Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guardian Legend across the world

After discovering an interesting topic on HG101’s forums, I bring you a selection of awesome Guardian Legend boxart trivia. Plus, semi-erotic imagery from various artists – there aren’t any nipples, but consider this entry and every single hyperlink in it, totally Not Safe For Work. Unless you work in the erotica industry, in which case far out, man, rock on.

I’d actually been thinking about the Guardian Legend artwork for some time now, since I’m fascinated by the changes made to cover art as games are released in Japan, America and Europe. Mainly I don’t get it. I lack the business acumen to understand how changing something which looks beautiful, into something which looks shit, will somehow equal more money (a case in point being Ico’s US cover – Jesus Christ!). Unless I’m trapped in some kind of warped reality where human beings prefer to consume garbage than quality – but I prefer to think this isn’t the case.

The implication of having three separate covers for each region is that on a fundamental level, the culture, views and cognitive functions of people in these areas must be different. Right? I mean, this thing almost warrants an anthropological study in order to understand. Is our ability to comprehend artwork (and I specifically mean the paintings which adorn media packaging) really so intrinsically linked to where we live? Guardian Legend’s three variations aren’t actually as bad as other NES examples, and as beach1 said on the forums, in their own way they’re each kind of cool – as I’ll demonstrate.

But even so, I still have to ask: when the executives at Broderbund USA walked into that morning office meeting, and were discussing their intent to publish Legend of Goardic by Compile in the US, under the title of Guardian Legend, did they have the Japanese artwork to look at? Did someone in that meeting look at the cover at the top of this blog entry and say: “Look guys, this, whatever the fuck it is, looks like shit. We’re gonna have to change it.”

I mean, really? In 1989 were US executives really so narrow minded? Was there genuinely the perception that people would ignore the game, unless it had the cover which eventually graced the US version? Sci-fi was a well established genre at the time, moreover it has a slight HR Geiger style which I would have assumed the public was aware of, what with the release of the Alien films. As a former art student and someone who appreciates hand-painted artistry, I am wholly unable to comprehend the mental framework of someone who would look at the Japanese original and say: “This is not good enough.” Because, I would argue, it is flawless.

The American cover we ended up with isn’t awful, it’s not great but it’s not Mega Man bad, where I swear the executive got his 7-year-old son to draw the cover. Dire51 on the forum revealed some info on the US cover, including its inspiration: “Thanks to an unrelated thread on my board, I think I've finally uncovered the inspiration for the (frankly disappointing) U.S. The Guardian Legend boxart. Here, you be the judge. Taken from the 1985 film, Creature. I have no idea who the box art designer for Broderbund was, but the two pieces of art look so similar that it can't be a coincidence. I used the word ‘inspiration’ because it doesn't appear to be a direct lift from the Creature poster, unlike the cover of Contra, for example, where the artist directly lifted Schwarzenegger's body from Predator's poster and placed Bill's head on it. Someone posted the Creature poster on my board in a thread about horror films, and when I saw it, I was immediately reminded of TGL’s boxart. When I compared the two, the resemblance was too similar to be a coincidence. Since Creature predated TGL by a couple of years, I wouldn't be surprised if the American artist used Creature's poster as his "inspiration," much like other game artists used other movie posters for "inspiration;" the example I gave about Contra being the first one that came to mind.”

Pretty obvious, huh readers? The Creature entry at IMDB.

Which leads us on to the European box art. Take a look.

Now to me, I see a strong connection to Capcom’s European Mega Man 2 boxart, with the same airbrushed shiny-metal styling. And also the Turrican box art from over the years. Take a look.

The two Western Guardian Legend covers are... alright. Although I prefer the Japanese boxart, I’d say the Euro and US art is about as good or as bad each other, for different reasons. The Euro box is a little too “safe” for my taste, but it still conveys the sci-fi theme in a reasonable way.

What I find especially interesting, it that it seems heavily inspired by the sci-fi art of Hajime Sorayama, especially his mostly hot hypersexualised Gynoid series (which is definitely NSFW if you're googling). Just take a look at these two pieces of Sorayama's Gynoid art, and tell me that whoever drew the Euro GL box wasn’t at least aware of him? (and as for Mega Man 2, if Sorayama didn't do it, then the guy who did totally ripped off his style!)

And that’s the man himself, from his website (NSFW). I checked, and while he has been commissioned to do stuff for Heavy Metal magazine, and other media, he doesn’t make mention of any videogames. Maybe he even did do the art for GL, but I can’t verify this.

Which leads us on to the Japanese artwork, shown here again.

Now, I’d always thought this was by Oscar Chichoni, an Argentinian artist famed for his totally awesome sci-fi art, often but not always featuring attractive women. His official website (NSFW).

