I have to admit, I’ve always been a fan of the Final Fantasy series. Whether it’s the battle style, the music or just the feel of the games as a whole I’m not certain, but they’ve always held a special place in my video game collection. The spin-offs are a bit of a different story, however. Needless to say, when I heard that Explorers was going to be a game in a similar vein to the Monster Hunter series, a series I have pumped over six hundred hours into cumulatively, I was really looking forward to it.
I tend to view the spin-offs as a “hit or miss” sort of deal. Some spin-offs, like Dirge of Cerberus I really enjoyed, whereas Dissidia and Theatrhythm I wasn’t fond of, despite the fact I prefer fighting and rhythm games to shooters. For those who don’t have any basic Monster Hunter knowledge, the game basically consists of accepting quests to go defeat either X number of small things or one to three large things. You then embark on a journey to go hunt down and beat up whatever creature suits your fancy or has been demanded of you. You are given a time limit, usually between half an hour to an hour, in which to incapacitate your prey before your time runs out. In Explorers you have two basic methods of attack: standard attacks and skill attacks. Standard attacks use whatever weapon you have equipped to deal damage to your enemies (or your fists if no weapon is equipped). These attacks do less damage than skills, but may be used in quick succession and restore a chunk of stamina. Skill attacks take a chunk of stamina and tend to have lengthier cooldowns, but do much more damage, or buff/heal. Your stamina is represented as a nice yellow bar sitting just under your health gauge, and will deplete every time you run or use a skill. Stamina can be recovered either while not running or by smacking an enemy with the standard attack. It’s at this point that I discovered my first major issue with Explorers.
When I first picked up explorers, I had two other friends who were playing, and both decided to go with melee classes, so I thought “Great! I’ll play a dedicated red mage, or the closest class where I can be both support and damage based magic!”. Unfortunately, neither of them actually ended up playing with me (T_T). The classes can be easily divided into either melee or ranged, and are unlocked through either quest progression or random arbitrary tasks, such as crafting half your inventory holding space worth of equipment at the blacksmith. Classes can, for the most part, equip any armour set, and don’t affect your melee combos, so the only thing the classes really do is affect base stats and restrict weapon usage. My issue, however, is the stamina consumption associated with magic based classes, especially once you get later into the game. All those –aga spells? They take progressively larger chunks out of your stamina in order to use as you “sort-of-kinda upgrade” them, which I’ll get to in a minute. Makes sense, right? Well, it would if the stamina bar didn’t replenish at a rate similar to the Game of Thrones release schedule, the books not the show.
As a mage, I can get into a boss fight and expend my entire stamina pool in about thirty seconds, which really doesn’t work so well when the only way to dodge attacks is to run, which takes stamina. As a point of reference, to cast a spell again from zero stamina would take me about seven to ten seconds of standing around not running in order to regain enough stamina to cast a damaging spell, even with haste speeding up my stamina recovery. So what about the standard attacks? Well, I’d like to see you smack a boss in the rump with a book corner without getting hit for about two thirds your entire health when the enemy decides he isn’t so fond of where you’ve stuck your literature. To make matters worse, the smack only hit for about three damage on a critical, so it isn’t like an enemy is really going to be bleeding from the standard attacks, and the return rate is only two hundred points per standard attack, where the spells cost two hundred and fifty plus stamina to use. The only real option left is mass ether usage. While melee builds manage this better, depending on class choice and play style, the stamina regeneration rate may literally kill you.
As I mentioned earlier, there is an upgrade system to the skills. In town, you can pay “crystal points” that you earn through monster subjugation in order to either buy or upgrade skills. Here’s where my second major gripe comes in. Unlocking of skills is a fairly sequential process: buy lower rank skills and progress “story” in order to buy the next rank. So now you want to upgrade the skills. Well then, go out into the field, keep using skills until the “resonance gauge” hits at least one hundred points. Now you have to keep it above one hundred points for about ten seconds or so, and “tada!”, you now have a “crystal surge” available. The higher your resonance level, the more crystal surges will be available to activate, where you can have a maximum of four to choose from with four hundred or more resonance. Resonance can go past four hundred points, however even after hitting eight hundred during one fight I didn’t really notice any change with the speed or quality of the crystal surges. So, now that you have enough resonance to use a crystal surge, how do you choose which crystal surge to use? You don’t. Crystal surges are completely random, and your only option is to take one of the choices given to you or wait until the surges refresh, which I personally found to be rather sporadic, as sometimes the surges list would refresh while I was looking at them, and other times it felt like it took ten minutes before I had new options to pick from.
So, now that you’ve got your crystal surges, which one does what? Well, you’re going to have to guess based on the name. This ranges from easy, such as “fire affinity” to downright near impossible, like: tonberry karma, undermine, damage screen, agony, angel’s litany (which is float, apparently), fleeting dream, moment’s respite (which isn’t healing like I expected), rock bottom and twofold return. Pro tip for any aspiring mages who pick up the game, twofold return is permanent reflect for literally everything with a health bar in the area. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased when I accidentally slapped myself in the face with a blizzaga, froze myself, and then got hit with the boss’ super move, effectively killing me from full health in all of three seconds. What’s even better is that most of these urges have two possible “mutations” that can occur, and only at a chance, not even assured. After you finally manage to learn a mutated skill, you can then go examine the crystal in town to pay to be able to use the mutated skill, in exchange for CP, more stamina consumption and a higher equip burden.
