Final Fantasy Explorers can easily come across as a Monster Hunter clone dressed up in the trappings of Final Fantasy’s past, but sadly it lacks the depth both visually and in content offered from the Capcom franchise.
Upon creating your character, you’ll arrive in Libertas village to learn about becoming an explorer and after talking to a few characters you are set on your path to glory. That’s pretty much the entire setup here as the title doesn’t have much in the way of any true narrative. You’ll have some conversations with characters here and there, do missions for them and listen to their stories about some crystals on the island, which does eventually pay off, but doesn’t look to satisfy anyone looking for some sort of traditional story here. You’ll learn about the area and the dangers that lurk just outside the village, but that’s about it.
Since there is no real narrative context here pushing you to some sort of goal, it is up to the quests themselves to give you some sort of purpose. Sadly, the quests offered here are your typical kill and fetch type objectives. You’ll hear about some new monster in an area you’ve yet to explore, and head out there to vanquish said beast. You’ll come back to town, hear how great you are, and have access to new items, jobs and quests. This whole process repeats for the entire experience, until eventually the arrival of fresh content and new areas come to a screaming halt. After about 10-12 hours, I felt like I had seen it all.
The quests are fairly generic and their objectives repeat often. Each mission has a timer that varies on the task, but I never felt rushed for time. If you die, you can use some of that time remaining to revive yourself and continue where you fell. I only found that during boss encounters would my health even drop in the slightest. You can handicap your missions at their start with things like “do 50% less damage” or “don’t use items”. I never selected any of these options as I just never found the desire to needlessly make the game more difficult for myself, some missions, however; lock in a few of these to raise their difficulty.
Most of the time you are tracked with hunting down one of the dozen Eidolon’s that are found on the island. These are typical of Final Fantasy lore and are more commonly known to fans of the series as ‘Summons’. Most of them have the same basic attacks, and while some of the fights are well designed they ultimately lose their charm after you’ve been sent to kill the same one again and again and again. You can also capture their essence in a sort of Pokemon style ‘trap them at low health’ mechanic called Encasing, this allows you to summon their immense power in a fight.
Keeping some of the variety alive in the game is the job system. You’ll be able to pick from a large variety of jobs that allow for some serious fun as the combat is fluid and easy to pull off some flashy attacks. Jumping from the sky as a Dragoon or firing homing arrows as a Ranger, the 21 jobs this game offers allows for anyone to find their favorite. Each job class has their own set of abilities, with some magic skills like Cure and Regen being universal between the jobs. Mixing and matching over 300 abilities can give the combat a great boost in depth.
The battle system in the game is fairly easy to grasp. You have abilities, they need points to use and they refresh as your battle rages on. Use them in battle and you build up resonance, which once you have the required amount you can unlock Crystal Surges. These skills allow you to buff certain things like your attacks or speed. There is a bit more to the battle system, like Trance Abilities, where you can use heroes like Lightning and Cloud, and while fun, it’s your abilities and Crystal Surges that will take up most of your time within the game.
Weapons and armor play a huge factor in my enjoyment of a hack and slash game and while there is a solid variety of weapons and armor sets here, it’s not until much later on where you are earning the proper materials to craft the hero items. You can dress yourself up as Cloud, Rikku, Yuna and far more heroes throughout the Final Fantasy series. These items come with some incredible stats, but the grinding needed to earn these is staggering.
On your missions you’ll best a decent variety of monsters and beasts, and they have the chance to drop an item that allows you to breed them for battle. Once I unlocked the Black Knight, we pretty much destroyed all those in our way. I could always count on him to back me up. I was actually quite proud of his efforts during the last battle, cheering him on as I would fire my homing arrows from afar. The monsters you take with you will level up and become more powerful. If you play by yourself you can bring a few of them with you, or just one really strong one. You can mix and match the breeding of your creatures to craft stronger companions to accompany you.
While the game world itself isn’t packed full of interesting locales, the amount of running from area to area you’ll need to do is exhausting. After a short while in the game you’ll gain access to an airship, and while useful, the placement of compatible zones for the airship to drop you off still ensures that you’ll need to hoof it from area to area quite often. I found I took longer getting to my objective than the fight offered to me at my quests end. I also found it quite frustrating that sprinting takes up some of your AP gauge, leaving you to traverse at the already slow run speed to save enough AP for some of your attacks.
You can have up to 3 friends join you and the game does get a little harder the more people you pile in. Should you be party leader you can fill any open slots with one of your created monsters. Co-op really makes the game far less lonely as the areas you navigate are mostly filled with just a small handful of enemies and none of the in town characters are really memorable at all. Each player gets their own loot, so you don’t have to worry about things like the killing blow gets the best drops or other lame systems like that. Playing with 3 other players did affect the framerate in some more detailed areas, but it never got bad enough where we suffered because of it.
Visually the game is only slightly impressive, and does not have 3D support on Nintendo’s handheld. The Monster Hunter series, which this game seriously is looking to mimic, is far better designed and looks considerably better. The creature designs here range anywhere from basic to decent. The Eidolon’s look pretty nice, but never that intimidating. Environments are hit and miss with only a few being rather striking and the enemy placement within them just seems totally random. The music in the game is solid, but Final Fantasy is always on point for a great display of its music. The camera here can get in your way quite often and those with the new 3DS will be able to control the camera a bit easier than those with an older model 3DS that doesn’t have the second circle pad.
Bottom line is if you are a Final Fantasy or Monster Hunter fan, then you might be able to find a little enjoyment out of this title. The fan service is very apparent here as not only can you summon your favorites to assist you in battle, but you can wear their outfits and essentially become them. The simplicity of the storyline, or rather lack of one, can make or break your view on the game as there isn’t anything narratively here to push you forward other than some conversations about the grand crystal or collecting the components to make that killer item at the shop. As much fun as I had with the title, I felt that my efforts felt mostly wasted and grabbing an objective at the quest desk felt more like a chore than anything else. If you can get past the repetitive nature of the game and its grind heavy focus, then this iteration of Final Fantasy just might be worth exploring.