Despite everything, I still don’t know what E.X. stands for
Welcome to Lost Pla- I mean, Mega Man Monthly! Hopefully February is treating you well. As I write this, I’m currently buried under a mountain of snow and ice, so this month I’m dragging you down with me to the snowy depths of E.X. Troopers. Huh? What about “Mega Man”? I don’t know who that is.
E.X. Troopers and Mega Man share an odd history, tied together more by circumstance than any overt facts. To this day I often hear people say that E.X. Troopers is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Mega Man Legends 3. I actually imported the game from Japan just over a decade ago based on that very premise. It’s a bit of an urban myth, or perhaps legend, that Legends 3 found new life in E.X. Troopers. You can’t always rely on legends, though, so today we’ll investigate this matter from every angle to uncover the truth lurking behind E.X. Trooper’s snowy exterior.
You may be unfamiliar with this particular legend if you don’t obsess over games that were canceled over a decade ago like I do. Capcom announced Mega Man Legends 3 under the premise that fans would provide direct input on the game as it was being developed. It was never overly clear what the concrete plan of release was for this game beyond fans helping out with it and the initial release of a “prototype” that would serve as a prologue. Following the announcement, the game’s director Masakazu Eguchi stated that the game was never actually greenlit in the first place and its cancellation was a very real possibility.
Long story short, things didn’t work out and Capcom posted an official message confirming the project’s cancellation on July 18th, 2011. Whether it was canceled due to bad blood between Capcom and then Mega Man dungeon master Keiji Inafune who had recently departed from the company, because it was a sequel to a niche game announced for a device that fumbled out of the gate, or because fans simply didn’t care enough doesn’t really matter. Drama occurred, Legends 3 died, the seemingly completed prototype never released, and that’s the end of the story…or is it?
The legend of E.X. Troopers goes that in the wake of Mega Man Legends 3’s legendary cancellation, Legends 3 actually went into Witness Protection and changed its identity. Legends 3 would now go by the name of E.X. Troopers, a spin-off to the Lost Planet franchise. This new game would essentially be built off the scraps of Legends 3 that were completed, reusing the existing engine, mechanics, and even some design assets. It’s Legends 3 in all but name, or so the internet tells me.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, we can irresponsibly rush headlong into conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy Adventure Story in the Halcyon Days
We can tackle this investigation from a variety of angles, but I think the most straightforward place to start would be to hear what Capcom themselves have to say about the matter. Every good conspiracy begins with a cover-up, after all.
If you ask the CapCops themselves, E.X. Troopers has absolutely nothing to do with Mega Man Legends 3. According to former community manager Mr. Seth Killian:
“For what it’s worth, I can tell you I played an early version of [EX Troopers] (which was styled in the same way, and with what looks to be similar gameplay) in Japan well before the Legends project ran into trouble…It is definitely not a reskinned Legends. I have not played EX Troopers for quite a while, but once more details emerge about the gameplay, I think it will become clearer that this is the case”
I guess that’s it then. I can end the article here. No real connection exists between E.X. Troopers and Mega Man Legends 3. As long as we take Mr. Killian at face value here, this whole situation seems pretty clear cut.
Should we take him at face value, though? Honestly, who cares what these corporate reps have to say, right? These jokers can’t even commit to E.X. Troopers’s relationship with Lost Planet, let alone Mega Man. Furthermore, Capcom stumbled into some kind of controversy every five seconds during this era. They were never above any clumsy obfuscation of the truth. At this time in particular, Capcom had every reason to try to bury any comparisons to Mega Man Legends 3.
We need to put Mr. Killian’s words under the microscope. He’s had it coming – I don’t trust him about that Mega Man 9 secret, either!
Mr. Killian’s statement above speaks to the timelines involved, essentially saying that E.X. Troopers was in development in the form we know now long prior to Legends 3’s untimely demise, so it couldn’t possibly be a reskinned Legends 3. Let’s test that premise based on what we know.
Of course, before we get into this analysis, I should clarify that anything I tell you about the timelines involved with making a game falls heavily on the speculation side of things. I don’t know when exactly projects got proposed, when actual development work started on them, or what the work environment at Capcom during this time actually looked like. The best I can work with are public statements, information shared about the games, and milestones like release dates. The idea here is to give you more of a rough gist of events than a definitive sequence of them. With that in mind, let’s begin the insanity.
