Review: Crystal Defenders PSN

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First released as an iPhone game late last year (and on Japanese mobile phones as Crystal Guardians early in ’08), Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics-themed tower defense strategy game Crystal Defenders has been slowly migrating over to other platforms throughout this year, including versions for WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, and more recently the PlayStation Network. For this review, I’ll be taking a look at the PSN version.

Crystal Defenders is a standard, by-the-numbers tower defense game with a Final Fantasy twist, and overall it’s a very solid game. Like any other tower defense game, Crystal Defenders involves fending off waves of attacking enemies by strategically placing “tower” units around a maze leading to your “home base.” In this game’s case, the “tower” units are jobs from the Final Fantasy Tactics universe and your “home base” is simply a stash of 20 crystals waiting at the end of the maze – if the invading enemies reach the end of the maze they’ll steal away your crystals, and should you lose all 20 crystals it is game over time.

To protect your crystals against familiar Final Fantasy critters like Bombs, Molboros, Tonberries and Chocobos, you have your choice of various job classes from Final Fantasy Tactics A2, each equipped with unique attack strengths to counteract the diverse enemies that come marching through. The Soldier is the base ground melee attacker, the Archer the long-range expert and one of the few jobs capable of attacking flying units, and the Black Mage casts powerful spells good against land and air creatures. Then from these three core units you eventually gain access to more specialized units like the Time Mage, Thief, Dragoon, Monk and Flintlock. As your defenders kill incoming monsters you earn Gil to buy more units, place Power Crystals and level-up existing units on the map to increase their attack power and range.

Again, this is a pretty basic game of tower defense strategy…perhaps a little too basic. The game controls well with a PS3 controller and I really appreciate how you can pause and even fast-forward enemy waves at any time. The PSN version also has online leaderboards, a replay save feature and a DevPlay feature with demo videos you can watch to learn different strategies. But even with these features, Crystal Defenders is hurting for content.

Three modes of play are offered – W1, W2 and W3 — each one ramping up in difficulty with trickier maps and new strategies to consider, such as the inclusion of Power Crystals which you can place next to units to boost their attack power, ranger or speed (Power Crystals become available in W2 mode). But each of these modes only comes with four maps, and there isn’t a story or any sense of progression to hook you in – you just pick a map and see if you can survive all 30 waves. All of the maps are flat, boring and limited in scope as well, showing the game’s origins as a mobile phone app. I do, however, love the colorful Final Fantasy Tactics aesthetic and the familiar Final Fantasy sound effects and musical themes, but I expected more of an HD face lift here rather than blurry sprites indicating the developers simply blew up the iPhone graphics without fully optimizing the resolution for larger HD displays.

While generally a solid tower defense game with sound strategical concepts, Crystal Defenders on PSN, to no surprise, is like playing an iPhone game on a console. It certainly plays well, but clearly the game was designed for quicker play sessions on the go. As a console game – even a downloadable one – it’s too simplistic and content-starved to offer true staying power.

Thankfully, Crystal Defenders is one of the rare PSN games to launch with a trial version, so I say give that a download and see what you think.

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Pros:
+ Solid core tower defense mechanics
+ Nice variety of jobs and enemies
+ Good use of Final Fantasy Tactics themes

Cons:
– Light on content
– Lacks a sense of progression and reward
– Blurry visuals
– Bland maps

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also on iPhone, WiiWare and XBLA
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 8/6/09
Genre: Tower Defense Strategy
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!