Today we’ll be comparing the rough drafts of Zero’s Rockman X5 ending scenes with how they appeared in the final game. We will be looking at sketches published in the Rockman X5 Official Guide Book and R20+5 Rockman & Rockman X Official Complete Works. The screenshots are taken from Sprites, Inc. Some of these image comparisons from rough to final are pretty close while others turned out wildly different, but I find viewing both together helps to illuminate the fine details and the thought processes that went into each of these pieces. Click on the pictures to see the larger versions. Obviously, these will contain major spoilers for the game.
First up is actually the scene before the final stage, where X and Zero have just fought each other to a stalemate in an epic battle. Both appear to have passed out.
Sigma reveals himself and takes advantage of the situation, targeting the defenseless X with his powerful energy attacks, dubbed the Hell Spark and the Hell Blade.
I have no sketches for the next part, so we’re skipping ahead now to the aftermath of the battle with the colossal Final Sigma W. Spurned on by Zero’s refusal to accept his evil nature while desiring to torture X emotionally by mutilating his best friend, Sigma has managed to take out Zero’s left arm and the lower half of his body (unfortunately, the game does not elaborate on how this happened). X limps over and drops to his knees, cradling Zero’s battered body in his arms.
Meanwhile, Sigma’s body has been dissolving away into a mechanical puddle of ooze and melted metals. Determined to catch X off guard, Sigma takes aim to end both X and Zero’s lives with his final breath.
Heart-stricken and grieving, X looks up just in time to see Sigma’s final attack coming, but not enough time for his body to react.
It’s hard to say where this next image fits, because I can’t recall this image appearing at all in the final game. It may be a rough draft for X getting shot through the chest from Sigma’s blast, which could be what the diagonal line passing through X’s body represents. However, this is purely speculation.
The shot causes Zero to snap back into consciousness. He returns fire with the buster on his one remaining arm. Then, satisfied that Sigma is destroyed, Zero turns his attention to wishing that X should live on. Soon his mind begins to wander as memories of his life wash over him.
Zero’s memories wander even further back, to the mysterious shadowy scientist who haunts his dreams. In the game this figure appeared only in silhouette, but the sketch work reveals that Dr. Wily was initially drawn out in great detail.
This is followed by a vision of Zero himself being constructed. Upon seeing this, Zero comes to an understanding of how he was created for destructive purposes, capable of spreading and being powered up by an evil virus. Comprehending this truth, Zero accepts that his own death may help bring about a permanent end to the struggle.
Zero has one final vision of Iris smiling peacefully before his sight fades to red. The sketchwork for this one isn’t available, but there is a beautiful full color version.
Following this experience, Zero is ready to say goodbye to X and let go of the fight, believing that Sigma and the virus will end with him. Roll end credits.
I have always felt a strong appreciation for the artwork from this game and the level of style and emotion conveyed by the still images. When Zero died at the end of X5, I took it seriously. The core of his character arc as set forth in X2-X4 had been resolved: Zero unraveled the nature of his strange dreams, discovered the evil purpose he was built for, and rejected it. He defied his destiny by choosing to protect X and to bring the hope of peace to the world over following his maker’s preset path of destruction. Sigma was at last completely demolished. Zero had accepted his own imminent death and was ready to join Iris and all his old buddies in Valhalla. X was ready to accept his own role as a hero and carry on defending the innocent in Zero’s memory. Perhaps his dream leads him to creating the perfect world of Elysium, leading to the Legends series?
I still had some lingering questions, but generally I was satisfied with the dramatic conclusion to Zero’s story. We had no idea then that Inafune was already dreaming of bringing Zero back to star in his own series, or that the folks at Capcom Production Studio 3 would soon be plotting a sequel that would retcon parts of the “good” X5 ending and bring back both Zero and Sigma. I won’t condemn their decisions, as I certainly enjoyed a great deal from the Zero series and the latter X series. Nor would I assert that the ending of X5 was completely perfect. Perhaps I just learned nothing from X2, because I will never forget how adamantly I felt back then at the end of the year 2000 that X5 was the rightful ending of Zero’s saga and that they would never bring his character back again and waste that dramatic gravitas of Zero’s deeply foreshadowed, emotionally charged, and clearly intended to be final death.
Ah, the exuberance of youth.