Guardian Heroes (Saturn) review
"It is a sad fact that time renders many once-excellent games virtually unplayable, as games superior in both gameplay and technical prowess replace them. Sometimes a game can last for awhile before being replaced while a game may last only a year or two before losing its luster yet with a few exceptions, most games donít carry their same superiority over a decade. This brings us to the game of this review, Guardian Heroes, which is entering its 10th year since its first release for the doomed Se..."
It is a sad fact that time renders many once-excellent games virtually unplayable, as games superior in both gameplay and technical prowess replace them. Sometimes a game can last for awhile before being replaced while a game may last only a year or two before losing its luster yet with a few exceptions, most games donít carry their same superiority over a decade. This brings us to the game of this review, Guardian Heroes, which is entering its 10th year since its first release for the doomed Sega Saturn. An action-RPG of the highest caliber of its time, its playability still remains strong despite its age, despite the graphical obsolescence of this game, and despite the advent of many excellent action-RPGs such as Diablo II or Baldurís Gate: Dark Alliance or X-men Legends II, among many others.
The game plays out like a beat-em-up in that your team moves from left to right, beating up soldiers, goblins, etc. However, unlike most beat-em-ups which degenerate into mashing buttons as quickly as possible, Guardian Heroes has a combo system where performing motions like quarter circle foward+attack may allow your character to perform special attacks that would not be out of place in a fighting game. Furthering the precision of this game is that unlike in most beat-em-up games, it is actually possible to block attacks for reduced damage, at least until an opponent uses a guard-breaking move (such as a throw or a tackle). All this highly-tuned combat takes place on three predefined planes (a foreground, a midground, and background), which your character can move to and from, a la Fatal Fury, thus providing a practical reason to showcase the Saturn's sprite-scaling capabilities). However, some attacks and spells are capable of attacking people on different planes.
Unlike in most beat-em-ups, most characters in Guardian Heroes have at least one spell they can cast; while these moves are powerful, they drain magic points, limiting their use. Not to worry though, for performing multi-hit combos on targets will bring your magic back up. One can cast spells either by button-combos or by selecting the spell from a drop-down menu, but hurry for unlike in several action-RPGs (such as Kingdom Hearts), the action doesn't pause while you're selecting your spell! A further deterrent to close-quarters spell-casting is the fact that spell effects are contagious; if a character is hit by a fire-ball and is knocked back into another person (whether friend or foe), that other person suffers the effects of the fireball as well. While this means spells are a great way to punish clustered-up enemies, this also forces one to be careful lest the enemy hit you with your own spell.
The game has action, and lots of it, but what about the RPG elements? When the game begins, you can select one (or two if a second player is playing the Story Mode alongside you) of four characters to play as. Han is the archetypical fighter, with the now-clichť comically oversized sword which actually preceded Cloud Strife's by a year. Randy the mage packs a devastating arsenal of offensive spells, though he can also be a formidable melee fighter. Ginjirou the ninja has more special attacks than any character in the game, with a wide variety of flying jump kicks, spinning dashes, and teleports. However, as most of his attacks involve moving around, he has difficulty fighting in dense situations. Nicole the Cleric specializes in healing and defensive magic, making her a great character for cooperative play. Finally, there's another character you can unlock for story mode, but I'll let you figure that one out for yourself.
No matter which character you select, you gain experience from defeating enemies as in any conventional RPG. As you level up, you gain stat points you can distribute among different attributes so if you want to play a super-fast Han or a melee-master Randy, itís possible. While the game has a maximum level of 198, your character seldom reaches this state of nirvana, meaning the game remains challenging from beginning to end. As your characters progress in power, so does the plot. Actually, plots would be more accurate. In between levels, the player is presented with several text options; depending on the choice, you will go to a different level, fight different enemies, and fight different end-game bosses. In one game, you may have to destroy the Sky Spirits, and in another game you might ally with them to destroy the Earth Spirits. With 6 different endings and about 50 different ways to get to those endings, the non-linear plotlines give players a good reason to replay the game.
In case multiple plots which put those of many modern console RPGs to shame aren't reason enough to play this game repeatedly, Treasure also added a Versus Mode. Any character you defeat in the Story Mode will be made playable in this mode; you won't encounter every enemy in a single playthrough so replaying the Story Mode will eventually unlock all 44 characters for playing in Versus Mode. As one of the rare Saturn games to use a multitap, this game allows you and up to 5 other friends to duke it out in free-for-all or team battles, either in time matches or survival matches. Should there not be enough friends, surprisingly competent CPU characters can fill the void. Should one feel lucky, the game can completely randomize teams, characters, character levels (one can choose a higher character level as a handicap bonus, or maybe you're friends feel like doing a team-battle against one powerful enemy). The options are nearly limitless, at least until you realize the tragic truth about this game.
The game tries to do too much. It taxes the Saturn in a demanding manner, as slowdown will occur when there are too many enemies/special effects on the screen at once. While 44 characters seems a worthy enough number for competing with games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, in practice a great deal of these characters will be seldom-used. As Civilians and flying characters (like Gargoyles or elemental spirits) ignore plane-jumping and can walk in between planes, it's sporting to ban these characters for competitive play. Take away underpowered characters and grossly overpowered characters, and this leaves one with about 30 versus-worthy characters, which still is a respectable number. Some versus matches are simply impossible; if one tries certain character combinations, the game will say "Character Overload" and one will have to either change or remove some characters to make the game start. Finally, though not a flaw with the game itself, I must warn the discerning consumer that this game is hard to find online; the prices for this game can easily reach $100 on Ebay, and while the game is good, itís not worth a triple-digit price tag.
But these aren't fatal flaws. Through sheer strength of its gameplay, Guardian Heroes manages to remain standing strong and very playable despite its age. Whether you're tired of big-name RPGs, whether you miss side-scrolling beat-em-ups, or whether you're looking looking for a party game for your Saturn, Guardian Heroes is truly an excellent title if you can find it for an affordable price.
Community review by magicjuggler (July 21, 2006)
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