Advance Guardian Heroes - Reader Retroview  

Advanced in the Wrong Direction
by JuMeSyn

75-90 minutes


Rating definitions 

   Once more Treasure makes an appearance with a title that CAN be classified as an RPG, unusual for a company that makes such action-centric games most of the time. Sadly Advance Guardian Heroes pales next to the original, one of the Saturn’s premiere exclusives. That does not mean it is without merit; merely that it disappoints in comparison to its forebear. Guardian Heroes is worthy of at least a try by anyone in possession of a Saturn; Advance Guardian Heroes is a fairly entertaining title for the Game Boy Advance but hardly that system’s finest hour.

   As the original was, Advance Guardian Heroes is best described as the meeting of an RPG with a beat-em-up. The player takes control of a character and interacts with enemies by beating the crap out of them with various skills and controls that would fit into most beat-em-up titles easily. Punches, kicks, jumping attacks, roundhouse sweeps, they all fit into the framework constantly. Each character also has at least one magic spell (switching between magic spells is accomplished via the L button). Magic is used by holding R and pressing the A button, and has a variety of effects but always is aimed at causing damage to the enemies. While casting a spell the character is vulnerable, and spells have varying ranges.

   How this fits into an RPG framework is accomplished via experience. Experience follows the same principle as the original Guardian Heroes, though a bit more annoyingly. Instead of experience being automatically granted through actions, every time an enemy falls it drops a crystal. The player must manually collect these crystals. At the end of each stage comes the opportunity to use these crystals to level up, by enhancing attributes at the player’s whim. Attack, defense, magic attack and magic defense, vitality, magic points, and mobility are among the statistics that may be enhanced. Collecting all possible experience is quite a challenge given that enemies will often be attacking despite the fall of their comrades, though bosses tend to give out enough experience crystals to make up for a potential surfeit. And bosses aplenty exist in Advance Guardian Heroes, as in any Treasure title.

   A note regarding the R button’s uses: while it is necessary to cast magic, it also blocks. Blocking uses up magic points along with actually casting magic, meaning its judicious use is required. Hitting R just as an attack is about to land, however, results in either its return to the attacker (with a projectile) or a freezing of the enemy and a free attack chance (with a melee attack).

   Most of the game is indeed a beat-em-up at heart, but in typical Treasure fashion there are parts of the stages that break from the norm. The entire second stage takes place on a floating ship that is moving downstream, with enemies attacking from the background and popping out of it. There are occasional parts that require some quick double-jumping to escape crumbling land, and one boss battle that takes place like this. These double-jumping escapades feel a little loose in their control and are nasty to navigate depending upon the character being used, but fortunately do not take up much time.

   Visually this game looks pretty nice – for the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately Treasure tried a bit too much for the hardware to handle neatly, and what happens when too many enemies are onscreen is the advent of slowdown. This can be either helpful or harmful, but is less beneficial than would be desired thanks to the difficulty of adequately avoiding or launching attacks. Having said this, the animations are clean and plentiful with the action being easily discernable (minus slowdown’s intrusion).

   Aurally the Game Boy Advance really shows its limitations. There are some good tunes here, but the use of a couple tracks from the original sadly demonstrates the difference between CD audio and the GBA’s synthesizers. Some of the tunes are unimpressive to hear at all. There is also a bit of voice, and in keeping with the original it remains in Japanese for the amusement of English speakers.

   The story presumes that one of the myriad possible paths in Guardian Heroes was followed, and it posits the entire first game as a test by the Sky Spirits to find champions to serve them. This entrapped the members of the first game’s cast who were playable in story mode, and they all serve the Sky Spirits now. The Sky Spirits have also revived Zur and Kanon for nefarious purposes. The basic story is just to get strong enough to beat the Sky Spirits down, however, and meeting up with the protagonists of the first game as antagonists gets old when they must be beaten down. Also the translation is hardly a gem (‘Take my soul and devote yourself to your journey harder!’ being an early chestnut).

   Replay is enormous in this game, thanks to the unlocking system. Crystals can be either invested into building up the current character, or investing in research to unlock new ones. The original Guardian Heroes cast (at least the ones in this game) is eventually unlockable along with various enemies. Playing the game with a different character does make a big difference, and helps keep it reasonably fresh considering that it can be beaten in around 90 minutes.

   Challenge is highly variable. Easy mode has nearly unlimited magic points to make constantly blocking feasible, and is indeed very easy. Normal mode is what a beat-em-up veteran should seek for a challenge. Hard mode will invite ulcers, and the top difficulty will make mere mortals quake with fear.

   Advance Guardian Heroes is hardly a bad game, it just can’t meet the expectations the original will engender in players. The undead warrior that fought alongside the player in the first game is gone. The branching storylines that made the original so friendly to replay are also gone, and the one story here isn’t very good. This is still a pretty decent game, but expectations must be set at the proper level.

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