Session 2 was a full-length session, and it carried us through to the end of this short little game. Kyle gave me the reins at the start of Session 2, which meant I was in charge in the middle of that maze I hadn’t understood from the previous session! Never have I been happier that this game will let you jack out from anywhere, and that that’s what we needed to do!
You’re allowed to ride the subway all you want (“Tickets for elementary school children are free!”) and can take it to your dad’s office at the Government Complex, a “complex” with only two departments. Outside the building, a helpful NPC taught us that Program Advances can also occur between non-alphabetical combinations of related chips in a strict order, like pairing three kinds of swords. Speaking of Program Advances, we eventually did manage to get the Cannon combo, which allows you to freely fire Cannons for about three seconds. Unfortunately, Cannons were already well out of date, even as a Program Advance (and remember, bosses gain a few seconds of invincibility every time they’re hit by a Chip!), but we kept them around for the time being.
We also spotted a food stand run by a woman named Sal, an eco-activist who had a lot to say about “protecting nature,” but almost no specifics. Sal’s food stand served as a jack-in point and was filled with incredibly powerful monsters, only a few tiers below end game monsters, as we’d later learn! I’m not sure why the game’s balance went so quickly to shit! The enemies here included pinecone enemies (“Popper”) that would only appear on-screen when they were about to attack, using a wooden spear pattern similar to the “homing fire wave” of the past. There were also viruses that I took to be living mounds of compost, but that the wiki reveals to be an unseen virus wearing a camoflague tarp, dubbed “Poitton,” a transliteration for a name that no one I’ve checked – dictionaries, the wiki, or obviously the localization – can make any sense of. Poitton could chuck grenades onto the field that would trigger if you moved into a specific pattern nearby: horizontally, vertically, or a two-pronged diagonal attack.
Also present were Rattons, one of Kyle’s least favourite enemies (Ed. I later learned that these enemies are properly called “Ratty,” and only their chip is “Ratton,” but who can blame me, when the Chip is the closest thing you get to an enemy name in MMBN1?). These move around at high speeds, and only stay still while launching their attack, a sort of glob that goes horizontally to your position and then vertically until it hits you or reaches the end of the column. The trouble was: these were the kind of projectiles you can destroy, and while that’s normally a good thing, in this case it blocked your best opportunity to hit the Ratton! We had long-since retired our old Shotgun chips, which pierce through and hit the target and the square behind them, but they would have been helpful here! Oh, and there was one more new virus to wrap things up. A less dangerous virus, true but annoying in concert with the others: a rain cloud enemy (“Cloudy,” natch) that is frequently untouchable, and launches two acid rain clouds that fly up and down a column on your side of the arena. Unless you use Steal, this restricts you to nearly one column at a time!
Sal was also the operator of WoodMan.EXE, based on the MM2 boss, and was willing to challenge you to a battle just for fun. WoodMan preferred to attack with random patterns of the wood spikes, or by throwing seeds that would launch the homing attack seen earlier. Occasionally, Sal would have him start the seed attack by growing a tree on her side of the field. If you don’t destroy this tree, it will spawn an apple in its place, at which point it’s too late: WoodMan will eventually move to the apple and recover HP. I couldn’t handle WoodMan any more than I could the late-game monsters living in Sal’s refrigerator, and Kyle had to do it instead. I was so thoroughly thrashed that I worried I wasn’t going to catch up, and that MMBN would totally lap me. In a sense, that was true: I didn’t accomplish much in the remaining session! But Sal was an unusual difficulty spike and the game would calm down once we got back on the main path, so it wasn’t all bad.
Defeating WoodMan gets you /Sal, a link with access to the government complex Net, which is entirely optional! Kyle was also able to navigate the food stand to get @Sal. There, you can find a net merchant who sells, among other things, the first and lowest-hanging elemental Armour in the game, a feature that’s so tightly locked up that I imagine a fair percentage of players will never find one. I hope they do, because Armour halves incoming damage from every element except the Armour’s elemental weakness, unbelievably powerful. While you can buy multiple Armours, they’re not very different, and all they’re good for is swapping out to cover your one missing element. Kyle was under the impression that Armour made you take double damage from the one exception, which would have made a lot more sense, but we tested it and proved this wasn’t true (it took a bit, though, because we ran into some incredibly strong enemies that confused us for a while!).. Long story short, we only ever found and bought the Wood Armour (I’ll tell you when), and never even learned where you could buy the others!