Sega often commissioned Boris Vallejo to do covers, and on one occasion Moebius, and these covers were always some of the best. So Compile commissioning Chichoni seemed well within the realm of possibility. Check out two examples of his artwork below, which bear a similar style to that of GL's JPN cover. I would post more, but several feature nipples, and as has been explained to me, in the US showing nipples is a major no-no, especially in order to keep this blog relatively clean. Still, Google his covers for Fierro or Heavy Metal magazine, and tell me that stuff isn’t seriously hot, in a slightly twisted way.

Anyway, as Wildcat on the forum pointed out, it was actually a famed Japanese artist who did the art for the Japanese cover: “Hopefully a thread resurrection is okay, as I wanted to point out that the Japanese box art was done by Naoyuki Kato, who works for Studio Nue (scroll down a bit on the link to see where I got this from). They've made Macross, Space Battleship Yamato, and The Vision of Escaflowne, among others, and also helped From Software with their Armored Core games and contributed to Platinum Games' Infinite Space, too. I like the Japanese box the most myself. While none of them quite sync up to Miria/Alyssa's design in the game, it's the most interesting to me.”

A google for Naoyuki Kato (use the kanji: 加藤直之) reveals a lot of his awesome art (and sketches of himself, above), with a strong emphasis on mechanical contraptions and a style fairly similar to Chichoni’s. At the very least, I’m sure you can see how I could have mistaken one for the other when previously uninformed on the matter. Some of Kato’s stuff is also pretty damn hot - Google his cover for the fiction novel Star Courier, if you want to see a naked sword-wielding chick in leather boots.

Looking over the three covers for Guardian Legend, they each have merit and, at least in the case of the Euro and Japanese versions, tried to instil a sense of genuine artistic quality. There is a large world of skilled artists out there, and their commission charges aren’t that prohibitive, so why is it we see so much CG rendered crap on our covers today? Do you, as gamers, really feel more inclined to part with money when seeing these CG covers, as opposed to the quality put out by skilled artists?

Games are the realm of sci-fi and fantasy, we should be revelling in this with every game adorned by some fantastic painted artwork. Except most cover art today sucks, and appears put together by the 3D rendering dude who did the title screen, as opposed to traditional artists.

My request for Mass Effect 3 and any other sci-fi game: get Chichoni to do the cover, and tell him to make it sexy.

I didn't realise this, but Wildcat who made the original post about Naoyuki, also runs a blog which looks at cover art differences, and is also an anthropology student. Lots of references, plenty of insight, and all round totally awesome. Well worth a look:


  1. I don't know if there's such a big divide between the traditional artists and the "3D rendering dude" in reality, but there is a lot of amazing 2D art that goes unnoticed in the videogame industry.

    For some games, the concept art blows the doors off the final product. See here:

  2. Hey Sketcz,

    Thanks for crediting me in this post! The reason I even resurrected the thread in question in the first place is because I happened to do a similar post on TGL in the very style you mentioned above - an anthropological study on various cultural differences in gaming box arts. I've done several over at my blog:

    Feel free to check it out. :)

  3. Ah, seeing old cover artwork like this makes me wistful. It truly was an entirely different era back then. :)

    On the subject of commissioned game covers, I was always fond of Roger Dean's cover art for some of Psygnosis' mid-to-late 80s and early 90s titles. Shadow of the Beast (,74729/) immediately comes to mind. Psygnosis' also seemed to use a lot fonts either designed by him or inspired by his trademark style, most noticeably in their logo.

  4. Two small corrections. It's "Moebius" and "Boris Vallejo".

  5. Very nice - glad you got some use out of that thread, and glad I could be of help! I would like to give a shoutout to B-MovieKing of my board, for posting the Creature poster in the first place last year and starting the wheels in my brain turning.

  6. This was quite interesting, and suprising too, as I'm looking at doing an oral presentation on how video games are marketed and presented in different territories, using some cover art to further illustrate my points!

  7. I think the reluctance among US publishers was to anything that looked anime-ish. Remember, this was before the anime boom. Very few NES games would allow anime art to pass unchanged. For cartoon art to make it it had to look at least somewhat western, like that from the Mario games.

    Game publishers were just as conservative and reluctant to take risks then as now. The problem, now as always, was a disconnect between perceived causes and effects. It's safest to do whatever everyone else is doing; visible differences are picked out, becoming obvious scapegoats should a game fail.

    Making bold decisions means leaving a line of potential scapegoats behind you, every one waiting to wreck a promising career.

  8. I think the most ridiculous cover art change was for the American version of Gundam Side Story 0079 on the Dreamcast. It was literally just a CG version of the original hand-drawn artwork.

    I also wish the US version of Combat ChoroQ had kept the name and boxart instead of the idiotic re-titling as SEEK AND DESTROY with its American flag-toting tank on the cover. God dammit.