If you’re a fan of the Final Fantasy games (like me), then you will know about the over-the-top summoned monsters that the series is known for. Gorgeous visual effects and powerful abilities are trademark characteristics of these magical entities. However, things are changing with Square Enix’s ongoing role-playing series. Final Fantasy Explorers for Nintendo 3DS has you battling the fabled summons of the Final Fantasy universe rather than calling them to your aid.

Hands-on time with Final Fantasy Explorers let me assess the new direction the franchise is taking on Nintendo 3DS. When it’s officially released next year, the game will be playable with up to four people. I played assisted by computer-controlled allies. My quest took me to a volcanic environment to hunt down the legendary summon monster Ifrit, a staple of the Final Fantasy series. But this won’t be the only setting players will explore. The environment will change depending on the summon monster you hunt in the final game.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy Explorers is similar to the Crystal Chronicles series. It also takes inspiration from Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise. Characters can equip various weapons, armor, and abilities based on character classes from classic Final Fantasy titles. A warrior or thief can choose various melee weapons. A black or white mage will instead cast various forms of magic. There are more than 10 different classes to choose from. The final game promises to have many more that series veterans may remember, offering a wide range of ways to play the game.

Exploring the game’s vast environments is both whimsical and somewhat lonely. Monsters from throughout the Final Fantasy universe populate each area you explore, but never in large numbers. You can battle against monsters and even capture them to use as allies against bigger foes. Most of my time, however, was spent roaming the wide-open areas in search of my target. Even if you have the ability to run faster than normal, it still takes time to get around during a quest. (The final version of the game will have environments of different sizes, so there will be some shorter journeys.)

When I finally engaged Ifrit in combat, the game’s pacing picked up drastically. Avoiding Ifrit’s fire-based attacks required fast thinking and quick reflexes to counterattack. Depending on the class you select, fighting the summon monsters will be different each time you play. As a warrior, I needed to constantly be close to Ifrit to unleash a barrage of attacks and maintain control of the battle. Other classes may require you to keep a safe distance away and deal damage over time using ranged attacks.

Each attack or spell you cast will help build up a Limit meter over time. This can transform you briefly into one of many legacy Final Fantasy characters. This changes up the attacks and available abilities and provides a massive boost to stats. At one point during my battle with Ifrit, I gained the ability to change into Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII and use his legendary Gunblade attacks against Ifrit. The difference in strength and power was noticeable and allowed me to deal massive amounts of damage. The final game will have more options to influence the kind of legacy character you can transform into, which is based off the class you choose and the items you equip.

While I was focusing on my role in battle, my computer-controlled allies definitely contributed to the success of the quest. My allies would heal me when I was in trouble. They also distracted the enemy while I charged up attacks. They even gathered items on the ground while I was preoccupied with fighting.

After a long battle, I finally damaged Ifrit enough to bring it down and complete the quest. Successfully slaying the target rewards you with items to create new weapons and open up new character classes. This follows a similar formula to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, which has a system of gear and weapons built from items gained through slaying enemies. However, my time with Final Fantasy Explorers didn’t offer any insight into the main story or how the events of the game fit into the Final Fantasy universe.
final fantasy explorers

Final Fantasy Explorers has a lot of great things that fans of the role-playing series should look forward to. While the game borrows elements from other titles of varying genres, everything works well together to provide a unique experience. It will be interesting to see just how good 4-player cooperative play online will be in the final version of the game. Square Enix will release Final Fantasy Explorers in North America on January 26, 2016 for Nintendo 3DS.

Nicole Tanner

Nicole Tanner

Nicole has been playing games her entire life. Now that she's a mom, she's passionate about promoting games as a healthy pastime to other parents around the globe. She has been an editor at IGN, where she launched and hosted the Girlfight podcast. In her spare time (which is not very much, honestly) she enjoys gaming, reading, and writing fiction. Most of the time she’s a mom to a crazy, intelligent, and exhausting little girl.