(Checking online, I also learn that there are only three Armours total, despite there being four elements: Water, Fire, Wood, and Electric. Electricity’s the one that’s missing an Armour.)
Heading inside the government complex, we found ourselves in the municipal waterworks. You have basically nothing to do here except to pass through to reach your dad’s building. Obviously it’ll be important later, but I don’t see why we have to walk through it right now, much less each and every time we want to visit Yuichiro in the future. I can’t help but imagine ways this could have been better-organized, maybe by making the Complex a tower and giving the building a lobby? Anyways, I say there was “nothing” to do, but you could jack into a TV screen for some prizes, where you’ll meet some of the local enemies. These include a water variant to the VolGear, the homing fire enemies from way back in Lan’s oven, dubbed the VolGear2.
In the lobby of the second building, “SciLab,” we learned an important bit of world building: your dad isn’t the first scientist in the family! And wouldn’t you know it: the older Dr. Hikari was the inventor of the PET! This makes him the analog to Dr. Light from Mega Man Classic, and, of course, “Hikari” means “Light,” but unfortunately we don’t learn much more about him at the moment.
The government complex keeps public stuff on the first floor, while the elevators to secure areas use a security card system to keep you out. As a result, Yuichiro had left a message for his son to be buzzed in, restricting your access to just his lab. Unfortunately, once you get up, the department secretary informs you that dad is – shocking – out again. Yup, starting to think we’re never going to see this guy at any point in the series!
MegaMan, still gunning for his new PowerUp, asks you to jack in to Yuichiro’s computer, where a program informs you that the PowerUp isn’t here, and is probably on dad’s PET. Lan leaves a message, after which you’re allowed to explore the computer, where you discover @Dad and also a device that nominally creates viruses based on your power level. I’m not quite sure what this means in a game like this: possibilities include reading MegaMan’s PowerUp count, somehow evaluating your Chips, or maybe just checking your story progress? In any event, it graded us with enemies from the previous dungeon, so if that’s accurate that explains a lot about our difficulty at Sal’s! (Ed. Sorry, past me, it’s not that complicate! All this device is programmed to do is to give you enemies from the previous dungeon!) While investigating another nearby computer, a Navi told us that Yuichiro had been working on a new Navi and that they’d “heard it uses human…”, at which point they realized they were talking about a secret and shut up!
At this point, you head home, though just as you arrive out of the subway station, Yuichiro sends you an email apologizing for being out and even sending you the PowerUp with the help of “new compression software.” It turns out the attachment includes a PowerUp and an HPmemory, making it even better than we had figured! Kyle installed the PowerUp to our Buster’s attack, upgrading it to 4 point a shot, the last such upgrade it would get in our playthrough.
Heading home, the game entered another time skip. You know, even though these time skips make the game extremely episodic (which must have made the anime adaptation a lot easier, I imagine!), I appreciate that it allows for a much more natural timeline. Final Fantasy likes to pretend that things are happening almost exactly as you see it: characters really do travel cross-country over the course of a minute and a half, only to dart into town for five minutes and then rush back into the wilds, and by the time the sequel rolls around they’re trying to convince you the original game took place in the span of three and a half days. While Square has always taken that sort of thing to extremes, I do understand the root impulse: the world is in danger and your character is in a hurry! MMBN gets away with this because Lan is an elementary school student with other things to do with his time, who is only peripherally involved in the events so far. But surely there’s a middle ground!
