Crystal Defenders

Square Enix have taken some of the jobs and locations from the Final Fantasy Tactics series and combined them into a tactical battle game that’s kind of hard to fit into a genre. The game has previously been released for the iPhone, but now finds itself on Xbox Live Arcade.

With Crystal Defenders you are presented with a square battle map (one of twelve, spread across three different waves of the game) across which a road merrily winds it’s way from one side to the other. It is upon this road that hoardes of enemies will march to steal the crystals that you’re sworn to defend. To help you do this, you can place various fighting units on the verges surrounding the roads and they will attack any monsters that happen to pass by. You can also call on that good old stalwart of the Final Fantasy realm, the Summon (depending on the level you’re playing) to help you dispatch your foes. You simply have to survive wave upon wave of monsters, while trying to keep hold of your stash of crystals.

At first glance the game is really simple, and this initially put me off. The first few waves of creatures on the map are such a walk-over that you don’t feel any sense of challenge, and there’s no real strategy involved in the early waves. I was pretty underwhelmed when I first played but, having resisted the temptation of Peggle to spend some long hours playing, I am now actually loving the game.
You see, what the game is doing in the first few waves is throwing you a massive curve ball.

Having fought monsters resistant to various attacks (you are told what the next monster is at the end of each wave) and having to adjust accordingly, every tenth wave you fight what is, effectively, a boss monster. Four monsters will enter your map with massively high hit points, and the ability to steal more crystals than normal if they make it through. Nothing in the how to play pages tells you about this, so the first time it happens you don’t stand a chance of beating them but, once you know they’re coming, the previous nine levels become all about the preparation. This is the strategy gameplay that you’ve thought was missing during the easy first rounds. It’s a clever touch, but seemingly clever by accident!

Graphically, the game is very much in the style of the Final Fantasy Tactics series – cartoonish characters and monsters which are easily recognisable in the heat of battle. The maps themselves are not particularly spectacular to look at, mainly comprising of background of grass, snow or sand with a path on it and the odd rock and bush here and there. They don’t need to be highly detailed though because all you really care about is the way the road twists and turns and where’s the best place to stick an archer.

The game is divided into three sections. The first section (bizarrely called W1) is a place to learn the basics while the later sections (W2 and W3) throw in more characters and battle options – you can place crystals on the map which increase attack, speed and range for nearby characters – so you really shouldn’t jump into these without having a fair grasp of the first maps. As mentioned earlier, there are twelve maps in the game, four in each section. The game boasts over three hundred enemy waves to slog through across these maps so the potential for repetitive gameplay is quite strong but to make it less tedious during the battle stages (after all, all you want to know is whether you’ll defeat them all – you don’t necessarily want to watch it) you can merrily hold the right bumper and the battle is sped up. Obviously, if there’s a massive hole in your defense you also have less chance of catching it, but it’s still a nice touch – as is the ability to pause the enemy wave mid-attack and (gil permitting) slot a few more fighters into the mix.

There’s no multiplayer available with this title which is both good and bad. It’s good that it hasn’t been shoe-horned in like it often is with many arcade titles just because they’re on Xbox Live, but on the flip-side an extra brain to come up with a winning strategy would also be quite helpful too.







One response to “Crystal Defenders”

  1. Ramsden avatar

    This is definitely an odd game to categorise. Having played Peggle to death on PC and being a huge Final Fantasy Tactics fan, I didn’t have any problems downloading the trial and playing it straight away, and as you were, I was initially underwhelmed. And then I died hideously on wave 10. I’m one of those boring people who loves to micro-manage on strategy games, and once I realised the point of this game, it grew on me a lot. I don’t think this game will be massively popular because it’s not very accessible, and definitely caters for a very specific kind of turn-based strategy fan. But the more I play it, the more satisfaction I’m getting from it, and it’s a pleasant interlude when I feel like taking a break from Halo Wars.

Leave a Reply