Game Review: Defender’s Quest

Oh, I hate you so much. Every time I tell myself I want to save money, you come out with a new deal that will give me Inquisitor, a game I’ve been eager to play since I first watched the trailer, as long as I buy a few other games for an equally ridiculously low price.

Defender’s Quest was one of those games.

I actually played the demo for this game awhile ago, and thought it was interesting, but not interesting enough to really grab my attention at the time.

And now I want to smack my past self because this game is great. It has some of the most simplistic yet addicting gameplay ever, the story is good (even though the writing could use some polish) and it’s challenging without being sadistic.

So what is Defender’s Quest?

Defender’s Quest is a mixture of tower defense and RPG. I’ve never played a tower defense game, so I had to look it up. In a tower defense game, you build “towers” to protect a “base” from an onslaught of enemies. In Defender’s Quest, your “towers” are your party members, and your “base” is Azra, the main character, more on this later. Like a conventional RPG, characters gain experience and level up, which gives them a point to put in various skills. You can also purchase weapons and armor in towns.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the outbreak of a deadly plague in the Kingdom of Ash. Azra, the Royal Librarian, contracts the disease and finds herself thrown into the Pit, a place littered with the dead, dying, and once-dead revenants, discovering that she possesses a mysterious power that allows her to destroy the revenants in a place between life and death, she sets out to find the source of the plague with the help of some unlikely allies.

So, yeah, the story is kind of cliche and your cast is the usual assortment of stereotypes: you have your bloodthirsty berserker who is always itching for a fight, your cool, calm, and collective ranger who keeps the berserker from rushing headlong into battle and killing himself, an atoner, a highly religious sort who’s become something her religion abhors, a dutiful knight, etc.  Fortunately, the game takes the opportunity to poke fun of these conventions at every turn, although, to be honest, the story really isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before.

Battles, however, are where the game gets interesting. Battles take place in the “Half Way World” between life and death. Azra can summon her allies to the map by spending Psi (MP, basically). This is where the “tower defense” part comes in. Your goal is to protect Azra (your “base”) by placing your party members (the “towers”) strategically around the map so they can destroy enemies before they reach Azra. Your reward for fighting off all the waves of enemies is determined by whether Azra is unharmed or injured because you weren’t paying attention. Azra can also “boost” defenders to allow them to use stronger skills (ie. boosting Slak, your berserker, to level two will let him use his “Double Hit” skill, which does exactly what it says). Every enemy your defenders destroy nets you some Psi, which Azra can use to cast spells of her own or recall the defenders in order to place them elsewhere on the map. You can also give allies certain commands like “attack the weakest enemy” or “attack the one last in line”. If the waves are moving too slowly for you, you can also adjust the speed of battles on the fly.

If this sounds very complicated, it’s really not, it just looks complicated in writing. Basically, figuring out where to place your defenders so they get the most out of their range is crucial, and there will definitely be battles where you’ll want to move them around a bit.

A typical battle with Azra on the far right and defenders positioned in the middle.

Or, to make it really simple, here’s the (nearly) perfect guide getting “Perfect” rank in battle:

1.Boost Ketta (your Ranger) to max.

2. Watch her destroy everything stupid enough to come in range.

3. Keep other defenders around just in case something survives.

(Note: This strategy doesn’t work on one particular level.)

For all its simplicity, the game can be pretty challenging, but never unforgiving (and for those of you who like even more challenge, there are optional bonus challenges to pursue). At several points in the game, I found myself having to go back and play some of the earlier levels on Extreme difficulty so that I could have a chance at beating levels on Normal (especially since I wasn’t using any generic recruits), but trust me, it can be done, I just did it.

In terms of the art, the graphics in general are really low tech, so you shouldn’t have any trouble playing this on older PCs. The art style is cartoonish the facial expressions in particular come across as kind of creepy (Wrenna in particular looks like she’s going to tear your heart out whenever she smiles.) The soundtrack has this very “SNES RPG” feel to it, the music does get repetitive, but I enjoyed the boss themes in particular. (Boss battles, btw, are quite tense, frantic affairs).

In terms of replayability, there’s a New Game + mode, a whole score of achievements, those bonus challenges, optional side quests, and five different endings to find (although all you have to do to find them all is reload the game after you’ve beaten it), and a few different difficulty levels for each level, and you WILL want to get three gold stars on each level, yes you will.

In sum, Defender’s Quest is a great game that probably won’t win any awards for compelling storytelling, but the simple-yet-challenging nature of its gameplay will keep you busy until the next time-sink comes along.

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