Lan has weekend class today and has to head into school, but as he reaches his mother he learns the house’s water is mysteriously off. (Watching Haruka complain about this is kind of funny when the devs didn’t go to the trouble of emptying the pot full of water on the stovetop. Obviously that’s not enough, but it still shows a certain lack of attention-to-detail) No one is surprised after the game went to so much effort shoving the municipal waterworks in our faces! Sure enough, the problem extends across town, and I spent most of my time gripping that school hadn’t already been cancelled. Thankfully it was cancelled, but only after the students got to homeroom! The game even starts to claim that the WWW have somehow stolen every container full of water in town, which seems… shall we say… “unlikely.” Talking to a few other people around class, we also learned that one of our fellow fifth-graders had gone missing during the night.
While we were in class, we fought GutsMan again, who was at nearly the top of his game (Ed. I’d later learn that bosses generally only get three forms, so he probably was at the top of his game, even though we apparently didn’t notice his new attack until later in the Session!). Able to knock most of the floor out before you can stop him, it can be very hard to manoeuvre here if you don’t have special Chips to restore the floor, and of course we were too stubborn to change our deck to get any! Still, Kyle was eventually able to beat Dex.
On the way back to town, we discovered a few changes. First up was a car parked on the curb just outside the gate, but investigating it only gave us the text: “…Mmmph, Mmmph.” Kyle and I… maybe have read this the wrong way. This car is important for a later part of the story, and let’s just say that our “Lover’s Lane” interpretation might have mislead us bit.
Also present was a new Battle Chip shop, run by none other than… Higsby, why the fuck aren’t you in jail? And why are you allowed to own and operate a child-centric business after attempting to brainwash hundreds of children? I get that we’re supposed to focus on his comedy cartoon motivations, and not his widescale crimes, but I think the game is asking a lot from us. I guess the mass proliferation of portable computers has led to a kinder and more forgiving society! Just like real life!
Higsby’s shop is about what you’d expect: you buy Chips here. Sadly, he only has one letter code available for each Chip. It updates its arsenal as the game goes on, and also offers two gatcha machines, where you can trade in either 3 or 10 old chips in exchange for a random new one. Obviously the second machine has better chips. There was also a machine you could use to re-fight NumberMan. I’m not sure why you have to use the machine instead of talking to Higsby, but I guess it was a technical limitation, because you have to talk to him for plot reasons later on and I guess they didn’t want to bar you from the refight at the time? I did the refight and won NumberMan’s chip, which uses his dice attack against your enemies (the one that never worked against us!). This causes damage to every enemy on their half of the field based on a six-sided die roll x 10. It’s not bad compared to some of the tripe we had padding out our deck, but when Kyle earned the upgraded version from a later refight, that was definitely worth the deck space, doing double the damage!
Remember that missing kid from earlier? That’s good, because Lan sure as shit doesn’t. The poor guy’s only mentioned a few times. When Yai emails you to tell you the kid was kidnapped and tells you to help them look, Lan still refuses to do anything about, we’re reminded we really are driving a self-centred little ten year old!
Instead, Lan is interested in the water outage (and the idea of “playing the hero,” if I may say so), and heads to the waterworks. There, we discovered a “professional NetBattler” who had come to investigate the shortage, a guy about Lan’s age who arrogantly blew us off on his way to work. At this point, the game basically let us to our own devices, and for the first of several times in the session, only gave us a few weak clues for what to do next! Some of these get real obtuse, too! The game was starting to give me old Text Adventure vibes, and to rephrase something I’ve said in the past: as a fan of old Text Adventures, that is not a compliment.
In this particular case, I really think the solution is faulty on top of being obtuse. To solve it, you have to back to your dad’s lab and then steal his ID card off his spare lab coat. Wait, why would a SciLab ID card let you into the waterworks? That’s now how building security works! That’s part of the reason Kyle and I put off searching SciLab in the first place! But forget our logic: if you check with MegaMan for help (he serves as a “What was I doing?” button for players who come back after leaving the game for a few months), he keeps telling you to search the waterworks! Anyways, no one cares when they spot this ten year old breaking into government facilities. Your dad also never notices his missing card, and if you’re about to argue that he got a replacement, you’ll notice that Lan’s is never disabled!