According to the creative director behind the Lost Planet series, Kenji Ohguro, E.X. Troopers resulted from a feeling that Lost Planet 2 pulled the series too far into two separate directions. It pushed the series more towards a “party” experience similar to Capcom’s own Monster Hunter, with missions that focused on the cooperative experience and replayability rather than the first Lost Planet’s more story-driven roots. As a result of this change, the series would literally split into two directions: E.X. Troopers would follow up on the Monster Hunter angle, and Lost Planet 3 would dive deeper into the narrative. Mr. Ohguro’s story makes sense considering how evident these philosophies are in the respective final products.
The main question that lingers is the timing – when exactly did the idea we now know as E.X. Troopers manifest and is it possible for it to be a reworked version of Mega Man Legends 3? I probably don’t need to tell you this, but games don’t pop out of thin air. They often take anywhere from months to years to develop depending on the hardware involved and scope of the project. So was E.X. Troopers a years-long project or did they throw it together after it became evident that Legends 3 would not be moving forward?
Lost Planet 2 released on April 28th, 2010, so at earliest concrete plans for E.X. Troopers would have formed in proximity to this time period, give or take a few months in either direction. Based on trademark registration, we know that Capcom planned for a game titled E.X. Troopers by December 2011 at the latest. E.X. Troopers was officially announced a little over two years after Lost Planet 2’s release on May 17th, 2012. For reference, Lost Planet 3 was announced the month prior, which would appear to support the premise that this split direction decision immediately resulted in simultaneous Lost Planet projects.
E.X. Troopers was ultimately released on November 22, 2012, giving it roughly five to six more months of development time (there’s usually some delay between a game finishing development and landing on store shelves). That isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things – typically final months of development are dedicated to polishing and putting the completed pieces of the game together into a coherent whole. Sometimes dramatic changes occur near the end of development, I just don’t think this is one of those cases. Based on what we see in the trailer, the game appears close to completion and Capcom likely devoted significant development time to it prior to its announcement.
Back to Mega Man, Capcom announced the Mega Man Legends 3 project at the end of September 2010. A few weeks later at New York Comic Con, Mr. Inafune revealed their plans for the game and launched the Development Room where fans could contribute to the game’s development. Mr. Inafune stated that development of the game was only just beginning and showed off some very early 3D Models. Although he mentions the existence of a prototype version of the game, he follows up by saying it was “not good enough to show to you yet.”
An announcement for an actual public release of the Legends 3 Prototype only followed several months later on April 21st, 2011. The trailer claimed that the Prototype would be launched in tandem with the 3DS’s eShop, coming just two months later in June 2011, and most of the footage posted of the Prototype appeared to be far along in development.
It’s reasonably safe to assume that by the time it was announced, the Prototype was virtually complete or at least extremely close to it. Accounts from others back this up. We don’t know how long that Prototype had actively been in development, but I lean towards the brunt of the work occurring in the 6 month gap between the Legends 3 panel and its April 2011 announcement. Taking into account Mr. Inafune’s comments about the state of the Prototype and the fact that it incorporates things from the Legends 3 Development Room such as the design of the heroine Aero and the boss contest winner, it seems likely that the Prototype largely came together after the October 2010 panel.
Let’s swing back to E.X. Troopers; I’m going to commit a major crime here and take what a developer tells a Japanese video game publication about how close a game is to being complete at face value. At the time of its announcement, the developers estimated that E.X. Troopers was about 60% complete. If they needed about six months to reach 40%, then the game had already been in development for about eight months, placing the project’s inception around September 2011. That’s just math, right? Well, in reality, game development doesn’t really work that way. We have no real method of knowing how long it took to get to 60%, or if that 60% number was based on anything other than gut feeling.
If E.X. Troopers did come into being around September 2011, that means we finally unraveled Mr. Killian’s web of lies. Mr. Killian stated that he had played a version of E.X. Troopers “well before the Legends project ran into trouble.” Let’s give him one more shot and pretend he’s telling the truth. What he means by “ran into trouble” remains vague. We only have about a 10 month timeframe between Legends 3’s announcement and subsequent execution to work with though, so pinpointing that trouble spot may not actually be too difficult.
