The big bad
Summons (Eidolons in FF: Explorers vernacular) such as Ifrit and Shiva are well known in the Final Fantasy universe as powerful allies, but here they’re the beasts you should be most afraid of. They’re far more powerful than anything else in the game, and have dedicated arenas to take them down in. They also come with huge movesets that you’ll have to learn to dodge and form strategies against. They make for a great challenge, but you will have to grind them to get the best gear.
Not only are monsters incredibly useful in the absence of actual human interaction, it’s a fun and surprisingly deep distraction. Every now and then an enemy in the field will drop an Atmalith, which is essentially its soul, that you can then take to the Monster Lab in town to turn into an obedient pet. They function a bit like Monster Hunter’s Palicoes in that they’ll help you in a fight, but with so many monsters to recruit they make for much more varied partners.
Finding and recruiting them becomes like a mini Pokemon game as you create your ideal team. The only drawback is that if you take one of the larger fiends with you they can obscure your view. I took a liking to a pair of toads with potent attacks, but they’re bulky and bounce quite high when they move and would occasionally jump in front of the camera, leaving me unable to see in a fight. Goblins are shorter and therefore make for better friends.
While all of the systems work really well together and combat is a blast, there’s one incredibly frustrating drawback. About 4-5 hours in you hit a wall and you’ll need to do a lot of repetitive grinding to get over it. No matter how good a game’s combat is, needing to grind will always be tiresome. But in this case it’s also worth the effort.
Overcome this slump and the game really starts to open up – you can craft new gear, visit new places and learn more moves. But most importantly it feels like you’ve graduated into proper adventuring – all of that hard work was your final exam and now you can make a real name for yourself. Weirdly I then started //enjoying// any later repetition as I could experiment with different classes and styles. The early grind forcefully hones your skills until you become a truly confident player, even if it is a pain to get through.
You’ll also unlock trance mode soon after – a brief state where you have heightened powers and the ability to summon powerful attacks or even turn into heroes from previous Final Fantasy games such as Squall or Lightning. It adds a powerful and snazzy flourish that comes in handy when you want to go all out at the end of a boss fight. You can also customise the difficulty of quests by giving enemies more health etc before you set up, giving you more options when you’re after a challenge.
Above all things Final Fantasy Explorers is approachable. Sure, it borrows a lot from the likes of Monster Hunter and it’s not quite as deep, but it’s also far, far easier to pick up and understand. It’s tutorials are clear, the menus uncluttered, and the combat is simple. In some ways it’s a great training ground for the monster-hunting genre, teaching you how to switch between classes and work with others on the small screen before you join the bigger kids with their Rathalos armour and Palicoes. FF: Explorers is a great route into what can be an intimidating and complicated set of games and is the perfect antidote to what the genre needs right now.