Lan finds the control centre for the waterworks, and meets its manager, a certain Dr. Froid, French for “cold” (although the wiki tells me the anime doesn’t pronounce it right and tries to make it rhyme with “Freud”). In Japanese, the man’s name is Seiji Hikawa, “hikawa” meaning “glacier.” Fuck, he’s got elemental names. Better give in: this guy’s good as evil. Here’s the man responsible for the blockage, everyone! He’s…*spits over my should to ward off evil spirits* named after a temperature!
Froid is literally the only staff member to take issue with your being here (doesn’t seem to mind you jacking into his computer, though!), and he tells you that something’s gone wrong with the software required for the pump connecting the waterworks to the lake. He allows you to take a tour since you’re down here already, and in the process, you find that Pro NetBattler from earlier eyeing the water treatment centre instead of the pump. After your tour, Lan decides there’s not much you can do here, but MegaMan thinks something is still wrong and encourages Lan to go hide somewhere to stay in the building overnight, because he is just that unsupervised. I was able to work out that we need to hide in his father’s lab: since dad is never around, no one will ever find you! No one.
Lan finally seems a little disappointed that his father won’t be coming back that night during this scene, by the way. Glad I’m not just over-reading things! The game then does a cute time skip where Lan paces a single circle, and then it’s midnight! Guess the problem wasn’t solved in the interim, huh?
You have to hack into the waterworks’ Net, but their doors are all locked. As a result, the only way in is to tap into their network-capable drinking fountain, which the game insists on calling a “water cooler” for some reason (maybe there are water coolers that look like this, but I think it’s likelier that the localizers weren’t given any visuals to go with their script! It happens! A lot!). But just as Lan gets to work, a woman comes in and finally acts like he’s not supposed to be there! Granted, she doesn’t look like she belongs here either, being dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans instead of a suit, lab coat or maintenance gear, but Lan takes her seriously all the same… seriously enough to avoid her, I mean, not to actually leave. Sneaking back in, we get started on the digital dungeon.
Sure enough, the pump software has been digitally frozen in ice, whatever that implies. And you know what that means: ice physics! You slide on the stuff, and keep going in a straight line until you reach plain ground, sometimes sliding off ledges you otherwise couldn’t navigate! Viruses in this dungeon include the water-themed VolGears, barely modified Fishies from the start of the game, and a set of toy fish, Piranha, that shoot out a targeting reticle: get hit by it and every fish in the field would fire a faster shot soon after. Later in the dungeon, they started throwing in Cloudies, upgraded Spookies, and a new fish enemy, the Puffy, that shot balls of water that would bounce around your side of the arena, seemingly at random, and would explode in a proximity effect if destroyed!
After some simple navigation, we ran into another Navi… ProtoMan! Yes, the software version of Mega Man’s long-lost brother from the original series, a major supporting character. You get three guesses which stuck-up, Pokemon-rival-esque character is operating him, and you’re immediately proven right, as the NetBattler you saw earlier chimes in. ProtoMan erroneously identifies his operator as “Load Chaud” during the scene. The localizers go on to repeat that twice before they realize he was supposed to be saying “Lord Chaud,” specifically Lord Eugene Chaud, though the anime changed things so that Chaud would be his first name. “Chaud” is, of course, the French word for hot. Temperatures again! Evil! Evil! But like I said, Chaud is more of a rival character, and that makes his elemental name kind of an odd decision! ProtoMan doesn’t even have any fire attacks! Chaud orders MegaMan to stay out of the way, and then heads off, because he has not met Lan or MegaMan and has no idea that’s only going to encourage them.
A little further inside, a Navi explained a very odd mechanic for us: in this digital world, we could turn on faucets to run water across the ice, which melts the ice somehow! Maybe it’s supposed to be hot? But be careful: the water itself is impassable. Most of the time, you just have to find a faucet, turn it on, and then turn it off again: you’ll be left with bare floor, and it won’t even reset like the fire in the oven stage! Unfortunately, some are already active and blocking the path, so you have to go and just turn them off, instead.
