Square Enix offered a playable demo of the new Final Fantasy Explorers at this year's Tokyo Game Show and I got a chance to give it a whirl. It's a solid game. It's a Final Fantasy game. But I'm not sure it's a solid Final Fantasy game.
The basic game format is your standard mission-based hunting game -- you select a quest at a central hub-like town and travel to various locations to complete the selected quest. It's how the game's story progresses and the gameplay during hunting that distinguishes the game.
Heading out into the field to hunt down a boss monster, one of the first things I noticed about Final Fantasy Explorers was that there was no dodge button. Pressing the B button does allow you to run, but unlike more action-focused games like Monster Hunter or Freedom Wars, there is no way to immediately leap out of the way of an enemy's attack.
By tapping the right shoulder button you can lock onto enemies, which seems to make up for the lack of a dodge. For boss monsters there is a separate "large monster lock-on" to distinguish the bosses from regular enemies. Bosses also have multiple break points that can be targeted to weaken them.
One distinct feature of Final Fantasy Explorers is the job system. Before going out on a quest, players can switch between jobs for a more tactically beneficial role in a party hunt. Each job has a different feel and a number of unique abilities that Final Fantasy fans will find familiar.
Basic attacks are executed by pressing the Y button, but the game encourages you to use your job's special abilities. Pressing the left or right shoulder buttons brings up two lists, each with four abilities. By pressing the corresponding buttons, you can fire off abilities for various effects. While I was not able to play long enough to get a grasp of the levelling system, from what I could gather it's likely that the lists can be edited so you can switch out abilities depending on your play style or what sort of enemies you'll be facing.
Enemies will drop ingredient items and there are also specific points in the field that can be searched for ingredients, so it's probably safe to assume that there is some sort of crafting feature in the game.
Another Final Fantasy-esque feature is the ability to temporarily transform into a familiar Final Fantasy character. I'm uncertain as to the conditions for which character you transform into, but during my play, it seemed to be tied to what job I was, so a knight would be able to transform into Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, but a black mage would transform into Terra from Final Fantasy VI.
For the multi-player, I played with two other people and hunted down the ice summon, Shiva. The multi-player was both enjoyable and, much like other multi-player hunting games, felt like a good method for social interaction.
Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy Explorers is a solid hunting game. It may feel a little lacking for players who are into more skill-oriented, action-intense games, but the game seems to strive to satisfy Final Fantasy fans with all the familiar elements one has grown accustomed to seeing in a Final Fantasy game.
Unfortunately, while the game contains many familiar Final Fantasy elements, it seems to lack the uniqueness that would make it its own Final Fantasy game. It feels more like a hunting game that was overlaid with a Final Fantasy skin than a Final Fantasy hunting game -- if that makes any sense at all. Granted, the demo was more focused on gameplay and did not really go in depth with the game's plot, so it may turn out the actual game has a rich and well-developed story. At least that's what I hope.
Final Fantasy Explorers is scheduled for release on the 3DS in Japan on December 18th. No word on an international release.