Final Fantasy has never been a series that’s gone without. In fact, the franchise has become almost an annual one over the years. While 2014 saw no releases bearing the namesake, the series mounted a small comeback earlier this year with the launch of Type-0 HD. Although, its release was just a taste of what’s to come in 2016 — which is set to be possibly the franchise’s biggest in history. We will be getting Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy Explorers and likely World of Final Fantasy in addition to the next Dissidia game. Needless to say, it’ll be a great time to be a fan of Square Enix’s most prized franchise. Unfortunately, however, many of those games will go under the radar simply due to XV‘s release, which has been ten years in the making. One of those overlooked games may just be the 3DS action-RPG Final Fantasy Explorers.
Explorers is centered around a band of adventurers, from the rural town of Libertas, who hunt for crystals. Like in past games, crystals here are the source of life and civilization. The most major source of crystals, though, is the new island of Amostra. Unfortunately for our group of titular explorers, these island lands are roamed by gruesome beasts, making hunting said crystals something of a challenge. The narrative in Explorers doesn’t go much deeper than its premise from everything we’ve seen thus far — a quality odd for a Final Fantasy game, though one that’s not entirely unfamiliar to the series. Nevertheless, this is not a game meant to be played for its story. Instead, it emphasizes gameplay, and more specifically, combat above all else.
Explorers is a stylized ARPG that utilizes a chibi-like art direction (though not to the deformed degree of World of Final Fantasy), and in the way of gameplay is a crossover between Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles and XI, with a dash of Monster Hunter thrown in there to sell a few extra thousand copies in Japan. In other words, Explorers allows players choose their character class, one of a whopping 21 represented here — many of which are classic roles we’ve come to know and love — and sends them out into the wilds to topple bad buys and even bigger bad guys. Where Explorers is different from many of its franchise brothers, however, is in the fact that’s it features both single-player and multiplayer modes. Regardless of the mode, players start the game on an island featuring various explorable locations, but can access other areas beyond the island via foot travel. The main goal here is quite simple: collect crystals scattered across the world. Breaking from the tried and true Final Fantasy mold, Explorers follows a quest-driven structure similar to the aforementioned Crystal Chronicles, rather than that of the mainline entries which focus on narrative-driven events and missions.
This gives the game a more open-ended, “do as you will” approach, and one that hasn’t been seen in the series outside of the two MMOs and the previously talked about Crystal Chronicles. To hammer home that comparison to Monster Hunter, though, Explorers even lets players adjust the difficulty of their quests. Essentially, Explorers uses the premise of Final Fantasy but not the structure we’ve come to know. Because of this, we’ve really enjoyed the more sandbox-y, open-world approach seeing as series has traditionally been linear. To set itself apart from its predecessors even further, Explorers does not include any kind of rideable Chocobos. Despite all the terrain expected to be traversed, mounting our furry yellow friends isn’t a feature that made the cut this time around — something surely upsetting to long-time series enthusiasts. Though, being able to engage classic franchise enemies and summons is a great use of the series’ history, as are the almost two dozen character classes/jobs.
Speaking of jobs, the ones here — such as Black Mages, White Mages, Paladins, Dragoons, etc. — play an integral role in the overall experience, as they are at the heart of nearly all the gameplay has to offer. This gives the game its somewhat MMO-lite identity, and does much to cement it as a game that clearly is more concerned with empowering players to create characters that they connect with, rather than get them involved in some kind of serious narrative. But aside from these well-known jobs players can assume, there are also exclusive ones to Explorers. Players start the game as a Freelancer, learning various skills before choosing a job; so it’s very similar to Dragon Quest IX in that regard. Where the game’s customization and character depth are seen more specifically is in the 500+ different pieces of equipment available for creation from materials that are either found on the field or earned in combat. Furthermore, characters are given a maximum of eight skills to use in battle, and can further learn skills for certain jobs which can be used with other jobs when mastered, to create job hybrids of sorts. Like any good RPG, using these abilities costs magic points, but costs less if a character uses a skill aligned with their specific job. It’s a robust, but accessible, system that seems to be what the game’s hanging its hat on.
The real meat of Explorers‘ experience, however, is in its multiplayer mode. Here, a maximum of four players can use either the Nintendo Network or ad-hoc Wi-Fi to play alongside friends or strangers in order to tackle quests and baddies. Buddy’ing up and using teamwork is basically a requirement to trounce some of the most viscous foes. The action is fast and furious, but also teamwork- and gear-dependent. Those looking for a cooperative Final Fantasy game outside of the MMOs will want to give Explorers a try, especially since co-op isn’t a feature abundantly available in most Final Fantasy titles.
Final Fantasy Explorers is shaping up to be one hell of an action-RPG. There’s plenty of content, customization and modes available, giving folks yet another reason to keep their 3DS charged and ready to go. Moreover, Explorers is looking to offer one of the most robust multiplayer experiences this side of Monster Hunter. There’s a lot going for it, in the end, and plenty that we haven’t even touched on, from the use of beloved summons, to the cameo appearances from many of the series’ fan favorite heroes and heroines, to brilliant soundtrack and vibrant graphics. Final Fantasy Explorers launches on January 26 at the price point of $39.99 exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS.