Guardian Heroes – Review

SEGA Saturn

1996 – Treasure

Greetings everyone! We have a treat for you today as we’re going to take a look at Guardian Heroes for the SEGA Saturn. This is a rare instance where Trogboy (my 16 year old son) took a keen interest in an “old” game that I pulled out to show him. So much so that he and I have all but mastered this awesome game, beating every level and reaching all seven possible endings. So let’s dig in!

The Story:

From the maunal: The Guardian Heroes are a group of adventurers who love nothing more than the excitement of adventure. They’ve banded together in a search for a legendary sword–the one which supposedly saves the world in ancient times. One day, Han (one of the Guardian Heroes) is walking in the forest when he comes across a sword stuck in the rocks. Han uses his incredible strength to pull the sword out.

Taking it back to the Guardian Heroes headquarters, Han shows it to his friends. Could this be the legendary sword? Suddenly, a stranger bursts into the Heroes HQ. As she is warning the Guardian Heroes to beat a hasty retreat, the Royal Knights arrive, under orders from the King’s advisor, Kanon, to find the ancient sword. What the knights don’t know is that Kanon is planning to take control of the kingdom after destroying the sword.

Kanon must have the sword at any cost, and the Heroes want to know why. The answer to that question will take the team on a quest across the land, through battle after thrilling battle. Every decision counts in the sword and sorcery fantasy. Make the right ones and bring the Guardian Heroes to victory. Make the wrong one, and the sword will fall to the hands of darkness.

The Overview:

Guardian Heroes is a side-scrolling sword and sorcery brawler with a little RPG style ability leveling thrown in for awesomeness. One or two players fight their way through 30 levels of soldiers, wizards, giants, robots and more to reach and defeat the final villain and save the kingdom.

In short, the King of the Kingdom wants the sword, but he’s not really the king, he’s being controlled by a wizard, but unbeknownst to the wizard, he’s not controlling the king, but instead the king has been replaced with an earth spirit who is using the wizard to fool the kings cohorts to get the sword to kill the sky spirits… or something along those lines. The story is crazy but it’s also awesome, as each path you choose will unveil a different angle of the story and change what happens as well as who will be left at the end as the final boss. It’s next level Japanese crazy stuff and it’s fun.

Speaking of paths, at the end of most levels you are presented with several options which will dictate the next stage you fight. So it is impossible to play all 30 stages in one run as the paths branch out. If you go to path “A” then you won’t be able to play through “B” or “C” on the same playthrough. This, along with some of the options we’ll go over later, make this game’s replayability very high.

The Heros

At the beginning you have four characters to choose from. Each character has different combat moves and magic abilities. Let’s take a look.

Samuel HanOriginally a member of the Royal Knights Blue Team, he decided to head out into the world and become a wandering adventurer. He carries one of the most powerful swords ever forged, a legend in and of itself.

Han is the straight up swordsman brawler of the group. High defense and high strength mean good survivability and good damage. Han has very little magic, just a fire ball, but he doesn’t care, he has a giant sword!

Randy M. GreenRandy has been studying sorcery for many years. While taking a break from his studies, he met Han and the other Guardian Heroes. He decided that the best was to hone his skills was by traveling with the other heroes. His companion and fellow sorcerer is Nando. Randy is a shy fellow, but hopes to overcome this by adventuring with the Guardian Heroes.

Randy is the mage of the group (although they can all use magic). Randy has a staff that he uses for melee attacks which can be quite formidable itself, but his specialty is devastating magic. With spells like Firewall, Thunderbolt, Ice World and Tornado, Randy can lay down some impressive crowd control and deal massive damage. He also has a little rabbit familiar named Nando who can do a little fighting himself. But, like most wizards, Randy’s initial defense and hit-points are low.

Ginjiro IbushiGinjiro is a ninja, traveling in search of the legendary sword “Muramasa” which is supposed to be so powerful that it has acquired a soul. Because of his desire to see this legendary sword, Ginjiro has decided to join the Guardian Heroes team.

Ginjiro is a super magic ninja killing machine. He has high mobility and excels at darting around the battlefield. When fighting, he can unleash relentless juggling physical attacks or call various forms of thunder and lightning to destroy his foes. His defense and vitality are low initially.

Nicole NealeNicole is a mischievous but devout cleric. She has gone with the rest of the Guardian Heroes believing that it would be an interesting change of pace. She herself is an optimist and tries to see only the good in people. But it’s best not to make her too angry, as she is also capable of casting some very powerful spells. Perhaps she’s just tricking everyone into thinking she’s a nice girl. Perhaps not, she’s full of secrets.

