There was a time in my life where I exclusively played games with “Final Fantasy” in the title. The tropes and characters of that fascinating world occupied my mind—and the margins of my notebooks—for most of elementary and middle school. Even some of the series’ unwarranted sequels and spin-offs have a special place on my shelf. Heck, I even have two copies of Final Fantasy X-2 in my house right now.
So I think it’s important to tell you that, from the point of view of a Final Fantasy superfan, Final Fantasy Explorers might be the most skippable entry in the series—and I’ve played Mystic Quest.
Set on an island host to a surprising amount of different climates, Explorers follows the customizable protagonist as he or she helps the port town Libertas discover new areas of the island while also hunting for the Grand Crystal. Even though the official description of the game talks about a “war over the greatest source of power in the world,” and “collect[ing] pieces of the Grand Crystal to provide energy for the planet,” none of those ideas are touched on in the game. The plot serves mostly as a delivery mechanism for the game’s quests.
Final Fantasy Explorers’ quests are best described by one of Libertas’ citizens. A man dressed as a knight told me, “I said that mission was important, but that was a lie.” Although he was referring to a specific quest, his statement was true for almost every task the game threw at me. Many are comparable to fetch quests usually reserved for MMO’s, asking me to kill X amount of creatures or snatch up Y amount of items.
The most thrilling missions are ones where you’re fighting eidolons, hulking creatures like Ifrit, Shiva, and Ramuh that have been series staples for more than 25 years. However, the significance of battling such iconic figures is diminished by how many times you’ll fight the same boss over and over again. I fought Ifrit no less than a half dozen times, with those dull clashes sprinkled amidst repeated fights with other classic bosses. Many optional subquests even tasked me with taking on specific eidolons multiple times, as if the main missions didn’t demand enough of that already.
But I wouldn’t mind the repetitive missions if only Final Fantasy Explorers’ combat weren’t equally monotonous. Every engagement boiled down to mashing skills in order to fill up my Crystal Surge meter, which would allow me to enable a buff that would give me a chance to go for an easy kill. Eidolon fights went similarly, just requiring me to churn through that same method multiple times.
Every ability is customizable, but the process is random at best and confusing at worst. When a skill is used during a Crystal Surge, there is a chance the ability will mutate and get added to a pool of slightly enhanced abilities which can be purchased from the town hall. The same ability can mutate multiple times, which caused me to at one point have three abilities, each with slightly different traits, all titled “Blood Weapon 4.” Luckily the default name could be customized, but with the high rate of mutations, I never got so attached to a skill that I cared to alter what it was called.
Switching to one of the game’s more than 20 jobs is a good way to break up the monotony, but the change can get pretty cumbersome. Every time you pick a new job, you’ll have to reslot your equipment and skills. Also, changing jobs can feel like a step backward, since the only way to boost your stats is to grind for new abilities and gear rather than the usual process of leveling up (which you might expect from a traditional Final Fantasy game).
Explorers shines most when you’re controlling Final Fantasy characters of games past during Trance mode. Seeing chibi renditions of series veterans like Squall, Cloud, or Lightning was satisfying, and a lot of work was put into making each character fit their source material, every one sporting their own voice acting, theme music, and special attack. However, whenever I donned the helm of the series’ trademark heroes, my joy never came from anything Final Fantasy Explorers was doing—it came from getting to play as some of my favorite characters from the franchise. Final Fantasy Explorers’ use of nostalgia is effective, but blatantly exploitative.
One small saving grace is that, most of the time, Explorers is one of the most beautiful games on the 3DS. The environments range from snowy mountaintops to lava-filled caverns, and every one is intricately detailed. My only frustration with the game’s appearance is that it doesn’t support the three-dimensional display. The reason behind the lack of 3D support becomes obvious, though, when a large amount of spells fly. Explorers chugs along when more than a few flashy effects and large monsters appear on-screen, even on the New 3DS XL hardware.
Simply put, Final Fantasy Explorers failed at what it set out to do, which is something I’ve admittedly tolerated from other games in the series. Final Fantasy XIII’s clunky combat system, for example, made for an unpleasant playthrough, but at least it was attempting to impress. Explorers falls short because it’s afraid to step outside of its own simple trappings and is an exceedingly average game as a result.
Even though all of its individual pieces did their job, there wasn’t much that made me want to keep playing Final Fantasy Explorers. Even scenic landscapes and potent sentimentality can’t save the game from bland combat and repetitive missions.
Square Enix, Racjin
E – Everyone
|Final Fantasy Explorers is available on Nintendo 3DS. Primary version played was for Nintendo 3DS. Product was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.