All good things must come to an end and so Capcom (initially) decided to end the X series at installment number 5. This was a bit of a shock considering Capcom were the masters of milking a franchise dry at the time. Although it would later turn out to be false Mega Man X5 was developed with the concept of finality in mind and as such would have been a fitting send off for the franchise.
Mega Man X5 was released in early 2001 for the US. After his defeat at the end of X4 Sigma returns and purposely allows X and Zero to defeat him, thereby spreading the Sigma virus around the world and causing chaos. In addition a mercenary named Dynamo has sent the space colony Eurasia on a collision course with Earth. Our heroes have 16 hours to deal with this two pronged assault using one of 2 plans. Although heavily story driven the immediate gameplay is exactly the same as you remember it and while there aren’t many new elements added the amount of content created is excellent and (would have) allowed the series to bow out with its head held high.
The Mega Man formula largely remains unchanged. You still choose a level, defeat the boss, and gain their weapon. The levels have heart tanks, sub tanks, and armor upgrades to find and are just as spacious as before. There aren’t separate story arcs for X and Zero this time around; instead you can choose to play as regular X, Zero, or X in his final armor from X4 at the beginning of every level. Destroying Eurasia after assembling the parts of the Enigma cannon is random and if it fails the game moves on to the second plan, crashing a shuttle into the colony to throw it off course. These story events will also influence which of the multiple endings you’ll receive, most of these governed by time.
Now however there is a time limit that factors into gameplay in a few ways. There is a 16 hour time limit before Eurasia crashes and most of your actions such as entering a level will use up 1 hour. The effects of the time limit are felt the most during the boss battles. The bosses will increase in level the longer you take, gaining new attacks and a much longer life bar if you truly suck at the game. And speaking of bosses, really Capcom? You named all 8 mavericks after Guns & Roses? Whatever.
The amount of secrets has nearly tripled; there are reploids that can be saved for end of level bonuses, 4 armor upgrades, 2 additional suits of armor that can be assembled, and even Zero has an upgraded suit of armor waiting to be discovered. It all comes down to managing that time limit and finding what you need in one shot to prevent the bosses from having a life bar 3 times as long as yours.
This is still a very pretty 2d game. It might just be me but a lot of the rendered elements that were prevalent in X4 have been toned down, giving the game a much sharper 2d look. There are no in your face special effects aside from the pretty cool looped backgrounds that are sadly underused. By 2001 Sony had more or less stopped giving a damn about what was released on the PlayStation so more and more 2d games like the Mega Man series were released. The soundtrack, a collaboration between 3 composers, is generally excellent however it remixes a few tunes from prior games, and not for the better. Thank Christ there is no voice acting; I don’t think I could tolerate another abomination on the level as X4 and Mega Man 8.
With multiple endings, a truckload of secrets and an overall high level of polish this would have been a fitting farewell to the X series if Capcom had not succumbed to greed the following year. It doesn’t break any new ground and truthfully does not need to. The Mega Man games were largely designed for fans of the series and X5 is an ultra polished love letter to those fans. Play this game and forget that X6 even exists so that your memory of the franchise isn’t tarnished.
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