We’re starting this review off with some spoilers about Mega Man X3, because this is important. We need to talk about the series’ plot and this is the perfect place to do it. So, sit back and let me complain for a minute.
At the end of the SNES trilogy of X games, there was always a text crawl that would bring a close to the plot. In X3 it finishes with a staggeringly hamfistedly indulgent bit of anti-foreshadowing when it says “To save mankind, [X] must destroy Zero.” So, this is the absolute worst way of foreshadowing a plot, and it feels like a writer excitedly telling the audience how clever they were when they came up with the next twist. It’s like Star Wars closing with the words: “Luke Skywalker must confront his father, Darth Vader.”
So, why am I talking about the ending of Mega Man X3 in a review for Mega Man X5? Well, because the series producer, Keiji Inafune, has stated that X5 was supposed to be the last game in the series, so we should be seeing that heavily hinted at fight with Zero.
ROUND 1. FIGHT!
That’s going to have to wait, because first we’re going to have to actually get to that point. The story of X5 takes the best aspects of the series’ story and utterly fumbles them.
Sigma’s not dead, because of course he isn’t, and X and Zero are continuing their fight with him. Then things go completely confusing. Defeating Sigma releases a massive virus that covers the earth and turns a large percentage of the reploid population Maverick. So, it’s a computer virus, but it coats the earth in a big pink cloud. I’m not sure what your knowledge on computer viruses is, so I’ll break it down for you this way: they’re not airbourne.
At the same time, the orbital colony, Eurasia, is sabotaged and begins to fall to Earth. It’s big and will apparently destroy the world, so the remaining Maverick Hunters have 16 hours to stop it. I’m not sure what your knowledge on on orbital physics is, but things don’t just fall straight down to Earth from orbit when you cut their engines, or whatever. They have to decelerate, whether that means something big enough going in the opposite direction hits it, it burns retrograde for a sufficient amount of time, or it drags against the atmosphere for long enough. The point is, it doesn’t just fall because you turned it off, and something that big is going to take more than 16 hours to hit the ground.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
I can’t get over how dizzyingly stupid the plot is, but at least it sets up a cool scenario. As you play the levels, you’re first given the objective to repair a giant weapon to blow the colony away, and if that fails, you then have to complete a shuttle to ram the colony. From the outset, you’re told that there’s only four of the eight maverick bosses you have to beat to complete the first project. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to watch the results and here’s where things get really confusing.
There’s no guarantee that the first project you complete will succeed or fail. On my playthrough, the canon failed, and when I completed the remaining four stages, the shuttle failed as well, dooming the world. I then loaded to my previous save, and this time the shuttle succeeded. Nothing had changed, it seemed random.
I looked up the criteria for success and failure and came up with a confusing assortment of explanations, but the key piece of information I came away with is that it’s random. You have no control over whether or not the world is saved. The only way to directly affect the outcome is to reload and try again.
IT’S ALL FUTILE ANYWAY
The confusion doesn’t end there. In previous games in the X series, the power-ups have been pretty static. You could pick up heart capsules to extend your health, armor upgrades to give you new abilities, and energy tanks to refill either your health or weapons. X4 adds another layer on top of it, and I honestly am having difficulty figuring it out.
At the end of every boss stage, you’re asked to develop a part from a choice of life or energy. That’s straightforward enough; life extends your health, energy extends your ammunition. Where it gets complicated is in the third item that you get from bosses. These allow you to shoot faster than normal or jump higher; again, not too complicated. What is weird is that in order to get these third power-ups, the bosses have to be at level 8 (I don’t know why the bosses have experience levels). To get them there? Kill yourself. Every time a level is entered and exited, the boss levels go up. So you have to waste time off your 16 hour clock if you want to get all the power ups.
Confused yet? Just to twist the knife, the power-up you get corresponds to whether you picked life or energy, and there’s no way of telling which nets you what power-up unless you consult an online guide.
VIRUS = VERY YES
I’ve had a lot of complaints about X5 so far, but what about the gameplay? It’s fine. It’s basically the same as it was in X4, but with less care. The jet bike level is back, and it’s magnitudes more annoying than it was previously. If you want the armor piece hidden at the end of this section, be prepared for frustration, as it has no mercy.
Aside from that, it contains all the dash jumping and wall humping that the series is known for. Taken from a gameplay perspective, things are really not that bad, even if everything wrapped around it is a mess.
AXLE THE RED
And it is a mess. To demonstrate this, look no further than the North American maverick names. Names like Axle the Red, Grizzly Slash, and Duff McWhalen; names that disregard the series’ standardized schema in favour of Guns N’ Roses references. Someone on the localization team obviously didn’t care much for the series canon, and decided to please her husband with the homage.
The translation in general, and the production quality specifically is a bit weird. X4 presented the plot using fully animated cutscenes, but here, the cutscenes are largely made through static images. The dialogue also remains in its original Japanese, though the text is fully translated. It’s not that I mind the Japanese voices, I honestly don’t, it’s just weird that the budget was dialed back so far that they couldn’t bother hiring English ones.
I should note that the version I played was the one on the Mega Man X Legacy Collection. For this one, Capcom took the effort to change the Maverick names back to their correct Japanese translations, but the voices remain the same.
So it’s a terrible package containing the same great X gameplay that was established on the SNES. Is it worth playing? No. At its core, it’s not horrible, but it doesn’t make all the flaws easier to overlook.
Oh, and if you were wondering about that fight with Zero; holy crap, get ready for a disappointing cop-out. Then get ready for yet another one after that. I know I said we’d get more into this, but all I can really say is that it’s massively wasted potential and comes across as a token effort to just barely fulfill X3’s prophecy.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a copy of Mega Man X Legacy Collection. It was paid for by the author.