Release: March, 1999
Suggested Value: $45
Supports: Vibration, Analog
When the game "Knight and Baby" was released in Japan a few months back, it was automatically entered into my metal database of RPGs that I'd never get to play, due to the Japanese language barrier. Then I found out that it had been picked up by Activision for US release, under the name "Guardian's Crusade"! I couldn't believe it. Of all the games, why'd they pick Knight and Baby to release here? It seems like the kind of game that only a weird import-loving freak like myself would like. Well, I don't care why they chose it, but I sure am glad that they took a gamble with it. This game is hardly the kind of deep and serious RPG that fans of games like Xenogears probably crave, and it hardly brings anything new or especially exciting to the genre, but it still manages to be a ton of fun nonetheless. If you're an RPG fan, you should really stop and take a look at this game.
Basically, Guardian's Crusade is about the most typical RPG you can imagine, in terms of plot and character interaction. The story goes something like this. You're a young Knight in training. Strange things have been happening lately - crops have failed to grow, people have been disappearing, storms have been occuring, and whatnot. After being sent on a mission for the Mayor of your town, you come across a small pink pig-like monster. The monster befriends you, and suddenly a mysterious deity appears out of nowhere to tell you that you must take the pig-monster (or "Baby" to you and me) to "God's Tower." The adventure unfolds from here, as Knight, Baby, and Knight's trusty fairy friend "Nehani" set off for God's Tower.
As you progress through the various towns and settings in this game, you'll be reminded of the kinds of old-school RPGs that everyone knows and loves. There's no denying that this game is very simple-minded for the most part. The puzzles aren't very challenging, and the typical mission is something along the lines of "cross the desert, enter the caves, kill a big spider, bring back some item to some guy," etc. Also, the various towns and settings are very typical RPG fare. There's a Fishing town where nobody can catch the fish, a Mining town, an Arabian-style town, and just about every other type of town in the book. The enemies that you'll meet along your journey aren't anything spectacular, but they're pretty well designed. Expect to fight the typical cast of pollen-spitting plants, poison-shooting frogs, and other standard rehashed enemies. Despite the plain and "seen it all before" feeling of this game, there are actually a few really cool things about it - Baby, and the Living Toys.
Your "party" consists of two central characters: Knight and Baby. While you have full control over Knight, Baby is sometimes another story. In a nutshell, Baby works almost like a "virtual pet." Before visions of Tamagotchi begin dancing in your head, let me explain. Baby is a sensitive little blob, and he gets upset if you don't give him enough love. For example, if you haven't fed him a candy bar in a while, he'll randomly begin to attack you mid-battle! Man, does that piss me off. But hey, it just teaches me to learn to treat Baby better. It's a bit frustrating to have 2 hit points remaining in a half hour-long battle with a boss, only to be killed by your own partner, but it also shows you that you can't neglect Baby. If you treat him well, Baby can become a very powerful partner. Although you don't have full control over him, you can suggest that he attack, guard, help you, or run away during battles. If he's in a good mood, he'll do what you ask him to. If he's not - watch out! Baby can learn many different "transformations" from the enemies that you fight, which basically allow him to transform into the various enemies and to use their powers. This can be extremely powerful at times, sometimes even several times more powerful than Knight himself. So in other words, if you can learn to harness his power, you won't regret it! As an added bonus, Baby can even be told to go fetch items for you. What a deal! The interaction with Baby isn't the most deep or complex I've seen, but it does provide a nice twist to the game that makes it a lot more unique and fun than it might have been otherwise.
Instead of being able to learn spells, Knight can summon a wide variety (over 70, total) of "Living Toys" - wind-up toys that aid your party in various ways. These toys can be found in chests throughout the game, and each have specific functions. They can heal your party, heal one character, attack the enemy in a huge variety of ways, parylize enemies, scare enemies, give play-by-play fight commentary (!), and much more. Even better, the names of the Living Toys are hilarious, including such favorites as "Da Bomb," "Mi Armour," and "Mr. O'Neal." I don't know what those zany translators at Activision were thinking, but I love the names used for the Living Toys. To explain further, the Living Toys act as members of your party when summoned. Some of them, such as the healing toys, simply heal you and then disappear. Others, like the attack toys, stay by your side and fight the enemy for several rounds. Using Living Toys depletes your "PP," which is basically the equivilant to Mana in this game. When it comes down to it, the Living Toys are no more interesting than your typical spells or "summons" in an RPG, but there's just something about the wacky little guys that I love. They're a great addition to the game, and they add even more quirkiness to an already super-zany game.