Presumably the game would not have been “in trouble” during its initial announcement at the end of September 2010. Mr. Inafune left Capcom at the end of October 2010, just weeks after the Legends 3 panel occurred, which certainly could have spelled trouble for the project. Frankly, though, I think it would be a stretch to claim it was “in trouble,” prior to April 2011 when the Prototype was announced. Clearly there was intent to at the very least move forward with this Prototype release and gauge interest from there, even if Mr. Eguchi warned the game as a whole had not yet been greenlit just a month prior. Any plausible “trouble” phase likely occurred between April 21st, 2011 and June 2011, when rumors began to swirl that Legends 3 was indeed in trouble following the delay of the Prototype and the game’s removal from Capcom’s website.
If I were to bet on a particular trouble point, it would be in May 2011. This follows the announcement of the Prototype’s public release and precedes the announcement that it would not release in time for the 3DS eShop’s launch. In my fanfiction version of events, the Legends 3 team presented the Prototype to the higher ups at the CapCouncil for final approval to release the game and were told they could not proceed. This setback, whether it was due to a legitimate quality issue as was claimed in Famitsu or was simply an excuse to prevent its release, nailed Legends 3’s coffin shut.
Basically, there are two potential scenarios here:
In Scenario One, we take Mr. Killian at his word and he played a version of E.X. Troopers several months prior to May 2011. This would mean that the E.X. Troopers project was already well underway right in the middle of the Prototype’s development, which wouldn’t fit with the idea that E.X. Troopers started life after Legends 3’s cancellation. At best, it would mean these teams simply shared assets and ideas while concurrently developing their games.
Alternatively, we consider Scenario Two. Mr. Killian cold heartedly lied to us all with zero remorse in order to throw us off the trail of the truth. Capcom kicked Legends 3 to the curb around May 2011 and immediately sicced a flock of crows upon its corpse. These crows then used the parts they scavenged to rework Legends 3 into a completely new premise, officially kicking off development around September 2011 and having it close to completion about eight months later. Would it be a lot of work? Sure. Is it completely impossible? Not necessarily.
Clearly we need some kind of deciding factor, and I think I know who to call. That guy. You know, him. Well, if you don’t, allow me to introduce you.
On the left, meet Grill Pitmaster, a side character planned to appear in Legends 3. On the right, we find “Gota,” a side character from E.X. Troopers. Were these characters separated from birth or is “Gota” secretly part of the Witness Protection program?
…What, you don’t see it? Allow me to help.
Much better. As you can see, the existence of this character proves that the developers of E.X. Troopers simply carried over all of the assets and designs from Legends 3. That’s the argument that people threw out at the time, anyway.
I don’t find this theory especially compelling. First of all, these designs aren’t all that similar. They share some broad elements while virtually all of the details are completely different. If someone “reworked” this design, they reworked it so thoroughly that they might as well have come up with an entirely new one from the start. Of course, the E.X. Troopers designs also weren’t done by just someone, we know who did them. E.X. Trooper’s art was done by Chisato Mita and Takahiro Kawano. The Legends 3 design doesn’t look like either of their styles.
In fact, these people didn’t work on Legends 3 at all. If you take a look at the key staff members between E.X. Troopers and Legends 3, there’s no real overlap. This fact gives Mr. Killian a little more credibility, as in addition to his prior statements about E.X. Troopers, he also mentioned the following:
“At the time I played it, the projects did not share members…Since the MML3 team is now on other projects, it’s conceivable some are working on this title, but that would be the extent of the overlap so far as I know.”
That statement highlights another important aspect of game development. If E.X. Troopers really were some kind of rework using Legends 3 as a base, there should be some extensive overlap between these development teams, including key members. After all, these people theoretically already did all the work to build the game up to this point, so it makes little sense to essentially start from scratch with an entirely different team. I suppose it’s possible, it just doesn’t seem likely.
The timing here also makes a big difference. The development of E.X. Troopers could potentially have been accelerated if it in fact used Legends 3 as a base. Another way to look at things would be that if E.X. Troopers began development before Legends 3, this situation could also be the opposite of what fans have been alleging all this time. If they share a relationship at all, then it’s possible that E.X. Troopers didn’t scavenge Legends 3 for resources. Instead Legends 3, being a barely funded prototype with a dubious future, may have borrowed elements from E.X. Troopers in order to escape out the door. Anything’s possible. A potentially shared design doesn’t necessarily point towards either conclusion.
