Hating on Japanese RPGs was in vogue among game critics for a little while, but I’ve always been a fan. I grew up playing these games, after all! I’ll freely admit that my nostalgia goggles for this genre are pretty thick, especially when it comes to the Final Fantasy series. Naturally, when I saw that Final Fantasy Explorers was seeing a Western localization, I had to check it out. Today we’ll be taking a look at this Final Fantasy-themed action-RPG.
Explorers owes a lot to early lobby-based RPGs like Sega’s Phantasy Star Online. You and up to three friends team up to do quests that typically involve murdering the local fauna. Success leads to delicious rewards, failure leads to starting over back in town. The plot is an aside at best; you’re an explorer seeking to discover the secrets of a magic crystal. If you’ve played this sort of game before you know what to expect; the biggest alterations from this formula lie in gameplay specifics.
Given this is a Final Fantasy game, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that you’ll be signing up as one of the classic Final Fantasy jobs. You start with a pretty lackluster selection: you’ve got your swordsman, your martial artist, Black and White Mages and the Freelancer, which doesn’t do much for you until late in the game. You’ll select one of these, gear up as appropriate and get to questing. New jobs show up fairly quickly and are unlocked in numerous ways; many show up as quest rewards, but some are accessed through fulfilling achievement-style unlock conditions.
There’s actually a pretty decent selection of jobs when you’ve done some unlocking. Melee fans might enjoy the Paladin, Dark Knight or Ninja, while those who prefer ranged combat should try the Hunter or Machinist. Aspiring wizards have a wide array of casters to choose from; your standard Black (offensive) and White (defensive/curative) Mages are available right from the start, while Time Mages appear early on to provide buffs and damage and Red Mages mix White and Black magic with a splash of swordsmanship. More esoteric jobs include the Blue Mage, which is able to learn specific monster abilities after being hit by them, and the Alchemist, which manipulates the use of consumable items.
Customization goes further than just choosing your job, however. Successful play will allow you to use Crystal Surges, powerful temporary buffs that can pump up your whole party. Using your skills while under the effect of a Crystal Surge will impart some of that Surge’s power that you can use to modify those skills. A basic example is using Fire magic while affected by a fire-boosting Surge, which will allow you to further boost the magic’s Fire damage. You can do stranger things than that, though – curative magic can take on status-boosting attributes, for instance, allowing to have your basic Cure spell also provide shields, boost speed, regenerate health and increase evasion all at once. Learning abilities and modifying them costs Crystal Points, with CP costs increasing exponentially as you continue to modify a given skill. Since there aren’t any experience points or job levels here, obtaining new gear and modifying your abilities is the best way to become stronger.
Speaking of gear, you’re also able to customize the kit you’re using. There’s a basic crafting system in place here which works as you’d expect; slay monsters to get goodies and use those to make a fancy sword or whatever. Explorers lets you delve a bit deeper by adding new stats and powers to your gear using even more monster bits. Some of the best gear and upgrades come from defeating Eidolons, classic Final Fantasy monsters that serve as bosses in Explorers.
There are a couple other quirks here and there, including the ability to temporarily transform into classic Final Fantasy characters and a monster taming system. Explorers offers a lot of depth and lets you choose how far you’d like to take it. The best aspect to all this is that you can indulge in it with your friends; Explorers offers one of the best realizations of online connectivity on a Nintendo console. Hosting or joining a room is a painless – and nearly seamless – process that takes a matter of seconds. Online gameplay is generally smooth and pleasant, though expect some lag when a lot of action is going on; the 3DS is nice, but it’s definitely not the most powerful tech out there!
Explorers uses a chibi aesthetic which might be a turn-off to some players, but I found everything to be clear and easy to distinguish during heavy action. The Eidolons are the highlight of the game, as they often show unique takes on classic Final Fantasy characters; Ramuh, for instance, is a panther-wizard rather than just an old man! Naturally, tons of classic Final Fantasy staple creatures show up as well, from the beloved Chocobo to the terrifying Tonberry. Sound and music aren’t anything to write home about; in particular, certain voice options for your character can be extremely aggravating, though fortunately it’s free to change this whenever you’d like.
Final Fantasy Explorers doesn’t have the clout of a new mainstream Final Fantasy, but it’s a solid action-RPG in its own right. If you’ve got a few friends you can rope into joining you, you can’t go wrong here. As a solo experience Explorers loses a bit of luster, but it’s one of the better online multplayer games you can get on the 3DS.