Crystal Defenders may be short, but it packs so much replay value in the 8 levels that it's totally worth a mere $5.

User Rating: 8.5 | Crystal Defenders IOS
PLEASE NOTE that this review was written for the iPod click wheel version, not the iPhone version. The iPhone version fixes the control issues I mention here.

+ fun and challenging strategic gameplay
+ good visuals for the iPod
+ quality music
+ tons of replay value for each level
+ it only costs $5!

- huge frame rate slowdowns when lots of enemies are on screen
- only 8 maps
- controls aren't sensitive enough

The iPod had yet to see its first truly great original game. Phase was too laggy to be much fun and Song Summoner moved to slowly and was too dull to make it to that status. Now Crystal Defenders, another strategy game from Square Enix, has come to the iPod. Does it raise the bar for iPod games or keep our expectations low for the future?

Crystal Defenders has no story. The concept of the game is that you are defending twenty crystals from waves of monsters coming through the land, and you need to stop them all before they reach the end of the path. To do this, you place your units (jobs from Final Fantasy Tactics are the ones available) on the areas around the path to stop the monsters from reaching the end. Every monster that succeeds in its goal takes a crystal from you, and if you lose all your crystals it's game over.

Placing and leveling up units is the key to your success, and all of it revolves around the gil (the game's currency) you have. You pay to add units to the field and level them up. The strategy can be difficult to figure out sometimes, you constantly ask yourself if it's more worthwhile to level up a smaller amount of units or just add a bunch of weaker ones. There is also a good variety in each units' abilities, so you have to figure out which type of unit is best suitable for each spot on the battlefield. The unit placement is the key to the game's strategy; thankfully it isn't a pain to use.

There may be an end to the waves of enemies, but I haven't gotten to it before and I don't know if I ever will. The levels give you a score rather than just say you cleared it, encouraging you to improve your strategy and try again. While Crystal Defenders only has 4 stages (8 if you count the advanced versions of the four) the game earns tons of replay value because of this and also because the second half of the maps are quite challenging, and these factors working together really make you want to try again.

Crystal Defenders looks pretty good for an iPod game. The graphics look quite smooth and nice in the style of Final Fantasy Tactics, but the problem comes with frame rate slowdowns. This makes the game VERY laggy when there is a lot of action going on, which is expected since the iPod isn't exactly built for games but it still gets a little annoying.

But while the iPod has low expectations in the area of graphics, higher expectations exist in the sound department. If you have played Final Fantasy Tactics before you will recognize all the music in Crystal Defenders, but you have never heard it sounding this good. The tracks are almost exactly the same as in FFTA, but the quality hit a huge boost. The sound effects can be a little repetitive but they don't sound grating or anything.

The last real issue with Crystal Defenders is with its controls. The idea is excellent, using the scroll wheel like a touch pad to move the cursor around, but the problem lies in the sensitivity. I applaud them for trying to not make them oversensitive (which would be a huge problem) but instead they aren't quite sensitive enough. This isn't a major problem though, as you can simply pause the action if you need to do some work in the middle of a fast-moving wave.

Crystal Defenders has officially raised the bar for iPod games, especially those from Square Enix. The gameplay is simple but challenging and centered around strategy, and the few maps have loads of replay value. While there is huge frame rate slowdown and controls that aren't sensitive enough, Crystal Defenders is still a great game earning a high score because of all that it packs into a little $5 package.

Gameplay: 8.5
Graphics: 8.0
Sound: 8.0
Camera & Control: 8.0
Value: 8.5