One of my favorite things about this game is the way that enemy interaction is handled. Instead of randomly warping you into battle screens like most RPGs do, Guardian's Crusade allows you to see nearby enemies. All enemies are represented by one creature, a ghost-like creature that "swims" around in mid-air. If you see these creatures nearby and don't want to get into a fight, you can actually use your dodging skills to evade them and to thereby avoid confrontation. If a ghost touches you, you will be launched into battle. Even cooler, the colors of the ghosts change depending on the level of the enemies that they represent compared to your level. For example, if a ghost that represents a high-level creature is nearby, it will show up as a pinkish color. It will be very aggressive, and will try to chase you down. Likewise, if a ghost represents a lower-level enemy or two, the ghost will be a white color and will try to avoid you at all costs. This is a great feature, because it gives you some indication of what you're in for before you actually engage in battle.
Although Guardian's Crusade isn't the best-looking game I've seen, its graphics and especially its style do tend to grow on you a lot as you play through the game. In the beginning, I was underwhelmed. The terrain all seemed flat and green, the enemies were barely detailed, and the whole thing looked very simplistic. The further I player into the game, the more detailed and nice-looking everything seemed to get. Because this is a fully polygonal game, you can rotate the screen 360 degrees in incriments of 1/16th, so that you can view the world around you from almost any angle. If you don't like having to move the camera around manually (a la "Breath of Fire 3"), you can turn on an option that makes the camera "follow" you wherever you go. I prefer to work it manually, but I can see how some might get sick of that method. The majority of Guardian's Crusade's charm comes from its cartoony and light-hearted atmosphere, especially from the characters that you interact with along the way. Each town has its own new cast of characters to meet, and they rock. Some CG scenes are thrown in at key moments to help tell the story of Guardian's Crusade, and they are of decent quality. However, the vast majority of the game is told through simple dialogue, just like in the glory days of RPGs. In the end, what Guardian's Crusade lacks in sheer graphic power, it makes up for with its charm and great design.
I didn't notice the music much for the first few hours that I played this game, but as I got into the double-digit range I started to notice some really great songs here and there. The town music is especially well written, and is generally super-happy and fun, as RPG town music generally is. It's a polar opposite to the kinds of perfectly orchestrated soundtracks that accompany Squaresoft RPGs and whatnot, but the music in this game really does rock. If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself humming along to these songs long after you've turned the game off.
I hate to have to admit it, but Guardian's Crusade is really one of those few games whose attraction is very hard to pinpoint. I can usually say that I like a game for one reason or another, but this isn't really the case with Guardian's Crusade. The simple fact is, I just really like this game for some strange unexplainable reason. The game is far from original in any way, isn't extremely well-made from a technical standpoint, and will probably seem sub-par at a glance. But for some reason, it hooked me in, and it hasn't let go yet. I've had more fun playing this game than playing many other RPGs in recent times. In fact, I'd even go so far as to place it with Xenogears, Final Fantasy VII, Breath of Fire 3, and others as one of my favorite RPGs for the Playstation. Sadly, I fear that Guardian's Crusade will be laughed off by most and will fade into obscurity, like so many other great RPGs have in the past. All I can say is, try this game out for yourself if you don't believe me. I'm sure there's someone else out there who can see why I like this game so much. There's just something about the combination of light-hearted atmosphere, the "virtual pet" antics of Baby, the hilarious "Living Toy" spell system, and more that make this game great. It's very hard to put it into words, but I bet a lot of you will have a great time with this game. Don't be afraid to check out Guardian's Crusade - despite its seemingly shallow exterior, it is one of the most enjoyable RPGs I've played in recent times.