The Mega Man franchise has a long and varied history, with countless spinoffs and sub-series that have all gone on to make names for themselves in the history of gaming. Series like Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, and Mega Man Legends all embraced their own unique interpretation of the world of the blue bomber. Beyond different gameplay mechanics and stories, though, each of these games also has a wildly different aesthetic. The old-school, cartoonish style of the original Mega Man artwork contrasts sharply with the crisp and detailed artwork of Mega Man X, for example. For me, though, no Mega Man series shines brighter in the field of aesthetic ingenuity than the Battle Network games. Beyond having an iconic, anime-tinged art style, the world of the Mega Man Battle Network series reimagines classic characters and designs in sleek new ways. As a kid, I barely had any knowledge of the wide-reaching world of Mega Man when I began playing this spin-off series, but all of the characters still stuck with me and blew me away. Now, with the Udon-published hardcover reissue of Mega Man Battle Network Official Complete Works, I’ve been able to take the ultimate trip down memory lane and get brand new insight into a classic series of games.
This gorgeous, hardcover tome might not seem too large at first glance. It only runs for about 170+ pages, which isn’t nearly as large as many other artbooks out there. Fret not, though, as each of these pages is jam-packed with crisp art and designer-commentary that covers the entire Battle Network series in shocking detail. Beyond promotional art and character visuals from the main series, there’s also artwork presented from Japan-exclusive entries, animated spinoffs, promotional card-games and more. The opening section of the book delivers a gorgeous selection of artwork from various promotional Battle Network materials, game covers, and even translated pages from the original design document for the game. At least half of the illustrations in this section have official commentary and behind-the-scenes tidbits provided by official promotional illustrator Shinsuke Komaki.
The real meat of this book, though, comes from the characters section. At first, I was confused as to why these illustrations weren’t presented in sections according to each game. I quickly came around to preferring the way Udon chose to present things, though; seeing every iteration of Lan or Mega Man’s designs from each game side-by-side, for example, is a wonderful way to compare and contrast the slight changes in their illustration style over the years. Skimming through this section and seeing all of the Net Navis and Mega Man fusion forms I remember from my childhood got me pretty emotional. I remember the sheer joy I got from discovering a new fusion form in each Battle Network game, so to see all of them presented back-to-back with each other is incredibly satisfying.
I was put off by the lack of concept art and early designs in the character sections, but Udon was five steps ahead of me, as the next section of the Mega Man Battle Network Official Complete Works book is completely dedicated to early sketches and designs of each character, Navi, villain and more. We even get a look at the earliest design prototypes for the series, which show off very different versions of Lan and his world.
I’m a big fan of artbooks that manage to pack in every possible piece of promotional art and design related to the subject at hand as possible, and Mega Man Battle Network Official Complete Works exceeds my expectations on that front. The final section of the book is a compendium of various illustrations and visual elements from the history of the series, from multiple pages listing out the small illustrations of every Battle Chip in the entire series to loose collections of drawings for trading cards, promotional toys, website promotions and more. I was blown away by how precise and specific this book got with compiling visuals from the series, but I wish there had been just a little more effort put into providing a compendium of art related to the world and background design of the series. One small, half-page section of early environment prototypes is the most we get.
Still, despite the lack of environment and world art, every other aspect of the Mega Man Battle Network series is perfectly represented and collected here. The characters and Navi designs of the series are arguably more important and iconic, anyways, and this book does a perfect job of compiling all of those designs into one convenient, well-presented artbook. If you want design inspiration, behind-the-scenes info on the series or just a nice trip down memory lane, the Mega Man Battle Network Official Complete Works is a must-have.