Final Fantasy Explorers Review Impressions

Square Enix takes on Monster Hunter and crafts a well-oiled grind.

I’ve always tried to steer away from the cliche of “Game X = Game Y + Game Z,” but with Final Fantasy Explorers, Square Enix is making that exceptionally difficult, because there’s really no clearer way to get to the heart of the game than to call it “Final Fantasy’s take on Monster Hunter.” In it, you’ll team up with other players online (or raise an elite team of monster companions) to venture through a series of small dungeons in order to kill enemies, gather a mountain of materials, and take on enormous bosses (which, in this case, happen to be the Final Fantasy series’ perennial summon monsters, here called “Eidolons,” as they sometimes are). 

There’s barely a shred of narrative draped over the various systems of FFEX: The titular Explorers are a band of fighters who’ve come to the uncharted island of Amostra to exploit its crystal resources. The wilderness and hordes of monsters stand in the way of them doing that exploiting. There are a handful of named characters, but none of them have more than a few lines of dialogue, because you’re not here for a story: You’re here to kill monsters and acquire loot. 

The best thing that I can say about FFEX is that it’s wonderfully streamlined. It’s super easy to dash about the hub town, forge a new weapon, buy some potions, learn a new ability, sign up for a quest, and then head immediately to your destination to get down to business. Once you complete your goal, which could be gathering some materials, killing some smaller monsters, or killing a boss, you can immediately transport yourself back to town. There’s not a whole lot of variety going on here, but that central cycle, killing enemies and trading in the loot, is so easy to get caught up in that you can lose hours without blinking an eye. 

The overworld of Final Fantasy Explorers. The overworld of Final Fantasy Explorers.

The combat, for the most part, feels pretty good! FFEX dispenses with the traditional MP meter in favor of a single bank of ability points that recharges when you land regular attacks--and, crucially, depletes when you dash, meaning that your offensive, magical, and evasive abilities are all pulling from the same pool. It’s easy to lose track of your AP if you’re not careful, and find yourself unable to run or to heal.  The only way to replenish your points is to go on the offense and strike the enemy. This tension makes boss battles wonderfully engaging, because you’ll have constant incentive both to attack and to evade. 

The L and R buttons afford hotkeys to eight different abilities, so you’ve a variety of tools at your disposal.  In the game’s coolest feature, “Crystal Surges” of various types can add permanent effects to those abilities, so that a lowly Cure spell can soon grant you regenerating HP, a defensive bonus, and a chance to recover from status effects. Cultivating abilities through this evolution is great fun, and goes a long way toward making your abilities feel unique to your character. 

Thankfully, online play is likewise streamlined: It’s easy to hop into a room and find others to play with, and signing up for quests together is just as simple. Unfortunately, you’ll sometimes join the last empty slot in a room to find that the other three adventurers are out questing--though there’s nothing stopping you from accepting a short quest and hoping that you’ll all get back to the hub town at the same time so you can work together for the next one. Though the game offers the usual smorgasbord of Final Fantasy job classes, the limited communication afforded by the 3DS means that extreme specialization isn’t really a viable option here--it’d take you at least three precise taps on the touch screen to send the message that you need to be healed, by which time you’d probably already be in need of a Phoenix Down. So everyone needs to be able to fend for themselves, to a certain degree.

While Final Fantasy Explorers is something of a grind, it’s a well-constructed grind, and if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for in a game, you could do a lot worse, especially if you’ve got a trio of friends you can bring along for the ride.