9.8

Guardian Heroes review
An absolute Action/RPG classic that was unfortunately overlooked

The good:

Excellent fusion of Action/RPG and Beat Em Up gameplay styles; innovative ideas thrown in the mix; amazing graphics and sound; tight controls; mantastic story

The bad:

Versus mode likes to be a bit of a prick at times due to the Saturn's limitations at the time

Summary:

Introduction:
Guardian Heroes for the Sega Saturn is what you'd call an excellent game that borders on perfection. You have to wonder why people are buying Sega Saturns just for an opportunity to play this game (that or locate Saturn emulators [which is what I didn't do, I have a Saturn of my own], whatever works for the individual). It has many things that you don't see in many Action/RPG's of the past or even nowadays, and it even provides basically endless fun. Who could say no to this? Read on to find out why this game excites me so much!

Story:
Guardian Heroes hosts one hell of a story from beginning to end. To begin with, the Guardian Heroes Han (big guy with the big sword), Randy (mage), Ginjourou (ninja) and Nicole (healer, priestess) staying in an inn talking about this rare mythical sword they found. After a bit, a lone warrior named Serena jumps into the inn where the heroes are and tells them not to use the sword. Well, when your attackers start stuff on us (as they follow her and we then get caught in the middle), it's kind of hard not to use the sword (I mean how else are they going to defend themselves). Eventually, they start this journey to defend the land while defeating some evil sorcerer who threatens to destroy the land. Oh, and gods make a decent amount of appearances too. Woopee!

What I really like about the story is not the originality, but how it ends in many ways. There are multiple endings in the game (as there's multiple paths in the game), and the story changes as you change paths, kind of like Shadow The Hedgehog does, except this game is actually good. The end result is a mantastic story (it's too manly for 'fantastic' to describe it) that answers all your questions in the end and leaves nothing behind but a trail of excellent storytelling with wonderful characters and sweet anime scenes. If you like storylines; hell, if you want to base some fanfics off something, this game is your bandwagon fanfic writers. The world does not need another Bleach, Final Fantasy or Inuyasha fanfic. I'd love to see how people alter the Guardian Heroes world with their own imaginations (within reason).

Gameplay:
Some of the best gameplaying experience you'll ever experience on the Saturn; hell, the best of the entire 32/64-bit generation (you know, the PS1/N64/Saturn generation)! It's simple enough to learn, but fairly hard to master. The fact that it's simple to learn the basics and hard to master the more advanced parts will get you shortly addicted when you learn how the game plays and will keep you going when learning how to do some of the trickier attacks.

To begin with, the story mode is the main mode you play. You can either duke it out alone in 1 player story mode or have a friend play with you in 2 player story mode! Pretty good idea, I love playing games cooperatively with people, especially games like this. There are also difficulty modes; Easy, medium and hard. They differ in enemy AI settings and how many continues you have; easy gives you 99 continues, medium 10 and hard 3, and of course the enemy AI is going to get harder on the harder difficulty settings. We'll talk about both later on. For now, basic gameplay.

The game haves you sidescrolling throughout each of the levels, as opposed to moving on a 3D plane akin to Golden Axe (which allows 3D movement on 2D environments). This sounds like a downgrade at first, but you can actually change what plane you're in; front, middle and back. So you could say it's both a downgrade and an innovative upgrade; I say bloody awesome thinking right there Sega! Really helps with evading some enemies as well as trying something new!

I'll tell you this right now - this is not your average everyday Action/RPG. This game is known not only for the kickass story, but for also mixing in some Beat Em Up elements; so basically, it's Tales Of Phantasia meets Streets Of Rage or Golden Axe even. If you're familiar with those games or similar games, you'll feel right at home, as the battle system is a lot like that of a Beat Em Up game, but with some RPG elements thrown in the mix. None of the "whack enemies to deal x amount of damage", but it's more like "beat the shit out of enemies to deal x amount of damage". You really have to play this or at least play Streets Of Rage, Final Fight or Golden Axe (GENESIS ORIGINALS! NOT THE NEWEST ONE ON 360/PS3!) even to understand what I'm blathering about.

