It seems like everyone has an RPG in the works these days. What once was a niche genre -- the domain of a handful of specific publishing companies -- is now one of the most mainstream genres around. Activision is the most recent "traditional" publisher to jump on the RPG bandwagon, offering Guardian's Crusade to North American gamers. Titled Knight & Baby in Japan, the game is developed by Tamsoft, a company well-known for the Toshinden series. In the rush to market conformity, however, far too many crucial gameplay elements were left seriously under-developed.

   Guardian's Crusade's unconventional story begins promising enough: a young knight chances upon an abandoned baby monster, and is ordained by a mysterious apparition to return the cute bugger to its home across the world. The RPG genre is inundated with majestically epic, clichéd plots, so it's quite refreshing to play a game which strays from this tired, well-worn path -- at least at first. The novelty soon fades as one realizes Guardian's Crusade doesn't just shun grandoise plots; it shuns plot, period. Knight and Baby blandly venture from one area to the next with little variation, leaving little inspiration towards actually completing the quest. Only near the end do things get interesting, but even then it feels contrived and uninspired.

 The baby monster
Isn't he cute?

   The tedium is perhaps exacerbated by the game's lack of characterization. Neither Knight nor Baby offer anything in the way of conversation, leaving all the game's dialogue to Nehani (Knight's devoted guardian faerie), and the characters the trio encounters. Nehani plays a role similar to Lunar's Nall, lending sharp-tongued commentary on the group's situation and surroundings. While her dialogue is often amusing, little else is provided in the way of personality elsewhere, as only a handful of the characters you meet are truly memorable. Even the most monotonous tale can be saved by decent characterization (witness Tales of Destiny), but Guardian's Crusade falls short of this mark.

   Gameplay-wise, both Knight and Baby are capable of doing battle with foes, which appear on the world map as generic floating sprites resembling tadpoles. These creatures offer chase when you approach, spawning a battle when contact is made. When your levels go high enough, though, weaker monsters in an area will appear as smaller, frightened sprites that avoid your player at all costs -- a nice touch when you revisit old locations. Battles themselves are pretty simplistic, never straying far from the conventional turn-based system of combat. Baby, only partially controlled by you through selection of his auto-battle strategy, is capable of morphing into a variety of different forms, either temporarily or semi-permanently. Forms can be learned from a limited number of monsters in the world. Regardless, the pink puffball only seems to morph when fighting formidable opponents. Much has also been made of the ability to feed and "raise" Baby throughout your quest, but even when I withheld food and scolded Baby to no end, his behavior didn't seem to change.

Baby fights alongside Knight

   Magic may be cast by summoning "Living Toys," a variety of wind-up creations scattered throughout the world, waiting to be found. Each toy has their own ability, such as curing your party, increasing your attack strength, or simply joining your party to attack the opposition. Once attacked three times, a toy returns to your collection and cannot be summoned until combat commences anew. The system is certainly an innovative addition to an otherwise unoriginal battle system, but the majority of the world's 71 Living Toys are essentially useless and hold little strategic value. (For example, Classique puts both you and your opponents to sleep, while Vegas changes your "luck" setting.)

   Guardian's Crusade also strays from the pack in the visual department. All areas of the game are presented in an overhead, isometric view that may be rotated in 22.5 degree increments. Much like the overall style of the game, objects and locations are rendered with the most symplistic polygons possible, with basic textures and ordinary shapes. One almost feels like they're exploring a big, colorful geometry textbook. The look is appealing, but instead of growing upon you, the lack of graphical variation only adds to the monotony present in gameplay and story.

   There is little challenge to be found throughout the game -- not just in battles, but in dungeons as well. With one very minor exception, there are absolutely no puzzles or explorational challenges found within these areas beyond struggling to keep hit points up. Each dungeon is a simple matter of reaching the end, defeating a boss, and continuing on with your quest. Dungeon designs, as well, are fastidiously straightforward. A few bugs even seem to be floating around: at one point, I became trapped in a wall and was unable to continue playing without resetting the game. Thankfully, the exploration process is partially saved by some rather catchy, upbeat tunes. (While I can't really hold it against the game, there was a really catchy intro theme to the preview version of Guardian's Crusade which was removed in the final version. You can hear part of it in this movie from our media section.)

   This doesn't mean Guardian's Crusade is all bad. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the game -- it simply feels like far too much is lacking throughout. It should be noted that Activision has done a fine job with localization and translation, avoiding spelling and grammar mistakes while still keeping dialogue free from the almost robotic litany of many other games. The Dual Shock support is a welcome addition, as is the ability to notch up battles to a turbo-charged speed. A few CG-rendered movies are also seen throughout the game, adding a great visual touch.

   Guardian's Crusade wasn't intended to be a full-blown title brimming with all the latest technological achievements and gameplay innovations. Even so, the game never truly reaches the delightfully simplistic, heartwarming RPG niche Tamsoft seemed to be aiming for. The fact that one can finish the entire game in well under fifteen hours, without rushing, doesn't help matters either. Guardian's Crusade may be well suited for a very young audience of RPG players, but with a little additional work, it could have been much, much more.

Review by Brian Glick, GIA
Guardian's Crusade
Developer Tamsoft
Publisher Activision
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sony Playstation
Release Date  09.23.98
Guardian's Crusade released
29 new screens / 4 movies
7 character designs
North American box art