Guardian’s Crusade (Retro)

With my series of retro reviews, I’ll be coming in from the left field to shine a light on games that have either been long forgotten or never really discovered in the first place. Today’s case is Guardian’s Crusade. Guardian’s Crusade is a turn based Role Playing Game developed in 1999 by Tamsoft. It’s understandable if you haven’t come across Guardian’s Crusade before as most of Tamsoft’s games are F-rated – I certainly wouldn’t have played the game myself if it wasn’t bought for me. At the time I thought it was trash, but now time has been a little kinder. It’s amazing what context can do for a game.

It was released during the wave of Ocarina of Time / Final Fantasy 7 / Pokemon hype, and as such it tries to mimic those games; the opening scene is just a carbon copy of the scene where Navi wakes Link up in Ocarina. Surprisingly, sourcing aspects of the most popular RPG’s turns into something of a unique game. You play a blue “Knight” kid who doesn’t talk, but it’s okay because your sassy fairy friend does all the wordy bits for you. Also joining your party is a little shape-shifting pink guy called “Baby” as well as a whole host of Robot Toys.

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Before going any further, I need to tell you why I’m writing about this game. I could have pulled out any unsung RPG, I didn’t just grab this one out of “oddest games I could think of” hat. I have something to confess. To this day, I cannot play this game for an extended period of time without having chills. It has an odd combination of setting, theme, visual style and soundtrack that just completely unnerves me. Like many a Tamsoft game before it, Guardian’s Crusade is for a children – an introduction to RPGs, basically. To the very letter, it was my first fully 3D RPG – but there’s nothing child friendly about it. For starters, the whole game is like a [The] Wicker Man meets Lavender Town mashup. Just listen to the sounds the game has. It’s supposed to have that adventurous whole-new-world-to-explore kind of thing going on, but there’s the minor chords in there that just make me feel unsafe listening to it.

There’s a kind of omnipresence to Guardian’s Crusade. It’s not something that’s been coded into the game intentionally, it’s more of an accident. Like how the Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you around the room, so too does this game. It’s maybe down to it incorporating major religious themes: Jesus literally appears to you in the first 30 minutes of playing and there’s all kinds of crucifixes and Christian motifs found within the environment that act as a reminder that you’ve met “Him”. After that brief encounter with God, you feel his presence for the rest of the game. Beyond this, the art style and character design is a hybrid of caricature and realism (to the best of the PS1’s abilities). The humans co-exist in a world with depressed orange cyclops’ and tiny cave-dwellers with big feet. It feels  like a cross between “Labyrinth” and “Pans Labyrinth” at times. Some of the monsters in this game are hideously grotesque – coming back to those religious themes again, they’re often depicted as demons.

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My only real gripe with the game is the lack of anything resembling a quest log. You might find yourself getting lost trying to navigate your next objective with little in the way of a prompt, you really have to pay attention when advancing the plot because you’re only going to get told once. Aside from that, Guardian’s Crusade will provide you with a very unique experience in the way of gameplay, plot and atmosphere.

The transition from over world to battle was quite impressive for its time, but for the most part the turn based battle system isn’t revolutionary: Attack, Defend, Item and Run – that old routine. You only directly control “Knight”, but as the game progresses your little, pink, shape-shifting “Baby” develops new attacks, special attacks and an AI that will often outshine you in battle. This is where the game finds its gimmick. On your journey’s you will come across wind-up toys that you can deploy in battle as active party members. The “Little Toys” only stick around as long as their key will wind before being sent back to your bag, so you need to use strategy and tactics here. You may deploy a toy that will defend you for 4 turns, or one to attack the enemy for 3 turns. Some toys self-destruct and others steal items from the enemy. Risk and reward and never far away from each other.

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As creepy as the game may be, you slowly get over it. When Knight and Baby gain new equipment and abilities, the world begins to feel less foreboding. No matter what eerie elements or enemies the game throws at you, there’s a sense of courage in knowing that you’ve become strong enough to have nothing threaten your game and characters. This reflects the adventure that our two heroes are going through. From humble beginnings: the two grow together, learn to survive on their own and not to fear a world filled with monsters, abominations and chimeras. Furthermore on a personal level, as I grew older the game became less intimidating and I eventually tackled it again and completed it. I remember Peter Molyneux trying to get me to have a personal connection with the dog in Fable 2. As much as I love animals, it was just a flawed bit of coding following me about. In comparison, all that growing up and evolving on so many vicarious levels in Guardian’s Crusade is pretty sophisticated for such a modest game.

Guardians Crusader has a small cult following. For as little as £10, you’ll get yourself a unique and quiet PS1 RPG that was lost in the wave of titans.

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