Beware! Take care! Spoilers.
Before it was even translated, Megaman Zero 4 was doomed to the Wrath of the Fanboy for being an uninteresting "side story" lacking any appearances from the Grand Devas or most of the Resistence. So it's typical that Z4 would ultimately end up with my favourite Zero plot, and maybe any Mega Man plot overall ... barring Legends, of course.
First, the translation quality has been bumped up a notch. Applause. It's not perfect, but at least people use people talk. It's a far smoother read compared to the first Zero game.
But the main reason the story appeals to me is because I'm a budding sociologist and serial rapist, and the central story in Zero 4 actually deals with humans. It's kind of ricockulous that the Megaman X series (which I consider the Zero series to be a continuation of, so I keep it under the same umbrella) is supposed to be about strife between humans and machines, but we never saw any humans except Dr Cain, who dropped off the face of the Earth after X4. Now, after only a zillion games, we finally see humans. Not only that, Zero talks to them and gains a little insight as to what the race has been going through with the whole Maverick / Elf War deelie:
THANK YOU! It's an obvious reason for a human to be pissed off, one that fanfic whores like myself have beat into the ground, but it's about time that a game character opened his damn mouth and confirmed it.
In fact, a lot of motives are made clear. The game opens up with a caravan fleeing from Neo Arcadia, which has become a cesspool with the death of Copy X. Dr Weil became ruler in his stead, and unlike X, Weil don't give no shit 'bout nobody. He has a grudge with humanity that's about fifty miles long. He starts doing the Hour of the Secret Police thing to reploids and apemonkeys, so a handful of humans make their escape. There's persuit, Zero intervenes, yadda yadda, let's kill stuff.
One of the members of the caravan is a former journalist named Neige, and she reveals that the caravan is headed to the dubious safety of a settlement that's sprung up at Area Zero. Class, who remembers Area Zero? That's right, it was Eurasia's impact site in X5. And ironically, it's one of the few places outside of Neo Arcadia that can sustain human life, as nature is growing back with the assistance of the crashed colony's environment system. Neige informs Zero that he probably shouldn't show his face around the Settlement, because the humans there don't want to make nice with Reploids.
She's right. The refugees remember the old Neo Arcadia as a paradise under the compassionate rule of X. A "legendary reploid" killed X, and allowed Weil to step in and the city turned into a toilet. Former inhabitants of a utopia, forced to leave their families behind to settle in the rough wilderness. They're not happy, and if they ever find the reploid responsible for killing X, they'll hang him by his nuts. Zero slooooowly backs away...
Needless to say, the humans eventually change their tune when stuff happens. A lot of that stuff has to do with the relationship between Neige, her former friend/lover, Kraft (renamed "Craft" in the US, probably for obvious reasons), and a relic called Ragnarok (zing!).
Kraft is the Reploid leader of the Eight Einherjar, the fancy name du jour for the typical eight "Mavericks." He also has "big dumb animal" qualities, and you can't help but feel sorry for him (until he spears you on his bayonette).
Kraft is perceptive, but very good at missing the basic point. He's in love with Neige, and wants to protect her, so he does so by joining Weil's cause. Weil wants to do the mad ruler "everyone under my thumb" bit, so he forbids anyone to leave Neo Arcadia and he begins to deter runners by using "Ragnarok" to nuke whatever liveable land exists outside of the city. Kraft thinks this is a fantastic way to keep Neige safe: life outside of Neo Arcadia is dangerous with its limited resources. If Neige lived in the city and kept quiet, Weil would shepherd the human race and all would be swell.
Neige: "STFU. I'd rather face death with dignity. Weil sucks the bag."
So Kraft gains a new point of view, seeing things from Neige's perspective. Then a little lightbulb goes on over his head and he aims the cannon of Ragnarok at Neo Arcadia and Weil instead.
"Never in the history of the world has such a thing ever happened!" Kraft fires. ::Bweeeeeeeeee EXPLOD!!!!:: Unhappy Zero confronts Kraft and wants to know wtf. Round 1, FIGHT!! Zero wins and tells Kraft the meaning of life, which basically consists of "Trust humans to set their own destiny." Hey, Kraft gets it after all. Zero says that he protects humans because a friend asked him to (omg x), and he trusts that friend. Kraft becomes ashamed that in the end, he couldn't even trust Neige, who never lied to him. Then he strikes the coolest death pose ever, after asking Zero to leave his body because he doesn't want to cause Neige anymore suffering. Zero says, "I'll do as you ask." And that is why I like this incarnation of Zero. No angst, no questions. No speeches about retribution. He has his own way of letting misguided enemies repent. Back on terra firma, the humans at the Settlement decide that if Neige loved Kraft, then he (and other Reploids) can't be too bad, because Neige is rawk. By the way, here's a little diversion for continuity whores: omg!! I appreciated that. At around this time, the Resistance is evacuating survivors from Neo Arcadia. Say hello again to Colbor.
"Miss Ciel! Ibu has gone nuts and started eating human girls!" Weil survived Kraft's attack on Neo Arcadia, and he tells Zero how. He can't die. This was made a little clearer in the Japanese version of the game, but after the Elf Wars, the humans punished Weil for unleashing Omega by encasing him in his funky body armour, which never lets him age or get hurt. Then he was kicked out of Neo Arcadia to wander the wastelands and get pissed off at the people who gave him eternal life in a dead world. He wants future generations of humans to suffer like he did, and thus, Weil's Nazi Hour. Weil then decides to bring Ragnarok crashing down on Earth, because history is most fun when it repeats itself. He merges with some sort of sword-suit ... I know a sword has something to do with Ragnarok, but I forgot what. Oh well, +1 symbolism anyway. Oh noes, Zero fought with Weil and he's still alive, and Ragnarok is still falling. How to solve this dillema? How does Zero solve all his dillemas? ::EXPLOD!:: Ragnarok is broken up into bite-size pieces, and the world is saved. Zero, however, isn't answering the phone and the people at the Settlement figure that he's taken the pipe. Ciel does the Fiver bit, insisting that he's alive somewhere. And thus, the debate amongst fans takes off like a rocket. My answer? Of course he's not dead. Game endings that involve emotinal anime girls standing beside trees always turn out happy. Granted, one has to wonder if Ciel believes her own words in the Settlement, since she promptly goes off by herself to cry, and we see Zero's wrecked helmet lying in a desert. But logic overrules. This is Capcom. This is Zero. Capcom has never concluded a Megaman series, and Zero has never died for good. Well then, we have a game with a good story, but how's the gameplay? Gameplay's fine. Rough, but not impossible. Much like Zero 3. The Easy mode is available for weenies such as myself, and if you still lose with a rabid attack-dog cyberelf by your side, you need help. I love the Einherjar designs. It's like they took everything that went wrong with the Mavericks X5 and X6 and gave them a second chance. The Pegasus is especially awesome, and there's also a cockatrice, a wolf without a Leno-chin, a turtle, a kraken and a Minotaur (yay!). Sidenote: The cute little kid in the camp is named "Typhon," who was actually a hideous god and is associated with an ill wind that brings disease. How sweet.