Review: Final Fantasy: Crystal Defenders

When one thinks of Final Fantasy, the mind usually conjures up epic battles and solid RPG gameplay, or even tactical warfare. Does one ever think of tower defense-styled gameplay? Probably not. Square has ventured toward creating something a bit different with the first-ever Xbox Live Arcade release for the franchise with Final Fantasy: Crystal Defenders. Though it isn’t as strategically diverse as a glut of the other, more popularized tower defense titles, it offers a decent challenge and satisfying throwback to the days of gorgeous sprites and thinking before you make your next move. Kupo-po!
Each game plays out in the same way. As an omnipotent third-party, it’s your job to assign various character classes that you may already be familiar with (Soldiers, Thieves, Time Mages, Berserkes, Black Mages) to locations on a small, mazelike map. After you’ve placed the units that you feel are suited to the task, a press of the X button will send a horde of enemies barreling through the maze. While the enemies make their way down the pathway determined by the map’s particular setup, the units that you assigned to certain areas will use melee attacks, arrows, magic, or various other abilities to keep them from reaching the area’s exit. If enemies are allowed to reach the exit, a portion of crystals allotted at the beginning of each game will be stolen, depending on the strength of each monster. This, to newcomers to the genre, is a type of tower defense. Of course, there’s no towers involved. The defense portion comes from the fact that you (ideally) should not lose any of your crystals, hence the title Crystal Defenders.
You can place as many character classes as you want at the beginning of each turn, provided you have the gil required to hire them. After you choose a character you may place them accordingly along the path and outskirts of said path on the board. Because it’s such a tight space, you can place directly beside, in front of, or behind previously-placed members of your squad, though when you are placing multiple units the tight space does make telling certain new recruits apart a bit difficult. When you feel you’ve got a pretty good defense set up, you can run the enemies through and pray that you have fortified the space around you properly. Since watching enemies tear through the path is a bit slow, you can fast forward via the right shoulder button. It’s important to note that you can still add units while monsters are coming through, which adds another layer to the strategic elements of the game.
Aside from the usual recruits you have at your disposal, you may also spend crystals in order to release a summon to wreak havoc or throw some status effects into play on the field. If neither of those options sound appealing, installments W2 and W3 introduce the usage of power crystals. Power crystals can be used to amplify your units’ speed, strength, and various other stats while the battles play out. It’s also important to note that all classes can be leveled up to seven.
It’s important to note that the only real gameplay here is the placement of units and their interaction with the world and the onslaught of monsters. Other than carrying these things out, remember that this is not an RPG, and you won’t be doing anything that could be considered “typical Final Fantasy.” It’s more like strategic warfare that you must plan out, and that’s all the fun. It takes a sharp mind to uncover how well your units will stand against different types of enemies. Some, like flying enemies, are only susceptible to the likes of Archers or Black Mages. It’s up to you to figure out weaknesses and how many of each character class are needed in order to survive each map’s 30 waves of monsters.
Though there is little “real” gameplay that many will likely clamor for, this is an excellent showing for a more casual tower defense game. Characters have no skills that need to be assigned, and it takes real trial and error to effectively master each area. If you care to put in the time, you’ll find yourself replaying maps over and over in order to get that perfect score, and that to me says Crystal Defenders contains some very solid gameplay.
This is a great throwback to the days of sprite-ly Final Fantasy, and you’ll likely appreciate it if you’ve ever been a fan of the franchise. It borrows heavily from the character designs featured in Final Fantasy Tactics, and you’ll be in for a real treat if you have followed those strat-RPG spinoffs. Colors are soft, bright, and gorgeous, with some beautiful and minimalistic main menus to sift through.

While sadly there’s nothing here that will make you cry yourself to death with tears of happiness a la Uematsu, there are some giddy, pleasant tunes here to keep you occupied. There is no voice acting, and there are minimal sound effects. If you somehow forget that you are playing the game you could perhaps leave it on for some nice atmospheric, adventurous tunes for you to ignore the silence, though nothing about the soundtrack was particularly memorable for me. That’s quite a shame, as I usually find at least one track that I really enjoy out of every Final Fantasy entry or spinoff.
Crystal Defenders provides three different games: W1, W2, and W3. Since the games were originally cell phone releases, they were rather small in size, but now XBLA patrons have the option to play through all three rather than have to pay for them separately. They increase in difficulty and each one expands on the previous installment, though the core gameplay remains unchanged.
With no multiplayer in sight, once you’ve perfected all the maps contained within the entire package, there’s no real reason to revisit the game unless you want to keep trying to up your score. The game claims that there are 300 maps to choose from, though it’s only multiplying the number of waves by the number of stages offered in each game installment. Still, learning to get it just right (and there are many different methods to go by) will take some time, and you’ll likely get addicted by the time you perfect your very first map.
If you’re a die-hard Final Fantasy fan like myself and you want to see what all the fuss is about, this XBLA title is well worth a purchase. If you enjoy tower defense, you should give it a look as well. It’s a very well-paced, delightful little diversion with plenty of challenge to satisty even the most elitist of tower defense gamers. Plus – moogles. How can you resist?

Comments are closed.