Developed by fan-favorite, Treasure, Guardian Heroes is another late-blooming Saturn title that many people still haven’t discovered. Guardian Heroes is a beatemup with strong RPG elements. In this masterpiece, Treasure combined great 2D animation, a unique control scheme, and killer gameplay with the ability to level up and focus the skills that you choose.
The graphics in Guardian Heroes are some of the best 2D eye-candy for the Saturn. By today’s standards they are a little jaggy, but the animation and great hand-drawn artwork make up for it. The characters have an anime feel to them, and if you have ever played any other Treasure game you know what to expect. The characters are crisp and detailed, as are the backgrounds. The magic moves in this game are animated quite well and everything moves with fluid animation. There is a bit of slowdown that occurs when the action on the screen gets hectic, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
The game features a nifty zoom effect similar to Samurai Shodown or Guilty Gear X. This adds a bit to the “wow” factor, but it probably also contributes to the occasional slowdown.
As usual, the polish on this Treasure game is high. Everything from the anime FMV intro to the character designs has a lot of time devoted to it in order to ensure the highest quality.
While it isn’t one of Guardian Heroes main strengths, the music is fairly catchy and well-done. The themes reflect the situation well and there are a handful of pieces that are exceptional. The soundtrack is a blend of classic, jazz and pop rock.
The sound effects can be frenzied since there is often a lot of action occurring. There are no voices aside from the usual screams and grunts. Guardian Heroes features 45 characters, so the sound effects are varied and only a few seem to be repeated between characters. However, like most brawlers, each character’s sound effects will get repeated quite often over a long battle.
When you first start up Guardian Heroes, you are presented an intro anime movie that will set the stage for your upcoming adventure. The main characters will be presented to you, and it acts as a sort of introduction to the game’s story.
While the story isn’t usually a strength of an action game, Guardian Heroes is an exception. As Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, “An Enchanted Sword falls into the hands of a band of young heroes. Assisted by a Knight and a Golden Undead Warrior, they begin their quest to change the fate of the entire kingdom.”
While this may sound fairly generic, it actually has a little depth in addition to the normal Treasure charm. Guardian Heroes also features multiple paths that you can take in the storyline and gameplay. Each time you play through Guardian Heroes can come out much different then the last time. You can side with one group one time and the next time side with the others.
After battling some enemies, generally a menu will show up, with somewhere between two to five choices. Depending on what option you choose, you may go to different stages, beat different enemies and bosses, alter the story and much more. There are 30 stages in all, and you go through about six or seven of them before the ending.
Initially, Guardian Heroes seems like any other mindless beat ‘um up. However, when you realize that Guardian Heroes is really a fighting game on a much larger scale, the experience is greatly enhanced. To sum up the gameplay of Guardian Heroes, you take your old-school arcade beatemup like Final Fight or the Ninja Turtles games, combine the fighting moves of Street Fighter 2, and add RPG-elements like leveling up. It’s the perfect example of a hybrid game and oozes Treasure’s trademark creativity.
The fighting area in Guardian Heroes is divided into three horizontal plains (similar to old-school Fatal fury games) that you switch between by pressing L, R, or X. This can be used to dodge enemy attacks or to fight in a desired plain. It takes a little getting used to if you are more accustomed to games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, but you will quickly adapt as you progress. Your character controls similar to a one-on-one fighting game like Street Fighter 2 and features a block button much like Mortal Kombat. Pressing UP makes the character jump (instead of moving up on the screen) and you have weak and strong attacks.
You can combine these basic attacks with the control moves to make special attacks. You can also do the same making magic attacks except using the Z button. For beginners, you can just use the magic button without combining control moves. The problem with this technique is that it takes time to scroll through the list of magic attacks, and in the heat of battle you have to think and act quickly. There is also a button, in story mode, to command the undead hero. On the easy levels, you can order him to stand in the sidelines and fight alone. If you’re low in health, set him to berserk and watch the action.
The aforementioned RPG elements really help add a lot of depth the game and keep it from being repetitious. Throughout the game you can gain experience points by landing attacks and defeating enemies. Once you gain enough experience points you gain a level and increase your abilities.
After each stage, depending on your performance, you get skill points that you may distribute to your liking from categories such as strength, defense, speed, magic power, vitality and more. With this ability you can customize your character to be what you desire. Want a brute that can slaughter opponents in seconds? Increase strength. Want to become a deadly spell caster? Increase magic power. Want a balanced character? Distribute the points evenly. You can really customize a character to your liking and you can increase your character’s abilities to compensate for any weaknesses in your playing skills. The characters you have at your disposal are also very balanced and designed to suite different play styles. There are also a plethora of secret characters that can also be played.
The AI in Guardian Heroes is much higher than your standard brawler. The computer characters actually play quite well and your opponents will actually put up a good fight. It is similar to a good Capcom fighting game as in higher levels where enemies actually block and counter your attacks.
In addition to the standard Story Mode, you also have Versus Mode which allows up to 6 players can join in a large battle. You can fight in teams or have single elimination, choosing 9 stages to fight in. There are many characters to choose from and you can select any character you have beaten in Story Mode in addition to the heroes. The cast can be as high as 45 characters. You also have the option to make the additional characters human or CPU controlled. Up to six humans can participate in these chaotic brawls, but even the CPU characters play skillfully due to the superb AI. You can also alter many parameters before the fights, such as characters’ strength, defense, level, etc, and even select the stage.
Guardian Heroes does have a few slight weaknesses. The only one worth mentioning here is that the game occasionally crams too many characters on the screen at once, overlapping your character when attacked and making it hard to see what you are doing. In these cases, you must either to hold down the block button for dear life and hope for an opening or mash the buttons mindlessly to fight your way out.
When all is said and done, however, Guardian Heroes is a pleasure to dive into and its diversity, depth, and overall fun factor will keep you playing and returning for more.
As with most Treasure-developed games, the aftermarket price suffers from a combination of lower-than-normal production run and a loyal fan following. A complete copy of Guardian Heroes can fetch around $40-50 on eBay.
Guardian Heroes is a very well-rounded title and adapts various concepts from many successful games to create a phenomenal hybrid gaming experience. Guardian Heroes is one of the best examples of a high-quality game developed by Treasure in addition to being one of the best Sega Saturn games — especially with 2D graphics and gameplay. While an original copy may be a little pricey, it will not disappoint.
A pseudo-port/sequel showed up on the Gameboy Advance, but it lacking much of the excitement of the original. I reviewed it a while back if you want to give it a look. Also worth mentioning is Panzer Bandit , a Playstation game that is basically a Guardian Heroes-copycat that was enjoyable, but lacked much of the Treasure Charm and RPG elements.