Guardian Heroes - Reader Retroview  

Heroes Worship
by JuMeSyn

1-2 hours


Rating definitions 

   Treasure is a game developer not seen much in RPG discussions. This is for good reason; Treasure makes games for the hardcore crowd most of the time, and these games are usually action or shooter types. Within the hardcore gaming crowd, Treasure’s name is synonymous with quality; these are damn good games, only a player without any action skills will die over and over. Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, Alien Soldier, Silhouette Mirage, Ikaruga, and Astro Boy for GBA are all examples of more well-known Treasure output, and none of them would be classified under the RPG definition. For a Treasure game to be classified as an RPG is rare indeed. Guardian Heroes is NOT a typical RPG in any way, shape, or form, but it is one of Treasure’s few titles that can be granted the status, although action-RPG does not conjure the proper expectations in a potential player’s mind.

   Guardian Heroes’ single most obvious characteristic is the beat-em-up. For any RPGamers unfamiliar with this genre, that would be because the beat-em-up is a very seldom-seen type of game in recent years. Guardian Heroes has many things in common with the classics of the genre such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight, in that action is rather like a fighting game with many opponents simultaneously. Beating all opponents onscreen is the way to progress, and there is no real substitute for skill here (except by constantly continuing on easy difficulty, but even then there are only 99 continues available). There are three planes of action and a quick press of L or R will bring the player from one to another, which is the major addition to the classic beat-em-up formula enabled by the Saturn hardware.

I don’t care HOW long I’ve been dead, I still drink TEA! I don’t care HOW long I’ve been dead, I still drink TEA!

   If Guardian Heroes was only a beat-em-up, however, it would not have attained the incredibly-difficult-to-classify status it does. Firstly, the story is much more involved than any other beat-em-up until very recent years. It begins with the starting quartet of players (Hans, Nicole, Randy, and Ginjirou) having located a sword. Literally a moment after this a woman named Serena enters their abode and warns that the Royal Knights are on the move, searching for this very sword. The Royal Knights promptly enter and combat begins, shifting to the street below and to a neighboring graveyard before the sword that started the mess is seized by a golden warrior who just so happens to be dead. After it is revealed that the golden warrior is on the player’s side, the branching paths begin to show up. From stage 2 there are three different stages the player can visit, and from each of these three stages there are multiple other paths to take. Eventually the story finds that there are sky spirits and earth spirits looking for a rematch of an ancient war between each other, with the player able to align him/herself on either side or neither. None of this is taken altogether seriously, however, in part because the characters usually look so outlandish and in part thanks to an amusing translation (not always intentionally…).

   The story not being enough to allow classification of this game as an RPG, however, there are plenty of other RPG elements in the game. Such as magic; all of the characters can use magic to varying degrees, and it is rather effective in smacking enemies around, but the moment it takes to cast magic can be a moment too long when enemies swarm about the field. There is also the gaining of experience. Every enemy attacked by the player gains experience, every object smashed gains a little bit, even casting spells gains experience. HP and MP go up with each level gained, and after every stage the player is able to assign statistic improvements to the currently used character – one more statistic point for every level gained. While the golden warrior can be commanded to go berserk and wildly attack everything, depending upon it to win the day is not a viable option, so the player WILL need increased statistics.

   Starting the game for the first time, the player can choose between the four characters mentioned earlier. Han is the somewhat-stereotypical muscleman with incredibly high strength but only one weak spell; Randy is an offensively-oriented magician with statistics to match; Ginjirou is a fast, relatively well-rounded character with good magic and lots of combo-ready attacks but lower defense than would be wanted; and Nicole is the only character with healing magic but her offensive magic is not great and her physical prowess is pathetic. Upon completing the game once Serena can be used, and she has perfectly balanced statistics along with useful special moves and a lot of ice-based magic.

Little Red Riding Hood: the Wolf’s Past. Little Red Riding Hood: the Wolf’s Past.

   Control is tight, as it needs to be. Every character has plenty of Street Fighter-inspired moves that can be pulled off at just about any time, along with the ability to block. Blocking is very useful but can be hard to time correctly in the middle of a button-mashing frenzy. Enemies can also block, and enemies frequently have their own magic. Slowdown is remarkably sparse, although when two players and 7 or 8 enemies are all bouncing around the screen is can happen. The controls get downgraded from perfection just thanks to the constant mayhem and the possibility of losing sight of the player character at crucial moments thanks to a deluge of enemies.

   Multiplayer must be mentioned regarding this game. Eschewing the horrible mistake made by Capcom in never giving two-player capacity to the Super Nintendo version of Final Fight, two players can go at it in Guardian Heroes at any time. But mere two-player cooperative is not the limit for this game. Playing through the game in normal or hard mode nets an enormous number of enemy characters to play in the Versus mode. The Versus mode supports up to six players. For an RPGamer with a yen to bring friends over and enjoy a massive fighting game, this mode is truly excellent.

   Aesthetically Guardian Heroes shows off why the Saturn was superior in 2D capabilities. There is occasional slowdown, but considering how many sprites are running around the screen and how much each of those sprites can do, it is forgivable. In Treasure tradition, some downright odd enemies will occupy the screen – and they will all be instantly recognizable. Musically the game sets out to get the adrenaline pumping, although by using a lot of horns. The music succeeds in its aim of being energetic in a jazzy way. The small amount of voice acting was left in Japanese, but it isn’t important, and the sound effects are just fine at conveying the destruction happening onscreen.

   As a beat-em-up at heart, Guardian Heroes is not very long. Completing it within an hour is possible. But this game harkens back to the tradition of playing through a game many times in order to get better and discover its secrets. Playing through every possible stage will require probably ten plays at least. And while easy mode offers 99 continues, elements of stages are missing in easy mode and characters cannot be obtained for Versus mode by playing the easy route. Normal difficulty offers 9 continues, but this is frequently not enough. And Hard difficulty has 3 continues, for the challenge seekers.

   Any RPGamer seeking a quality title on the Saturn has several options, and Guardian Heroes is most assuredly NOT meant for anyone without the ability to become immersed into a twitch-gaming mindset. For an RPGamer who IS endowed with that capacity, investigating Guardian Heroes is a very smart move. In the fine tradition of the beat-em-up, it rewards repeated plays and is even more entertaining with a friend to smash the enemies alongside. But its melding of RPG elements to the standard playing style is what makes it great.

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