Without my ex-best friend, I don't think I would have ever found out and loved the legacy platformer Mega Man X.
Let's call him "Krillin", because last I heard, he likes shaving his head. He came to our school in the third grade and had always made impressions by causing fights in school. He was usually the subject of intense teasing because of his sexuality. Eventually, things escalated to verbal bullying, and other kids would call him all sorts of things. Sometimes Krillin would pick up the phone just to hear people screaming "Gay!" before they hung up.
Kids can be cruel.
What was admirable though was that Krillin used this to empower himself. When kids screamed profanities to his face, he would spread his arms as if to embrace them and say, "I am gay!" When other kids sneered at him and called him things third graders shouldn't even say, he would punch them. Krillin may be gay but he was no pushover. Sometimes he'd walk home from school with a black eye.
Now I was never a fan of going outdoors. It was not by choice, but we had an old Compaq PC where I spent a lot of time playing Minesweeper, Solitaire, and Mind Maze. We also had a Famicom (NES) with a single bootleg cartridge that played over 50 games. We eventually got an SNES where the only games I owned were Super Mario World, Street Fighter II, and some Dragon Ball Z fighting game.
Many kids didn't want to hang out with me because they perceived my family to be rich. It didn't help that I had a lighter skin tone compared to my classmates, which earned me the nickname "Foreigner". They had no idea the lighter skin tone was due to my lack of exposure outdoors.
Photo Credit: Jens Mahnke
This was when Krillin and I started talking to each other. We both learned we had an SNES, and so we hung out every weekend. We played Street Fighter II and took turns as Mario and Luigi in Super Mario World. Later on, he introduced this game titled Rock Man X.
A legacy of awesome proportions blossomed from this. He played the game but was never good at it. He claimed to have defeated half of the Maverick bosses but found them too difficult.
Not for me. The controls, platforming, and music all clicked. Whereas in Super Mario you can only shoot two fireballs at a time and jump onto and from platforms, Rock Man X offered the freedom of movement. You can shoot three projectiles or fire one big charged shot. You can jump on platforms, slide down walls, and wall jump. The controls were fluid and systematic. When I acquired the Dash power-up, it opened a doorway of infinite possibilities. I knew then, Rock Man X would be the greatest game ever, and it still is.
You should take note that the title of the game is Rock Man X. It's all in Japanese. We didn't know what the in-game dialogue was all about. The pixels in the game with low resolution TVs from the '90s also made things a little blurry. Even so, the prologue stage where X was captured by Vile, and the appearance of a long-haired blondie in red armor made me go "Whoa! This girl's awesome!"
"That's because Red is in love with Rock Man," Krillin said with a grin. Like me, he clearly thought Zero was a girl. The guy had two glass orbs for nipples, for crying out loud.
In class, we talked about the game, its characters, what secrets it might hold, and what the story could be about. This caught the attention of Benny - a kid in our class.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Benny said. "Zero? Zero's a boy!"
Amused, Krillin believed that Zero was transgender.
After-school activities involved Counter-Strike. Benny would invite me and Krillin to hang out and play Counter-Strike with the rest of the boys at a nearby internet cafe. Thankfully, everyone else tolerated us because of Benny. There were a large variety of games in those shops: Blizzard games, a game called Stronghold, Battle Realms, and Quake with a Dragon Ball Z mod. And of course, Half-Life: Counter-Strike. Those were some of the rare opportunities I got out of the house and played with everyone else. When those opportunities expanded, so did my exposure to in the community.
Specifically, the toxic culture. I was only around nine or ten years old when I learned how normal it is for everyone to swear at each other because of video games. There would be groups of bigger boys who, after losing, would crawl up to the winning team and bully them into paying the cashier. If we tried to fight back, we got hurt.
Similarly, whenever we switched to Diablo II and some random guy does the ol' ninja loot, some kids would start actual fist fights. There were a lot of sore losers who would be more than happy to churn things out physically.
With internet cafes being so violent, Krillin, Benny, and a few others who I can call friends to this day would go to my place instead to play the regular SNES games. We often played Rock Man X because it was the game that we all struggled to move forward with.
Benny would spill all sorts of secrets about it, as shared to him by his older brother. We learned about the heart tanks, the weapon tanks, the life tanks, and then we learned that each Maverick boss had their own specific weakness from weapons obtained from other bosses.
That was when Krillin called me his first real friend who never made fun of his homosexuality. I found this awkward but I shrugged it off. We would only continue to play until dark and they would go home as a group.
Nothing changed much, three years later in high school. Some of the boys and girls in class started hooking up. The girls would accompany their boyfriends to the computer shops and watch them play Counter-Strike as cheerleaders. Sometimes the guys would let their girlfriends play a round or two before reclaiming their seats. Or they would let them take over for a few minutes while they bought snacks and drinks.
Krillin and I were still good friends, but we were no longer close. He found a bigger group consisting of girls who were more than happy to have him with them. And he liked to empower them. He'd tell the girls that they shouldn't be sidelined and wait for the guys to finish their game. So they went to computer shops and played.
The girls got good. Some of them even skipped classes with their boyfriends so they could play. For school activities, students would beg teachers for a Counter-Strike tournament and on these rare annual festivities, their wishes would be granted.
Four years passed and my friends moved on. It was a hard time for me as I found myself in multiple complicated situations. Everyone was already getting ready for college and I was still stuck in my junior year. I made new friends, got a PlayStation 2, and it was an entirely different ball game from there on.
I met with Krillin a few days before his graduation. We hadn't seen each other for two years; along with Benny and the rest of the small Counter-Strike crew I used to hang out with. I handed him back his Rock Man X cartridge and he thanked me. Then we sat by the curb. He smoked while he texted with his Nokia 3310. I drank soda. I felt a little grumpy about returning the Rock Man X cartridge, when it had been in my possession for so many years.
"Did you know there's a Mega Man X2 and X3?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "Makes sense why there's an X4. Did you play X5 and X6?"
It was my turn to shrug. "They were crap. There's an X7. Hadn't played it, but they say there's a new character."
We talked a little about Pokemon. And then he talked about what college he was going to. He also asked why I was behind for two years, and where I had gone off. He finished his cigarette, slapped my shoulder, and nodded our farewells.
Many months later, the new group of classmates I'm with were glad to know I'm a decent gamer, as many of them were. When they asked me what my favorite game was, a number of titles zipped through my mind: Final Fantasy VII, Legend of Legaia, Tenchu 2. But nah, I simply said Mega Man X.
When asked why, I told them all about the amazing soundtrack, the excellent game design, and the ingenuity of completing certain stages affects other stages. It was a well-polished game. And I would reminisce about it; those times when Krillin and I hung out as two third graders who no one wanted to hang out with.
So if anyone wants to know the real story of why I love Mega Man X, it's because of those memories.