Tower Defense + RPG + Friends = A Good Time
What happens when you mix RPG, tower defense and local multiplayer action? Quite a bit of fun (and a fair bit of frustration - this is tower defense after all). I've never been a huge fan of the tower defense genre - mainly because many of these type of games seem insanely difficult for no other reasons than to make things insanely difficult (there are exceptions - Final Fantasy: My Life as a Darklord is quite enjoyable). However, add in a few friends, the ability to actually level your character, upgradable weapons and armor and, well, it turns out you can make things quite enjoyable.
This is a PSN game, so graphically it's not going to be on par with L.A. Noire or anything. However, for what it is, I think it succeeds. Each of the four characters: Knight, Mage, Huntress, Monk (unused in this particular instance) have their own look - while your outfit never changes no matter what armor you might have, your weapon does. It's great to walk around with a massive sword (or chainsaw sword in one case) or a gatling gun or a crossbow - and actually see the difference it makes. You can also get your own pet to follow you around - a hawk, a dragon - probably even more. There aren't a lot of different enemies, and other than color swaps, the higher level ones aren't any different, but they are varied enough (even when coming in seemingly endless waves) that it never gets too boring. Besides, mowing down massive waves of enemies (of course I play the Knight/Tank character) always leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Everything has that anime design, though it doesn't go into full-blown mode.
Sound: The music is there - it's not obtrusive but it's not exactly memorable either. Voices don't go beyond much more than exclamations and other "MOE" (also known as "Hey guys, I'm over here getting my butt kicked or Oops, I accidentally pressed the wrong button). The tavern owner/merchant, however, does has some pretty good one-liners - and some others that are just groan-inducing terrible. The enemies die very nicely - the most noticeable are the kamikaze kobolds, who scream while running with a huge stick of dynamite on their back before exploding quite nicely, hopefully far away from you.
I don't think we ran across any glitches. The only time you may run into issues is when you have more than one character buying, selling, picking up weapons/armor. It tends to make things confusing. Likewise, the shared "mana pool" (working as both the currency and a way to upgrade items) can lead to fisticuffs over who deserves what portion of the booty. Luckily on harder difficulties, items sell for quite a lot, so in the end, bloodshed is usually averted.
Alas, if you're here for a deep well of knowledge and story, this is not your game. Your hero parents are off on some kingdom-defending adventure leaving the kids behind. Too bad a huge dragon and his many minions decide to invade. So you have to prove yourselves as true heroes by defending the Eternia Crystals in each level from the hordes of enemies. And that's it. There are a few cut scenes to enjoy, some narration but the story is easily the weak point here.
This is why this game is so fun - especially with friends. You have to work together in order to succeed - as you level up, you gain access to better towers (or traps), better weapons and armor, along with increases in stats - for your character or your towers. Each level presents its own set of challenges - in earlier levels, usually there is only a few ways to your crystal, and it's pretty easy to defend. Later levels feature multiple attack points and even multiple crystals. Enemies range from the common goblin (aka fodder) to hulking Ogres, annoying flying wyvers and dark wizards who can summon endless skeletons or throw fireballs. Each level has multiple waves - some feature bosses as well - usually the final waves can include hundreds of enemies, so it pays to plan out your defenses well ahead of time. Unless you're playing on Insanity Mode (which gives you no rest to form your strategy- you just go and hope for the best), you get that chance. Still, some levels prove much more challenging than others - even on later levels.
Each follows the same pattern - you start off with set amount of mana to build defenses. You activate the crystal, defeat enemies to gain mana and often items. The mana respawns, you build more defenses (or level up existing defenses) and continue to hold back the enemy waves until you beat the level or your crystal is destroyed and you start over. Your character can die, but you respawn in 10 seconds. Each character has their own towers: the Knight has very strong defenses that either knock enemies back or slice them to pieces - however, they tend to cost a lot of mana. The Mage has excellent supporting towers and also defends against the flying wyvers that pop up in many later stages. The Huntress, who we all assumed has pretty useless "traps" at first, actually has some quite devastating attack power once you level up the abilities. Taken together, the three prove nigh unstoppable (well, at least on the "medium" setting thus far). The Monk is an unknown quantity at this point, as no one decided to pick up that character.
Now, while all this is quite fun, like all tower defense games the downfall is the repetition. Plus, in addition to just the levels being kind of cookie cutter, there is also the RPG grinding element to find a better weapon or piece of armor. Plus, you feel kind of let down after spending untold amounts of mana to max out an item only to have to start all over again. Things are somewhat offset by the "challenge" mode - each level has its own challenge from beating a level using no towers to a crystal that warps (or moves) and even one where you go on the offense and destroy the enemy crystal instead. They aren't called challenges for nothing, as compared to the story mode these tend to be much more difficult. You do get a unique weapon for beating each one - it may not be the greatest weapon - but it shakes things up a bit from the basic level.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun multiplayer experience - especially if you are familiar with tower defense and like the RPG elements thrown in as well. I can't see this being near as much fun alone - but with three or four people, you'll get plenty of playing time out of it. Just don't get frustrated - you may have to replay a level three-four times to get things right, but in the end, it's worth it.
Overall (not an average): 4/5