Final Fantasy Explorers
- Street Date:
- January 26th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Sophia Edwards
- Review Date:1
- January 28th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Square Enix
- Racjin, Square Enix
- ESRB Rating:
- E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)
Physical 3DS version reviewed. This review contains no spoilers.
'Final Fantasy Explorers' represents Square Enix's take on the hunting subgenre popularized by games such as 'Monster Hunter'. Released in Japan in December 2014, the game is finally available in the West.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
I absolutely adore 'Monster Hunter', having put hundreds upon hundreds of hours into the series, but I didn't always feel that way about it, trying and failing to enjoy every entry on PSP before it finally clicked with me when I played 'MH3' on Wii. It's always been an increibly tough series to enjoy, and it definitely scares a lot of people of. I think that's part of why I respect what 'Final Fantasy Explorers' accomplishes as much as I do. It takes an incredibly complicated genre and makes it immediately accessible without stripping itself of the complexities that can make these games so compelling.
It's extremely difficult to talk about 'Explorers' without bringing up 'Monster Hunter', because this game clearly owes a great debt to Capcom's storied franchise, but part of the reason this works is because it uses a working template and tweaks it in way that makes 'Explorers' its own thing. The core loop of it all is simple: Playing as an Explorer that you'll create and customise to your liking in the town of Libertas, you're tasked with taking on a variety of jobs from the townsfolk that usually boils down to "kill X monster", and while that can sound dreadfully boring, the combat and job systems really help keep things fun. There are over 20 classic 'Final Fantasy' job classes that you can choose, and for the large part, they feel very different from one another. A monk will focus on fistfighting, allowing players to counter attacks, teleport to enemies, and generally beat down enemies with speed rather than raw strength, whereas a Machinist (my personal favorite) will rely instead on attacking with firearms, performing targeted shots that can cripple or instantly kill foes, or setting up "gun drones" that will attack as the player does, leading to double damage. While some jobs can feel samey, there's enough variety here for just about any player to find something they'll love.
Combat really is where the game shines. The core system is simple, consisting of basic attacks and skills largely unique to each class. SP is used for sprinting and skills, while using basic attacks will make SP regenerate faster, so careful SP management is key. As skills are used, the Resonance Gauge is built up, and when it reaches a certain point, players can activate Crystal Surge, which allows you to temporarily buff characters and skills. For instance, buffs can imbue your skills with fire damage, or allow you to cancel skills mid-animation and link them to other attacks to deal increased damage at a faster speed. Furthermore, using skills while in Crystal Surge unlocks permanently improved skills, such as giving an attack an upgrade that always gives it a chance to stun enemies, and using these upgraded skills again in Crystal surge allows you to upgrade them even further, bestowing multiple improvements or just heavily improved versions of one buff, the game even allows players to rename these skills and trade them between each other. It's a complex system that sounds less approachable than it really is, and it allows for a great deal of depth and customizability in the long run.
The game's many boss battles with Eidolons such as Ifrit and Shiva are a major highlight. They don't have the complex AI seen in 'Monster Hunter', but each fight is tough, and encourages cooperation between players. Every Eidolon fight is repeated eventually, but the game smartly changes their fighting styles later on, mitigating repetition. Granted, repetition is part and parcel with the genre, with how reliant these games are on gathering materials to make new weapons and armor, and while the accessibility of the whole package definitely makes it more bearable, it's definitely something worth bearing in mind for those who aren't already familiar with hunting games.
Additionally, there's a Trance system which lets players transform into classic Final Fantasy Characters or Eidolons and utilize their skills for a brief period in combat. It's a really neat little system, and the music in game will change to the battle theme of the game each character is from, I admit that hearing 'FF8' music the first time I transformed into Squall made me a little giddy.
Co-op is the biggest draw here, allowing up to 4 players to form a party online or locally and complete quests together. The game is perfectly playable in single player, and even features a rudimentary monster capturing mechanic that allows you to use enemies as AI allies, but it definitely doesn't feel quite as fun without anyone to play with.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
By far the game's biggest weakness. 'Explorers' is by no means ugly, though dull environments and incredibly basic character models ensure the game never looks partiularly good. Eidolons are lovingly rendered and animated, and that definitely leads to more exciting fights, but the rest of the game isn't terribly noteworthy, visually.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
There's a pleasant, if not terribly memorable soundtrack here that definitely goes a long way towards making the game feel like a more authentic 'Final Fantasy' experience, and the usage of older series battle tracks at times is really great. There's incredibly light voice acting, but it doesn't add much to the game, overall.
As with all games in the genre, there's enough content to easily last hundreds of hours provided players are OK with repetition. With dozens upon dozens of weapons and outfits to craft, over 20 jobs to play as and master, and loads of monsters to fight and capture, it'll take a long time to run out of things to do.
'Final Fantasy Explorers' won't replace 'Monster Hunter' as king of its genre anytime soon, but what's here is an infinitely more accessible game that does more than enough to set itself apart from others like it. It takes a little while before all of its mechanics are fully revealed, and the repetition will be a turnoff for many, but it's an incredibly fun game overall. An extremely strong start to a promising series, here's hoping we see Square Enix give this formula another shot soon.
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