Nicole is the healer / guardian of the group. She uses a staff for melee attacks which are not very powerful. She is a bit clumsy, often tripping over her own feet (it’s an attack actually). But when the group is in trouble, Nicole is the one who can save them. Her magic abilities include a impenetrable shield that everyone can take refuge under, and the only healing spell in the game. She has a couple of offensive attacks also, but maintaining and healing the team is her specialty.

After beating the game on any difficulty you can also play as Serena.

Serena CorsaireCommander of the Royal Knights Red Team, Serena has decided to side with the Guardian Heroes. She seems to know about the sword Han has found, but has yet to reveal her information to the heroes. Who is she really, and why is she helping the Guardian Heroes?

Serena is the most balanced character in the game. She is deadly in both melee combat and magic. If you do not control her she is often fighting along side you as an NPC. If you do choose to play her, it will increase the difficulty as you have one less fighter in many battles.

The Game

So Han has found the ancient sword and everyone else wants it. When the game starts, you and the Guardian Hero squad are talking about the sword in your head-quarters when Serena bursts in. She informs you that the King is sending his knights to take the sword. As soon as the words leave her mouth the King’s knights arrive, and the fight begins.

Only the player controlled heroes stay for the fight, so if you are playing as Han, your buddies will hop in for any cut scenes and talking, but then split when the fighting starts. You will always have an NPC fighting along with you though, Serena from the beginning, and then a mighty Undead Warrior later on, more on him in a bit.

Your characters fight their way from left to right in each level. You’ll be fighting through hoards of enemies until you reach the end of the level, where you are presented with three or four choices as to which way to go next.

Along with moving left and right, you can also move forward and backwards on screen. There are basically three lanes, and by pressing the shoulder buttons on the controller you can switch between them. This adds quite a bit of strategy as enemies also jump between lanes, and their melee and magic attacks are often contained on the lane they are initiated on. So moving between lanes is a good way to dodge or even get a jump on someone.

Leveling Up Abilities

At the end of each stage, after you choose the direction to go, each player is presented with a level up screen. Here you can add points gained from the last level to six different abilities. You have a lot of room for adding points which allows for many different build styles when playing. The abilities are:

Strength: Damage you can inflict on the opponent.

Vitality: Damage you can take from an opponent’s attack (hit-points).

Intelligence: How well you can use magic (more on this in a bit).

Mental Protection: Protection against magical attacks, and affects how much mana you gain back from melee attacks.

Agility: How fast your character moves. This also reduces the cast time for spells and wind up for some melee attacks.

Luck: Improves your chances of being missed by attacks or making an attack successfully (and a lot more).

Each character starts with a slightly different base point arrangement, but as you level up you can add points wherever you want, so if you want to max out your mages strength, you are free to do so. The number of points you can add after each level depends on how you did on that level. Almost every action gives you XP. Pausing the game will bring up your characters stats where you can see your current XP and how much you need to get to the next level. If you gain 7 levels on a stage, at the end you will have 7 points you can allocate to your abilities.

While abilities like Strength and Vitality operate pretty much as you would expect them, some can be a little harder to decipher right away. Intelligence, for instance will actually increase the size of you magic spells. So if you cast a lightning bolt that fires out from your hands, the distance it travels can be increased with intelligence, but the amount of mana you also currently have can affect the size of the spell. Luck does a wide variety of things. It can randomly increase the damage dealt from an attack or reduce the damage you take from an attack, it can also affect the level a spell will be when cast. For instance Nicole has a healing spell, but when you cast it there are several different versions that can occur randomly. One that will only heal you, one that will heal the whole screen and one that will drop a healing circle on the ground. The healing circle is the most helpful as all your partners can run to it and get some HP back, but you may not get the circle, you can sometimes cast the spell 3-4 times back to back (mana permitting) and never get the circle, instead you just heal yourself 4 times in a row and your buddy dies. Luck can increase the rate you get the “better” version of spells.

The Undead Warrior

So you found this sword and are being chased. When you reach the second stage, something special happens. At the end of the stage the original owner of the ancient sword comes back for it–The Undead Warrior! He raises up out of the ground, takes the sword from Han, and then will fight along side you for the rest of the game. The Undead Warrior is an NPC but can be given orders by anyone in the party. He is a brutal killing machine that can wreck a screen full of enemies at a time. By pressing a button on the controller you can cycle him through five different stances.

