I am going to start off by saying this: I am not the biggest fan of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. They are very slow and methodical in everything that you do. Now, I am not saying that they are bad at all; in fact, the series is quite good in many ways, but I feel this needs to be said at the beginning of this review. Why? Well to put simply, Final Fantasy Explorers is just a slightly faster paced Monster Hunter clone.
I don’t say that lightly, either. Almost everything that you do in Final Fantasy Explorers is exactly what has been done in any given Monster Hunter game. You create an explorer who is tasked with defeating and killing the many monsters that roam the land. As a hunter, you must choose a weapon and go out in the wilderness to kill and strip the enemies of their precious loot. Occasionally, a quest is offered to hunt down an Eidolon, originally one of the creatures that are summoned in a typical Final Fantasy game, turned into a boss creature that takes much longer to kill. Such beasts, such as the fiery Ifrit or the frozen Shiva, take extra time to defeat, as they are the only real means of challenge in Final Fantasy Explorers. The game is a bit faster than most Monster Hunter games, though, as the combat is a bit quicker, and you can just pick up whatever the enemies drop when they evaporate, rather than pausing the game outright to carve up whatever you hunted.
You can attempt to slay these beasts right at first, but if you do not plan accordingly, you are in for a world of despair. Fortunately, Final Fantasy Explorers offers many ways to prepare. A surprising amount of options are available in the form of jobs. From the mighty Knight, that can physically cut down foes in a couple of hits, to the White Mage that can heal even the most deadly of blows, these jobs do convey a sense of variety in Explorers, as a good number of them play differently from each other. For example, a Monk class may only be able to equip a couple different pieces of armor, and not be able to use a shield, but can fight quickly and heal itself with unique moves. A Knight, on the other hand, can take damage much better, but moves slower and uses a sword to attack. Each class also has a set of unique moves that they can master called Abilities, which harken back to the RPG mechanics of the Final Fantasy name. The Thief job can steal items from foes, while Hunters can shoot a barrage of arrows at once. Using abilities takes CP, which functions like Stamina in Monster Hunter games, where if you use them too much, you have to wait a bit or use an Ether to start again. Each job also can attack normally, but it does so little damage, it’s basically pointless.
There are a couple of other features in the battle mechanics as well. When you kill enough small-time enemies, you can gain enough points to use a Crystal Break, which will offer a random assortment of special buffs to your character. Use them enough times, and occasionally one of your abilities can undergo a Mutation, which will give an ability a certain buff that you can buy and use later. For example, I quickly gained a Deathtouch Mutation for my Steal ability that the Thief uses, that will often kill foes just after taking one of the enemy’s’ possessions. Such small changes can make the game much easier for a new player. Another mechanic unlocked later on is Trance, which will allow you to transform you into one of an assortment of characters from the mainline Final Fantasy games, all of which have unique moves. It is a nice touch, though not having a character from Final Fantasy IX being available irks me, as that is where Trance originates in the series to begin with.
Unfortunately, that’s where the game stops being exciting. Almost every enemy can be beaten without a challenge, besides the aforementioned Eidolon battles, which takes away from the point of a monster hunting game. A wide variety of enemies and Abilities don’t matter when it takes only a hit or two to defeat 90 percent of them. As well, while the game can be played multiplayer, every random group that I was indicted in was filled with massive amounts of lag, to the point that the game was unplayable. The music, while different in various areas, all seems to blend in with itself, a massive shame considering the amazing work Square Enix usually puts in almost every Final Fantasy game. The story is also incredibly bare bones, which may work with this type of game, but brings shame to Final Fantasy games the world over. The game is also not incredibly long, either. After the main story, which takes maybe 10 hours, you don’t get much else, though Square Enix did graciously give the Western release all of the DLC that Japan got for free, which does extend gameplay a little. While not ugly, the graphics do not push the 3DS, and do not have any 3D function, in order to save frame rate.
If you are a fan of Monster Hunter, and don’t want to wait until the next game gets localized, then this may sate your hunger. For anyone else who isn’t a fan of Monster Hunter, or just an extreme Final Fantasy fan, I can not recommend this game. I went into this excited and willing to try out this genre, but all I received was Square Enix failing to rip off Capcom’s illustrious Monster Hunter series. A massive shame.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Nintendo 3DS (reviewed); Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Square Enix; Players: 1-4; Released: January 26, 2016; Genre: Action RPG; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Final Fantasy Explorers.