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It seems like you cannot swing a cat in the Apple App Store without hitting a digital trading card game. The advent of mobile gaming has seen numerous developers jump into the card battling market, eager to claim a slice of the financial pie that has seen the likes of Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh gorge themselves off revenue fuelled by geeky collectors. Although you cannot replace the satisfaction of owning a real life deck, digital card games do have some advantages over their paper-based brethren. For one thing, thanks to online match making, it is easier to find opponents to battle against and you also don't have to worry about finding space to store your collection (something that can be a serious headache when you begin to accumulate stacks of repeat cards.)
Guardian Cross is Square-Enix's venture into the world of card collection. You may know the company best for being the minds behind the legendary RPG series Final Fantasy. This particular game is set in the fantasy world of Northern Cross and has players following the exploits of a rookie Guardian Master named Bran (not to be confused with the fiber rich cereal.) As a Guardian Master it is your duty to protect the kingdom from potential threats via Bran's ability to summon powerful Guardians to do battle (think Pokemon, only instead of cute critters your servants are mythical beings, spirits, mechanical golems and so on.)
The main bulk of the game has you travelling across various maps, which involves clearing the area of hostiles. To do so you tap an opponent to initiate a battle were both parties clash using up to ten Guardians (represented by cards.) The story accompanying this trek across Northern Cross revolves around Bran teaming up with a princess to investigate a number of incidents were a mysterious masked man is up to no good. To be honest the plot is fairly forgettable and I wouldn't blame players for skimming through most of it. The dialogue between characters can be humorous at times, but the stars themselves are guilty of bland personalities and the narrative is mostly cliche RPG stuff setting up a reason for the quests you embark on. Travel to a nearby tower to rescue a missing villager? Clear a cavern of beasts that are plaguing a defenseless village? Gripes, how original.
One thing that I like about Guardian Cross is the manner in which you enlist new combatants to your cause. Most games of this ilk simply involve purchasing additional cards at a store, but not so here. Guardian Cross requires that you literally hunt for new monsters by taking part in a shooting mini-game. Spending one of the hunting tickets, you earn through your travels, permits you to visit a hunting zone. Once there you are given a minute to blast the roaming guardians that populate the area, by lining up your cross hairs and firing your rifle from an aerial position. If you can damage your target sufficiently the card representing the creature is added to your deck.
At the time of writing there are four hunting zones to rampage across ranging from grassy plains to a lava filled volcano. Each region has its own unique range of Guardians to procure in addition to environmental hazards to contend with. The recently introduced Deadmoon Desert for example is littered with mines. Shooting these traps causes them to detonate, which is a good way of instantly killing any Guardians in the vicinity. The Storm Reach Snowfield on the other hand suffers from frequent blizzards than freeze Guardians in ice, making them easy pickings. It's just like shooting fish in a barrel... or rather leviathans in a glacier.
For you competitive types out there Guardian Cross also sports a coliseum were regularly scheduled competitions take place. These tournaments pit you against the decks of fellow players, with the reward of rare cards and magic stones (used to beef up your Guardians) on offer depending on how many points you earn during the contest's duration. Don't expect a real time battle against online players though. Much like combat against AI opponents, the card duels simply pit your ten selected cards against your competitor's preselected roster. You have no influence on what abilities your Guardians use in battle, so for the most part you'll just hit the fast forward button to skip the needless battle commentary to determine who the victor is.
If all this confrontation is too much for your pacifist sensibilities you'll be glad to know that it is also possible to make alliances with fellow players by selecting the social tab. You can have up to a total of forty buddies on a friend list who you can send messages to with the aims of facilitating card trades. You also have the option of challenging ten of your friends to an exhibition bout, once a day, to earn friendship points. These can be exchanged for goodies such as hunting tickets or potions that replenish your action points. A wise investment as, much like Facebook games, once you use up your allotted action points you cannot do anything until they recharge.
Before summing up I should touch on the game's presentation. Card games don't have to be flashy, but it's still worth mentioning that the developers have done a good job with both the visuals and sound. The background music is great, although that should not be a surprise given Square's reputation for having stellar composers produce their video game soundtracks. Graphically the story characters have a cartoony/anime look to them, which looks decent. In terms of artwork however most of the attention has been paid into the card images themselves, which are well detailed and feature a number of well-known eidolons from the Final Fantasy games.
Rating this game is a difficult task as it ultimately comes down to personal taste. For a casual RPG fan, like myself, I think it is worthy of four stars. After a few months I still find myself logging in on a daily basis and spending a good fifteen minutes hunting, questing and leveling up my cards by sacrificing needless ones. The game is well supported by Square who churn out new quests, cards, hunting zones and contests on a fairly regular basis. Not bad for a free game (although be aware that you are unlikely to get the best cards unless you pay for premium coins as tends to be the way with these kind of games.)
If you are not a RPG fan you may be better off avoiding Guardian Cross as the grind heavy nature of the game can get dull. Guardian Cross' overly simplistic combat system may also bore hardcore card gaming purists. Not having to learn complex rules to play is nice, but there is virtually no strategy to proceedings. At the very least I would expect the game to allow you to pick what card to deal once your active Guardian is eliminated. If they implemented that in a future patch I would be tempted to upgrade the game's score to five stars.