But wait, how is this even remotely an RPG, it's just a Golden Axe ripoff!? Well, aside from spellcasting, you also have HP and MP (which is your health and magic levels [latter used for spellcasting] respectively) as well as level up statistics during fights. While fighting off enemies, if you kill off enough enemies, you level up. You don't actually gain any statistic changes until the end of the level, so you better just focus on the level and hope to not die. You die if your HP falls to 0. Really though, when the level ends, you get to increase some stats. You have points to use to increase your statistics (depending on how many times you level up); use them wisely, as the game gets pretty damn hard towards the end, and if you're too busy leveling up magic statistics of Han instead of his physical attributes (defense, offense, HP), you're screwed!

The actual combat system in the game, as I've mentioned, is easy to learn, but to master. What do I mean? Well, with some of the characters, you can basically mash the same button to execute a simple combo. However, once you learn more complex combos, you'll notice that they're a much better alternative to the regular sort. The thing is that you have to memorize some button combinations to execute some of these better combos, but that's what you have to do in many other games anyway (save for Kingdom Hearts where you mash X to do just about every combo in the game basically), but its more rewarding when you dish out the pain on enemies.

Is there an alternative to button inputs? Yes - the almighty menu! Until you have the button combinations for combos and spells (yes spells require button combinations too) memorized, you better go with the menu. I know what you're thinking now - oh, I'll just go to the menu and do stuff k? No! You'll be vulnerable to attack this way. Opening up the menu doesn't pause the game, therefore, selecting from the menu will leave you open to attacks. Better write those combinations down!

Among the combos and spells, are your "super" attacks. Now, try to keep in mind that there's no super attack bar; these attacks actually take up all or most of your MP. They're fairly powerful, but I personally never use them. For some reason, super attacks feel a bit weak, especially when you're sacrificing a lot of MP. I usually stick with combos and spells, and use super attacks as a sort of desperation attack, but it's up to you.

Be careful, though, The game tends to be quite a hard one, and if you die, you lose a continue. If you lose all your continues, that's it, game over, you start over again from the last save point. In easy mode, it's impossible to lose all your continues, whereas in hard mode, you'll lose quite often due to a huge increase in difficulty. Don't worry though, it's not unfair in difficulty; it's actually quite fair. If you die, you simply need to practise some more. The game doesn't cheat, so don't blame it. The AI is intense on the harder difficulty levels, but that just means you need to be intense yourself!

Another addition to the game is this undead warrior who takes the sword a couple of levels into the game. You eventually (after a bit in the same level) get to take control of the undead warrior through commands. He'll either follow and attack what comes nearby, just follow the player, moves on his own to slice enemies up, attack enemies that try to attack the player or go berserk and beat the living daylights out of every enemy on screen, depending on what command you issue him. Pretty good idea if you ask me, it really mixes the game up a bit and adds the challenge of trying to keep him alive.

One thing that really, really makes the game stand out are the multiple paths that you can take throughout levels. If you take a different path, different enemies will strike you...basically, you need to be prepared for anything! As well as increasing replay value and making the game spice up the difficulty a bit with unexpected danger, you can also unlock characters. You may be thinking "yeah a few more characters, pretty sweet". Uh yeah... Would you call about 40 additional characters "a few more"? I wouldn't! That makes the roster pretty damn big if you ask me! A fairly big tease, though, is that only one of them can be played in story mode. The other 39 or so cannot. So what is this, shits and giggles? Well, there isn't just a story mode. This wants to push out a bit more of a Beat Em Up influence by having a versus mode!

Versus mode is where you and five other players can duke it out. You can select any of the characters you unlocked throughout story mode and basically kill each other. You and a friend who has another controller can play against four CPU players, or you alone can play against five CPU players. Basically how these play out, is like story mode, but just one big orgy of a fight instead of multiple smaller fights. Last one standing wins! There is also a way to have 6 human players playing at once, but I'll get to that in a moment.

