Mega Man X5 was released in Japan on November 30, 2000.
Mega Man X6 was released one year later on November 29, 2001.
There couldn’t be a greater difference between them as far as how they are remembered by fans.
Mega Man X5 – Peak X
“Hunters and Mavericks are very similar. We all simply…exist.”
X5 is generally considered as the pinnacle of series producer Keiji Inafune’s intentions for the series, fulfilling many ominous plot threads set up throughout the early part of the X series, delivering not only the long-promised battle between best friends X and Zero but wiping out about 98% of all life on the planet in the course of the game. It also kills off Zero for the second time and finally confirms in canon his origins as a creation of Dr. Wily.
X5, continuing almost directly from X4, is a moody game designed in part as a farewell to the X series as a whole. Levels in the final stages of X5 are designed to throw back to levels in Mega Man 2, the previous series’ best-remembered and best-received installment, and all throughout the plot the player feels a sense of finality that borders on existential despair. The pre-battle cutscenes have a grim undertone. The enemy Maverick characters continue their thread of lamentation and guilt-tripping the heroes for their actions that really became a distinctive thread of the series after the brutal X4 – That One Where Zero Kills His Girlfriend.
As with a lot of the X series, the plot of the game really doesn’t hold up if you look at it very closely – it involves a variant of the lethal Sigma Virus spreading across the planet within seconds of being released, for example – and the controls of the late X games tend to feel a little sluggish and nerfy. It’s mostly remembered for its epic cutscenes – the drifting memories of Zero as he dies, the iconic shot where both X and Zero are speared through the chests by a single blast fired by Sigma.
In X5, Zero dies (again), X moves on to thinking about the future world he’ll create, and that was supposed to be the end of it.
Mega Man X6 – What The Hell Happened?
One year later, under a production rush, Capcom hurried out a confused sequel to X5 that is considered one of the weakest games in the X series franchise. A significant low point in the series and not well regarded, X6 is riddled with a number of problems, including a borderline incoherent plot (which, for the X series, is really saying something). Further problematic is a garbled localization that reduces already vague and confusing plot points from the original to incomprehensible statements like “I hid myself while I repaired myself”.
On top of this are added some incredibly frustrating game play elements like the poorly executed “Nightmare Effect”, which causes a game level to change in difficulty as the player enters it. For example, acid rain falls during a Nightmare Effect level that reduces player health, mobility and visibility in the stage. A punishing ‘rescue’ layer is added, where the player needs to grab and recover endangered civilian Reploids – and if they’re killed, they disappear for the rest of the game. Worse yet, these civilians hold objects critical to player power progression and development.
Because of its rushed and incoherent feel, and its poor handling of canon timeline issues, X6 has become broadly disliked. By this point, fans of the series were beginning to feel the series had gone into a sharp decline, and resented the game for continuing the X timeline after Inafune had already moved on to creating the Mega Man Zero series with IntiCreates. Because of X6, some fans feel that nothing after X5 “counts”, and that the successive games (X7 and X8) represent an alternative timeline.
X6 just isn’t all that fun to play. The Mavericks are tough and the game is artificially challenging without being rewarding – too far off that fine edge of game balance where you feel motivated to keep trying. While some of the ideas within the game are potentially interesting, they’re scattered and poorly presented, and the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
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