2016 is a big year for Final Fantasy fanatics, with Final Fantasy XV looming large, followed by the current-gen remake of the classic Final Fantasy VII, and in the meantime, they can keep themselves occupied with Final Fantasy Explorers. It may require some effort to get particularly excited about a 3DS game, but there are an awful lot of Nintendo’s handhelds out there, and Explorers offers something new to the Final Fantasy universe.

Essentially, it’s Final Fantasy’s riposte to Monster Hunter. As such, its gameplay isn’t what you would typically expect from a Final Fantasy game – probably its nearest equivalent would be 2004’s Crystal Chronicles. You take on the persona of a freelance explorer, pitching up in the town of Libertas, seeking to cement a reputation by completing quests that help the locals. Initially, these involve hunting set numbers of pretty low-level monsters, as you level up and develop your abilities. But the main thrust involves taking out so-called Eidolons, which are pretty much boss-monsters, and which guard highly prized crystals.

Final Fantasy Explorers

Explorers leads you into its gameplay pretty gently. You can map abilities to the 3DS’s four buttons, but the combat itself is pretty simple, until you start chaining attacks and thereby building up Resonance. Once that charges, you can unleash powerful spells called Crystal Surges – both attacking and as defense. There’s an element of trial and error to those, as the only clue you get about them lies in their (typically arcane) names, but they are absolutely vital to employ against all but the weakest monsters; you also need to keep an eye on their cooldown periods.

In typical Final Fantasy fashion, you can tinker around with a ton of character development. The giant crystal in Libertas’ main square lets you mutate your Crystal Surges, while a fortune-teller lets you buy single-quest buffs. Deciding which job to take on (from the likes of Thief, Paladin, White or Black Mage and so on) brings about new abilities, and you can craft weapons and armour. And, interestingly, a Monster Lab lets you create your own monsters to use as battle-companions. They do tend to move in a pretty random manner, but come in very handy on the harder missions.

An intriguing amuse-bouche before the more hardcore Final Fantasy games start to arrive.

Final Fantasy Explorers’ battling system may sound complicated but, in practice, it’s easy to master and pretty effective. Which is just as well, since the Eidolon battles are long and epic – it pays to stock up on revive potions and the like before jumping into them. An even better strategy is to take a friend into battle with you: Explorers has impressively seamless co-operative play support, accommodating up to four players locally or online, and the ability to embark on quests with someone who has complementary skills and abilities adds a welcome extra dimension.

Final Fantasy Explorers is in no way original – nor does it provide gameplay which is at all archetypal to the franchise – but it’s nicely fettled, generally absorbing (although there are periods when you have to do a bit more grinding than is ideal) and, most importantly for fans of the franchise, takes place in a nicely realised corner of the Final Fantasy universe. An intriguing amuse-bouche before the more hardcore Final Fantasy games start to arrive later this year.

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