Final Fantasy Explorers review

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 3DS
Publisher Square Enix
Developer N/A
Release Date Jan 26, 2016

Despite the name, Final Fantasy Explorers isn't really about breaking new ground.

Explorers takes its new-to-Final-Fantasy inspiration from grind-heavy resource-gathering action role-playing games like the Monster Hunter franchise. Instead of gaining experience points and leveling up as you work through an epic storyline, you simply become more powerful by fighting giant bosses over and over, and using their loot drops to build better gear.

While Final Fantasy Explorers' structure is borrowed, it's far from a total clone. Elements of Final Fantasy help make it both unique and significantly more accessible than other games of this variety. Whether or not that's enough to finally pull you in will depend on how many friends you have playing and just how much of a grind you can handle.

There's not a lot of plot here

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Final Fantasy Explorers is set on an island besieged by myriad mysterious monsters. You take on the role of a new traveler to the small port town of Libertas, which has become the tiny but bustling hub from which the rest of the island is being discovered and defended. Your quests task you with checking out new areas and defeating the creatures waiting there.

Plot shouldn't be your reason for playing Final Fantasy Explorers. There's something about a giant crystal tower that's sprung up in the middle of the island, but I'm going to be honest: There's not a lot of plot here, and I can remember even less. All that's here is the barest suggestion of a story to provide momentum for the rest of the game.

If you don't have a lot of experience outside of the standard RPG leanings of the Final Fantasy series, the preparation time between quests will likely be your biggest adjustment in Final Fantasy Explorers. Your character can swap to any of nearly two dozen classes between quests, but you'll need to create your own armor and weapons for each of those classes as desired. Rather than just purchasing armor from a shop, you must have it crafted by gathering materials from monsters while out on your quests.

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Sometimes this is easy. A basic sword, for example, may just take some iron ore that you can mine at the caves near town, along with a couple of common drops off of some low-threat goblins. But the deeper you get, the more complicated things become. Eventually I found myself hitting scenarios where I would need to play through a certain quest and fight a difficult boss five or even 10 times or more if I wanted to gather everything needed for my next major upgrade.

As someone who's grown increasingly enamored with Capcom's grindy Monster Hunter series, I didn't mind fighting the same monster a few dozen times over the course of 60 hours just to build the perfect armor set. And to its credit, Explorers' quests are generally a little shorter than those of the games it's drawing inspiration from, its movement and combat speed a little faster.

But it's still grinding. The core of this game is repetition. You're going to be exploring the same zones (with some minor randomly generated dungeon levels), fighting the same bosses, gathering the same materials.

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Final Fantasy Explorers uses one other system besides gear to keep each trip into the field entertaining and unpredictable. In addition to the huge number of classes available, the game has a massive and ever-expanding list of skills, many of which can be equipped across classes. Combat takes place in real time, but far from just hacking and slashing enemies, I had to strategically utilize the skills I equipped on each hunt in order to succeed.

Final Fantasy Explorers' skill system grows from interesting enough to fascinating and ambitious via a mechanic called Crystal Surge. As you pull off strings of skills during a quest, you build up resonance. Once you've banked enough resonance, you can spend it on a Crystal Surge, a special ability that will buff you and your teammates and, often, tweak the way skills work.

For example, during my tough first encounter with beloved Final Fantasy fire god Ifrit, I unlocked the "wind affinity" Crystal Surge. By activating it, I was able to give my sword-slashing skills special wind element attributes, adding to the damage I was doing. One of the wind-tinted sword skills was especially to my liking; after the quest, I actually had the option to purchase it as a completely new skill, independent and usable at any time without the Crystal Surge triggered. I was even able to create my own name for it.

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From here, that single skill can keep branching into more complex skills, with new attributes, over and over. It's a clever system, and one with a lot of depth. I fully expect to see people discovering new, wild, overpowered skills long after Final Fantasy Explorers' launch; it's a constant source of fresh, weird additions to its gameplay. Plus, you have the ability to share your uniquely crafted abilities with anyone else you play the game with.

Multiplayer is a huge focus of Final Fantasy Explorers. You can solo the game — it even has a fun little Pokémon-style subsystem where you can "capture" monsters and let them fight alongside you and level up. But the AI-controlled monster allies aren't smart or terribly powerful, which means you're probably going to want to venture online (or find some friends for local co-op play) eventually.

Explorers splits quests up by a star-based rating system, with one star being the easiest and 10 stars the hardest. By the time you're in the five- or six-star range, the game clearly assumes you're going to be playing with friends, and honestly, I'd recommend multiplayer even before that if you can.

On the plus side, Square Enix has made teaming up relatively painless. I was able to test several hours of online play during the review, and it ran very smoothly, aside from a few bizarre quirks to the user interface. You can set up a room that's public or private, jump into open rooms that friends have created, and take on quests both prior to and beyond your current solo story progress with no real issues. Everyone also gets their own loot, ensuring that you're not going to be lagging behind just because you're playing with buddies

Wrap Up:

Explorers is a strong start to a new take on Final Fantasy

The focus on cooperative multiplayer is just one of many ways in which this isn't a regular Final Fantasy game at all. It's Final Fantasy because of the character designs, the skills and the classes; the gameplay, however, is something different than the series has ever done. Likewise, there's a mountain of grinding and repetition that you must be comfortable scaling if you ever hope to enjoy the game. It's a lot to overcome, but Final Fantasy Explorers' fast pace and deep skill and class customization systems carried the experience for me. It's no Monster Hunter replacement, but it's a strong start to a new direction for the esteemed RPG series.

Final Fantasy Explorers was reviewed using a pre-release retail copy provided by Square-Enix. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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