That thought brings us back to square one. In order to determine which scenario best resembles the truth, we may need to change our methods. I often wonder if we weigh the words of developers and PR people a little too heavily. It’s all well and good to seek the word of god for some guidance, but these people are only human. Sometimes they misspeak, sometimes they simply can’t divulge all of their employer’s secrets. The best route for reaching the truth is often the simplest: in this case being to just play the darn game and come to your own conclusions. Better yet, I’ll play the game myself and you can just borrow my conclusions. Why trust someone credible when I’m right here, you know? I do charge interest, just as a heads up.
Luckily, I happen to be an E.X. Troopers E.X.pert. Not only did I complete the game shortly after its release, in the years following I finished it again with 100% completion. I even recently played through it yet again in preparation for this article, this time in English via a very well done fan translation. If there is a single thing I know in life, it’s E.X. Troopers. I’ve played it a lot and I will likely continue to play it in the future. All of this I have done to answer a single question: what is E.X. Troopers?
The Brightest Shooting Star
E.X. Troopers is a shooting star. It draws your attention with its bright flashiness. It hurdles towards its destination in a straightforward, single-minded manner. As soon as it reaches its destination, it fades out of existence as quickly as it came. Once it’s gone, all you can do is relive the memories until you burn out as well.
Combat drives this particular shooting star forward. E.X. Troopers follows a mission-based structure that technically assigns you a variety of different objectives as you go from mission to mission. One way or another, however, each mission tends to boil down to blasting monsters, enemy soldiers, and even your friends on occasion. This game knows the path it wants to take and unwaveringly sticks with it.
That straightforward premise works just fine because the core mechanics feel great to play around with. At its most basic, you run around linear maps locking onto enemies and shooting them. What sets E.X. Troopers apart from a lot of other third person shooters is how it handles its movement. Your character comes equipped with a jetpack, which allows him to dash around the battlefield at high speeds.
The jetpack makes traversal fast and fun while also opening up a lot of options for you. A well-timed dash dodges you out of harm’s way, and a really well-timed dash provides the opportunity for a powerful counter attack blast. Most importantly, the jetpack opens up your melee attack arsenal. Depending on the direction and timing of your dash, you can knock enemies around with kicks and uppercuts, giving you stylish ways to quickly incapacitate enemies. Without the jetpack mechanic, E.X. Troopers would be a substantially less fun game. Whenever a mission removes it from you, you feel naked and underpowered. Its presence energizes the core gameplay in all of the right ways.
Much like how the jetpack propels you forward, this game constantly keeps you moving. As soon as you clear out a wave of enemies, the game points you in the direction of the next moment. You constantly wade through wave after wave of enemies. In this way, E.X. Troopers stands in sharp contrast to the slower-paced, methodical hunts you find in Monster Hunter. Everything in E.X. Troopers jetpacks at a mile a minute. Even the downtime the game provides can be blasted through relatively quickly.
Throughout the game, Bren inhabits different bases built across the snowy planet. These bases function as both military compounds and schools, because that’s just the kind of game this is. In line with the game’s quick pacing, you generally don’t need to stick around these places too long if you don’t want to. That’s more or less how I originally played the game, as my ability to read Japanese was and still is very limited.
If you do rush past all these breaks in the action, you lose out on a lot of charm the game has to offer. NPCs have a surprising amount of things to say, side missions are scattered all around, the school bathrooms hide secret items (and going into the wrong one can hurt your reputation among any observers), and little details pop up all the time. My favorite happens to be the statue of the school principal, whose appearance changes throughout the game. I wouldn’t describe these sections as particularly involved, they are ultimately just breathers between the action, but they make the world of E.X. Troopers feel a little more lively and coherent. You attach to the characters a lot more by chatting them up between missions and hanging out with them during their sidequests.
Getting to know everyone better went a long way towards increasing my appreciation of E.X. Troopers as a whole, as indulging in the optional content elevates the experience far more than the main story does. Don’t get me wrong, the story is a fun ride – E.X. Trooper’s graphical presentation bursts with style and colors, and its manga-style cutscenes accentuate that. The story itself just doesn’t bring much to the table other than the spectacle of its fun presentation and bombastic climaxes. The gameplay pushes you along this ride more than any narrative hooks.
