The Completist Presents: The Guardian Legend – Part 1
I would like to start out by getting something off my chest: I had a really rough time writing this article. The reason being that I am attempting to honor one of my most cherished experiences in video games. Normally, I would just start typing and my column tends to write itself. But this game deserves so much more than that. And with that goal in mind, I set out to do something really special. Which lead me to my first problem: I got my first ever case of writers block. Days went by where I just couldn’t bring myself to write a single word. You’d think that writing about a game that you consider to be one of the greatest of all time would be easy right? As it turns out, it isn’t. I wanted everything to be perfect and I wanted to honor this game in a way that it has never been honored before, anywhere on the internet.
Speaking of honoring the game, in case you hadn’t noticed, I re-did my header to help reflect how incredibly awesome I feel this game is. I spent hours on that damn header! And not only that, this is going to be my first two part article! I have spent almost a month working on just part 1! And as anyone who reads my ramblings knows, I am generally a long winded writer as it is. So be prepared for an epic length, lovingly crafted, hugely descriptive, massively researched, nostalgia infused extravaganza of an article. And on that note, I invite you to come with me on my Odyssey through “The Guardian Legend.”
Nostalgia and Birthdays
What was the most memorable birthday you’ve ever had? I think for most people there is probably one or two that really stand out as unforgettable for reasons only we ourselves can fully understand. If I take some time to think about it…………………………………………………………………………………… I have lots of memorable birthdays! There was my 21st birthday in college where I finally reached the legal drinking age but decided instead to quit drinking. Then there was my unforgettable birthday in 1996 where my Grandmother bought me a Nintendo 64 and 3D games promptly blew my mind. And of course there was my birthday in 2008 where my wife threw me a big birthday bash at her parent’s house and invited all my friends, to which I promptly had a panic attack and laid in bed the entire day. That was an embarrassing birthday!
But if there was one birthday that took the cake for me it had to be back on November 19th, 1989. I was turning 10 years old and my parents threw me a huge birthday party where at least 20 of my friends showed up. The reason this birthday has stayed in my memory so vividly is because we have a lot of pictures of what transpired. It was truly an event! My mom had us playing all sorts games. Scavenger hunts, bobbing apples, water gun target practice, you name it, she had us do it. It was a great time that I will never forget. It was really my last, great birthday memory before middle school drowned my spirit in a sea of acne and dandruff. But that is another story…
Middle school lamenting aside, as that particular birthday began to wind down, the best part of the celebration had arrived…the presents! I got some good ones on this particular year. And what made things even better was that my brother and sister (twins) were born on the 22nd of November. That made our birthdays only 3 days apart, which meant we all celebrated together! It was also interesting for me to see what my siblings managed to scrounge up in their personal bounty piles. Especially my brother because if he got something like say, a Nintendo game, that was a present we both could benefit from. This nice fact always doubled our chances of getting great games.
As I began to dig through my pile of presents, I would generally look for the packages whose shapes resembled a NES game box because I wanted to open those first. I found one almost immediately. As I tore through the wrapping paper of the present, I discovered “Defender of the Crown.” I wasn’t thrilled with this discovery so I moved on.
The next box I tore into contained the NES version of “Godzilla.”
“Sweet!” I thought. “I love Godzilla!”
Another one came into view. As I ripped through the paper like it was, well… paper, I found “DuckTales.”
“Awesome!” I exclaimed.
Like most kids from this time period, DuckTales was my favorite TV show. Getting the game was a huge bonus. But then I heard my brother calling from across the room;
“I got a Gameboy!” He said.
“Interesting.” I thought, because surely there must be another one of those in the pile somewhere too (and I wasn’t wrong).
But then another present over to the side caught my eye and once more I tore into it. This time, I saw a yellow box with an angry orange face donning the cover. The glowering mug had blisteringly harsh eyes staring back at me with bolts of lighting shooting from his cheeks and a lonely, desolate, otherworldly landscape surrounding him.
“What is this?” I thought.
My Uncle Doug who was sitting next to me answered my unspoken question.
“The guy at the video game store said this game is incredible! Like two games in one!”
