Crystal Defense on a Small Scale
The Final Fantasy franchise may be Square Enix’s most notable, but the powerhouse developer/publisher has plenty of other games under its belt, including the Star Ocean franchise, and RPG standalones like Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant. However, even though all of these games fall under the broad RPG genre, they all have their own distinct battle systems and formats. Crystal Defender is another stand-alone title from Square Enix that was originally for the iPhone/iPod Touch, but has recently been ported over to the Xbox 360 via its Live Arcade service. But, this standalone title bears more than a passing resemblance to last year’s Final Fantasy Tactics A2.
Crystal Defenders is a real-time tower defense strategy title akin to PixelJunk Monsters in which you have a fixed board where enemies enter from one side, and it is your job to stop them from getting to the other side and stealing crystals that are stored at your home base. Each foe will take between 1-2 crystals (depending on their size) if you fail to stop them before they get to your base. However, each game begins with 20 crystals, so if one or two slip through, you’ll still be ok.
In order to successfully complete this mission, you will have to use specialized troops with different abilities. The game uses the job system from Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and you will be able to use old standards like the Soldier, White Mage, Time Mage, and Dragoon to obliterate invading forces. The troops will attack the forces on their own, but it will be up to you to place and level up your forces to make them the most effective.
In addition to the main troop system, Crystal Defenders also has a special attack system that can help you beat down multiple enemies at once. However, this special attack system comes at a price. You are able to summon different beasts, such as Ifrit or Chocobo, but in order for them to appear you will need to use some of your crystals. And, as mentioned before, the game ends when your crystal count goes down to zero. This tactical device is fairly interesting and forces you to examine whether you would lose more crystals by summoning a beast or by letting a few monsters through.
There are three main tactical “levels” incorporated in Crystal Defenders: W1, W2, and W3. W1 is extremely basic and just involves five different classes and a whole lot of monsters. W2 is a little bit more interesting and ups the job count to seven and adds special Power Crystals, which can be placed next to troops to increase their speed, range, or accuracy. W3 can best be described as the hardcore level, having advanced jobs and faster enemy wave gameplay.
One of the main issues that I have with Crystal Defenders is that its scope is a little too small for a console title. Even though other games like PixelJunk Monsters have used a screen-sized board, Crystal Defenders only uses about 2/3 of the screen to display the action, and the different boards are too small to really allow for complex tactics. Instead, most boards can be completed with the “put as many troops on the field” tactical scheme, which can become a little bit boring if you are an RTS fan.
Another problem with the battlefield is that there are no obstacles or environmental elements to help shape the gameplay. One great facet of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 was that battle stages were shaped by hills, valleys, and water bodies that could influence character placement and overall tactics. However, in Crystal Defenders, all of the maps are completely flat and there is no real incentive to keep characters in one area as opposed to another. Range is never changed by the environment, and the flat battle stages make the game feel bland.
In addition to the disappointing facets of the gameplay, another big problem with Crystal Defenders is the visuals. Although I recognize this game does have its roots in the mobile market, the cell phone look could have really been improved for the console release. As I stated before, the game only uses about 2/3 of the screen to display the board, and the rest of the screen is occupied by a wallpaper-like background along with sprites of your current troops and upcoming monsters. The different play boards are far too simplistic and feature no moving or animated elements. Even the color scheme is a little on the bland side, and I really wish that more time had been spent bringing this title’s visuals up to console standards.
However, despite the visuals being on the lackluster side, the sound in Crystal Defenders is great. Of course, this is probably due to the fact that the vast majority of it is sampled from other Final Fantasy games, which are known for their orchestral score. Still, the background music is nice to listen to, and there is a fairly wide selection of tunes. This is especially nice, as all too often downloadable titles suffer from having only one or two repetitive melodies that wear on the ears quickly. Sound effects in this title are limited to attack and action noises, which is also a good thing, as the effects never overpower the nice background music.
Although I personally enjoyed Crystal Defenders, this title isn’t for everyone. The tactics are fairly simple (especially considering their source material) and the small scope of the game will turn off many who expect more depth from their tower defense titles. The game also looks too much like a mobile title for a console port, and it just doesn’t really stand up as its own tactics title. Although Square Enix opted to drop the Final Fantasy Tactics title for this game, I really think that was a mistake, as fans of Final Fantasy Tactics will probably be the only people who will find real enjoyment out of Crystal Defenders. This game can be fun when played in the context of the Final Fantasy universe, but those hoping for a deep or unique tactics experience may want to look elsewhere.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The graphics are very simplistic and consist of sprite-based characters and maps. I would have liked to have seen more polish, especially since the core visuals still look like a cell phone/mobile game. 4.2 Control
Button-based controls work very well, and shortcuts are implemented nicely. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is sampled directly from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is actually a good thing here. Sound effects are minimal. 3.3 Play Value
Although this title just feels like a big version of a mobile game, fans of Final Fantasy Tactics may get some enjoyment out of this title, despite it’s much simpler tactics. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.