That’s fine because E.X. Troopers doesn’t dwell much on drama. Doing so would hardly suit it. E.X. Troopers emphasizes a fun time above all else. It carries a relaxed, carefree vibe all throughout the experience, from its strong visual style to the protagonist Bren’s unbounded enthusiasm. Although Bren’s attitude is infectious, the soundtrack itself plays the most pivotal role in conveying this feeling – its synthetic sounds and vocal performances capture the light, ethereal nature of the game masterfully.
On some level E.X. Troopers might be a little too light and carefree. When you conclude the story and exhaust all of the optional story content, you may not find what’s left all that appealing. The post-game experience boils down to doing “Virtual Reality” missions that repackage all of the same enemies and areas you already know into remixed challenges. As you complete these missions, you gain materials that help you create new weapons and upgrade your gear. If E.X. Troopers were a Monster Hunter game, this would be where the “real” game starts. For E.X. Troopers, it feels more like an afterparty that you’re free to leave whenever you get tired.
As you go through these post-game activities, you begin to realize that the content the game provides can only be stretched so thin. For a roughly ten hour story campaign, E.X. Troopers contains a nice variety of enemies and bosses. For a Monster Hunter-esque grinding game, not so much.
Rathalos these enemies are not. The enemies are fun to fight in the moment, yet too simplistic to carry repeat encounters on the strength of their design alone. Unlike a Monster Hunter, the equipment and weapon systems also lack much depth. The game’s primary attempt at depth comes from its rock-paper-scissors elemental system, where some weapons are better against certain enemies than others. In truth, the element system matters little. With skillful play, you can blow past nearly everything the game throws at you with whatever you want.
You can (and I did) go through all of these missions and grind out all of the weapons to their maximum power, but I can’t say it’s worth binging that experience. Instead, this game works best as something you sporadically go back to because the core mechanics are so fun and easy to revisit.
E.X. Troopers shines brightly while it lasts, it just loses a bit of its luster as it fades away. For the kind of game E.X. Troopers aims to be, that might be a bad thing. To me, it’s really not. I don’t need or want E.X. Troopers to last forever. Like a shooting star, I’m more than content to experience it and move on.
Where’s My Mega Man Game?
I laid out all of the information for you so now you’re free to decide the truth for yourself. In my opinion at least, we won’t be able to lock up Capcom for their crimes against Mega Man fans and humanity (these are separate groups) today. Mr. Killian appears to be telling the truth on this one. The jury remains out on that Mega Man 9 secret, though.
Yeah, both Legends 3 and E.X. Troopers run on the MT Framework engine, but so did everything else Capcom released on the 3DS. Sure, both games contain shooting and melee mechanics, but their implementation and role in their respective games are completely different. And yes, a portly green guy exists in both games, yet they don’t seem to share the same designer, or even the same design when you look closely at it. Maybe Capcom’s art department provides some generic design templates or reference material that can result in similar concepts?
Even if we add all of these similarities up and take them at face value, they all lead to the same truth: E.X. Troopers isn’t Mega Man Legends 3. If E.X. Troopers resembles the closest thing we’ll ever get to Mega Man Legends 3, then we were left several thousand miles away from our intended destination. The evidence points towards these being separate projects with distinct goals from the start. Mega Man Legends focuses on exploring dungeons and the world around you. E.X. Troopers sets its sights firmly on throwing you into gauntlet after gauntlet of enemy assaults with only brief reprieves. They may share some superficial similarities depending on your perspective, but they are completely different games at their core.
Although E.X. Troopers may not literally or figuratively be a Mega Man game, that doesn’t mean it lacks value to Mega Man fans altogether. I initially bought the game due to its alleged Mega Man connection, yet I still enjoy it a lot despite concluding that it really has nothing to do with Mega Man at all. E.X. Troopers still taps into many of the principles that make Mega Man games appealing: its character designs are energetic and memorable, the gameplay contains a simple appeal with room for growth, and the soundtrack gives it a distinct vibe.
E.X. Troopers may not exactly replicate Mega Man in any obvious way, but it demonstrates the malleability of its strengths when applied to structures outside the usual Mega Man territory. The Legends series similarly pushed Mega Man’s appeal into new and unfamiliar territory. From that perspective, maybe it’s fitting that these games would be tied together by such unusual circumstances.