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One hundred and two years have passed since Zero's last encounter with the viral entity known as Sigma. He now awakens in a future where the government of Neo Arcadia, fearing yet another Reploid uprising, embarks on a campaign to rid the world of all such life forms. Taking shelter in the ruins of the old city, a female scientist named Ciel and a handful of Reploids have managed to awaken Zero — their one and only hope for survival. As opposed to previous incarnations in the series, players are not able to select from a wide variety of stages, instead, missions are assigned by the resistance leader Ciel, each possessing a specific priority level. Between stages, Zero can wander the halls of Ciel's base, talking to people as he does so.
Another addition to the title comes in the form of Cyber Elves — helper beings that are acquired during battle. These entities can be equipped and will imbue Zero with additional or enhanced abilities such as extra health, shields, the ability to run faster, and the like. Additionally, certain Cyber Elves can be evolved, thus increasing their power. Zero retains many of his basic skills from previous titles, including the ability to dash, jump, and wall-kick. Initially armed with a basic charge-capable projectile weapon, Zero soon acquires the dreaded Z-Saber along with a host of other melee and projectile armaments that he can wield as both primary and secondary weapons. By constantly using specific weapons, they'll slowly go up in level, taking on additional characteristics and abilities.
Defeating specific bosses will yield elemental icons that Zero can use to alter the affinity of weapons at his disposal. In turn, each of the boss characters is susceptible to attacks of a specific elemental affinity. Mission rankings are awarded based upon an individual's performance in each stage, with the time taken to complete the stage, health remaining and other such factors determining the final ranking achieved. Yet another difference introduced in Mega Man Zero is the fact that players are given only a single life to complete each stage with. Continues can be accrued, but these restart the player at the beginning of the level. ~ Gavin Frankle, All Game Guide