of completing the stage. You can’t go into it anymore. The game just says ‘that sucks’ and you have to pick a different one.

I did not use save states to bypass this system, but I did use them for bosses, because if I got THAT far in the level I wanted to beat it. I also used them for the required story missions that don’t use this system, since, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to replay the entire level each time I died! I wish I didn’t have to use save states, I wish I could’ve done the intended experience, but the intended experience sucks!

While I’m at it, here’s a list of things you can completely miss because of this stage system, keep in mind I missed ALL of these this run:

2 of the 3 elemental chips that are nearly required for some bosses
The spear weapon
The shield weapon
Context as to what the bosses are when they show up later in the boss rush
Parts of the plot
Literally over half the game

I failed like 3 missions in a row and the game felt some sort of pity(???) for me and just threw me into the endgame story missions. I did not get to see most of the game this playthrough. The first time I played, I used the easy scenario in the Nintendo DS collection, which gives you infinite retries as well as mitigates some other issues I’ll talk about in a second. It makes the game a little too easy, but it’s honestly the preferred experience in my opinion.

About those other issues, the big one is the health system. You start with very little health, and can get more using vitality elves, which are pretty easy to find. However, it is not as easy as just finding them, you need to feed them energy crystals as well, which are another collectible. They need a LOT of energy crystals. I wasn’t ever able to feed them enough to get any health upgrades, which made the game REALLY hard. This is why you would need to grind, I didn’t, but I probably should’ve. Whoops! The easy scenario gives you max health from the start, though. Which is part of why that way of playing is preferable in my opinion.

Even aside from the health, the game is hard, and not really in a fun way. There’s some super obnoxious platforming and boss design. Take, for example, the boss in the train mission.

The platforms periodically rise up before lowering back down, and if you stay on them for too long, you get pushed into those spikes and die instantly. This wouldn’t be a huge deal if death wasn’t such a massive setback in this game, but it is. There’s a whole lot of crap like this.

The bosses also have way too much health if you can’t use the weakness system, which I could not. They also have a high damage output, especially if you can’t upgrade your health, which I could not. If you play this game even somewhat poorly, the rest of the game becomes so much harder, which isn’t really fair at all.

I think that’s everything I wanted to say about the gameplay. If it wasn’t obvious, I’m not a fan of it, I think it’s infuriating. But at least the story is pretty good, even if it’s not much. The plot revolves around Zero helping the resistance members that woke him up, learning pretty quickly that his best friend, X, became corrupt in the couple hundred years Zero has been gone, and has been executing basically everyone who he deems unjust.

He doesn’t really remember much of X at first though. Zero starts off with amnesia but slowly regains his memories as the game goes on, I usually don’t like this trope, But here I’d say it helps with his character development.

One of my favorite parts about this game is that there’s NPCs you can talk to in the resistance base who are all pretty fun. Some of them reappear in later games too, which is neat. The focus stays on Zero and Ciel though.

Anyway, near the end of the game, Ciel tells Zero that the X they’re facing is actually a clone of the original, dubbed Copy X, that she created in an attempt to revive the original X. I’m not really a fan of this? Originally, it was just going to be the actual X, which I think would’ve been much better, but Copy X is… fine. It’s not a big deal.

The Copy X fight is pretty fun, and once you beat him, Zero ends up stranded in a desert, and you get a pretty cool ending where X talks to Zero in the form of what’s essentially a digital ghost. He tells Zero that he’s gotten tired of fighting alone for hundreds of years, and is leaving the world to him.

Zero sees an army of enemy soldiers approaching him, and begins to fight, thus ending Mega Man Zero. I like this plot, it’s simple, but effective. It sets up the rest of the series pretty well. I’m not really a fan of the game overall though. That said, I can forgive it, because it was Inti Creates’ first shot and the rest of the series is, spoiler alert, really good.

With how much I ragged on this game, it might be hard to believe that I love this series, but everything after this game is incredible, and I’ll be writing reviews for all of them. But don’t just take it from me, get the Legacy Collection and play them for yourself, don’t get turned off by the mediocre first game, slogging through it is SO worth it for the other games.

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