|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: January 26, 2016|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Sean Engemann
With Marlboros and Chocobos, Time Mages and Dragoons, Hi-Potions and Phoenix Downs, on the surface Final Fantasy Explorers appears to be another chapter in Square Enix's venerable franchise. However, after taking your first few steps and completing the tutorial missions it becomes plainly obvious that the gameplay design is derived almost entirely from the Monster Hunter playbook. It’s near impossible not to draw comparisons to Capcom’s mammoth creature slayer that has garnered huge Western profits, so I won’t. I will instead showcase where Final Fantasy Explorers stumbles in its doppelganger attempt, and where it shines.
One huge staple that has been stripped away is the story. Final Fantasy games are by far one of the greatest venues to find epic tales woven around enticing and memorable characters. Here, the backdrop portrayed is grandiose, with nations on the brink of a global resource war over the precious crystals that fuel the entire planet. A remote island has yielded rumors of a Grand Crystal, thus calling forth Explorers from across the globe to claim it and be showered with wealth and fame. Yet for all that backstory bluster, your meagerly customized character lacks any personality, and acts solely as a vessel for you to send out on missions and tango with monsters. In the port town of Liberatas, the townsfolk and visitors do little more than provide tidbits and useless banter. There is no emotional commitment to cleansing the island of its monstrous denizens, just the lust to make yourself more powerful and forge new weapons.
In this respect, however, Final Fantasy Explorers does manage to dangle a succulent looking carrot in front of you, keeping that string just long enough that you keep reaching out to grasp for more resources to purchase useful goods, forge better equipment, and bolster abilities to overpowered proportions. There are plenty of ways to make your socially meager character a force to be reckoned with. The vast selection of job classes to choose from allows you to fashion a tank, healer, support, or damage dealer, with the ability to swap between saved presets quickly and easily. Sadly, you are restricted to just a few to start, and it will require dozens of hours and many missions to unlock the entire roster. Also, support and healer classes are difficult choices to begin with, as you are flying solo without much in your repertoire to stand tall against wandering enemies.
Fortunately, maneuvering around the three-dimensional world is made simpler through intuitive camera controls. Locking onto and switching between targets, snapping the camera to behind your back, and manually controlling it via the control pad or secondary analog stick (Circle Pad Pro or "nubbin" on the New 3DS), are all well designed and smoothly integrated. The menu screens, though vast, are nicely compartmentalized with plenty of filters to sort through your growing inventory of equipment and skills. Liberatas is a compact town with all the shops and amenities a mere few seconds' jog away. With all the time you could take customizing your character, swapping between shops and getting back to hunting is never a lengthy chore.