Final Fantasy Explorers Review: A Promising Start

Final Fantasy has taken many forms over the years, varying from its RPG origins to more action-based games, puzzle games, rhythm games, and even fighting games. Final Fantasy Explorers, however, marks the first time this franchise has dipped its toes into the Monster Hunting Scene.

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Many games have tried to copy Capcom’s popular Monster Hunting formula, with varying degrees of success. Final Fantasy Explorers wears its inspiration on its sleeve with players taking missions in a hub town, roaming the world in search of prey, and collecting items to craft and upgrade equipment and armor. The game has traditional Final Fantasy elements, including the standard jobs and enemies, but at its core this is a game about hunting monsters.

Combat in Explorers is simple, running counter to Monster Hunter’s complex and convoluted weapon control schemes. Players are offered one attack button, which always pulls off the same slow combo. The meat of the combat, however, is in the skills. Skills can be unlocked via a currency known as Crystal Power (CP), and may be accessed at any time by holding down the L or R buttons.

Much like Final Fantasy XIV, the shoulder buttons change the functions of the face buttons to act as skills, allowing the player to hold eight skills at a time. These skills range from standard final fantasy spells and abilities, such as the White Mage’s cure or Dragoon’s jump, to oddities like the Machinist’s gun drone or the Geomancer’s “Hit & Run.” Some skills may be shared between jobs, but this isn’t strictly needed. Every job comes with its own set of skills that that work as needed.

What makes these skills special, however, is the Crystal Surge feature.

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Using abilities in FF Explorers builds up what is known as “Resonance.” Gain enough Resonance and you gain access to one of several randomly chosen modifiers, known as “Crystal Surges.” Crystal Surges cause a certain effect to happen for a short period of time, such as gaining a fire element on certain attacks or regaining health when using certain abilities. Some have incredibly strange effects, such as Tonberry Karma, which increases damage based on the number of enemies you’ve killed in a given mission. There is some manner of logic behind which Crystal Surge shows up where, but for the most part they are completely random.

Where this feature really becomes amazing, however, is in the fact that Crystal Surges can actually confer their effect onto certain skills. These are known as “Skill Mutations” and once earned, can be bought at the Crystal in the center of town for CP. Once a mutated skill has been bought and applied, future crystal surges will apply to that same skill, adding more and more mutations with every new skill level. These mutations also stack, strengthening the effect with each new stack.

It doesn’t take long for this to get absolutely broken.

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By the end of the game I had an energy beam which boosted my Resonance and grew stronger the more Resonance I had, a light heal which would remove debuffs and cast regen on me, a protect spell which would cast shell, a teleport punch which would remove buffs and boosted my resonance, and a counter which had a chance of instantly killing opponents. Between all that and the many other mutated skills in my arsenal, I was one-shotting virtually every enemy in the game and making short work of bosses.

This is not to say that Final Fantasy Explorers isn’t challenging (some of the bosses are can be very difficult) but that the game gives you all the tools you need to break it over your knee, or to make as difficult as you want it to be. The game eventually unlocks a mission modifier tool, where you can modify the difficulty of a mission to increase your chances of getting better rewards (or to simply give yourself a challenge). But at its core, Final Fantasy Explorers invites you to do just that: Explore, create, modify, and ultimately destroy anything in your way.

But let’s talk about the creation aspect for a minute.

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Final Fantasy Explorers features a basic, but effective, character creator allowing players to create their ideal customized avatar. The meat of the customization, however, comes in the armor, something Explorers has kindly brought over from Monster Hunter. Armor is divided into 3 categories (Heavy, medium, & light) and comes in 3 pieces (head, torso, legs) resulting in a variety of armor sets and styles.

Unfortunately, a good number of the armor sets are simply recolored/reworked versions of other sets. They have different accessories and slightly altered designs, but are clearly from the same base model. The game still has quite a variety of sets available, but the repeated sets feel cheap and stingy. Regardless, the armor in the game is quite good and you’re bound to find a few sets you enjoy.

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In a remarkably smart move, Square decided to let players upgrade individual stats for armor sets, meaning you can take basically any set to the end of the game if you’re willing to spend the materials and CP upgrading it. I personally took the Kingdom Set, a mid-game armor set, all the way to the final boss and beyond. This is also helpful for the game’s cameo outfits, which are unlocked early on and have decent, but not great, stats. This is a huge step up from games like Final Fantasy XIV, which had various pieces of FFXIII event gear that were all locked at level 13.

The game features a number of references and cameos to other Final Fantasy games and protagonists, including unlockable outfits and weapons, like the Buster Sword or the Godhands.  Most curiously of all, however, is the unlockable cameo summons. Protagonists from past Final Fantasy games can be equipped as summons, which will actually cause the player to turn into those characters during battle. These cameo summons also have their own special attacks, of course, but also play music from the game they came from.

