REVIEW: Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

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Defender's Quest - Title Screen | oprainfall Title Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten
Publisher Level Up Labs
Developer Level Up Labs
Release Date October 30, 2012
Genre Tower Defense/RPG
Platforms PC/Mac/Linux (Steam, GOG.com)
Age Rating Publisher Recommended Age: 10-11
Official Website

This past summer, GOG.com held a Summer of No-DRM sale with prices slashed by 50% for all games every day and as much as 80% for daily specials. Suffice to say, I took advantage of it and added quite a few games to my collection—and by quite a few, I mean I bought 45 games for just under $90. Most were classic computer games that I missed out on the first time around, like the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, the Ultima series, Populous, Syndicate, and the Legacy of Kain series. However, there were a few new games that I purchased as well.

While I was waiting around for the Dungeons & Dragons special to come around again (which I wasn’t sure would be happening until the final day), I found a fun little game that was on sale for about three bucks called Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. It’s a game that mixes RPG elements with a tower defense game. Does this blend work well together or crumble under pressure?

Defender's Quest - Plague Victim | oprainfall

Defender’s Quest begins as our main character Azra is taken from the plague-filled country of Ash and dumped into a pit with all the other plague victims. However, instead of dying, she is able to pull through and live. In the pit, she comes across a number of quirky characters from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and even species as she finds and brings along a dragon. But she’ll also find a madman who rules this hellish underground like a King, a wizard with grave plans for Azra, and the ultimate evil in charge of the evil Revenant that threatens the world.

Defender's Quest - Act IV Opening | oprainfall

One of the interesting parts of the story is the quotes from in-game writings. You don’t see the writings but it does add atmosphere.

For the most part, I think the story works within itself. No explanation really leaves you questioning too much of what’s going on and wraps up in an epic manner. But again, for the most part—I’ll get to that in a bit.

The music is pretty good. It can get a bit monotonous as there aren’t that many songs in the soundtrack but the songs are pretty good. But again, for the most part.

The design is pretty interesting as it goes for a cartoony feel. Cutscenes show the characters talking with one another similar to games like Fire Emblem. And there are little details that get thrown in as well, like enemies popping up before a fight and disappearing afterwards that are nice to look at. Overall, the design is nice. But again, for the most part.

Seems like a bit of a theme with those three, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a reason for that. In my opinion, all three have the same fundamental problem: they are missing little details that would add polish and pizazz.

Defender's Quest - Meet the Dragon | oprainfall

I don’t understand why the healer Bakal isn’t emoting properly here.

I did say that design did do some little things right with the background. However, when it came to the Fire Emblem-like cutscenes, the expressions were rather Fire Emblem-like. They did show some emotion but I feel that it could’ve gone even farther.

For music, it was a technical annoyance that brought it down. You know how developers will loop songs in games to help the emersion last longer? Well, Level Up Labs tries to but seems to miss the exact spot with pretty much every song. And it starts right at the title screen with a jarring miss on the loop. This takes out from the experience and, coupled with the over-repeated themes, causes me to mute the sound all together.

As for the story, it seems like the dialog was jumbled. It fit for the characters but sometimes felt out of place for what appeared to be a medieval setting. Instead of helping tell the story, a character would try to force a joke. The guys at Level Up Labs are pretty funny (you can see that on the official site for Defender’s Quest), but it seemed like they would be trying to hard for a laugh.

Defender's Quest - There Be Dragons | oprainfall

Markos always wanted to say that… No, seriously, that was the next line.

But, despite the faults that these three aesthetic aspects brought to the game, there was one thing that I found was totally worth the asking price: the gameplay. I could not find a fault with the gameplay.

Gameplay works like this. Azra, acting as the tower you have to defend, summons and powers up her supporting cast with Psi. In addition, you need certain classes to combat specific enemies, like Knights against armored enemies. And the Revenant you face are varied and take advantage of the layouts of the stages, such as swimming enemies using rivers and lakes instead of the normal path.

Defender's Quest - Battle Screen | oprainfall

Outside of gameplay, characters can be upgraded through skill trees, with each character class having class specific abilities such as Regen and Speed for Berserkers, Range increase for Rangers, Armor Break for Knights, and Devour for Dragons. You can also hire more of each class—you’ll have one core supporting character for each class that will be a part of the story with up to 6 total characters per class—with prices going up with every character you recruit. I like all of this.

You can also adjust certain aspects of the game to make it harder to beat the game or make it easier to beat the tougher achievements. You do this by adjusting the amount of XP and Scrap (currency in the underground) earned in game as well as what penalties are enforced for either failing a level or having a character not be in a level. Having it on default settings, you should be able to get through the standard game in 15-20 hours.

And once you’re done with the main game, there is a New Game+ mode that ramps up the difficulty, which includes new abilities for the enemies like regeneration, resistance to certain attack types, and becoming invisible for a little bit. If you’re a completionist, you will need to go through New Game+ in order to earn all 201 Gold Stars in the game. These stars are earned through playing the 67 star levels in the game (30 in the standard, 37 in New Game+) at all three difficulty options that appear pre-battle. Fair warning, I’ve played a little over 40 hours of the game and still haven’t hit the halfway point.

Defender's Quest - Explanation | oprainfall

Bakal explaining why Azra can defeat the enemy Revenant.

So, with all the wonderful things that gameplay brings, does it offset the issues with music, design, and story? Yes and no. It doesn’t convince me that this is something worth buying at the full $15 because it lacks polish. Sure, it is a game done by a small time indie developer. But at this moment in time when it is easier than ever to make and sell a game, you need to have a bit of polish on every part of the game, even in a budget title.

But I do feel that Defender’s Quest is good. The gameplay is strong and works very well. And New Game+ definitely adds a good amount of challenge. It may not be worth the $15 price but it is good enough for a sequel.

Defender's Quest II Teaser

Oh yeah, there’s a second game coming soon called Defender’s Quest II: Mists of Ruin. According to the game’s site, they plan on creating better cutscenes, a cleaner interface, better equipment and battles, and more interesting choices. Level Up Labs is actually crowdfunding this game on their website. So far, they’ve collected about $12,000 in pre-orders and donations. If you’re interested in this series, I suggest donating. Payments can be done through either PayPal, Amazon, or Google. For a $15 donation, you can get a Steam key and a DRM-free copy of both Defender’s Quest and Defender’s Quest II—pretty much $7.50 per game, $3.75 per copy. That’s a great deal.

So, Level Up Labs, I commend you on your game. And I hope for good things to come in Defender’s Quest II. Just make sure that the polish is there this time around.

Review Score
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com

Review copy purchased by the author.

About Jeff Neuenschwander

Jeff has been a supporter of the website and campaign since the beginning. Joining in for E3 2012, he worked his way up the ranks quickly, making it to the Editing Manager post at the beginning of 2013. Jeff has a wide variety of tastes when it comes to gaming and pretty much likes anything that is quirky, although his favorite genres are Action, Platforming, and RPG. Outside of gaming, Jeff is a musician, being trained as a trombonist for Jazz and Classical music, and holds a degree in Sound Recording.