How Mega Man Helped Make RPGs

It’s Mega Man themed week here at Leviathyn. Personally, I didn’t play much of the Mega Man titles. I played two or three different classic games, and one of the battle network Gameboy Advanced games. Even though I wasn’t by any means a huge Mega Man fan, I still understood the importance of the series, and what it’s done for gaming.

But while I was looking back on the classic series this week, trying to find inspiration for an article, I realized that Mega Man really laid the foundation for future games. It had a lot of features that were groundbreaking at the time. And even though Mega Man is an action puzzle game, I believe that it had a profound effect on the RPG genre. At the very least, it got video games going in that direction.

First off, Mega Man allowed players to choose which levels they wanted to take down first. This was a new idea in video games that up until this point were usually linear. Unlike the eight worlds in Super Mario Bros that came one after another, Mega Man had eight worlds with an order we got to choose. It added a sense of strategy to the game, making sure you tackle the easier level first to get the boss’s power and use it to help beat the other levels.

Another trait that was relatively new in Mega Man was the whole special ability feature. Sure, Super Mario Bros had the fireball suit, but Mega Man was different. In Mega Man you could have a list of different abilities on the menu screen that were easily equitable and changeable. Just like in The Legend of Zelda, players went through the levels looking for more power ups and abilities that would help them on their quest, and that they could switch out when the time was right.

It’s these traits that make an RPG what it is. RPGs are all about the choices that we have and make. In Mega Man, developers started giving the gamers more choices during gameplay. Choosing which level to do first might not seem very RPGish, but it was a big step to getting to pick which levels we wanted to do all together. When you think about it, Skyrim’s different guilds are just like different levels. We’re choosing which ones we want to do, and in what order.

At the same time the equipment that Mega Man had was solely dependent on what you wanted to use. In Zelda there were enemies that required you to use specific weapons. But Mega Man’s weapons had much more universality. Because every level was beatable without those powers, having them simply accented your gameplay. Once again, just like an RPG as opposed to an action-adventure game, the weapons were some kind of customizable trait that changed the way you played Mega Man from everyone else.

Of course there were other games that dictated the RPG format much more than Mega Man. But in 1987 those games didn’t exist. And who knows if they would have if Mega Man hadn’t been around. So thank you, the Blue Bomber. I didn’t appreciate you much as a child, but after looking back I realize how important of a character you are.

(Featured graphic provided by Benjamin Sawyer. To see more of his work, visit or