When I was planning out the A to Z stream there were a few games that were the inspiration for the entire project. Guardian’s Crusade might have actually been the one game that truly convinced me to do it. I think it was the perfect storm of PS1 RPG, a game no one talks about, and just enough quirk to be interesting. So with it, and a few other games in mind, I started the project.
And then promptly waited 2 months before I could even play it because it’s the 7th letter of the alphabet and my rule forbade me from jumping ahead. Silly self-imposed rules!
So here we are having finally played the game. Initial thoughts are high. If you aren’t aware, Guardian’s Crusade is often considered a “Beginner’s RPG” due to the relative ease of combat, progression, and challenge. I could say that’s true for the most part. Comparatively to other RPGs on the PS1, Guardian’s Crusade seems to present all it has to offer at the forefront and not the typical slow drip of new content or story elements.
Speaking of story, Guardian’s Crusade’s story is generic. Like, REALLY generic. You basically wake up and walk out of town one day and some dude shows up and is like, “Hey. Here’s this special mysterious pink baby creature. Protect it.” and then he floats away. And that’s pretty much it at the very beginning. You’ll go from zone to zone and different towns and dungeons, but the depth of the story doesn’t pick up all that fast. People acknowledge the pink creature that’s with you, but there isn’t any disposition of other characters to further a narrative outside what is on the surface. This does the game some favors if we bring back that “Beginner’s RPG” idea, as it’s simple to wrap your head around: get baby, protect baby, fight with baby. Those looking for more depth need not apply.
Gameplay-wise this is your standard turn based RPG. Enemy variety was decent, but they all kind of fell to the same whomping of attacks. The creature attacks with you sometimes, which is completely pointless in the early stages of the game, but does become more significant as you progress the story and level up. A neat feature I was not expecting was the use of Toys. Essentially acting as magical items, each Toy allows for a special in-combat action. There are two kind of toys: one that has an immediate action like healing the player, and others that stay and fight with you in combat. The Toys themselves were found in the world in various places, or could be bought from certain vendors. It was fun finding them and trying them out in combat, but overall the game was a bit too easy to necessitate their use.
I want to take a second to talk about the visuals, because they were a standout for me. We’re not talking Final Fantasy IX quality of graphics here, but they were still notable. Big enemy models, bright colors used everywhere, and smooth animations all around. Admittedly the game looks like an early PS1 title with its blocky look, despite it coming out nearly 3 years into the system’s life, but I didn’t mind it during my time with it. Part of me wonders if there’s a point we cross playing retro games when it’s no longer a factor how a game looks compared to its point in a system’s life. I’m sure if I were playing this in 1999, when I could have been playing a game like Resident Evil 2 or Xenogears, I would be much more critical of the visuals and style.
Overall though, I enjoyed playing Guardian’s Crusade, even if only the first several hours. Does it have its faults? Sure it does. But there’s also a bit of fun to be had as well. If you’re wanting something turn based and different from the more serious games you’d find on the PS1, I’d give it a shot. There’s also a few neat mechanics to enjoy as well, and I particularly liked how the creature would level up and grow with you (reading ahead, I see you eventually get to ride the creature as well, and it has a very large connection to plot and gameplay). Personally I’d like to see a remake or new entry in the series: there’s cool stuff there that might be worth exploring.
But I fear that will never happen. The game is too niche and does not have any notable fan base out there. So, sadly, we’ll likely only see Guardian’s Crusade in the retro world, begging to be played when folks think of PS1 RPGs, but likely getting left to the annals of PS1 RPG history.