I'm typically not very fond of reviving threads, but I really had to add in my two cents to this.
Z4 is, for me, the high point of the Mega Man games. While I can't contest that Legends or Classic are inescapably wonderful series, Zero is, in my opinion, where Capcom (and I should give Inti due credit) finally integrated a great and emotionally charged story into their games. Granted, the X series had a pretty good storyline, it never really hit me in the feels like Z did, and always had this cheesy sort of "80's anime" feeling for me.
Zero 4 was initially the one I hated the most just for the fact that they changed the entire gameplay system on me. No more elemental chips. No more ranking-based EX skills, took out the two extra weapons and replaced them with the nigh useless Z-knuckle, everything felt out of place. But then I played through all the games again, and again, and I recently finished them once again on the DS. And now Z4 is my absolute favorite.
Just so you all know, I'll be speaking on my current opinions on them, not about my past ideas or experiences. Oh yeah, and there will be spoilers. (I'll mark them if anyone complains.)
Zero 1 felt like... Well, if I were to describe it in my own words, it felt like a toddler's first steps to me. It was like Inti was only just getting a hold of the universe. They didn't know what they were doing with this character or the story. They had a new series with a new gameplay system, and new characters that they were unfamiliar with besides the titular character. If you take an analytic view at Z1, you'd find the level design is bland at best and the music is hit-or-miss with essentially all the stages. They really stumbled through that game.
The second title however, is where they started getting ahold of what they were doing. They figured how what direction they were going to go with the series and I feel they put in more work to this game. The level design is top-notch. Definitely THE BEST in the Zero series. And the soundtrack was great. No more repetitive tracks. Plus, the new EX Skills and Armor Upgrades were icing on the cake. It was also the hardest in my opinion. (The bosses were [parasitic bomb] easy but those stages. Oh jeez those stages.) But that game is where they certainly nailed the gameplay of the series.
Z3 is where the series really kicks off in my opinion. Granted, it's the most forgettable about the series if you ask me. (I mean, gosh darn it they recycled the same resistance base from the previous title.) I also feel it lacked a bit of that "gritty guerilla edge" the first games had. (I mean I didn't feel the second game did either but it was still a little better as the resistance was still seemingly finding a good foothold in their new base). Instead this game felt more systematic, like you were a soldier being sent off from a well-establish military institution. But what really makes Z3 shine is that they emotionally charged the series. I mean, take a look at the environment and atmosphere for a moment. Some levels have a sense of tension to them, while some evoke a sense of regret. (I mean,
) Not to mention the inner conflict brought up during Z-man's encounter with Omega.
But Z4. Gais. Z4. This game. This game is where everything hit a high point. Where Inti really perfected the gameplay and the story, as well as wrapped it up in one of the best climaxes I've ever seen in a video game. I mean, this game's ending. It was better than any Zelda, Tales, Half-Life, what-have-you game I have ever played. I mean, for one thing, granted, they took out the most creative weapon in the MM series (The shield boomerang) and I was upset about that, they really made up for it. The level design isn't near what we saw in Z2 or Z3, but it makes up for it by adding one thing I felt the series was lacking all this time. Puzzles! I actually wandered around for a time at some points wondering how to get to a certain point or how to unlock something. And the Z-Knuckle was a really creative way to branch out pathways and go about puzzles and minibosses. I mean, remember, in Noble Mandrago's stage, tearing out those vines? Sure, you can just whittle away with the saber, or you can rip them apart in chunks and speed on through. Not to mention pulling those enemies out of their roots before they can become a remote threat in the least. Or what about in Lunaedge's stage, having to, on reflex, grab that keycard and carry it along THROUGH THE WHOLE LEVEL, to get a sub tank?
Plus, they finally perfected the combat. The EX Skills were seamlessly integrated into combat and I pulled off some sick combos speedrunning a stage or two a few times. Plus the bosses were more creative than any of the past ones. There was always a pattern or system of movement to them, and you always had to react at a split second even after memorizing what they did and how they attacked. And even then, they were still a great threat. The Z-Knuckle was a little useless, granted, but it made for a few fun moments, plus the delicious irony of using a V. Fire against it's own kind. But anyways...
Also the music. Oh gawd the music. I am a metalhead personally so that department gets a thumbs up from me right there and then. I mean, I was enjoying rocking out to
(dem drums!) and
(This one somehow had an MMX feel for me), but some of the music really gave a deep sense of atmosphere, specifically tracks like
, which really creeped me out, even at the rock interludes,
, which evoked a really optimistic feel given the situation and how they had miraculously found a solution to their problem, and especially,
"And on that day, we lost something that can't be replaced".
But speaking of atmosphere, look at the plot. Look at the characters. Zero's death in the end was foreshadowed by the utter hopelessness of the situation. I mean, with Copy X and his chokehold over the world, with Elpizo and his godlike power, with Omega and him being an exact flawless replica, Zero only made it with his life by a hair. It was obvious with the pure scale of Ragnorok's power that there had to be a sacrifice, and our hero wasn't willing to let anyone else die. Then again, he never called himself a hero. He was always just putting in self-sacrifice for the sake of others. For me, this was especially tragic, as Zero finally began showing the same signs of humanity he had back in the early X games, before Iris' death. Notice he started cracking some sarcastic jokes and making fun of Cocapetri? It's like he was finally getting over his past pains and regrets, and then in the end, he was lost before he could enjoy life. But he also said to Craft, they were reploids built for war, and nothing else.
And speaking of Craft, the situation with Neige, the refugees, and him. I mean, immediately, we returned to the guerilla warfare style of the first game, where we are in a small undeveloped base with minimal resources. Plus, the added tention of defending the refugees, which were a specific driving point in the game's narrative. In the past games, it was all about the struggle of the resistance. But this time, it showed a darker, less militaristic side to the series. The refugees, without a home, running from oppression. Untrained in combat and gripping to the last dregs of nature. Neige as their leader, a confident reporter who is shown to be very wise in the end. And the tension between her and Craft. Their sinful romantic involvement with each other, the drama of their walking their own paths, and ultimately, Craft's realization of his purpose and his inhuman obsession with rectifying his wrongs, yet with the wrong means and wrong end. Whereas Zero fought ultimately for his friends' goals, Craft fought to end what seemed to be the source of the evil, at any cost, even threatening to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of innocents in the process. (Someone clear me up, what was Neo Arcadia's population again?)
Not bad for a few E-Rated games amiritegais?
But let me wrap this up here since I'm getting a little tired. The ending. The climax of the final battle between Weil and Zero. I mean, first of all, allow me to say how [tornado fang]ing EPIC THAT BATTLE WAS. I MEAN GOD DAMN. THAT BATTLE. I MEAN, ON A TIMER, BURNING UP IN THE ATMOSPHERE, TWO MINUTES TO SAVE HUMANITY, AND THE BEST [tornado fang]ing AWESOME GODDAMN
S-Sorry 'bout that.
Anyways, Zero's sacrifice in the end was truly a great resolution to a great series. The epilogue, with Ciel's sorrow over Zero's death, given her (this is how I read into it anyways) unrequited love for him and his great friendship with all his companions, and how much he gave away to protect humanity...
Well, let me sum it up like this.
"I never cared about justice, and I don't recall ever calling myself a hero. I have always only fought for the people I believe in."
Well Zero, you really were a hero to humanity.
PHEW. I'm glad I got all that off my chest. Sorry for the whole damn retrospective, I mean that was LONG. I MAY have to spoiler tag that all...
Sorry RPM. I promise I won't get sentimental again.