Thursday, September 4, 2008

Megaman Starforce 2: Star Cards

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I want to write a bit about the Star Card system introduced in Megaman Starforce 2. Basically, in Starforce 2 you can occasionally acquire rare "Star Cards" that are improved versions of normal Battle Cards. You can only use three of them at a time, but while a Star Card is in your folder all other Cards in your folder that share the same name will have increased power to match the power of the Star Card. It lets you both slightly break the "maximum of three cards of the same kind" limitation, and lets you improve the effectiveness of certain kinds of cards. It is essentially just a replacement for a bonus provided by the "On Air" system in the original Starforce game, but at the same time it is one of the greatest improvements to the Battle Chip/Card system since Megaman Battle Network 3 introduced the three-tier categorization system.

One of my favorite aspects of the new Star Card system is that it helps keep older Battle Cards from becoming totally obsolete. In previous versions of the system, a lot of cards can become obsolete and almost useless incredibly quickly. For example, basic PlasmaGun 1 cards are the kind of card that you begin the game with, and have such low attack power that they become a poor choice very quickly, even though their paralysis effect is very useful. However, in Megaman Starforce 2 it is possible to acquire a 3-star PlasmaGun 1 that has more than twice the attack power of a normal PlasmaGun 1 card (which is more power than a PlasmaGun 2 has, in fact), which transforms an attack that is obsolete by the time you get the Star Card into an attack that will remain useful for some time to come. There are many other examples where older cards manage to surpass newer versions of the same card through the use of Star Cards, which creates an interesting choice for the player between giving up a precious Star Card slot to get a stronger effect or using the slightly weaker new version instead and leaving the Star Card slot open to be used by something else. Overall, Star Cards add a lot of flexibility and strategy into the system without adding a bothersome level of complexity.

Another thing I like about Star Cards is that they make it easier to use the cards you like to use. You can only equip 3 Star Cards, which means you can only improve 3 card types in your folder (usually 9 out of the 30 primary cards, 12 out of 33 if you count the Star Cards themselves). The added power and increased chance of drawing one of these cards in battle automatically increases the relative importance and visibility of those three card types. Because of this, it means that if you want to use a particular card type as the center of some kind of strategy, or you just want to use a particular card type more often because you like using it, then all you have to do is equip the equivalent Star Card.

Despite the strength of the system, though, I do think it has a few flaws. One problem is that the effectiveness of Star Cards is perhaps a bit too uneven. Some cards, particularly high attack power, single hit cards, get very minimal effect from Star Cards (a mere +15 or so to damage), while some cards, such as those with low attack power and a large number of attacks, can double or triple their effectiveness with a Star Card. In some problematic extremes, it leads to situations where one card may be very weak if used on its own but excessively powerful when used with a Star Card, while another card may be good on its own but a very poor choice for wasting a Star Card slot on, which may be a game balance problem and is certainly a problem that offsets some of the advantages I laid out above. Since the investment is the same regardless of the card type, it seems the benefits should be more even as well.

My other criticism of the system is that the current system for acquiring Star Cards is imperfect. In order to acquire a Star Card, you need to find and defeat a giant version of the virus that drops that card, and in order to get a good Star Card you need to defeat such a virus with a very high Busting Rank, which is often only possible under the most favorable conditions. Since most of these giant viruses only show up with a very small random chance, and since it requires even more luck than that to get the conditions set up to get a high Busting rank against them, acquiring good Star Cards is more a matter of luck than skill. The fact that you are guaranteed to at least get some kind of Star Card when you defeat a giant virus, as well as the fact that some of these viruses can be found reliably, makes this a lot more bearable, but it doesn't do enough to make up for the flaws. I don't even know how I am supposed to get Star Cards for the card types that are not dropped by viruses, other than rely on the unreliable Card Trader or find them as treasure or in a shop. Not to mention there is the problem that this role for giant viruses prevents them from being used as regular opponents like they were in Starforce 1. Maybe, in addition to making such cards available through these means, they should have done something to link in Star Cards to the Brother Band/Link Power system, in order to better tie it in to the original On Air system.

Still, despite the flaws I do consider Star Cards to be a remarkable improvement to the series. I am looking forward to how this particular system will continue to be improved upon in future iterations of the series.

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