Final Fantasy Explorers

Final Fantasy Explorers is the first attempt from Square-Enix to try and bring a little bit of the Final Fantasy finesse to popular games like Monster Hunter. The game is an over-the-shoulder action RPG with a lot of grinding, a lot of numbers to increase, and a lot of versatility when it comes to character growth. Unfortunately, it lacks in graphical polish, story and characters you actually care about.

In other words, this game will be fun for lovers of Final Fantasy style and people who like to grind – not those looking for a deep story.

The setup is fairly straightforward – a bunch of explorers reach an island, there are magic crystals because this is a Final Fantasy game, and people are using the power of the crystals to do stuff. Players start with the “Freelancer” class, a freeform fighter who can use just about any ability and gear without any real proficiency in that particular area. Once you get a nice swath of skills and equipment, this is a pretty handy class! But, the real fun in FFEX is getting to that point.

After a few (okay, a lot) of interactive tutorial quests, players will unlock the first set of classes. Since this is intended to be played as either single player or co-op, you get a range of damage-dealers, tanks and healers that all play a little differently from one-another.

Skills are mostly weapon-specific – if you’re a Ranger, you’re going to be looking at mostly Bow skills so you can dish out some nice ranged damage. Black Mages will equip rods and cast spells from afar. This also means that playing the game solo will take a little tricky maneuvering if you pick a squishier class that can’t take a ton of damage.

Take a cue from Japan’s smash hit Monster Hunter (seriously, it’s huge there!), most of your time in the game will be spent slaying small monsters for materials to build things so you can destroy even bigger monsters for materials to make even MORE things. If it sounds like a grindy cycle, it certainly is. But part of that exploration – where to find certain materials, which combinations of gear works the best for a specific class – is a key component to what makes this game work.

Unfortunately, the game looks pretty dated, and I mean surprisingly so. For a 3DS title that came out only in 2014, it was surprising to see it not in 3D, and it was especially surprising to see so many jagged edges. It’s particularly jarring after visual masterpieces such as Monster Hunter (by which this game is clearly influenced) that the company that owns a franchise known largely for its graphical integrity would let something that looks so rough out the door.

The gameplay also feels a tad “horizontal,” despite being an action RPG. There’s no tangible jump, and many of the skills feel a bit same-ish until you mutate them a few times. Darting around the map is certainly quick and gratifying, but watching numbers flash and petty monsters that can’t really hurt you can grow tiresome after a while.

The first entry in this new series certainly kept me entertained for a while, but it most definitely lacked in a lot of places. As this is a new series, my sincerest hope is that Square will take their solid foundation and build it out with future editions of the game. Graphical polish, some more interesting fights, and perhaps a little more variance between classes will all help to drive this series forward. For now, I’m having a lot of trouble booting up my FFEX cart. It’s cool framework, and I do love to grind, but there’s just some heart missing.