If you grew up in the '80s playing RPGs like Dragon Warrior and Ultima, you're going to immediately recognize the roots of 9th Bit Games' Guardian Saga [$1.99]. Heck, the name is even borrowed from the DOS-era Ultima games. It's about as old school as you can get without releasing a text-adventure, and while it will certainly appeal to fans of the era, it's also going to provide a steep learning curve for newcomers.

As these things tend to go, the story kicks off with you learning about the Guardian Beasts, the giant monsters who protect humanity from evil, but who have decided to stop. Your job is to find out why. To do so, you'll need to adventure around the world searching out the Guardians and unraveling the mystery of what happened.

It's a relatively basic RPG story, and the game is rooted in basic gameplay. You won't find the complex party management of the Final Fantasy series, nor will you find a map, fancy visuals, sub-plots, side quests or a love story -- this is all about you exploring the world on your own, doing a little grinding and unearthing the truth. To that end, Guardian Saga does a fantastic job of giving you not only a clear sense of progression, but also the tools get the job done.

Being a lonely hero means you acquire all the skills necessary to survive. You don't have team members, so you'll be healing yourself, casting spells, taking potions and everything else on your own. You'll also need to use your own memory to tackle objectives -- no notepad, quest screen, or hint guides here -- when the king tell you to go to the town in the Northeast, you have to remember it. You'll spend most of your time in the overworld, but there are a few dungeons spread around and the towers that hold the Guardians to explore, as well as a diverse cast of enemies to kill.

The same premise goes into how you level up and chose your weapons. Leveling is automatic, and weapons are essentially bound to the town you travel to. You won't find yourself making any hard choices between swords or armor, you'll just purchase the best one you can. There is rarely much in the way of loot on your travels, which means you'll be doing most of your stocking in town. It's a bit jarring at first, especially if you're used to grabbing a potion or two off an enemy, but considering you can't use items in combat, it's clear 9th Bit wasn't too concerned with item management.

The nostalgia delves deep into the aesthetics as well. The 8-bit graphics aren't updated with modern colors or pixel density, and the score and sound effects sound entirely composed using the limited hardware of the NES. It still looks fantastic though, and I'd love to see an iPad version of it just to stare at the visuals on a bigger screen without the oversized directional pad of double-sizing it.

That said, Guardian Saga dwells in its past to a point of absurdity at some points. As a mobile game, it could have stood to have a better save option, and while there is a means to quick save before you exit it would be nice to have multi-tasking support for when you receive a call. The quick save is unforgiving as well. You'll be kicked out of the game after doing so and you can only return to that exact point. That's not a complaint -- more of a warning -- one quicksave per game session, one use only.

It might also have been nice to have a quest system in place, if nothing else to remind you of what you were doing if you put it down for a while. It's also worth noting that you can check out your character stats by tapping the box in the left corner. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out I could heal, use items, and quick save from this menu. This is all to say that there are a few modern conveniences that it would be nice to see here simply because there are added complexities with a mobile game that didn't exist back then. It's clear these were left out on purpose, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be handy for playing on the go.

Even through the moments of frustration, fans of early RPGs will find a lot to love in Guardian Saga. It's a solid homage to everything that made the NES and DOS eras influential and interesting. Once you get the hang of it and remember some of the tricks from the '80s, Guardian Saga clicks and settles in well. This isn't a game for fans of in-depth, complex story arcs or ridiculous item management; it's for fans of a simpler time, when RPGs meant you leveled up, killed some monsters and saved the word and nothing more.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Chaz O

    I've had this game for maybe over a week now. It's amazing! I love it so much!

  • Chaz O

    I've had this game for maybe over a week now. It's amazing! I love it so much!

  • Chaz O

    I've had this game for maybe over a week now. It's amazing! I love it so much!

  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Phil Baxter

    I'm getting a bit tired of these 'retro inspired' games. It seems to me just to be an excuse for taking massive short cuts with the visuals. If a game is old and blocky, fair enough, it's a retro release, but if it's new spend the time to actually make it look pretty. 2D or 3D it doesn't matter, just give a damn about putting out something attractive.

    • Carl

      Some people are making games practically by themselves. It's cheaper or easier to get 8-bit graphics. Just because we're programmers, doesn't mean we can do art.

    • http://twitter.com/mguniverse Danny Perski

      You do realize there is an art to pixel graphics, right? Letting the player use their imagination for what something looks like is much more fun than having the game spell everything out for you.

    • Guest

      Games come in all shapes and sizes. Whether the game is 8-bit inspired or pushing the boundaries of mobile technology, there's almost always a welcoming audience.

      Most games take a lot of time to make. If you can't appreciate the effort involved, that's your call. But I wouldn't be too quick to judge on appearance alone. That goes for most anything.

      But as my great-grandmother once said, "Haters gonna hate."

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AEG6ST5WLZQ6VNPYUPGXBPK6K4 Emory

    I am surprised that Square Enix has not ordered Apple to remove this game.   It is clearly ripping off Dragon Quest (from the music, and the art).  The art looks like it was slightly filtered but it is obvious that whoever made this game just modified the pixel art from the original Dragon Quest 8 - bit series.  It is not just inspired it is copyright infringement. Sheesh.  

    • Caveman

      This is a really serious accusation - can you provide some screen shots to clearly show the copyright infringing art?

      • Shadowcomputer

        Go play the original dragon warrior on a nes emulator and look at the mountains, sand dunes, etc. Even the sound of the character attacking is an exact copy of dragon warrior.

      • prince_david

        This at least so far is true. The sound effects are direct rips from Dragon Warrior.

  • http://twitter.com/mguniverse Danny Perski

    I've had this game for a little under a week, and it is very fun. I've defeated two of the guardians already.

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Wow.. the text is so clear..... *drools.... so beautiful

  • Keithmellars

    Sorry to say this but according to many posts about a previous game of which I cant recollect the name atm,but this game would surely be much more interesting if you could only move forward?.That being the case this game is way to easy and I would submit to the developers that you remove the backward movement for all those hardcore TA members.

  • curtisrshideler

    This game is meant to look just like the original Dragon Warrior for NES. I got it free in the mail because I signed up for Nintendo Power back in the late 80's or early 90's.

    I have been wanting to play a Dragon Warrior clone for so long. I used to have my old phone jailbroken and would play the original Dragon Warrior every now and then. But I didn't want to jailbreak again and have been hoping for a good clone.

    However, the terrible save features (or lack thereof)  might scare me off of this clone and cause me to keep waiting for Dragon Fantasy by Muteki Corp. Check their upcoming game out in the forums:

    Man, I hope this DW clone pushes Muteki to get their game out quickly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rickard-Olsson/685258932 Rickard Olsson

    The biggest problem with this game is the insane amount of random battles. You can walk for 3-4 seconds, than fight. Repeat. And when the music (which is horrible) starts over after every single fight it gets very annoying. You will always only hear the first couple of seconds of the music if you dont stand still in caves and on the world map . Even so, I'm still playing this game.

    Sure, the save feature do suck. But I'm not having major problems with that one. Just grind close to a town and then save before going to the guardians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Gavro/100002166628889 Dan Gavro

    Love this game. Snagged it for free yesterday. It's totally worth the zero dollars I paid for it and maybe $4.99 more. The only downside... I just got less productive at work.

  • Wawawa

    El juego es excelente! hace tiempo que no me entretenía tanto con un rpg, tiene buen nivel de dificultad, es divertido, buena historia y buen diseño de personajes.

Guardian Saga Reviewed by Thorin Klosowski on . Rating: 3.5