This was my uncle’s typical response to games he bought us and lucky for us, he was frequently right (at least about the “incredible” part). I guess asking those guys at Electronics Boutique about what games were actually good paid off and in the case of this particular game (although I didn’t know it at that moment), it gave me one of my most treasured video game experiences of all time:
The game was called “The Guardian Legend.” I had of course never heard of it and after looking at the back of the box for a minute (which gives you almost no insight as to what the true gameplay is like) I set it down, grabbed DuckTales, abandoned my party and ran upstairs to play my NES. And it was DuckTales for at least two weeks before I got around to opening that other box. But when I did….. I really wasn’t all that impressed. What did my uncle mean by “two games in one?” This was just a top down SHMUP that was fast as hell and damn difficult. Neither my brother nor I could pass the first level and we just got frustrated and gave up (an embarrassing fact that I find amusing at this point in my life). And the game didn’t even have two player support! Life Force this was not! Or so it seemed.
But then some time passed. I managed to actually beat DuckTales (which is something I hardly ever managed to do back in the day) and I happened to walk in on my brother popping “The Guardian Legend” into the NES.
“You’re going to try that game again huh?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think I can beat this first level if I try again.” My brother said.
So I decided to do what I usually did when I couldn’t beat a certain level in a game, sit down and watch my younger brother beat it for me.
I will have to say though that the first time I tried the game, the moment just wasn’t right. I was distracted, there were people around and it just wasn’t the proper time to give it that good college try. And ironically enough, it wasn’t until college that I finally beat this game. But back in 1989, my little kid brain wasn’t in the same space as it is now.
“The Guardian Legend” is a complex game, at least by NES standards, and you can’t just play it haphazardly. Concentration is of utmost importance and that was something that was difficult to achieve at the tender age of 10. But when I began to watch my brother play through that first level again, even though I wasn’t actually playing myself, it felt to me like I was playing the game again myself for the first time.
True First Impressions
As my brother popped in the cartridge we were greeted by what is in my opinion, not only the most criminally under rated NES title of all time but also the best intro music of any NES game. It is an epic, atmospheric hymn that lets you know right off the bat that you are in for one hell of a ride. It speaks to you without having to show you anything. I don’t think a theme song is capable of sounding more “Legendary” than this. Give it a listen and bask in its undiscerning vision:
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As my brother hit start and we began the sling shot through the speedy first level, I got the feeling that there was much more to this game than first meets the eye. Powering through that introductory splash in space on your way to the planet Naju was exhilarating. It was probably the fastest shooter level I had ever seen. The stars are flying by you at warp speed, single asteroids, followed by rings of them, are chipping your shields down as you descend further towards the planet. Then a blue, metallic trench, reminiscent of Star Wars appears with little alien like robotic critters blocking your path. But then things begin to slow down to a crawl and sirens blare. The inevitable first boss fight is upon us.
The first boss was a challenge back then. It appears to be some sort of security system guarding the entrance to Naju. There are eleven, cyborg like blinking eye balls that fire an endless stream of spinning bullets at you. Luckily, shooting the bullets sometimes rewards you with power ups. You will need them in order to finish this somewhat challenging first chieftain. I believe it took my brother a few tries to beat him, but when he finally did it, we were greeted by what I consider the real bloodline of the game.
You appear, in human form next to what appears to be a computer terminal. Your ship is gone and it is revealed that you are in fact, a humanoid female. This scene is accompanied by a large screen which displays a message to you from a long dead alien, along with some eerie and atmospheric music. You can listen to the tune and read the aliens dialog below:
Computer Room Theme:
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“If someone is reading this…. I must have failed.
This star ‘NAJU’ was our home.
But we were invaded by evil life-forms.
Everyone except me was killed.
I am going to try to activate the self-destruct device.
If I fail, I would like you to do this task so this cannot happen to any other race.
The self-destruct mechanism is protected by a safety device which is located in the underground corridors.
Remove each seal and go deep inside NAJU.
If you destroy all 10 safety devices, the self-destruct sequence will be activated.
I don’t have much time.
I hope this message will not be read by anyone… it will mean that I have failed.”
So my uncle was right! This is like two games in one! I was floored! And so it is at this point that “The Guardian Legend” becomes an open world RPG/Adventure game. Many describe it as a mix of Zelda, Metroid and Life Force all thrown into one. And that description is pretty spot on (although I’d say there’s some Abadox in there as well). According to the instruction manual, you are a “highly sophisticated aerobot transformer” capable of being either human, or fighter aircraft which once again explains why you were blasting baddies from a spaceship upon your entrance.
