IGN Review of Mega Man Star Force 3: Black Ace
2001 kicked off a new direction for the Mega Man franchise on Game Boy Advance. Taking the roll of an action RPG – and one with a killer battle system and plenty of depth – Mega Man Battle Network wasn't the game diehard Mega fans wanted, but it was awesome nonetheless. Fast-forward eight years and nine games later and the soul of Battle Network remains in the Mega Man Star Force series. Now normally I wouldn't go all personal-like in a review – a game is what it is, and the reviewer shouldn't matter – but given the repetitive nature of the Battle Network/Star Force series it's worth a quick aside. For those of you that love the series to death, or for anyone that hasn't experienced Battle Network before, Mega Man Star Force 3: Black Ace and Red Joker are going to be entertaining offerings that push serious depth in nearly every way possible. For many people out there though – myself included, having dug the original three Battle Network games before stepping away due to repetition – the franchise just isn't moving fast enough, and Star Force's "buy/don't buy" is really a matter of just how much more Battle Network you can take.
The Star Force series picks up where the GBA franchise left off, replacing Lan with another kid (Geo Stellar) donning like-styled clothes, a snooty girl friend, an overweight buddy, and a slew of groupies from around school. Mega Man.exe is replaced with Omega-Xis, an oddly bad-tempered alien, and rather than "jacking" into the net to solve problems the hunter team of Geo and Omega "pulse" in or out of the "wave world." Battle Chips are now cards, the wave world overlays on top of the real world rather than being an alternate highway of net-based paths, and turning into Mega Man can be done at any time by hitting the R button, though the same standard net-battle rules apply when it comes to virus busting. That's just the start of a long list of repetitive "other world" changes that have been made when moving from Network to Star Force, and as far as game-to-game between the DS franchise goes you're getting the same world as the previous two Star Force offerings.
The odd thing is, even though Star Force 3 is nearly identical to the first two games – minus a few changes – and feels just like Battle Network did back in my old busting days (when hunters had to walk up hill both ways just to find a jack-in port; boy, you new-fangled youngsters have it made in the shade with that "wave world" thing – it's still a lot of fun, and extremely deep. Making its debut this time around is a new noise system, which allows players to actually morph the look of Mega Man as battles rage on. It's comes with a similar concept in mind as the Style, Soul Unison, and Cross systems that Capcom has used over the years, but it comes with varying results.
Both versions of Star Force 3 are better and finding certain forms, and that ends up playing into what powers you'll get throughout the game. Both Joker and Ace exclusive forms are pretty similar overall – if you want a huge explanation, you can find it on the amazingly populated fan forums out there – but the amount of grind that can come with busting specifically for more noise means added customization and depth to the game. I've seen a fair share of gamers out there pissed that they can't get the form they want with the version they've got, but I took them as they came and enjoyed the amount of variation in the noise system. It certainly varies things up for online play.
As for the rest of the core game though, it's another issue of "more of the same" for Capcom's RPG series. You've got the same 3D battles when virus busting – which I have to say aren't quite as visually polished or generally appealing than the classic 2D version in Battle Network – more side quests and Elementary School fodder to deal with at the beginning, as well as the same overall pace and style in storytelling. One minor annoyance I had with the original series was that there was an obvious beginning and end point to any actual scripted events – the game's story isn't actually real-time, but rather fades out from gameplay, fades in what is essentially a pre-made story sequence, and then fades back to gameplay again – is still alive and well, though I'm sure I'm in the minority when it comes to complaints based on that. It just feels cheap though, and it's one of dozens of things still found in the Star Force/Battle Network formula that hasn't improved or evolved as the years go on. I was 16 when the franchise started, and now nine years later it feels like I'm running through the same levels, fighting the same enemies, and doing the same quests I was while sneaking GBA time away in Biology class.
For those that are still very much into the series, however, Star Force 3 is going to bring just as many hours -if not more, now that the noise system has added considerable girth to the game - to a well-established, immersive experience. The Wi-Fi is strong (though you'll need to deal with some random disconnections from sore losers ) there are plenty of side quests, 100 different forms within the noise system, a huge array of battle cards, and the continued use of the Brother Band system rewards players for connecting with friends locally or online; a nice touch for a series that is in desperate need of more innovation.
©2009-07-08, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved