“A surprisingly pleasantly tower defense game that can roll with the best of them.”
It’s difficult for any tower defense game aspiring to be the “next big thing” to really make it on the scene anymore thanks to PopCap’s Plants vs Zombies. Crystal Defenders, by Square-Enix, is one of those rare tower defense games that is not only very enjoyable, but is good enough to challenge the behemoth that is Plants vs Zombies.
Crystal Defenders is a Final Fantasy themed tower defense game that takes place on fairly large maps which require the player to place various different units down to deter the oncoming waves of monsters. The objective is to prevent the monsters from reaching your crystals at the end of the path. Each map is essentially just a long road that the monsters walk. They never attack you directly, but the threat of them snatching your crystals is always very real. If you lose all twenty crystals, it’s game over.
The selection of units appears limited when you first play, but you quickly get used to it. There are six classes to choose from most of the time and the most common are soldier, black mage, archer, white monk, thief, and time mage. Soldiers are the brute force of your army and essentially just hit hard – really hard! Black mages thrust fire spells at oncoming monsters and, along with the long range archers, are able to hit airborne monsters. White monks are average fighters who do not hit as hard as soldiers, but they have the ability to hit several monsters at once. Thieves cannot attack, but if a monster dies within their line of sight, you will get a huge cash bonus. Time mages, of course, possess weak attacks and the ability to slow monsters down.
There are various summons as well, each consuming five crystals when called, making them very risky to use. One summon, Phoenix, pumps up the attack and abilities of your army for the duration of the attack wave, while the Ramuh summon unleashes a devastating lightning attack across the entire map that will deliver lethal damage to all living monsters. Both sound very useful but, as I said, they consume five crystals when summoned. The whole point of the game is to protect the crystals, so really the only time to use one of these summons is when you believe that five or more monsters will reach the end, since most monsters steal one crystal each.
With each kill, you are awarded gold which goes towards leveling up your units. Once you are several waves in, it becomes apparent that the key to success isn’t placing many units but leveling up the ones you have already deployed instead.
The gameplay is simple and never gets too complicated, but it is extremely strategic and, when you clear a wave of monsters that seems particularly difficult or frustrating, you get a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Winning in Crystal Defenders really does feel extremely rewarding due to it’s ruthless nature, which is much more than I can say for the casual-friendly Plants vs Zombies.
The graphics are pretty basic and look like late PS1 or early PS2 graphics. The entire map and all units are 2D sprites, but since this is Square-Enix you just know that the graphics have to be at the very least decent looking. They’re not overglorified, but they do the job and are in some ways mildly cute.
Crystal Defenders’ music is very impressive, though. It sounds a lot like the music from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is no bad thing at all. The music may seem like a bit too much for a tower defense game at times, but that does not hurt the game or the music at all. Crystal Defenders is a real joy to listen to, believe me.
Overall, Crystal Defenders is a fantastic tower defense game and I feel that it is impossible for me to choose between this and Plants vs Zombies as the better tower defense game. If you’re a fan of old school tower defense games, or like Plants vs Zombies but want something a little rougher, then this is the game for you.
Crystal Defenders is available on the 360, PSP, Playstation 3, Wii, and most mobile phones. Since pretty much everyone owns at least one of those platforms, there really is no excuse to miss this game if tower defense is your thing. Check it out.