An Epic Story
So in summary, an evil race of aliens took over a peaceful world, turned it into a giant Kamikaze planet, and sent it hurtling towards earth. Our cyborg heroine whose name is either Miria or Alyssa (dependent on which version of the game you have, I’m going to call her Alyssa) is the Guardian of Earth, sent to intercept and destroy the fast approaching ball of baddies.
Luckily, Naju was equipped with a self destruct mechanism which unluckily, has ten safety overrides you must disable in order to activate it. The evil aliens have set up shop to guard these ten overrides which contain hordes of enemies as well as a generally massive boss at the end of each area. These “safety override” interior corridors make up the “SHMUP” portion of the game while the surface of the planet called the “Labyrinth” serves as the exploration/adventure segment.
You also quickly discover (via the story details I described above) that the unnamed alien who left you the cryptic message upon your arrival on Naju has already attempted to defeat the intruders himself but failed, leaving you, Alyssa, aka “The Guardian”, as Earth’s only hope. Fortunately, he has left many clues for you along the way via the computer terminals that you will uncover which will help you unseal the corridors, defeat the aliens and activate the self destruct sequence.
A Unique Game Who’s History Has Mostly Been Lost
So the story is pretty darn cool for a NES game I’d say, but what about the game itself? Well, let’s just say that I think the main reason “The Guardian Legend” still holds up today is because there simply aren’t that many games like it. There are a grand total of three that come to mind which are: “Blaster Master”, “Xexyz” and “Sigma Star Saga.” All of which are good games in their own right but are also vastly different, other than the fact that they share the same theme of mixing the genres of SHMUP and Adventure/RPG. That fact alone should give you a reason to play this game if you haven’t, especially if you’re a SHMUP and RPG fan like myself.
Another thing you should know about this game is that it has NEVER seen any sort of re-release. It’s not on virtual console, or PSN, or Xbox Live, or Steam. The only way to play through the game proper is via the NES itself, emulation, or one of those horrible Flash or Java based game sites using your keyboard (umm no!). I own a copy of the original game but because of the insane password system I would highly recommend playing it via emulation and just saving your state at the password screen. If you’ve never played through this game before and want to finish it, it can take upwards of 10 hours and several sittings if you want to clear every area and uncover every secret. Save states make things light years easier in the long run (just don’t use them to cheat!).
In doing research for this article I also sadly discovered that there is very little information on this game available. I went through dozens of pages which mostly consisted of amateur reviews and FAQ sites with cheat codes. I did however manage to find a couple of really great sites and articles that honor the game. But what I was really looking for was anything I could find that would maybe dispel some of the mystery behind the inception of this game. Unfortunately, all that seems to be known is that the game was produced by “Compile” (coincidentally, also the producer of the aforementioned “Godzilla”, a great game I plan on covering next year) and is actually a sequel to a game called Guardic, a pure shooter that was released on the MSX computer in 1986. The director of the game was Masamitsu “Moo” Niitani who is also the creator of the Puyo Puyo series. The team from Guardic was brought back to work on “The Guardian Legend” or “Guardic Gaiden” as it was known in Japan. And as far as I can tell, that is the only information available about the development of the game.
The last thing I discovered with my research was an interesting obsession with the different box arts for this title. The three versions vary greatly and as usual, the North American release got the worst cover. I posted the North American box art earlier in the article. Below are the Japanese and European versions:
My favorite would have to be the European box art simply because it seems to fit with the actual game the most. The Japanese box art, while done by Japanese sci-fi illustrator Naoyuki Kato, was fantastic, I just don’t feel that it quite captures the essence of the actual game. And of course the North American box art was just kind of meh. Although apparently someone in the art department got lazy and totally stole the idea from an 80’s horror movie called “Creature.”
Here is a link to a really interesting article on the differences in the box art:
And on that note, part one is a wrap! In part two I will cover the game itself and my experiences playing through it to completion. So check back in a couple weeks to see the real meat of “The Guardian Legend” and what truly makes it a unique and incredible gaming experience.