The fourth entry of the X series changed things up quite a bit when moving over to the PS1 and Saturn in the late 90s. The most obvious change is the graphics, which are no longer 16-bit, but opt for the look of a 2D powerhouse instead of the more popular pioneered 3D attempts at the time. The other big change to Mega Man X4 is that both X and Zero are playable right from the beginning, and whoever you choose is who you will control during the entirety of the game.
This time around, there are animated cutscenes with mostly decent voice acting that tell the story, as well as text boxes for when X and Zero encounter Mavericks and such. After the intro stage, we see the General and Colonel of the new Maverick group Repliforce talking to their troops and encouraging them to fight for their rights as reploids. Then, to no gamer’s surprise whatsoever, Sigma is watching all this secretly and laughing to himself for another deceptive job well done, as he plans on using the weapon orbiting in space to destroy the world. It’s what players have come to expect by now as far as the story goes.
What truly shines about X4 is the gameplay, and this one is certainly top notch. Capcom took the great elements from the SNES games and made them work for the next console generation, and it shows. The control is flawless for both X and Zero, and both characters play very differently, so there’s added replay value there. Both characters can collect the usual eight heart tanks, but this time around just two sub-tanks and one weapon tank, as well as the EX tank, which starts you off with extra lives. The password system is gone, and has been replaced by save files. X has his usual four armor capsule upgrades, of which the helmet is the most interesting, since it allows unlimited usage of the uncharged special weapons. Zero, instead of a buster, uses his Z-saber as his primary attack, and due to the short range this makes him play very differently. The special weapons obtained from Mavericks are also very different for Zero than for X.
Another great feature about X4 is the soundtrack, which has some of my favorite tracks in the entire series, such as X’s Intro Stage, Jet Stingray’s theme, Cyber Peacock’s theme, stage select, and Sigma Battle 2. There is one glaring flaw in the game that can’t be ignored, though, and that is the voice of X. His voice sounds like either a pre-pubescent boy or a girl, which is off-putting. When X gets low on health, he says, “It’s time to get serious!” but it’s hard to take him seriously with that high pitched sound. Additionally, I do so love Zero when he does his triple slash and yells “Hu Ha Ho!” over and over again. For some reason that never gets old.
Some interesting story elements are introduced in X4, most notably Zero’s background of being created by Dr. Wily, which is made evident when you play through as him in the intro and at the cutscene right before facing Sigma. It’s unclear exactly how Zero stopped being Maverick himself, although some sources say he was reprogrammed after Sigma took him down originally. As for Sigma becoming Maverick, it seems that when he knocked out Zero during his glory days as a Maverick Hunter(shown in said cutscene), the virus possibly transferred from Zero to Sigma, which is ironic since Zero was originally created to stop Dr. Light’s work. So really the Sigma virus is the Zero virus, which is explained more in X5 and X6.
Another interesting feature is the inclusion of helper reploids for both X and Zero: Double and Iris, respectively. Double is a bumbling, fat yellow reploid that “Double”crosses X and is then summarily destroyed by him near the end. Iris is Zero’s first love of sorts, and when Zero has to destroy her brother the Colonel, she of course loses in battle to him shortly thereafter as well and there is a heartfelt scene, in which Zero holds the dying Iris, that has almost become a meme of sorts online.
The first Sigma battle is a joke, and almost requires no talent whatsoever to take down his grim reaper form. The second one is a little better, as it is classic Sigma using various weapons and jumping around the screen. His final form is great, and actually has two life bars with different phases of the battle, and is quite challenging, too. Overall, this is definitely one of the best games in the X series, and certainly the best of the PS1 generation.