  1. Attack – he attacks anyone and everyone.
  2. Defend – he will stay close to the player who commanded him and fight any enemies that attack the player.
  3. Follow – he will follow the player that commanded him but will not attack.
  4. Hold – he will stand in one place and not attack (but can still be attacked).
  5. Berserk – he loses his undead mind and starts unleashing hell on every enemy around him, building up his rage for a screen clearing explosion.

There are good times and occasions to use most of the stances. And regardless of his stance he is invincible, he will not die. He may get a little winded sometimes, but for the most part he will not stop unless you tell him to. This may sound a little overpowered and it can be, but one thing Guardian Heroes likes to do is throw a lot of enemies at you at once, so it’s good to have a friend sometimes, even if he’s undead.

Once you have the Undead Warrior to game kicks in and you’re off to choosing your path. There are over 50 different path combinations you can take to reach one of the five different endings (and a couple of those have some dialog variations depending on choices made throughout the game). 

The Controls

Guardian Heroes is a blast to play. Your characters have many moves including combos, counters and blocking. Think more moves than Streets of Rage, but less moves than Street Fighter…somewhere in-between. Special moves are executed using directional combos like a fighting game and the same goes for magic spells, D-pad rolls or up, down, left, rights and the like, followed with an attack or magic button.

The D-pad moves your character around the screen and controls jumping and crouching.

The L & R shoulder buttons will move your character between the three planes of the battlefield. Far away, middle and near.

The A button is used to defend against attacks, and this can be used with the D-pad to defend high and low. Holding down the A button is very useful in this game!

The B button performs a normal strength attack

The C Button performs a powerful attack.

The X button controls the Undead Warrior. Pressing it will pop a small bubble above your heroes head and you will see an Undead Warrior icon. You can cycle through 5 icons representing the 5 stances of the Undead Warrior. Stop on the one you want and press A. You will hear the UW grunt in acknowledgement.

The Y button will also move your hero between the three lanes. But, it can move you from all the way in the back to the front, skipping the middle.

The Z button will bring up a bubble above your head allowing you to cycle through your spells. Pick the one you want and press A. This is the slow way to cast spells. The faster method is to use the D-pad combos. All magic spell combos have some D-pad action you have to perform in conjunction with pressing the Z spell button.

Pressing the Start button will pause the game and bring up your character sheet. You can see your abilitiy levels, current XP and the XP required to reach the next level. If two players are playing and one pauses the game, the other can also hit the start button and bring up his or her info.

The controls are crisp and responsive. You will be able to fly around the battle field, jumping from one fight to the next, and endlessly juggle enemies and fire off huge screen covering spells. Master all the D-pad combos and you will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Graphics

Guardian Heroes is the type of game the SEGA Saturn was made for. The characters are hand-drawn anime style 2D sprites with loads of animation frames. No character or enemy is ever sitting still, they are always rocking back and forth and moving in their fighting stances. The animation and movement is super smooth. There are tons of funny little additions the artist added. Soldiers will sometime do a Dab-like salute while fighting and one gang of thieves is obsessed with working out and will fight you cross-fit style, doing push-ups on your head.

The battlefield is presented in 3D or 2.5D if you will. The backgrounds are nice and detailed and there is a lot of variation from level to level. The battle-field view will also scale back or zoom in on the action based on the characters positions. This is more apparent in two player games as the screen zooms in and out when you separate.

With the zooming effect and the three different lanes you can jump between, there is a lot of scaling of the games sprites. Most characters were drawn to size for the front or nearest level, which is where they will look their sharpest. As you move to the back layers the character is scaled small and appears a little blockier. Some large characters, like giants, appear sharper on the back lane and more pixilated on the front. 

There are always lots of enemies on the screen at once, and most of them can cast spells just like you. This can lead to a screen full of giant laser beams, tornados, fire and lighting along with swords and flying soldiers. It can be mass chaos, and you can lose your character in the fray (tip, hold the defend button down!). The SEGA Saturn does a great job of handling the action, but when it gets completely nuts, which it can do, the action can cause slow-down. This doesn’t really feel like a bad thing when playing and isn’t a big issue. It mainly occurs on some of the bigger bosses and their giant spells being used with yours. It’s forgivable when you see the on screen action…how can any machine keep up with this mayhem?!

