Back in 1996 Treasure released a game for the Sega Saturn called Guardian Heroes. The beat 'em up was a great game, and Treasure has finally gotten around to making a sequel: Advance Guardian Heroes. The game centers around an enemy named Zur who has returned from previous defeat to once again rouse his villainous forces against those of good. You play the role of a soldier, willing to offer your body for a more powerful soul to inhabit it, so you can crush Zur and his minions.
Having played the first Guardian Heroes can help you out a lot in terms of the storyline of Advance Guardian Heroes. Without it, the story is confusing and strange, but the basic premise gets put across fairly well: bad guys are coming and we need to take them out. Part of the difficulty with the storyline comes from the subpar translation job. The dialogue can be rather silly and grammatically quite poor, but again the point can be perceived. Dialogue and plot really aren't the strong points of this game. Graphics are up to par for the GBA, but nothing mind-blowing. Animations are reminiscent of Anime, with fluid character movement and well defined figures. Sounds is also decent, making little impression, positive or negative.
The point is gameplay, and there - Advance Guardian Heroes excels. The battling system is very simple, but offers a wide range of attacks that makes beating the crap out of your opponents rather fun. Tap or press the B Button along with the directional pad for strong and weak hits, like uppercut, a ground slam, dash attack, or plain punch. Pressing A makes you jump, where you can use all your attacks as well as an air dash.
A key part of this game is magic. Your magic gauge is spent on attack spells or blocking and refills over time. You start with a wide range of magical attack types that can be scrolled through using the L button, and used by holding R and pressing B. You must choose wisely - some attacks are powerful but require time to charge, others, though weak, can hit an enemy anywhere on the screen.
But most of your magic probably won't be used on attacks, rather, on the defensive side. Blocking is a vital part of this game. A simple block is not difficult; simply hold R to create a magical shield around you that blocks attacks. This isn't the best method to use, however, because as you hold the R button your magic is drained, and it doesn't in any way deter your enemy from continuing his attack until you can no longer block it. The better stratagem is to employ the deadly Counter. This can be deployed by tapping the R button just as your enemy strikes - if your timing is accurate he will be stunned, leaving you the opportunity to wind up and nail him with a powerful assault, or a barrage of light attacks. Furthermore, having only tapped the R button momentarily, the drain on your magic meter will be minimal. The Counter attack is vital to defeating many large enemies and bosses, and a mastery of the technique gives you a significant advantage throughout the course of the game.
A second important facet of the gameplay is Hyper Mode. An Anger Gauge is displayed to the right of your Magic Gauge. Every time you take damage your Anger increases, until it reaches its peak, at which point, by pressing A and B simultaneously, you enter Hyper Mode. This temporary state dramatically increases your speed, as well as the speed with which your Magic Gauge refills. This can especially help if you're getting beaten on - allowing you to kick butt more efficiently and giving you a better opportunity to block and use magic attacks.
Another interesting, if far less important, ability is that when in air you can leap from object as they are falling or flying if they are highlighted. To do this one must simply press the control pad in the general direction of the object and double-tap A. This again simplifies gameplay and puts the concentration on fighting. Another fun quirk is Devil Mode. Should you die during the course of the game (And you will. A lot.) you are given two options: either accept your death, and restart from the last area you completed (not a huge price to pay,) or, you can give in to "the one who presides over all things in this world," and basically sell him your soul. This will make you utterly invincible for six minutes of gameplay. This allows you to just have some fun, kick some butt, and scout out the terrain ahead of you. It does, however, cost you all your crystals for that stage. Furthermore, beating the game in Devil Mode gives you a special ending.
The game is given an RPG tint with the element of leveling up. At the end of each of the six stages you are allowed to spend the crystals you accrued on various statistics, such as Attack, Defense, Mobility, Magic, and others. Any crystals you don't spend can be donated to the Laboratory. These go towards the unlocking of new characters. An interesting decision is put forth; strengthen yourself for the journey ahead, or make it more difficult for yourself by trying to get new characters quicker? To me, it really depends on how masochistic you are.
The game is short at only 6 stages, each ranging from one to seventeen areas within. This shortness is made up for, however, by another gameplay feature: trial and error. Getting past a stage in one go is a virtual impossibility on the normal setting, and Easy is much easier. One must go at any particular boss quite a few times, often VERY many times before finally getting it down and beating the boss. This makes the game very challenging, but can also at times be too challenging and lead to frustration. I know I nearly tossed my GBA across the room a few times in the course of playing this game. You are well rewarded in victory however - there are nearly 20 unlockable characters with their own individual stats and a new mode to unlock. Multiplayer is also possible, either through Vs. Mode (2 to 4 players,) or with just one other player in co-operative mode during the main game.
This is a good, fun game. It lacks the supporting cast that makes a great game - such as superb graphics, brilliant story line, and well-written dialogue. But the important part is there, a fun game. The only problem in that regard is that your fun can often be interrupted by the ridiculous difficulty of some bosses. The problem can't be solved with the Difficulty settings either; Easy is quite hard, and it gets worse from there. In terms of the bosses, this game is centered around trial and error. This can be fun, but sometimes frustrating and over the top. On the whole, this game is helped by multiplay and unlockable characters.