Final Fantasy Explorers is Final Fantasy does Monster Hunter. Based on the familiar, beast-slaying premise, it challenges you to slaughter impossibly strong monsters so you can get tougher and slaughter even stronger monsters, on into infinity, much the way Capcom's behemoth franchise operates. But given everything else about Explorers, it would be hard to mistake it for anything other than a Final Fantasy game - between the famous god-like Eidolons you face in combat, iconic monsters that assist you in battle, and Final Fantasy heroes that you can transform into at peak strength, it's basically Final Fantasy concentrate.
Set for release in the west this month, Final Fantasy Explorers is built to bank on quick, single-focus missions (about 100 hours of them) where you cross a small area map to reach and defeat the boss before time runs out. Nearly every creature you encounter comes from a familiar place - an early quest involves fighting Shiva, the ice-cold blizzard goddess (who you might know from every recent Final Fantasy). And don't be surprised if you run face-first into a Malboro, a creature comprised entirely out of tentacles, sharp teeth, and horrendous halitosis. Only two new enemies are entirely new, the sword-winged Amaterasu and fabulous plant-creature Dyrad (think Ursula from The Little Mermaid, only made of vines), both of which feel at home among the menagerie of godly beings you put to rest.
With up to eight separate abilities and a team of three at your back (made up of either your real-life friends, online buddies, or failing either, monsters you've captured on your journey a la Final Fantasy 13-2), your only goal is to bring these creatures down in return for loot, and try not to let any of the mini-monsters between you and the boss get in your way. In a forgiving twist on Monster Hunter's formula, not even death can stop you for long - if you ever fall in battle without a Phoenix Down handy, you can exchange time off the clock for a revive, and the game allots extra precious minutes to fights where you're especially likely to die. Remember that if you ever see a mission with a seven-hour time-limit - it's probably just twenty minutes of hell.
Your winnings can be used to craft progressively more impressive weapons and armor and expand your available job classes, but they also offer up an even more important prize. During your journey, you can procure the spirit of beloved Final Fantasy characters and can briefly transform into them using an ability called Trance, which functions as a miniature limit-break after you build up your special gauge.
After equipping a hero’s 'magicite' spirit, you'll be able to use that character's abilities or even take on their appearance in the midst of battle, unleashing the likes of Omnislash on monsters who really shouldn't have picked a fight with you. You can also customize an outfit based on what your favorite characters look like - there are thousands of possible combinations, and if you're dead-set on playing as Cecil of Tidus 100% of the time, Final Fantasy Explorers is happy to facilitate your fan-love.
Square-Enix has already expressed interest in turning Final Fantasy Explorers into an ongoing series, showing this foray into unknown territory might be more than a one-off. Explorers is set for release in North America on January 26th and Europe on January 29th, so we'll know soon enough if it stands to be a real contender.