On paper, Final Fantasy Explorers for the Nintendo 3DS sounds like a great idea. Take the best elements of the Final Fantasy franchise (jobs, classes, weapons, iconic characters, and great monsters and summons/eidolons) and mash them all together in a Monster Hunter-like game that puts focus on teaming with friends to take down the bigger threats to the world.
And while on the surface, all of that works, one thing sadly missing here is a story that is epic enough to carry the Final Fantasy name. Not every FF game spinoff has had an epic story, and that’s understandable. But Final Fantasy Explorers really has no story, and after getting many “chapters” into the game (and yes, they are still called chapters, even though there is no narrative), I began to realize that this was all there was — hunting monsters, collecting loot; rinse, repeat.
It’s not to say that Final Fantasy Explorers is a bad game, or even a lackluster game. Hunting marlboros and adamantoises and even eidolons like Ifrit and Odin makes for good time. The various jobs give players options to find a play style that suits them. It’s not all sword play. Black Mages cast offensive spells, White Mages heal and debuff, and Hunters are masters of the bow and the ranged attack. The different jobs help change up the constant monster hunting, which can be monotonous. And doing it over and over for loot drops and material to create new weapons and armor, and later on, unlocking iconic character costumes and weapons, like Sephiroth’s outfit and Squall’s gunblade gives a means to an end, but still the lack of a cohesive, wrap-around story hurts the overall package.
As the game progresses, the character can find a new power to channel the spirit of a classic FF character outright (not just wear their clothes and use their weapons), which acts like a spell with a set time limit. There is even a monster capturing/training component that is kind of neat, and monsters can be trained to fight alongside the hero, and even level up, then even combined, giving a new wrinkle of customization and team building. And the classic Final Fantasy terms, like gil and chocobos, and the use of the iconic fanfare when a quest is completed are very welcome.
What little story there is revolves around a hunter (the player) joining up with a guild to hunt monsters around the island of Amostra and to restore the crystals that are scattered all over. Most of the game can be done solo, but Square-Enix has also included a multiplayer element, both local and online, for players to link up and hunt together for bigger contracts and better loot. Unfortunately, like most multiplayer games on the 3DS, communication is done with emotes and not voice chat, making group hunts as frustrating as everyone freelances and trying to assign roles is a nightmare.
While playing solo, NPCs that the player interacts with give hints of a larger world beyond Amostra, but sadly the player never gets to actually see or partake in that hinted-at world. Amostra has different regions and there are multiple paths to explore to get to each location. Later on, airship travel is unlocked (another FF mainstay), but you never actually see the airship go, you just step on and BAM! you’re at the location.
All of this is fine until about 10 hours into the game when the player realizes that this is all there really is to do, and while I still find joy in hunting things and taking on higher-starred quests, my Final Fantasy-loving heart yearns for more — and I say this as a huge fan of the Crystal Chronicles series, which Explorers has been compared to.
Final Fantasy Explorers is fun game that will appeal greatly to rabid fans of the Final Fantasy franchise, but will wane quickly for those who don’t get excited by black mages in pointy hats, fighting odd-shaped cactuars, and those who don’t know what a “one-winged angel” is. The gameplay is solid and the music and graphics give Explorers the look, sound, and feel of a Final Fantasy game, sans the most important thing: a story.
Final Fantasy Explorers is available now for the Nintendo 3DS system. This review is based off a copy of the game purchased at retail.
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