Over a decade ago Final Fantasy fans were presented with an odd spinoff. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles used a much more action-oriented, real-time combat system. The big hook was allowing friends to venture together in a static world, not unlike your typical online role-playing game.
Final Fantasy Explorers offers the same quest-driven gameplay with a threadbare story and piles of loot to collect and craft. Online multiplayer lets you play together with up to three other explorers using a variety of classic Final Fantasy classes such as Black Mage, Knight, and Ranger. Fans of Crystal Chronicles and online RPGs may find some enjoyment, though the action can quickly grow repetitive if playing alone.
Most RPG fans will admit they love the genre for the story. Final Fantasy Explorers eliminates just about any pretense of story or characters. Your customizable avatar operates out of the safe haven of Libertas. Your goal is to collect crystals, the generic sacred items of the world, as well as hunt Eidolons, which is a fancy word for big boss monsters.
The world is connected through a series of zones. Some zones are large open areas filled with monsters. Others are a series of networked caves or forest trails, often ending in a boss lair.
A simple quest system provides you with a new task every time you go out hunting. I found it aggravating that I could only handle a single quest at a time. An early game airship and instant teleport home upon completion were welcome additions, however.
It’s fun to encounter familiar enemy types and big bosses that crop up in every Final Fantasy game, like chocobos and Ramuh. Regular foes fall quickly to a few coordinated strikes. The real meat lies in taking on those big boss fights.
Eidolons are large, intimidating foes with tons of health and flashy attacks. Having a coordinated team dance around and fire off abilities shows off what Final Fantasy Explorers does best. Though the magic wears off when you return for your third and fourth beat-downs.
Much of the gameplay is spent running from foe to foe, mashing the attack button along with your selection of customized abilities. Skills are tied to your equipped weapon, forcing each character to specialize. It works well when you can find a balanced team online. Playing solo makes certain classes, like the healing focused White Mage, a chore to play.
Up to eight skills can be equipped. Skills can vary wildly depending on the weapon set. A monk can teleport to deliver a punch while a ranger can charge a powerful piercing shot. Unleashing skills powers up a Crystal Surge meter, which can unleash a variety of new effects, further customizing your skills with new powers.
Rarely you can acquire monster-souls. These souls, called atmalith, let you bring some monstrous companions along when going solo. There’s an interesting though needlessly complex system of fusing and leveling them up. Ultimately they’re a poor choice compared to playing online with others.
Final Fantasy Explorers has been rated E for Everyone by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, and Mild Suggestive Themes. Enemies disappear as soon as they’re slain, and there’s no blood or gore. Everything feels incredibly tame compared to most Japanese RPGs. Online interactions are not rated, but players can only interact using a pre-defined selection of responses.
If you’re looking for a solid JRPG on the 3DS, keep looking. Final Fantasy Explorers is much more Monster Hunter than Final Fantasy. Your primary goal is to kill stuff to get better loot to kill bigger stuff – a classic feedback loop that can remain fun if you enjoy the combat. I found every regular encounter to be mind-numbingly simplistic, with the only satisfying challenges found in the large boss battles.
Playing online can be much more enjoyable, provided your group actually sticks together and accomplishes the quest. Final Fantasy Explorer’s world is just too bland and combat too mundane to keep me invested for the long-term.