Review by Tenshi No Shi

"A truly unique game that you'll treasure."

I wasn't one of those people who rushed right out and bought a Saturn when it was first released- it's price tag ($399) and lack of solid launch titles scared me into waiting for the Playstation. Eventually, I started seeing games that I liked on Sega's 32-bit system and it was a done deal when I found out that Treasure (responsible, in part or whole, for three of my favorite 16-bit games of all time- Gunstar Heroes, Axelay and Super Castlevania IV) was about to release their next masterpiece for the Saturn.

In Guardian Heroes, you pick from a band of adventurers who seek the legendary sword. The sword is said to save the kingdom in its darkest hour (which happens to be when you start playing the game). Han, one of the Guardian Heroes, finds the sword, but also finds a whole lotta trouble when Kanon sends his troops to recover the blade. The plot actually gets much more in depth (which is not surprising considering the developer) with the introduction of the back story which includes and ancient battle between earth and sky spirits, plus a twisted tale of royal betrayal and deceit. It's a great story that'll keep you playing again and again while you unweave the multiple threads of this epic saga.

If ever there were a game that proved the Saturn had the Playstation's 2-D capabilities beat hands down, Guardian Heroes would be that game. Gorgeous, hand-drawn, anime-style graphics fill this game to capacity, coming off more like a cartoon than a video game in presentation. The animation is top-notch too, every character and background alive with vivid detail and color. I do, however, have a few, tiny complaints about this game. During some of the more intense battles, there could be ten or more characters on the screen at once. When this happens, the game tends to slow down a bit and it becomes a tad hard to pick your character out of the crowd. Neither of these problems actually effects gameplay, so I attribute them both to Treasure coming to grips with the new hardware. Oh, it's also kinda hard to read some of the text. Not impossible, but an eye strain nonetheless.

If you've never heard the kind of music that permeates a Treasure game, then you are in for a treat. It's really hard to describe, but they use some of the most out-of-place music that you could possibly imagine and yet it still works. I can't explain why it works, it just does. In a fantasy setting like Guardian Heroes, you'd expect music somewhat similar to the Final Fantasy series.

Imagine a game that looks like a side- scrolling action game (a la Final Fight) but has controls similar to Street Fighter. If you can imagine that, then you already know how Guardian Heroes plays. The controls are tight and easy to learn, with button assigned to attacks, magic, guarding and more. You can also re-bind these buttons to your liking (which I did) to provide yourself an even more comfortable playing environment. Regardless, while it looks complex in the instruction manual, the game is a snap to learn and you'll find yourself busting heads in no time.

Guardian Heroes was designed to play like your average beat-em-up but with RPG elements thrown in for depth. You gain experience point for beating up baddies, which, in turn, levels you up. You also gain attribute points that you can distribute as you see fit between levels. Another cool game play mechanic is the ability to jump between 3 'levels' on the gaming field. This lets you escape your enemy if your surrounded or take a second to prepare a lethal counter attack should the need arise. Finally, there's the branching storyline that lets you select what course of action you want to take, and then unfolds the story accordingly. This can alter the way you play the game each time, as different selection will ultimately lead you to new stages. It's all of these design elements brought together that makes this one of the most polished Saturn games ever released.

There aren't a whole lot of extras packed in this game, but you do get a battle mode with every character in the game eventually selectable for a nice fighting orgy. There is also a nifty character guide that gives you a little history on your character and all the moves he or she (or it) can perform. All in all, some pretty cool, and unexpected, extras that'll keep you playing the game long after you've beaten it.

It may be a little too late to track this gem down (seeing as the Saturn has been dead now for three years). But, if you can find it on Ebay or at a used game shop, it's worth every penny you spend.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 08/10/09

Game Release: Guardian Heroes (US, 12/31/96)

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