Not long after the first fountain, you run into a clown Navi telling you it’s a dead end past him, when in actuality there is a path, just blocked by a faucet with no handle. Kyle, why does Clown Man here think he can lie to me?
It took us a little while to get used to all the mechanics here, and part of the blame has to go to the isometric perspective. When you play an isometric game, it’s easy to get into the mentality that you can only move diagonally along the slanted grid. This isn’t the case in MMBN, and you can also slide along the ice orthogonally, against the grid, though coordinating that is tougher than it sounds! Ironically, this could easily have been used to exploit simpler sections, so the game even had to extend some ice patches to keep skilled players from cheating the system. Not that Kyle and I could come anywhere near to that level!
Naturally, the next level of the dungeon was a sliding maze and we were not fans. Soon after, Kyle came across a fixed battle against two scar-eyed polar bear ice machines, dubbed ColdBears. These viruses would launch ice cubes at you, which would stay filling up the leftmost column if they missed you. Thankfully, they weren’t much of a mid-boss encounter and would even come back as regular enemies later in the game, and they were even easier after we landed a Program Advance (below)!
MegaMan is able to defrost the main pump, and Lan decides the only possible way he could check if this fixed things is to take the subway all the way back to ACDC town and check, not his home, not the fountain in the public park just a few steps from the subway, but the school fountain on the other side of the park? Oh and let’s not forget he’s been plugged into a water fountain this entire time!
Unfortunately, remember when Chaud was checking the treatment centre instead of the pumps? Yeah, that wasn’t for funsies: it turns out the polar bear viruses in the pump was only masking a bigger problem in the treatment centre, and Lan just started pumping water so polluted that it’s turned all the water purple, getting a lot of desperate people sick. Chaud goes so far as to track down Lan’s email to shout at him a little, so Lan returns to the waterworks to see what he can do to fix his own mess. But part-way there, Yai emails to bring up the kidnapped kid again, and only now gives us the kid’s name: no first name (the anime dubbed him “Tory”) but his surname is… Froid. Boy, it sure would have been helpful to know that earlier! Even without the waterworks plot, it’s kind of hard to look for a missing kid when you don’t know who you’re looking for! Especially since we’re the same grade and surely knew him by name! You know, I blamed Lan for ignoring this stuff but I’m starting the think the devs stuck this whole kidnapping plot in the last five seconds before the game went gold.
(Ed. I’m coming back to this later and I still can’t get over it. It’s been said that pro writers have a problem with treating everywhere in the world as though it’s like the big city where they, the pro writers, live, work, and were often raised. Like a New York writer who keeps making their settings feel like New York (the larger problem being that the big media hubs are in cities like New York and LA, and so the problem becomes ever-present, though that’s neither here nor there). This feels like a good example. Capcom’s writers are based in Osaka, and ACDC town still gets city vibes despite being barely big enough to house Lan and his closest friends. Oh, the game goes out of its way to tell us it’s a geographically distinct suburb of the larger DenCity, but is it? Really? And while I know this is just a GBA simplification, but counting the desks, there doesn’t seem to be more than 9 kids a class and 18 kids per grade! ACDC Elementary should have all the vibes of a small or at least mid-sized school, not a big, multi-storey Osaka school that it somehow simultaneously is, where you’ve never even heard your year-mates’ names!)
Despite being locked in the trunk of a car for hours, lucky to be alive, not-Tory is more concerned about his father, as he knows the WWW are threatening him to corrupt the waterworks. Thankfully he has just the item you need to proceed, a faucet’s handle “program” that you can use to fix that faucet near the clown. He also gives you a message to give to his dad, but Froid Sr refuses to listen when you get back to the waterworks, having barricaded himself in the control room. Boy, if only these mobile computers had some way of letting his son communicate with the father, some kind of “electronic mail” or “telephonogram.” (And yes, the PETs do have cell phones, though it takes nearly two thirds of the game for someone to use one!) But alas! With no access to the filtration system, you’ll have to go in via the water fountain again!