The Monster Hunter franchise has always been insanely popular in Japan, but only in recent years has it begun to pick up mainstream success in the rest of the world. Along with that success comes imitations, and many titles from Freedom Wars to God Eater have tried to emulate what makes these games so enjoyable to players, some better than others. As a whole though, they’re generally not very newcomer friendly games to get into even though they’ve been getting better at explaining their mechanics as the years go on. Final Fantasy Explorers is another such game that tries to recapture the Monster Hunter fascination by injecting it with an FF coat of paint, the end result being an experience that’s highly recommendable to a genre newcomers and franchise fans alike.
I really couldn’t tell you what the plot is about as it gets lost in the shuffle amongst the world’s citizens asking you to do various favors for them. But let’s be honest, you didn’t come here for the plot, nor did the developers design the game around one. The only thing you need to know is that people need crystals for power. And as an Explorer, it is your job to fend off monsters in order to obtain them. That’s it. The plot is so irrelevant, that it’s not even clear which missions you need to complete in order to progress in the game.
In terms of presentation, it’s not the sharpest looking title either. Final Fantasy Explorers has been out for a couple of years now in Japan and compared to even Monster Hunter 4 it’s completely outclassed. Customization is limited, monsters have a very stilted range of motion, and there just isn’t a whole lot of unique looking armor sets. There’s not even 3D support (not that I’d see myself using it that much). On the plus side, the game runs at a consistent frame rate.
The soundtrack is pretty good, though forgettable throughout much of the game. The only times it really stands out is when it plays songs from other titles in the franchise (such as when you use Trance to transform into Cloud, Squall, etc.) There isn’t much in the way of voice acting either save for one liners uttered by NPC’s when you talk to them, though I did notice they brought back the English voice actors to reprise characters like Lightning and Tidus for a couple lines. Your created protagonist lets out grunts and groans when swinging at the enemy on occasion too.
Before going on any monster slaying adventures, you’ll be dropped into the town of Libertas. This town acts as a sort of hub area where any and all preparations are made before journeying into the wild. A clerk grants main quests that are ranked between one to ten stars (the more stars, the more difficult). They also offer up subquests that usually require you to perform some sort of action before they can be turned in for a reward. A selection of tutorial quests is forced upon you early in the game that teach you the least important aspects of the mechanics. An NPC sits at the town gates that can elaborate further, but without any sort of context involved in the reading. Show and don’t tell isn’t utilized very effectively here is what I’m getting at, but at least the game is easy enough to understand that you can get by without the finer details. Also, rather than having several different maps with sub-areas to explore, the land outside of Libertas is just one continuous area that opens up as you progress through the game.
Only a handful of jobs are unlocked from the start, which includes classics like monk and black mage. Even though each one is designed with some sort of role in mind, be it support or tanking, Final Fantasy Explorers doesn’t force a balanced party setup upon you. While this is a bit of a missed opportunity for additional strategy, it also means that you and your friends can play your favorites, even if they’re all the same. A number of abilities are available for purchase using crystal points and most of them can be used by jobs that you wouldn’t normally associate with them. For example, spells like Cure and Fire are useable by every job, regardless if they’re designed around magic or not. If the job does specialize in that particular skill, it will highlight green on the menu, thus increasing its effectiveness. This level of job customization showcases some of the best aspects of games like FFV and FFXI. It would’ve been nice of the prerequisites for unlocking some of the jobs weren’t so ridiculous. Ones like Red Mage and Time Mage are easy, simple take on a quest to get them. Others, like Samurai, require that you obtain/construct 150 unique pieces of equipment.
Your character gets one normal attack by way of the Y button, though holding L or R will open up your palette of equipped skills. The sprint button is assigned to B, which is normal for an action you’ll use quite frequently. The same could be said for the A button, used for investigating or picking things up. But X pulls up an item menu, which could’ve been put to better use as another ability button. Circle Pad Pro (or New 3DS) users have the option to use the right analog stick for camera controls too, which is nice. If you use a lot of abilities or magic, a number in the upper left hand corner increases, and after a certain point a Crystal Surge can be triggered, offering benefits to you and the rest of the party things such as health regeneration or invisibility. Another bar will send your character into Trance mode once capped out, allowing you to take up arms as characters like Cecil or Terra for a time, with the opportunity to unleash a heavy hitting skill before it wears off. If you take the time to encase (capture) an Eidolon, you can borrow their power for the Trance instead.
Nearly every quest will involve killing or collecting something, though fortunately you don’t have to do it alone. Final Fantasy Explorers can be played with three others both locally and online, though if you can’t get a full party together, the town provides a monster lab in which to raise your own chocobos and cactaurs to assist instead. The quests are identical in both single in multiplayer, which can be regarded as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, if you plan on playing exclusively online anyway, progress in one means progress in both. But it also means that they’re not treated as two separate modes, effectively halving the content.
Since there are no character levels, your strength is based almost entirely on your equipment. Parts for many of them are relatively easy to find, as most can be obtained from low level enemies. However, some of the more cosmetic items will task you with farming the same quest up to ten times to get the components you need (such as Sephiroth’s attire, which sends you on the quest to kill Shiva ten times). That’s great that it’s a guaranteed drop, but damn if that isn’t a tedious prerequisite to put into place. I was a little disappointed in the lack of gear sets in general, as I only changed my equipment roughly three times before rolling the credits.
Probably the biggest turnoff for Monster Hunter fans is going to be how easy the game is. It takes a very long time before enemies give any sort of push back, and even when they do, death will result in either a Phoenix Pinion being used, or a little bit of time being deducted. That’s assuming your comrades are down too, as they can resurrect you without penalty. On the flip side, this also means that players normally put off by this style of game have a great entry point. The tutorials aren’t the greatest, but it’s easy enough to understand and succeed that it acts as a gateway to titles with a bit more depth and challenge to them, which is never a bad thing.
At the end of the day, Final Fantasy Explorers is a solid take on the multiplayer monster slaying concept. The story is practically non-existent, but the job system is fun to experiment with and playing with friends is always a blast. I would’ve liked to see a bit more variety in equipment sets, but having characters and items appear that belong to other games is a nice nostalgia trip, as is playing in an environment that feels like an extension of the Crystal Chronicles universe, a spinoff franchise that has essentially been left for dead. The mission structure is a little repetitive at times, but if you’ve always wanted to see what the Monster Hunter craze was all about, this is as good a place to start as any.
Short Attention Span Summary
Final Fantasy Explorers is essentially FF meets Monster Hunter. The basic mission structure is essentially the same, though the gameplay is much faster and easier here. The job system shines as it usually does each time it’s presented, though the game suffers in a lack of customization in other areas, such as character appearances and equipment. It’s also not the best looking game in general, being outclassed by other titles on the 3DS (though the audio sounds great). This is a game made for FF fans and folks feeling alienated by the complexities of the Monster Hunter experience. It never quite reaches the same heights of MH and its kin, but it at least serves as a great introductory course.