Final Fantasy Explorers Review

Despite being a completely new take on the popular role playing series, Final Fantasy Explorers is short on unique or invigorating ideas. Placing much of its emphasis around four player co-op, both online and off, this latest spin-off falls into a growing sub-genre of action games. Populated by the likes of Phantasy Star Online and Monster Hunter, as well as smaller yet relevant series, they all tend to overlap when it comes to core systems and mechanics.

Final Fantasy Explorers is no exception. Eschewing any form of complex story, the game simply drops players into a familiar world inhabited by various creatures and characters from the series’ extensive catalogue. Of course, it wouldn’t be Final Fantasy without at least the occasional mention of powerful crystals which bear influence over the game world.

Without a strong narrative thread to follow, players are implored to chart their own adventure, whether alone or as part of an explorer troupe. After tinkering with a small array of cosmetic options, your custom avatar will arrive in the small town of Libertas. For all intents and purposes, this is your base of operations, and it’s home to various NPCs that will guide you on your adventure.

It is here that you’ll craft and purchase equipment, but more importantly, it’s also where you can accept contracts and side quest. Once signed up, players can finish their pre-mission preparations before travelling to the untamed wilds of Amostra. This island is composed of various micro environments, from sweeping plains to bubbling volcanoes, each linked by a network of smaller pathways and dungeons.

Depending on the mission criteria, you’ll need to visit one of these biomes, often in search of resources to gather or monsters to hunt down. Once you’ve ticked off any outstanding objectives, you’re given a minute or so to wander around before being beamed back to Libertas for debriefing. Upon returning, there’s usually new items to craft and purchase as well as additional missions available from the adventurer’s guild.

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The similarities between Final Fantasy Explorers and Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise are too overt to simply gloss over. It may not be a carbon copy of the esteemed action RPG series, yet it borrows the same core template, gameplay and progression systems. Even the online lobby system and four player focus can, in some way, be attributed to Capcom’s trendsetter.

Some gamers may disapprove, but that isn’t an issue here. After all, other studios have taken a similar route, with 2014’s Toukiden being a near total Monster Hunter clone. No, the real problems occur when developers take this foundation or blueprint and try to rig it with a complementary approach to gameplay. This is where Final Fantasy Explorers ultimately falls short of the mark.

Square Enix has done a wonderful job in wrapping its borrowed template in an evocative foil, replete with numerous Final Fantasy icons. The most substantive of these is the collection of playable jobs, cherry picked from years of turn-based battling. There are twenty one of these classes in total, each boasting a pool of exclusive abilities that go a long way in defining a player’s role when fighting in a party.

Starting out with just a few of these jobs, more will become available as you blitz your way through a sequence of missions. Where some jobs, such as the knight or ranger, are fairly straightforward and easy to adopt others, like the Samurai, Beast Master, and Time Mage, are wonderfully varied.

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Naturally, the abilities available to you in combat are largely defined by which job you currently have selected. This choice will also influence the types of weapon you bring into battle though it’s worthy mentioning that jobs are interchangeable at any time when in Libertas.

This job system is without doubt Explorers’ trump, especially as players get to grips with some of its more advanced mechanics. For example, you can modify the eight abilities mapped to the 3DS console’s trigger buttons with custom effects such as a chance to inflict bonus ailments or debuffs to enemies. The fact that you can even rename and share these with other adventurers is another nice touch.

Sadly, this one clever system isn’t enough to unburden what is otherwise a dull and repetitive approach to gameplay. Final Fantasy Explorers may have an accessible control scheme (especially when using the New 3DS or Circle Pad Pro), but the way in which players interact with their surroundings is incredibly limited. Navigation lacks any sense of verticality and combat boils down to the constant cycling of abilities.

As touched on before, you can slot eight of these into your character loadout, mixing class-specific powers with a handful of job neutral ones. These can be triggered by holding either the left or right trigger and then pressing the corresponding face button. Doing so will drain a portion of your action meter though this replenishes over time. This rigmarole of triggering abilities and waiting for cooldown timers lacks dynamism, resulting in a fairly lifeless combat system.

A Second Opinion

Final Fantasy Explorers takes a number of cues from the fantastic Monster Hunter series, but sadly falls well short of matching the co-op champion. For one thing the lack of difficulty renders much of the gameplay as busy-work rather than a test of reactions and skill, and the sense of scale and drama is lost in the simplistic graphics.

That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had here. It’s welcoming nature could see it as an entry-level game to younger gamers who might well progress on to Monster Hunter or Gods Eater, and the simplicity provides it with its own charm. The use of the Final Fantasy license also sees some memorable enemies and outfits appear, as well as some recognisable orchestral themes, but largely the branding is an unnecessary addition in order to boost sales.

Joining up with friends to play does enhance proceedings somewhat, and you’ll likely enjoy crafting and enhancing your weaponry and armour, but there’s still an overriding sense that your time would be spent better with Capcom’s title rather than this.

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Of course, multiplayer helps to alleviate the inevitable monotony. Aside from making battles slightly more challenging, co-op allows for a degree of tactical decision making that is almost absent from solo play. Friendly buffs and healing powers suddenly become a crucial part of your loadout, as do Crystal Surges – supercharged powers that apply handy buffs to you and your comrades.

Still, unless players are content with loading into lobbies every time they boot the game, they will continue to be exposed to what is a pretty drab single player offering. There’s nothing excruciatingly bad about it, but when held up against Monster Hunter or even similar games like Freedom Wars and God Eater, it feels a tad too simplistic. At least the whole package benefits from a great soundtrack and an art direction that manages to feel consistent with the Final Fantasy universe.

What’s Good:

  • Smart job system.
  • Looks and sounds like Final Fantasy game should.
  • Fun multiplayer action.

What’s Bad:

  • Dull combat.
  • Repetitive missions.
  • A late entrant in a genre that has already matured.

Final Fantasy Explorers certainly has the potential to grow into worthy Monster Hunter alternative, but its first attempt is a little way off. Despite being nothing more than satisfactory in some key areas, there are some neat ideas at work that, if combined with a revised approach to gameplay, could make this the strongest Final Fantasy spin-off series to date. It’s way too early to start dreaming about sequels or what could have been, however. What we have here is imperfect though some will undoubtedly find themselves exploring Amostra for many hours to come.

Score: 6/10

2 Comments

  1. Every review I’ve seen for this game mentions it’s similarity to Monster Hunter. I’ve never played a monster hunter game so for me it will be my first entry into those types of games. So on that basis it is properly going to be a 7/10 for me as their will be one less negative point.

    • Without having played Monster Hunter or similar games in that genre, the score would lean ever so slightly towards a 7. Although repetitive and still a bit basic in parts, being new to the kind of game/mission structure and progression system found in these games would make FFE more tolerable.

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