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Of course, what’s a monster hunting game without monsters? The monsters in Final Fantasy Explorers take the form of Eidolons, with classic Final Fantasy summons like Odin and Ifrit making their appearance. The fights themselves are definitely the high point of the game, with each Eidolon having its own dungeon, battle theme, moveset, and arena. The Eidolons early on resemble one another a bit too much, but after a point they really start to stand out and set themselves apart.

Less good is the dungeons leading up to the Eidolons. Dungeons are made up of 3 rooms of randomly selected layouts, with random enemies in each room. Every dungeon, right up to the final boss, functions like this. Making matters worse is the fact that dungeons often share tilesets with one another, often simply recoloring/reworking an earlier tileset. The game makes the dungeon tilesets out to be unique early on, but quickly falls back on using the same few sets over and over.

This is ultimately the core of the problems with Final Fantasy Explorers: The game has a lack of variety in its content, and reuses content egregiously. Armor sets, dungeon layouts, most damning of all is the use of music. Outside of the Eidolon themes, Explorers seems to only have one battle theme and one boss theme. Coupled with how quick battles are and that the battle music only plays when an enemy notices you, it’s unlikely most players will hear more than the first 40 seconds of the battle theme, at most.

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Explorers also reuses missions liberally. Monster Hunter also has problems with reusing missions (with slight changes) but Explorers does it constantly. It also consistently places artificial bottlenecks throughout the game.. Certain items can only be crafted with special quest rewards that only drop once per quest, meaning players interested have to replay the mission as many times as items needed.

To put this in perspective: Crafting Sephiroth’s outfit requires 10 Jenova cells, an item which only drops from a Shiva refight quest (which only unlocks after beating Shiva at least once). In order to craft that one outfit, a player would have to fight Shiva no less than 11 times. This feels like an incredibly cheap way to pad out the gameplay and make the game last just a tiny bit longer.

The game’s worst crime, however, is how bad the camera is. To put it simply, it’s ass.

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The camera works against you every step of the way in Explorers. In town, it swings about drunkenly and suddenly enough that it genuinely makes me feel motion sick after a while. On the field, it gets caught up on every obstacle and will respond to walls by looking straight down, jumping between the two angles with little to no transition. Monsters in your party will group up behind you, with larger monsters blocking your view and forcing their ass in front of the camera.

The lock-on is somehow even worse than the camera itself. In theory, the lock-on should target the nearest enemy in view. In practice, the lock-on will often swing your camera about wildly, sometimes ignoring nearby enemies in favor of a random enemy  5 miles to your left. It often glitches out as well, as I’ve found instances where the camera will reposition itself in a totally different direction the moment an enemy dies and it breaks lock-on. It also defaults to locking onto bosses when one is present, forcing the player to use the touch screen in order to lock-on to smaller enemies.

The Circlepad Pro/C-stick are supported, which alleviates the camera problems somewhat, but it’s still bad enough to genuinely make me motion-sick.

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Graphically, Explorers is a bit of a mess. The effects in the game are stellar, and the Eidolons are all beautifully modeled and animated. The character models and environments, however, often leave something to be desired. The character proportions are weird and slightly too realistic for the super-deformed style they’re going for, the textures are often grungy and blurry, and the constant reuse of tilesets just gives you more opportunities to notice faults in the environment. The game does not look good enough to justify how poorly it runs even on a New Nintendo 3DS, and I was left with the feeling that they maybe should have toned down the visual effects and spent some more time on the textures/environments.

As for the sound, Explorers does have a rather enjoyable soundtrack. The real weak point of it is that there’s not enough unique music, especially in terms of environmental and battle music. Dungeons and transitional areas use the same 3-4 tracks over and over, with the same holding true for the major overworld areas. The single battle theme truly does grow tedious over time, and it would have been a smart idea to compose a second theme to ease the burden on players’ ears. The Eidolon themes are the only truly unique sets of music, and even they can get tedious and tiresome when you have to repeat a fight 11+ times.

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Ultimately, Explorers feels like a promising start. The Crystal Surges and skills are fun and make Explorers feel distinct from its monster-hunting brethren. In addition, the jobs bring with them all the charm of traditional Final Fantasies, and give the game a decent amount of replay value. Unfortunately the lack of variety and reused content drags the game down, and the camera is actually bad enough to trigger motion sickness. I’m interested to see them iterate on these ideas in a potential sequel, but as it is, I’m having a hard time recommending people pick it up.

All that being said, I’m some 40-odd hours in and will probably play more once this review is up. So if you’re interested in it and don’t mind taking a risk, go for it. Explorers is a weird little thing with a lot of problems, but at the end of the day it’s still a fun little game with lots of heart.

Final Fantasy Explorers can be bought from Amazon, Gamestop, or other retailers. A limited edition version including a soundtrack and artbook was sold on Square Enix’s website, but has since sold out.

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