I recently came across a video on YouTube (one of many, in fact) where the producer was discussing his ideas on what happened between the classic Mega Man series (early-21st century) and the start of the Mega Man X series (early-22nd century). His theory was a bit out there and probably not worth discussing, but it really made me think about this question again. Honestly, this isn’t a new question by any means, and ever since the release of Mega Man X4 back in 1997, fans of Capcom’s popular series have been debating these fictional events.
One theory that was popular for many years was that once Dr. Wily completed his work on Zero, he sent him loose into the world with the intention of using his superior weaponry and technology to destroy Mega Man, kill Dr. Light, and wreak havoc on the world. This is actually foreshadowed a bit in this opening cutscene in Mega Man X4 where Zero has a dream/flashback of Dr. Wily telling him what his purpose was. This seems plausible, right? I mean, we’ve seen what Zero is capable of in the Mega Man X games, so it stands to reason he is far more advanced than the original Mega Man ever was. Well, that would be all well-and-good had Keiji Inafune not struck this one down himself back in 2008.
To add to this question, we have to consider that when Dr. Cain (an archaeologist researching Mesozoic plant life) discovers the ruins of one of Dr. Light’s labs and discovers X himself, he notes in his journals that X is far beyond anything the world has ever seen. This comment implies that around this time (around the year 2116), robotic technology hadn’t really advanced much since Dr. Light’s days. But, why was this the case?
One leading theory as that whenever the Wily Wars ended, the governing powers at the time put very strict regulations in place to limit the use of robots and robotic technology in general to try to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again. Meanwhile, Dr. Light continues his work on X, but later realizes that he likely will not live to see his project get finished, which is why he seals him away in a capsule that runs diagnostic tests for a period of 30 years (though, as it turns out, X himself isn’t unsealed until around 100 years after that date). If robotics were meant to be severely limited, it wouldn’t be surprising if Light had his lab hidden away so that X wouldn’t be disturbed until the time was right, which would be a fair explanation as to why the lab was hidden below several feet of soil and rocks (a question which some people think implied a great cataclysmic event, though that seems unlikely).
Mega Man 9 gives us another bit of insight. After defeating the Robot Masters, the player gets to see a cutscene that shows that many robots have a pre-determined expiration date set by some sort of council. This implies that robots don’t have an indefinite life-cycle, especially those that work in service fields. Whether or not this applies to robots like Rock, Roll, Auto, and others that perform specialized duties is unclear, but this does shed some light into their world a bit.
My best guess as to what happened to Mega Man himself comes from a tidbit revealed in the story of Mega Man II on the Game Boy. In it, Dr. Wily travels around 37 years into the future where he finds a deweaponized Mega Man living peacefully and brings him back to the “past” (early-20XX period) and converts him into a fighting robot called Quint. This could explain why Mega Man vanishes from record after a certain date, but still doesn’t explain what happens to the rest. Perhaps robots like Roll eventually reached a life-cycle end or broke down, and maybe they were stored in a Robot Master Museum for posterity. Proto Man may simply have malfunctioned due to his bad nuclear core and eventually ceased to be. We might never know, exactly.
To me, the answer seems to be something along the lines of that the Wily Wars eventually ended, robotic technology was very tightly regulated from that point forward, Mega Man was eventually kidnapped and removed from the timeline by Dr. Wily, and the other robots lived out their normal “lives” and were eventually decommissioned or malfunctioned and could not be (or simply were not) repaired. Thus, Dr. Cain’s discovery of X is a very big deal to the future. Perhaps by that time regulations were a lot looser, or maybe Cain simply believed X was so advanced that the problems of the past would not repeat themselves if robots were reborn using this new type of technology (which, yes, proves to be a flawed idea).
As a side-note, the introduction sequence of the original Mega Man X shows a copyright date of 2105, 2109, 2114 for Dr. Cain’s computer he is doing his journal entries on. Assuming his computer isn’t very dated, this would place the discovery of X sometime between 2114 and 2116 or so. And, if X was indeed sealed away in his capsule approximately 100 years before his discovery, that would mean that Dr. Light put X in the capsule and began the 30-year (planned) diagnostic testing in 2016 (crazy, isn’t it? That’s next year!), again showing that the events of the classic series are pretty much contemporary to the present! :)
Hopefully this made you think a bit, and maybe you even learned something from this piece! As always, I certainly welcome your own thoughts and would love to see what you think!