Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Little Things: The Guardian Legend

It’s very hard to find an NES game with a decent story—or any story at all, for that matter. Many of them have premises, introductions, motivations, conversations, and perhaps a theme or two, but rarely does an NES title assemble a fully coherent and vital narrative. The Guardian Legend, Compile’s amazing shooter/RPG hybrid from 1989, certainly doesn’t. Yet it has all the story it needs.

With only a screen's worth of expository text, The Guardian Legend hurls a transforming jet-android woman at a planet-size asteroid headed for the Earth. Once the heroine (in her spaceship form) breaches the big rock’s outer defenses, she’s greeted by a harsh message.


“If someone is reading this…I must have failed," confesses the narrator of The Guardian Legend’s meager backstory: the asteroid, Naju, housed a proud and civilized race before it was overtaken by some deep-space menace. The message’s author was the only survivor of this attack, and he or she mounted a last-ditch attempt at destroying Naju from within. After explaining just how this can be accomplished, the author closes with a haunting reminder: "I hope this message will not be read by anyone...It will mean that I have failed."

It’s a simple introduction, swiped from any number of films and novels where a final desperate message sets the stage for some horrific danger, but it’s particularly effective in The Guardian Legend. It’s a game without much background, and the heroine herself is never properly named during the adventure (she’s dubbed “Miria” only in the Japanese version’s manual). This brief missive accounts for most of the game’s dialogue, and in that minimalism lies power. Accompanied by the somber chirps of the soundtrack, the message lays out a bleak challenge and makes sure you know that your only real ally, someone who actually knew what to do, has been dead for a long time. You’re all alone in this.


Well, not quite. Venture into one of the adjoining rooms, and you’ll meet Compile’s mascot Randar, who sells you weapons and never stops smiling. He offers no further reassurance, but the big blue corporate icon makes Naju and The Guardian Legend just a little less forlorn.

1 comment:

ThreeTwo said...

How did I miss a Guardian Legend post? Man, that's like my favorite NES game. I always kind of wondered who the one leaving the messages was ever since back then. Came up with weird theories like the Landers had a Chief Lander of an unseen Lander village that tried to do all the Corridors and stuff. Maybe with an adorable little jet pack.