The world is in danger, maybe, but there isn’t time for Square Enix to tell us why. Crystal Defenders skips the story and jumps right into waves of crystal hungry monsters. Bare bones presentation, I know. This was originally a mobile phone game and Square Enix reused assets from Final Fantasy Tactics A2 so I guess I shouldn’t have expected much in the first place. Then again does a tower defense game really need a story?
Crystal Defenders is simply Square Enix’s take on the tower defense genre. Players set towers based off the units from Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and watch them pummel monster hordes as they walk on a dirt road. If the monsters reach the end of the map they reduce your crystal count. Lose 20 crystals and it’s game over. Survive 30 monster waves and you win. Take note of the wave count. There are 300+ waves of tower defense here spread over 12 maps and three episodes. Even the map count is a bit skewed since the “12” maps are really six maps and six modified expert maps that add new forks to watch out for.
Between episodes you have a slightly different set of towers. Crystal Defenders W1 and its four maps have the most basic towers. A soldier that hits for heavy damage, but to only one ground enemy at a time. A splash damage dealing monk, magic shooting black mage, aerial killing archer, and a time mage that slows mobs down. If you played a tower defense game before these should sound similar. The one unique exception is the thief, which can’t attack at all. Thieves give you bonus gold if you kill a monster next to them. Later missions introduce more complicated towers like time freezing tinkers and sluggish dragoons. The late game towers aren’t that different. Take the berserker as an example, it’s a modified white monk. In addition to towers you also have espers, summon monsters that can damage all the enemies on the screen or boost your towers stats for a wave. These powerful allies can be summoned if you’re willing to sacrifice five crystals, a quarter of what you start with.
Tower defense games are all about clever placement. At the start of each wave everything freezes so you can place and upgrade towers at your leisure. Even in the heat of battle you can pause the action to add a new tower or power up an old one before a monster gets away. If you can’t figure out what should go where a developer play through gives hints. You unlock these replay videos by playing the game and each one goes through 15 waves or half the number of stages to clear a map. Watch a video and you’ll have a good idea how to win, but you won’t know everything. Once you master a level you can save a replay of your own.
While Crystal Defenders is an Xbox Live Arcade game it stills looks and feels like a mobile phone game. The sprites are larger, but the framerate is choppy. When you hold down the right bumper to speed the game up it’s noticeable. Square Enix also developed a version of Crystal Defenders for WiiWare and strangely its presentation was upgraded to include a visual map between waves. You don’t get that on Xbox Live Arcade. Stages are chosen through lackluster menus. On the other hand the WiiWare version is more expensive and has less levels so there is a tradeoff there.
It may be unspectacular, but Crystal Defenders, like any good tower defense game, is addictive.
Food for thought:
1.) Too bad Square Enix didn’t add a feature to send replay videos to friends. I wonder if the PlayStation 3 version has built in YouTube uploading like Noby Noby Boy. That would be a neat community feature.
2.) I used to love tower defense maps games like Warcraft III or Starcraft, but part of the fun there was working together with others. Square Enix could have created online co-op maps or at the very least a competitive mode where players can spend gold to overwhelm rivals with extra monsters.