Following in the footsteps of Final Fantasy "tribute" titles like Theatrhythm and Dissidia, Final Fantasy Explorers offers fans lovely homages to the series' past, all while offering a new gameplay experience. Instead of tackling rhythm-based gameplay or fighting-based gameplay like in Dissidia, Explorers offers itself up as an entry into the popular monster hunting sub-genre as either a single player or multiplayer experience.
For those unfamiliar, in this type of game you will be tasked with completing tiered quests and sub-quests, which in turn gain you items that you can use to enhance your character. You will also gain access to periodically harder quests and items allowing the cycle to repeat. It means that there isn't much story to latch onto, as it's more gameplay focussed in this genre, so that could be seen as something of a disappointment for those expecting Explorers to stamp a strong narrative into proceedings. Still, it does offer some slight exposition and there is plenty of content to dive into.
You start off as a freelancer with only your standard attacks to save you from dying. Even the town in which you end up living, Libertas, is completely closed off to you and can only be unlocked by completing tutorial missions that are offered up by Cid. These are very helpful as some of the mechanics in Explorers are quite unique and in general they don't overstay their welcome when they crop up throughout the game.
In your town, there are a few characters which help you on your way. They offer your character information on their various sightings throughout the world and act as vendors to help you get stronger. Most of the time, their sightings lead to new magicites that you need to defeat, but their simple statements about the magicites they spot is about all you get story-wise. That's not to say they don't talk, far from it. They each have unique personalities, but don't really offer the kind of weight that returning Final Fantasy characters had in games like Dissidia, so it may frustrate fans who enjoy revisiting the old characters of the series.
With that being said though, a lot of the homages to the series exists within the gameplay. First and foremost, there is the inclusion of job classes of which there are many. Starting out, you have the basic classes like Knight, Monk, and White/Black mage and as you complete quests, more job classes unlock. Trying out the various classes is fun when you play with friends in co-op, but some of the jobs would get quite tiresome if you're playing solo. Even when trying to play as a Knight, you might struggle with your lack of damage and bosses may be a bit testy when attempting to get through the game. It's a tad disappointing, but it would have been difficult to tailor the game to work as efficiently for single player and multiplayer. It means if you're struggling, even if you're playing with two people, you might want to try different job combinations. Either that, or you need to farm missions, earn enough gil to replace your equipment and get better skills.
Magicites (or "summons" for the more experienced folk) also offer a nice tribute to the series' past. You can obtain classic monsters in the series like Ifrit and Shiva along with Final Fantasy characters like Cloud and Squall. These are accessed through the game's trance system and offer some heavy damage to those evil main quest bosses. Accessing your summon or "Trance" is as easy as filling up your trance bar. You can do so by landing abilities and with the trance mode you can use super surge attacks like Hellfire with Ifrit and Omnislash with Cloud. These are pretty damn helpful when you find yourself fighting bosses with a lot of health and can save you from failing your quests when in a pinch.
Even without the trance mechanic being actioned, you can also use Crystal Surges. Again, by landing abilities you will gain resonance and when you get enough, you can perform a Crystal Surge. These help to enhance abilities and the beauty is that if you're playing with friends, you can stack Crystal Surges on top for massive boosts. Some of them can also hinder you a little, such as 1,000 Needles, where everyone, including foes does 1,000 damage. If you're pretty hot with your evasion, then this can obviously be a good thing. Otherwise, perhaps it isn't so great.
Obtaining higher level equipment can be done through a weapons forging system. You find the items needed to create a specific weapon or piece of armor and then you have it forged, simple. This requires a lot of extra work though so if you're not fussed with completing certain quests over and over again, you might find this goal to be a bit tedious. You will often need quite a few items and you can only get a handful per quest, so it does mean you will end up repeating quite a few missions to get some of the good gear. It's just an expected part of the genre and some people really enjoy this part.
Abilities can be learnt through using CP, which is gained through completing quests. You can equip various skills depending on your job class, but you can only equip 8 abilities at a time to use out on the field. With this being said, it's very hard to know which abilities would be best, but generally you'll find that you have certain favorites. Cure spells, for example, are pretty much a staple spell for players unless you're in a big group and can have a dedicated mage. You won't, however, be able to access certain job class specific skills, but being that certain essential skills are available to every job class, this doesn't matter too much.
If you're feeling a bit lonely or need some extra help in battle, you can enlist the help of monsters which you can also forge for thousands of gil. Of course, you'll only get access to certain monsters by obtaining the correct items to do so and unfortunately, they don't give up those items too easily. So if you want that cute little fiend you found out in the field, you might need to attack a load of them before you get the right item. Even though they're supposed to be helping you, a lot of the time you might feel it best to complete a task on your own anyways.
The AI is often quite poor, seeing multiple monsters bunching up. They are not really aware of their surroundings and you may find that they walk straight into oncoming spells thus rendering them useless during an intense battle. They do offer you some help when lowering the enemies' health, but generally are best used as a distraction for bosses so as to save you some time and AP. Generally, the monsters feel a bit like an afterthought for if you don't have a complete group of friends and they don't end up enhancing the experience very much.
Being a 3DS game, the graphics are of a decent quality. The fact that you can customize your character's appearance is a nice touch although it's rare that you ever see your character up close. Some of the scenery can be quite bland looking, but overall, it's nothing out of the ordinary for Nintendo 3DS titles.
Veteran Final Fantasy composer Tsuyoshi Sekito offers some catchy tunes within Final Fantasy Explorers. The various areas within the game do have a sort of Nobuo Uematsu feel to them as they should considering Sekito worked closely with Uematsu when forming The Black Mages, Uematsu's now disbanded Final Fantasy focused rock band. There aren't really character themes of any sort as there aren't really characters, but when you unleash one of your Final Fantasy magicites on an enemy, you'll be able to hear battle music from their game playing which is quite exhilarating, but might not offer much to those who aren't familiar with the series.
Final Fantasy Explorers acts as a nice little tribute game and a good entry into the monster hunting genre. You will easily find yourself losing hours fighting against some familiar bosses and farming items to get some instantly recognisable weapons and outfits. It's best enjoyed with friends if you can get a little group you will enjoy thee experience a lot. However, if you do end up playing by yourself, you will also have to try and deal with the cumbersome monster ally AI and it might start feeling more like a chore. Still, if you want a quick Final Fantasy fix until some of the bigger guns surface this year, there's enough here to enjoy.
|Offers lovely odes to the Final Fantasy series|
|The Job Class system is really customizable and well executed|
|Although quests can be difficult, theyâ€™re oddly addictive|
|This is not a graphically stunning game|
|For those unfamiliar with the type of game, the gameplay can become quite boring and repetitive|
|The monster creation system couldâ€™ve been fleshed out a bit more|