Yes, that’s right, skills have equip burdens. This is especially noticed in magic combat, because as soon as you hit the next “rank” of monsters, you need to use higher-level spells to do any damage. Well, choose two, cuz that’s how much available burden you’ll have. While it may slow down your combat, it’s not too bad for fights where you know the elemental weakness of the enemy, assuming that there’s only one enemy or the second one shares the same weaknesses, but for enemies like Fenrir, Bahamut or Odin? Guess and hope your spells will do more than tickle nose. Combat is made a little more manageable through the trance gauge, which fills up when damage is dealt or received in combat, presumably. When the gauge is full, you enter trance mode by tapping a button on the touch screen, and assuming you haven’t just accidentally enlarged the map instead of activating trance mode, you can use the special skill of an equipped crystal housing one of the Eidolon boss’ powers, or a previous Final Fantasy character, such as Squall, Yuna or Lightning. Trance mode also fully restores all your health and stamina, so it’s a good idea to use when you’re either almost dead or fed up with being unable to hurt your target. The special skill is activated as a crystal surge, assuming you manage to refresh the crystal surge list before your trance time ends, and is usually a powerful move where you cannot be killed while using it, although you can still take damage. One of the nice effects of equipping the character-based crystals is that both your appearance and the battle music will change to reflect that of the character crystal you have equipped.
In addition to the option of heading out solo adventuring, you might be lucky enough to pick up Altamiths of defeated common enemies. With these Altamiths, you can summon monsters to go adventuring with you, or send them out on real-time based missions. These monsters also have their own levels and equip burden, and will level as you take them on quests with you. Equip burden is a flat three hundred points, and monsters can range from one hundred to three hundred points needed to take them with you. The effectiveness of the monsters is…somewhat hit and miss. On the one hand, they can be wonderful taunts, and bosses or mobs can focus on them while you pound the life out of them from behind. On the other hand, they can get really annoying when you are trying to encase an eidolon, which you need to do in order to use the eidolons power, and the eidolon either runs off to slap your monster/s, or gets killed halfway through your encase animation. Since encasing can only be done when an eidolon has really low health, needs to be used as a crystal surge, takes about five whole seconds for the animation to complete and needs to be done at point blank range, I often found it a lot easier to simply have a character crystal equipped instead, unless I needed the eidolon as a crafting material. A great plus side to having the monsters fight with you is that they automatically revive when they die after a set period of time, making both training the monsters and their combat usefulness really skyrocket.
Explorers definitely is not a fast-paced game, and this fact is reflected in both the combat and in map movement. Combat is slowed down mostly by the slowly regenerating stamina rate, turning most boss fights into glorified damage sponges, making them more of a race against the clock than a test of skill or over-leveling. This is only exacerbated by the fact that every time you die, it normally costs five minutes off your timer to resurrect if you don’t use a phoenix pinion. Expect to die a lot, by the way, because there are a lot of moves that bosses can pull that will either be impossible to dodge or just instantly kill you. Map traversal is a prime offender though, as some quests will involve you fighting multiple bosses/enemies in different areas, or will task you with reaching two areas on the map. When you first start a quest, you can choose a large area to start in, after you’ve completed a certain quest. This will speed up single area travel time, but for multiple map locations, movement can be a real big nuisance. Traversing the exploration map wouldn’t be so bad if there were only the central areas and one-off side segments, but each time you want to go to a central area or side segment, you first need to travel through three smaller mini-maps, whose only purpose seems to be either a result of wanting to artificially increase time spent in the field, or from someone on the dev team saying “I want to include these harvest-able items but I don’t know where to put them”. Even reducing the intermediary areas to only one mini-map area, the problem would be so much less of an issue than it currently is.
In terms of length, the game doesn’t take long to get through the main story, if you can even call it a story. Basically, you’re an explorer. You want to find a grand crystal to prove you’re worth/masculinity/woman-power. Great, join the other people on the island to find the grand crystal that you totally can’t see immediately after entering the first area, but which is conveniently blocked by a barrier that no one seems to notice. The quests are ranked based on stars, each rank of which takes about an hour to complete, including weapon/armor material farming, so don’t expect a whole lot of volume out of the game, especially considering there are only about ten or so available quests for each rank, some of which literally take less than two minutes to complete. I’m currently on the eight star quests with seven and a half hours logged, so I must be almost on the nine stars at this rate. As a point of reference (SPOILERS) the end of the game happens at the end of the five star quests (END SPOILERS), so everything after the “last boss” is basically just “there are things to kill, so hop to it”, despite the fact that there isn’t really anything new added except the enemies getting stronger and dropping rarer materials.
The graphics aren’t exactly anything to write home about, they’re about what I’ve come to expect from a 3DS game at this point, nor do they try to go above or beyond what the standard quality is for 3DS games nowadays. Apart from the Eidolon intro cinematics, there aren’t really any other cinematics, and most of the areas didn’t really stand out to me as either especially well designed or nicely rendered. The quality is about on par with the Final Fantasy III remake for the DS that came out some time ago. The soundtrack isn’t bad, and I especially enjoyed the battle themes, despite the fact that most of the fight music overshadowed by the sound effects as the default volume setting. I really appreciated the remixes for the Gilgamesh and Omega fights, pulling out those soundtracks that were at the root of the series really brought on the nostalgia that I’ve begun to search more for in the Final Fantasy series as the years progress. The added touch of changing the battle theme to match the character crystal during trance was also a really nice throwback to hear.
Overall, Explorers could have been a really great game, but it just felt incredibly underwhelming and, quite frankly, sort of boring. While as a stand-alone game it isn’t necessarily a bad game, it was certainly really underwhelming and I was rather disappointed based on what I was expecting from the game. If you’re either a fan of the Final Fantasy series as a whole or a fan of Monster Hunter style games, you might find it as an adequate tide-over game until the next Final Fantasy or Monster Hunter release, but otherwise it’s a game I would suggest looking into a lot more before deciding on a purchase.
Article by Rich