The monster hunting genre has become a staple of portable gaming in the past few years. With the likes of the God Eater series, Lords of Arcana, Soul Sacrifice, and of course, the reigning king, Monster Hunter, Square Enix decided it was time to throw its largest series into the mix. The Final Fantasy series is no stranger to the action genre, with the Crystal Chronicles offshoot titles, and they know how to make a proper quest-based title with their experience from the MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Final Fantasy Explorers feels like a true blending of these two styles of games with the popular and highly customizable job system included to round out the game. The end result is an enjoyable, if not a bit repetitive game.
The FF Look and Feel:
Being a Square Enix title, you know this game is going to look good. They decided to take a slight SD (super-deformed) approach to the character and monster designs in Explorers and it paid off. With the game being on the Nintendo 3DS and having to deal with the smaller screen, the slightly exaggerated proportions help keep the action on screen clear and readable. The world is varied and detailed, from rocky shores with turquoise water, to ice caves littered with jagged shards, and molten volcanoes erupting and bleeding magma all around. Each area contains its own collection of iconic Final Fantasy creatures, including the likes of the rage-inducing Marlboro and the mini-terror Tonberry.
When you begin the game, you create a character, male or female, from a selection of a number of faces, hairstyles, and voices. Pretty standard fair. Once in the game, you can further customize your character with equipment and outfits. Each piece of gear is unique and is shown on your character. This includes being able to dress as famous Final Fantasy characters like Yuna, Cloud, Squall, and Sephiroth. You are able to craft and create their weapons as well, but more on that in a bit. The spell effects and attack animations are smooth and full of POW! The music continues the quality the Final Fantasy series is known for, from upbeat town tunes to exciting boss music that will pump you up. As an added bonus, when conditions are met, you are rewarded with music from previous titles.
The Hunt is On
The gameplay is your standard Action-RPG fare. You hit a button, you do something right then. The controls are simple, but don’t think for a second that’s all there is. Much of the depth in this game comes from the job and ability systems that have been brought over from previous Final Fantasy games. Once they are open, you will have access to 21 jobs, some of which were originally DLC in the Japanese version of Explorers, for free. The classes are all familiar if you have played Final Fantasy games previously, like the black, white, red, and blue Mages. The mighty Paladins and Dark Knights. Rangers, Monks, Dragoons, Geomancers. The list goes on…
While in the field fighting monsters, you will fill your Resonance gauge and be able to use a Crystal Surge that will bestow a buff or bonus to your character, such as adding fire or ice damage to your attacks. Should you use certain abilities during this period, you can cause a mutation that will create a new enhanced version of that skill. Want your poison attack to also cause stop to your enemy? Want a fire spell to also deal ice damage? The choices of special moves is beyond count, and you can keep mutating and enhancing skills letting you create some very unique and potent powers. After a certain point in the game (a few hours in) you will also get the ability to capture and train monsters to fight with you, and even capture and use the powers of many of Final Fantasy’s most famous elemental creatures, the Eidolons (aka summons, espers, guardian forces, you get the picture). You are even able to completely change into some of your favorite past characters and unleash their limit breaks!
With all this power, there must be some nasty beasts you have to use them on, right? Well, Explorers is a hunting title after all! With missions ranging from gathering craft materials, hunting a specific type of monster, using certain abilities, the most fun are definitely those quests that pit you or a party of friends up against the giant Eidolons. The popular ones are all accounted for, with the likes of Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Bahamut. There are even some lesser known, and new faces like Diablos, Fenrir, Dryad, and Amateratsu. All of which can be tackled solo by you and a party of your own monsters, or co-op with local and online multiplayer with up to three friends! Thankfully, the match making system for online is solid, and is easy to connect to strangers or your friends.
It is a good time playing with friends, but unfortunately the game doesn’t start picking up much in terms of difficulty until after the main story is finished. I had little trouble going through the game solo with just my monster friends and I. All the bosses you could really tackle with the same hit and run mentality. I never felt like I had to deviate from my plan of hurling spells, run away till the cool downs were up, and hurl more spells, with the occasional healing thrown in or dodging large scale moves. In other hunting titles, like Monster Hunter, you really had to learn the patterns and behaviors of the large monsters you were hunting and gear yourself properly in order to succeed. Explorers doesn’t give that same feeling of needing to prepare.
A Lackluster Story
One area that Explorers is lacking is in the story department. For those that pick Explorers up as a hunting title, this won’t be a deal breaker. On the other hand, for those individuals that pick this game up because they see Final Fantasy on the cover and expect a gripping deep story, they will be disappointed. That isn’t to say there isn’t a story present. On the island of Amostra, airships are going missing, there are crystals to find, and Eidolons to deal with. While I knew going into Explorers that I wasn’t going to be gripped by a riveting tale of monsters and magic, I was hoping that with the Final Fantasy pedigree of stories, that there was a bit…more. If Square Enix was able to add a Final Fantasy quality story to Explorers, it would have really set it apart from its peers in the hunting genre, showing that you can have a engaging story AND slug through killing monsters with friends, all at the same time.
I enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy Explorers, but after the first 15 or so hours it began to grate. Difficulty-wise, I had very little issues turning even the mightiest foes into dust. Final Fantasy Explorers provides a great time until you begin to realize just how many times you have fought X monster, or had to harvest X amount of goods. Playing with friends will certainly add to the longevity of this title, and I can see it being one that I will come back to here and there, but only in spurts.
I love the Final Fantasy universe, the job system, the art style, and monsters, but Explorers would benefit from a harsher difficulty and more depth. Give the players more of a reason to spend time preparing and planning to make it more rewarding when you finally tackle the King of Dragons Bahamut and his ilk. Hopefully we can expect this if they decide to continue this new spin-off series. This Black Mage would be ready to gear up for more monster hunting.
- A lot of classes to choose from
- Deep ability customization
- Final Fantasy creatures and characters galore!
- Easy difficulty
- Repetitive missions
- Lack of any real story