The pre-game settings (as in versus mode settings) include character selection, team selections (teams of 2-5 VS 1-4) and handicaps (like experience - if someone is too powerful, lower it some). You can also fight in a random match, with random characters/teams/handicaps for a whole lot of mayhem!

Overall, this is a fairly innovative and fun game to play. There is nothing wrong with the gameplay, and if you think there is, you're just not a fan of this sort of gameplay, that is the only excuse there is.

Graphics:
The first thing you'll see is an FMV, which I think looks pretty impressive, though the Saturn has managed to pull better ones out of the hat, though I won't harp on it as it's still nice to look at. The footage was actually ripped out of an anime, but it's an obscure one, and really, nobody cares that that happened, I'm even willing to bet that they asked permission to use it and it was accepted...Yeah, it's kickass!

Everything else looks very pleasing to the eye. Everything looks as they should, the effects look very impressive especially for a game released in 1996 and...really, I haven't any complaints on the overall appearance. It just all looks that good! It's all detailed and very well animated without choppy frames at all. And if you change planes, the camera will zoom towards you or away from you (depends on what you're jumping to from where - frontwards zooms out, and jumping further back zooms in), and it doesn't even appear that choppy and half-assed either!

I, however, have two problems with it. One problem is that it lags sometimes, but it's not too often (not as often as many N64 games requiring an expansion pak - THAT ANNOYED THE HELL OUT OF ME!). It lags when there's a whole crapton of big spells flying around the screen with characters on screen and smaller spells flying all over the place. Understandable. The second problem, however, is that in versus mode, some combinations won't load up, though that's understandable too considering the Saturn wasn't powerful enough to load up...what, 6 huge fighters on one screen!? Not that huge either, but a bit of a pain, plus it's only a few combinations out of seemingly infinite combinations!

Sound:
The sound effects are pretty damn good and sound a lot like what they're supposed to sound like. Just think of swords clashing with armor or other swords, and the occasional explosion that occurs from time to time, as well as the spellcasting...holy crap! The voice acting is minimal. Most of it are battle cries, but then again, this is an early Saturn game (1996 to be exact), plus voice acting wasn't even a big thing then anyway. There is some throughout the game and in the beginning intro and they're very well done, but other than that, it's battle grunts and cries!

Sounds very good and all, but there is a slight problem - in versus mode, only three of the six fighters have their voices loaded due to limitations on the Saturn's RAM, while the other three shut up. A minor problem really, nothing that gets on your nerves. I just felt like pointing that little hiccup out.

Control:
You better believe that the controls are bloody excellent! Since you're constantly fighting, the button inputs respond as soon as you press the button, and the combinations work 99% of the time (that 1% would be the occasional hiccup because the d-pad itself is a bit screwy at times - but not even remotely all that often).

The actual scheme of the control is well done. All six buttons are your attack and menu buttons while the should buttons act as your plane jumping. Great use of the entire controller there Sega. Unfortunately, there isn't much else to say, considering they're that good.

Now, you're wondering about the 6 human player thing. How can we have six human players? That's a good question my fellow reader. You would need a six-controller adapter for the Saturn to connect six controllers and have you and five mates beating the living hell out of each other. Awesome!

Replay Value:
With multiple endings to witness plus a huge versus mode being a huge battle royale to the death and being a game worth replaying over and over again in general, you'd have to expect that the replay value of this game is tremendous. On your own or with two players, you can do the story mode and face each other in versus mode. With the six player adapter and six controllers...have fun killing each other in the versus mode!

Overall:
You can really see how I'm amazed with the game. In fact, I'm surprised the Happy Video Game Nerd hasn't done a review of this game. It was fairly unknown and overlooked, and he always (or usually) reviews obscure games that should've made it big (like Metal Storm and Wild Guns). But really, go find a copy of this game and a Saturn (or just emulate), and have fun with it. You will not be disappointed with this epic game for the Saturn. Jak recommends.

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