Can there ever be enough Final Fantasy? Probably not. Since Crystal Defenders – originally entitled Crystal Guardians – released in Japan back in January of 2008, Square Enix reports that over 800,000 copies of the game have been downloaded for play on cell phones. Now the latest iteration of this offshoot of the seminal RPG series comes to WiiWare as Crystal Defenders R1.
R1 is a Tower Defense-style (TD) strategy game based on the world and creatures of Final Fantasy Tactics. As a matter of fact, just about everything – from the character and monster sprites, to the music and sound effects – is lifted right out of the recently released Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (Nintendo DS). That is in no way a bad thing, and Crystal Defenders R1 for WiiWare is actually a great introductory experience for younger Final Fantasy fans who have yet to be exposed to this particular sub genre of strategy games.
Notice, we didn’t use the term “real-time strategy.” That’s because Square Enix have, for the most part, removed that element from R1. If you’re not already familiar with how Tower Defense works, however, here’s a quick rundown: You’re presented with a basic map. On the map is a path on which monsters march along. The object is simply to prevent the monsters from reaching their goal by setting up units (towers) to defeat monsters as they move along the path. Since you don’t have direct control over your units, the strategy portion of the game lies, for the most part, within the preparation phase.
Crystal Defenders is, for all intents and purposes, “Tower Defense 101.” The maps are very basic, the unit variety is straightforward, and the strategic options at your command are fairly limited. That said, this is also a very balanced and enjoyable take on the TD formula.
There are seven different job classes, seven terrains with 13 missions, and eventually you’ll unlock Espers for use during monster waves. The soldier is a fast and effective melee unit, though he’s useless against air units; the black mage can attack both air and ground units, but he only does “magick” damage; the time mage does no damage but slows units along the path, making it easier for your other units to do their job of defeating monsters; the monk (another melee unit) is perhaps the most useless unit in the game, as he’s weaker than the soldier and does only minor area damage to ground units; and lastly are the archer, dragoon, and thief, each with a unique benefit integral to success in various missions.
You’ll make use of pretty much every unit (except the monk if you’re wise) as you progress through the game. Some monsters are resistant to physical damage, so you’ll need to beef up your mages for certain monster waves. Other monsters are flying units that are resistant to magic, which means neither your soldiers nor mages can do much to combat them. It’s typical TD fare, really. However, there’s one fairly major caveat: you cannot sell back or remove a unit once it has been placed on the map. Though gil (Final Fantasy’s version of gold) is usually plentiful after each wave (especially if you make good use of your thief units), you’ll often find yourself regretting having given real estate to units you no longer need.
This issue is, however, balanced out by the fact that waves are turn-based. In most traditional TD games, a timer ticks down before the next wave, so you’re always managing your units with a sense of urgency. Crystal Defenders takes a slightly more laid-back approach, affording you unlimited time to prepare. You can still add units or level up existing units during the wave phase, but even then, the action pauses while making selections. This aspect of the game might seem to make things easier, but again, without the ability to remove units once they’re on the map, you’ll be forced to be much more methodical about how you spend your gil.
Lastly, you have Espers at your disposal (strong, magical avatars), and rather than spending gil in order to use them, you’ll use crystal. As the game’s name implies, Crystal Defenders R1 is all about defending your precious crystals. If the monsters make their way to their final destination, they nab your crystals; once all the crystals are gone, it’s game over. So, using Espers is an expensive trade-off, but a very useful one if you find yourself up the creek due to poor planning. For instance, Shiva can slow all enemies on screen for a single wave, and Ifrit can nullify resistances for all monsters. You’ll obviously want to reserve use of these powerful spirits for emergencies, but they’re a neat addition that’s parceled out nicely toward the end of the game.
The controls for the game are handled with just the Wii Remote, and Square Enix has (smartly) opted to implement its use by turning the controller sideways to be played like a simple, NES-style controller. The D-pad allows you to move your cursor, the 2 button is for making selections, and A starts the wave. The controls work really well, and setting up your defenses is an easy and intuitive process.
The presentation is standard Square Enix fare, meaning the overall product has plenty of polish. That said, R1 is still very much a WiiWare title, so don’t expect much depth. There’s no real story, and again, the maps are pretty basic. However, there’s plenty here for Final Fantasy fans to enjoy. Dialogue stills and sprites are taken from Final Fantasy Tactics, and it’s a representation of Ivalice (the imaginary world of various Final Fantasy games) that has always seemed aimed directly at a younger audience – a perfect match for the more simplified TD gameplay on offer here.
Both the sprites and maps are 2D, and the maps come in a typical variety – lush, green forest, an arid desert, snow, and fire. The sprites are adorable as always, though animations are about on par with a Gameboy Advance game. The Square sheen is there, but it’s still difficult to hide the fact that the in-game visuals are so basic. The menus and overworld map, however, bookend everything to present a tight and attractive package overall.
One element that’s truly impossible to overlook is the music. It’s nothing you haven’t already heard in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 for DS, but it still sounds great and adds a lot to the gameplay experience. The sound effects, however, are a tad disappointing. The occasional moogle chatter before missions is delightful, but the cluster of generic attack sounds does little to add excitement to the game.
Crystal Defenders R1 is an extremely straightforward, arguably antiquated take on the Tower Defense formula. The game also appears to be a shameless cash-in on the Final Fantasy namesake. In spite of all that, it’s still an undeniably fun strategy romp that’s perfectly suited for younger gamers looking to get their feet wet with something a bit more challenging. At 800 Wii Points, however, it feels a bit over-priced, especially considering it offers only one save file.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
The sprites are cute, though there’s nothing remarkable about the way they animate. The maps are fairly plain to look at, though the overall presentation is quite attractive. 4.0 Control
It’s a bit disappointing that the standard TD formula wasn’t injected with anything fresh utilizing the functionality of the Wii controller, but considering the tact Square Enix opted for, the controls work really well. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
We’ve heard all of this music before, but it still sounds great and works wonderfully as a backdrop to R1’s gameplay. Sound effects are disappointing, however. 3.5
There is no multiplayer and only one save file, but it’s a straightforward TD game that should be a great first-time experience for younger Final Fantasy fans interested in this type of strategy. An online leader board is packed into the game, but it’s fairly bare-bones.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.