Mega Man Star Force 3: Red Joker Review «

What does it say about a franchise when the most exciting thing that’s happened to it in the past ten years is that it briefly regressed a few decades to mimic a 20-year-old entry? Yet that’s precisely the predicament in which Mega Man finds itself these days, forced to dig into its own past to be interesting. Unfortunately, that already happened with last year’s Mega Man 9. This year’s release — Mega Man Star Force 3 — is much less intriguing. It’s an incremental tweak of a concept that Capcom has churned out every twelve months since the Game Boy Advance’s debut eight years ago.
And yet, taken on its own merits, Star Force 3 is actually a pretty decent game. It’s ultimately not so different from 2001’s Mega Man Battle Network, the inventive card-battling action-RPG reinvention of the franchise that was incredibly popular for a few years thanks, in large part, to a successful anime tie-in. The Star Force games are actually the follow-up to Battle Network; it’s essentially the same game, though far less popular than its GBA predecessors. Oh, there’s a Star Force anime, too, but kids aren’t as easily fooled as Capcom seems to think. You can only sell them the exact same thing so many times before they catch on.

Click the image above to check out all Mega Man Star Force 3 screens.
Personally, I enjoyed Battle Network and its first sequel, but I gave up midway through the third drawn-out entry in the series, which was almost completely identical to the two games that came before it. This review marks my return to the franchise six years later, and I was surprised by how easily I was able to pick up Star Force 3; from the start, I felt right at home with its mechanics. Sure, the fine details are slightly different — at the very least, the main character is much less of a snotty brat — and the battle system is slightly simplified, but at heart it’s exactly the same game that I ducked out on all that time ago. In fact, the biggest “new” addition to Star Force 3, the ability to customize and transform the hero with something called Noise, is almost exactly the same thing as the custom styles and bug fragments of the MMBN games.

In a way, though, I don’t really mind; I rather enjoyed the Battle Network games until my enthusiasm was crushed by their inane storylines, idiotic plot-padding quests, and relentless random encounter rates. Star Force 3 still has an embarrassingly stupid story and plenty of filler content, but there’s less mindless backtracking, and random battles seem to happen far less frequently. Capcom also seems to have streamlined the overall map design (thanks in part to the fact that the virtual world where combat happens is now an overlay placed atop the real world), and the stupid fetch quests have been scaled back as well. Strangely enough, the characters are so sincere and daft you can’t help but like them despite their witlessness.

What this means is that it’s a lot easier to enjoy the good parts of Star Force 3 — combat, customization, and upgrading Mega Man — without getting hung up on the weaker parts. Taken as an annual regurgitation of a single good idea, it’s pretty poor; yet for a newcomer (or someone who’s been away for the better part of a decade), it’s not too bad. The card- (well, chip-) based combat system is flexible, fast-paced, and strategic, and the intensely challenging boss encounters are definitely the highlight of the adventure.

Of course, you still have to slog through a few hours of trivial battles and even more meaningless elementary school drama to get to them. No wonder Star Force only sells to a shrinking audience of dedicated fans these days, people who will continue to buy each annual release regardless of its quality. Coming back to the franchise after several years away has been frustrating for me, because it reminds me how good these Mega Man RPGs could be… and also how little Capcom has actually done to realize the concept’s potential. There’s the foundation here for something great, but the games continue to plod along in unambitious mediocrity. Capcom is a master chef who chooses to use a prime cut of filet mignon to make a platter full of microwaved sliders instead of a single immaculate steak, and it’s a damn waste. Star Force 3 has some good ideas and is probably worth a look for RPG fans… but don’t feel bad if you miss out. Another one’ll be along soon enough, and it probably won’t be terribly different, either.


looking for something?