The Sounds

Yet another area where Guardian Heroes excels. The music was composed by Natsuhiro Suzuki (Nazo² Suzuki), and is a rock/jazz fusion style that keeps up with the onscreen action  and provides a good atmosphere to each stage. Special characters you meet throughout the game also have their own soundtrack which is a nice touch. Along with the great soundtrack you also get great character sounds. Heros have special yells (all in Japanese) when they use their special moves and magic. Enemies yell, scream, grunt and taunt adding even more to the chaos. Guardian Heroes is a pleasure to listen to.

Arena Mode

As if the Story Mode of the game wasn’t enough, you also get an Arena Battle mode that up to 6 players can fight in at one time!

As you beat enemies in the game, they become selectable and playable in the arena. You can have up 45 character to choose from, including the massive bosses and the lowliest civilians. It is more than just a simple brawl arena due to the impressive level of set-up options you have. Up to 6 characters can fight at once. You can set them to be player controlled or CPU controlled. Fighters can be assigned to as many as 6 different groups. So you can have 3 teams of 2 players, a 1 vs. 5, a free-for-all or any similar combination.

The level of each fighter can be set, so you can have a level 10 boss, fight five, level 100 civilians, but wait, that’s not all! Setting the character levels is just giving you the XP points to add to your abilities. If you set it to 50 and start the arena, you are presented with the level up screen and 50 points to allot however you want, and you can do this for each character. You can have the game automatically assign points randomly, evenly or do it youself manually. With every hero and enemy in the game available there can be balance issues, but that’s part of the fun! You are in complete control.

The Arena Mode is a great feature and provides a good place to learn and practice heros and builds. Another nice feature is that you can register and store player data. You can enter your name (and a dozen more) and save it. When selecting your fighter in the Arena, all the results will be stored to your registered name. And your buddies can have their own also! You can also view the stats on every character for every battle they’ve ever been in. It’s impressive.

With the SEGA Saturn 6-Player Multi-player adapter, you and five buddies can duke it out in the arena.

The Options

The game that keeps on giving… In the options set up screen you have:

Dip Switches – which allow you to set many in-game features like:

  • Difficulty Level: You have Easy, Normal & Hard. Easy gives you 99 continues, Normal gives you 9, and Hard gives you 3. The enemies are also tougher on each setting and not all will appear in Easy mode.
  • Reset Key – Most SEGA Systems can reset the game by pressing the Start Button and ABC at the same time, you can change that combination here
  • User Friendly Mode – Makes the game super easy to play
  • Play Demo Time Limit – You can turn off the time limit for when the game plays the Demo after being idle for a bit, and just watch it play itself.
  • Pause Display: Select ON to show your character Stats window when the game is paused, or OFF to leave the pause screen clear.
  • Hit Combo Display:  This will show a combo hit counter next to your character as they build up hit chains.
  • Audio: Set Mono or Stereo
  • Enemy Level Display: ON will display every enemy on screen’s Health and Mana bar at the top of the screen. This can be very useful to see who is weak and who you should focus on. OFF will remove this display.
  • Next Exp Display: Will hide or show the XP you need to level up.
  • Key Config: Allows you to completely edit the controller layout.
  • And then you have player settings where you can read detailed information on how to play the game and on each characters (enemies included) controls and special moves.
  • Reset Data: Will clear all game data that is kept on each character – use it wisely!

The GameTrog Verdict!

As you can probably tell if you’ve read this far, I love this game! It is often mentioned as one of the best games for the SEGA Saturn and I’d have to agree. 

How has is held up over the years? As good as you can hope for if you ask me. It is a blast to play. It is difficult but by no means impossible. It has great replay ability due to the branching paths, the character you can choose, difficulty level picked, and even how you assign ability points—all can change the game.

The graphics still look great, and with the trend of “pixle art” style games being so popular, Guardian Heroes could be mistaken for a retro style game (and not a true retro game).

Who is it for? If you love scrolling beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage or Double Dragon, you will most likely love this game. And while it is super fun to play one player, this is a two player game. One person playing as a damage dealer and the other as a healer is a super fun battle adventure extravaganza! 

If you are a collector of the SEGA Saturn, this game is a must-own.

 

The Trog Score:  5/5

Tell me what you think of Guardian Heroes in the comments! After approval of your first one, you can comment freely.

Guardian Heroes Videos

TrogBoy and I run through every level of Guardian Heroes. To do this we have to play the game 6 times.

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