Final Fantasy meets Monster Hunter.
2015 became a significant year for Square-Enix with the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, the demo of Final Fantasy XV, that one teaser piece of Kingdom Hearts 3 and subsequent rumors, and a myriad of other excellent pieces of news. Sequels, new IPs, you-name-its befell from Square for every console and every gamer. One, however, slid fairly under the radar for me, one that got swept away with the news of VII and Nier: Automata. That title, one of the first of these announcements to be released, was Final Fantasy Explorers.
Final Fantasy Explorers is a game that is unique to the series but certainly not to gamers. Explorers is the story of an adventurer – you – who wanders the island of Amostra in search of a way to access the giant crystal (the one sitting smack dab in the middle of your map). Through the guidance of Cid, and various other NPCs you meet along the way, you learn about the Eidolons protecting the crystals from humanity’s wastefulness, and you also learn of how to defeat them.
Gameplay in Explorers works very much like a Monster Hunter game. You accept a main quest from the counter in the hub town of Libertas. Quests are unlocked by completing other quests and speaking to NPCs. Once a quest is accepted, you can either exit through the front gates or hop onto an airship to drop you off in a field you’ve visited at least once before. Numerous quests are available throughout the game, but they all fall into one of a few categories: kill a certain number of enemies; gather so many items; slay an eidolon; reach a new destination in an unblocked area.
While gameplay certainly does become stale after 15+ hours of gameplay, Explorers offers content outside of main story quests. The additional content isn’t necessarily a significant number, but it tugs at your nostalgic heartstrings with expertise. For example, a good majority of the gear and weapons you can forge are relics from other Final Fantasy titles (I ran around in Sephiroth’s gear for a large portion of the game wielding Squall’s Revolver Gunblade). There’s nothing cooler than being able to craft gear based on your favorite items from previous games. That said, I was required to defeat Shiva ten separate times on one particular quest in order to obtain enough Jenova cells to craft my gear.
Once oriented, combat becomes easier, of course. You choose a job (there are over 20). I mainly stuck with the Dark Knight and dabbled with the Dragoon. You can assign eight abilities to your job, so you can strategize what skills you know you will use the most or which ones will be necessary for the upcoming battle. For example, when fighting Bahamut or Phoenix, it’s useful to have at least one ranged ability. Strategy itself plays into the game, too, as you can quickly change your job, unlock and equip skills (using CP, a type of currency alongside Gil you can earn by completing quests, subquests, and hunting monsters), and find what works best for you and the mission.
Eventually, after questing for a while, Cid explains how to use magicite – an item that is capable of absorbing an Eidolon. Once an Eidolon is captured, you have the option to equip it and use it in a crystal surge (these are a set of randomly selected boosters that you can use once you’ve raised your battle resonance high enough). Unlike your usual crystal surge abilities, the magicite skills can only be used while in a trance. And one of the coolest pieces of the magicite idea is that you can obtain more than just Eidolons. By completing certain tasks, NPCs award you with different magicite, so I quickly had Cloud, Squall, and Lightning to choose from. Even cooler, if you trance with a Final Fantasy character’s magicite, you battle as that character until your trance timer runs out (and if lucky, you can use that character’s crystal surge, which is each character’s ultimate limit break).
The last nifty feature included in Explorers is the ability to fill out your exploration party by creating monster companions. For me, this is huge. Monster Hunter and Ragnorok Odyssey both suffered in my eyes because I was required to have real-life companions to play with (especially the latter). Explorers still offers players the freedom to battle and explore Amostra with buddies, but should you have few 3DS friends or wish to play alone, you can – you just need to collect a monster’s altimith (a soul, if you will) and create them in the monster creation facility. You can have up to three monster companions in your party at once.
Now, with all of these awesome ideas, there are, as always, some negatives. As I mentioned, questing becomes stale relatively quickly. But even while exploring, you’ll only run into a set number of enemy types. You have your cactuars, tonberries, bombs, and malboros, of course, along with about 5-10 other enemy types. In order to offer variation, the game changes the name, sometimes the color, and appearances of the enemies, while adding slightly to their difficulty. It’s not a very original approach, but it’s certainly noticeable.
The difficulty in Explorers is not particularly challenging, either. The only time I failed a mission was the first time I attempted to complete the Dark Knight gear quests. The game allows you to resurrect either via a Phoenix Pinion item or by surrendering five minutes of your game clock – so you can essentially die three times comfortably (for the most part). Even then, I didn’t die often, and I was never actually required to switch my monster companions to their ‘stronger’ counterparts. You can, of course, set limitations on your quests to make them more challenging and yield more rewards, but it’s never necessary. I, however, always shut off my ability to use items.
Final Fantasy Explorers utilizes the popularity of its series brethren to create a fun, if easy, Monster Hunter style game that caters specifically to Final Fantasy fans. While missing the deep, narrative-driven style of play that Final Fantasy thrives on, Explorers offers a unique foray into the Final Fantasy universe.