Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: December 9, 2004
The strategy genre is the one proverbial nut that the console platform has yet to crack; the one genre that consistently produces overly complex, substandard titles. It seems a little odd then, that Korean developer Phantagram would select their flagship strategy franchise as their strongest foray yet into said domain. However, given the complete overhaul that the series received to better tailor itself to console gamers, it appears that Phantagram are resolute in their endeavor. Granted, the always-present concern that there are just too many commands for too few buttons is tough to shake, but this action-strategy hybrid might just be the one to form the mold from which all future games are shaped.
The Crusaders offers four unique campaigns; each is told from the perspective of one of the two warring factions: the humans or the dark legion. The latter provides a slightly greater challenge, but the basic gameplay mechanics are mostly identical. For both sides, heroes are the key to success, as they dictate the development of troops under their command. Experience earned from battle can be put towards increasing your skill level, which, consequentially, boosts your squad’s skill level. Aside from making them more lethal in combat, a higher skill level also opens up more avenues for your units, as I’ll discuss later. What’s more, heroes accompany their troops onto the battlefield, and the effectiveness of the leader directly affects the troops underneath him or her. Therefore, the more enemies you slay, the more your allies slay, and the fewer your losses. Not to be forgotten, officers act as your consorts during combat, even offering personal aid should you call upon them. They’re not on the same level as the hero, but they’re more powerful than the lowly troops, and quite effective in battle.
Even though your hero’s health is directly tied to that of his company, soldiers can still take care of themselves during combat. Outside of conflict, however, it’s up to you to lead your troops to their next objective. One such command decision involves the formation of your men: A wide formation hastens movement, but leaves your party vulnerable to ambushes and archer attacks; while a tight configuration guards against these, movement is slower and one well-placed catapult attack can wipe out your entire unit. Factors such as stealth also come into play, especially when you’re advancing on three or four enemy battalions. Sometimes you need to use the environment to surprise your foes, and sometimes you need to call in reinforcements.
Archers are perhaps the most useful and versatile group of reinforcements, next to the rugged infantry, of course. Their capacity to thin enemy numbers without putting themselves in harm’s way is invaluable, especially when your infantry would otherwise be running into a deathtrap. Similar to the formations of ground troops, archers are able to broaden or focus their attack area, adapting to the position and configuration of your opponent’s units. There’s even a tactical effect whereby the sun comes into play – archers attacking into the horizon suffer a decrease in accuracy, as the light blinds them.