I've never been one to get excited about tower defense games. I had a brief stint with Pixeljunk Monsters, and for the most part enjoyed it, but aside from that, my history with the genre is brief. Then along came Crystal Defenders; A tower defense game from Square Enix that borrows heavily from the Final Fantasy universe (most notably, Tactics). Yet, while people will buy the game simply because of its association with the franchise, only serious tower defense enthusiasts need apply, as Crystal Defenders too often becomes a mundane and monotonous process of trail and error.
Crystal Defenders has you choosing various maps across three worlds with each presenting an increase in difficulty. Each map has a path for enemies to traverse, most with beginnings on the left and the path's conclusion on the right. Prior to each round, you'll set up various characters ranging from soldiers to thieves on the borders adjacent to the paths in order to stop the wave of enemies that make up each round. If an enemy manages to get past your defenses, you'll lose a crystal, with a "game over" resulting when all crystals are lost.
Final Fantasy fan service comes in the form of the units you deploy and the enemies you face. Black Mages, Time Mages, Hunters, and power crystals are just some of the nostalgic characters and items at your disposal. Some of the enemies you'll see are Berserkers, Cocktrice's, Undead, and Puddings of various colors. This is where Crystal Defenders impresses. If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, you'll undoubtedly enjoy the nostalgic factor the game presents. The artwork, the music, it's all there, and all bundled within a $10 package.
However, while its aesthetics impress, the gameplay falls short. If you're a hardcore, tower-defense enthusiast, there is some fun to be had, but for those who are looking for rewarding pick up and play gameplay, you'll likely come out disappointed. In trying to complete each map, you'll go through so much trial and error that you're likely to lose interest, and that's just on the beginning levels. Later levels force you to use more advanced units and even throw in power crystals that increase an ally's stats. After the first couple of continual failures of each map, it was hard to keep an interest in completing these aggravating scenarios. With each map containing 30 waves of enemies, I often found myself starting over prior to wave 15, since I'd already lost so many crystals, it was unlikely I'd finish.
There is a "dev play" mode which, once unlocked, allows users to view the developers playing the first 15 waves of certain levels. I'm torn about this feature. While it was interesting to see how to play through a map perfectly AFTER I completed it, I often found myself using certain "dev play" scenarios as cheat sheets on how to complete the more difficult levels, thus taking the challenge out of the game. Obviously, not everyone will lack the willpower I do, and will be able to refrain from viewing these scenarios, but none-the-less, it became frustrating needing to use "dev play" as a crutch to complete certain maps.
If you're a fan of tower defense games, you'll probably come away pleased with your $10 purchase. It offers a great challenge for fans of the genre and has a Final Fantasy gloss of paint to boot. But, if you're buying Crystal Defenders just for the coat of paint, or expecting a quick pick up and play experience, look elsewhere. This is a game you'll most likely either love or hate, and if you end up falling into the later category, $10 dollars might not seem like such a steal.
Crystal Defenders is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Fantasy Violence. This game can also be found on: PSP, Xbox 360.