Guardian War is a combat oriented RPG with some very innovative additions to the standard RPG combat system and a distinctly Japanese flavor.
Unlike other RPG's bought to us from Japan, such as the Final Fantasy Series, in Guardian War the storyline, which is minimal, and character interaction, which is non-existent, are definitely not the major selling point. Guardian War is pure combat.
The games graphics are unique and superb. The characters and monsters (roughly 40 total) are fully rendered in a style that is reminiscent of typical super deformed Japanese RPG and anime characters. All combat occurs in a fully rendered stylized 3-D playing area, that the characters move freely through. The view is a tilted overhead view, but greatly zoomed in when compared to your typical RPG. The rendered terrain ranges from the normal (hilly forests) to the bizarre (forests with multi-colored mushrooms as large as the characters. The graphics during combat are phenomenal, particularly the magic. There is a unique, colorful graphic for each attack, and there are lots of different attacks.
Overall, the graphics and music are superb. I wouldn't mind seeing either reappear in future games. The digitized voice quality is simply terrible, and it's difficult to understand how they made it past Panasonic's quality control.
As a golem you begin as a Knight, and shortly add a golem priest to your party. Each golem in your party has the unique virtue of being able to simultaneously use multiple(upto 3) bodies, with each body having it's own unique skills and powers. Possible body types include Knight, Archer, Priest, Shaman, Birdman, Wizard, Ninja, and so on. In addition once a particular body has gained maximal experience through combat and through casting spells, there are two "upper class" more powerful variants of that body that the golem can also use. It sounds more complex than it is. Each body has the typical RPG stats of Quickness, Mobility, Offensive Power, Defensive Power, Magic Offensive Power, and Magic Defensive Power, Hit Points and Magic Points associated with it. In addition each body has a set of "attributes" that are specific to that body and affect combat. Attributes and RPG stats can be altered through combat and with special items. What these multiple bodies and attributes give you is an incredibly rich choice of options to call on in a combat situation.
The game is played on two different playing fields, a world map and a field map. The world map has two different detail levels and contains three basic types of locations:
Towns - where there are shops that items and bodies can be bought and sold at. Shrines - where sleeping golems that can be revived and used in your party after defeating any enemies there reside. Battle Points - locations in the world that are controlled by Azrael and his minions.
Battle Points are totally impassable until they have been cleared of the enemy. Clearing out the enemy means combat, and that takes place on the field map. Each Battle Point can be entered, at which point it turns into a more detailed field map. Your main character represents your entire party as he moves around the field map. The field map is a very well done fully rendered 3-d environment. In addition there is a small auto map on screen at all times, and a larger map of the area that can bought up with a button press. The player can use the right and left shift buttons to rotate the 3d environment around the character. Along with normal terrain the map features areas that obstruct the use of magic, automatically regenerate hit or magic points (or both), automatically damage anyone on the area, and Warp characters ten spaces away. There are also treasure chests containing special items scattered about the field maps. This all leads up to the reason for this games existence:
When your party approaches the enemy (all fully rendered in that strangely cartoony style) you are automatically placed into combat mode. Up to six members of your party can actually engage in combat (selected on the world map). When combat begins all the participants on your side separate from the leaders body and take up a predetermined position relative to the center of the combat zone. You can set up the formation you characters will take ahead of time. This is strictly turn-based combat, where each character can move a fixed number of spaces and has a fixed number of attacks. The player is directly in charge of the golems in his party and can give general strategy instructions to the other members (including commands to heal companions with magic, target particular enemies, use a magic attack and so on).
Combat in this game is very time consuming but also very satisfying. As the game progresses the need for more and more strategy arises and making use of the terrain on the playfield becomes important. Another reason why combat is so time consuming is due to the animated nature of the attacks and the magic system. This animation can be switched off, but it's so beautifully done, that I suspect most players will leave it on and keep staring at how beautiful it is. As a couple of basic examples the priest who joins your party almost immediately has two basic attacks and a combination attack (combination attacks are done in concert with another character and do a ton of damage or help, two priests can, for example, heal all of the members of your party at once, where one priest alone could only heal a single character). The first basic attack is healing, when you instruct the priest to heal someone, you first select the character by moving a cylinder of light around. The priest than pulls out some magical item and points it at the character to be healed a glowing white ball slowly engulfs the character to be healed and then flashes outward temporally flashing the screen white. The priests other option is a "Holy Light" attack, he selects the victim as before and from the heavens a rainbow cylinder of light engulfs the victim and inflicts damage.
There is a multitude of magic in the game and it all looks very impressive. Magic is based on nature (there's fire magic, lightning magic, wind magic, water magic, and earth magic). Although there's also light and dark magic. This light and dark magic has some correspondence to the Upper Class bodies that I mentioned earlier, as one of these upper class bodies is light based while the other is dark based.
During battle a character can also choose to use a special item to do things such as restore hit points, or to perform various attacks. These items are either found on the field map or can be bought in stores. Special items include Bells of Love which persuades monsters to join your party, Black Orbs which strengthen the power of darkness, Robe of Wind which strengthens the defending power of wind and so on.
This is a very quick and simple summary of the combat in this game, but I hope it gives you a basic feel for it and a taste for playing the game firsthand.
All in all this is a greatly enjoyable game with a couple of caveats. This game first appeared in Japan as "Powers Kingdom". Panasonic decided to bring it to America quickly and the rush job shows in the quality of the manual (which is simply horrible), and the quality of the digitized voices. This is also not a fully rounded RPG. It is basically the combat portion of my idealized turn based RPG. If combat is not one of your favorite parts of an RPG, than this game may not be for you.
If you love the combat portions of turn based RPG's however, than this game may be nirvana. The game succeeds in creating a very particular atmosphere, both through music and graphics, and also totally succeeds in drawing you into what little plot there is.
While I'm enjoying this game greatly I can only imagine how good it would be if a more complex plot line which involved interacting with non-fighting characters were included. I probably would not have the time to do a review.
>This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Bill Garrett for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.