Thursday, February 11, 2016

650th Review! Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Review

SuperPhillip Central has hit another review milestone! The site and I are happy to announce that this review is our 650th!

As this is a celebratory occasion, I encourage you (as long as you are of age, of course) to take a shot every time you read the words "Monster Hunter" in this review for Final Fantasy Explorers. When your boss or professor asks you why you missed work or class the next day, you can obviously point them to my direction. That's my gift to you, my dear readers!

Eidolon Hunter Ultimate

Let there be no pretense here. I will be mentioning Monster Hunter a multitude of times in this review for Final Fantasy Explorers. Square Enix's latest takes the monster-hunting format of Capcom's well regarded and mega-selling series and gives it a Final Fantasy spin. That is by no means a bad thing at all, as there have been many games to ape the Monster Hunter formula to varying degrees of success, such as Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, Freedom Wars, God Eater, and so forth and so on.

Final Fantasy finally takes on the formula with what can be nicely described as a Monster Hunter-lite experience, fresh with grinding for materials to create new armor and weapons, giant creatures to take on, and online lobbies for friends and total strangers to enjoy the thrill of the hunt together. While Final Fantasy Explorers doesn't hit the same highs as Monster Hunter, it does deliver fun and familiar gameplay that should be pleasing to both Final Fantasy and Monster Hunter fans for various reasons.

That big sword is obviously trying to make up for something!
When you first delve into the world of Final Fantasy Explorers, you are asked to create a custom character. The customization options are a tad light, offering the ability to customize your gender, body color, hair, hair color, face, eye color, voice, etc. These options can be tweaked later in the game. Fortunately, the resolution of your character in-game is so low that what you look like really doesn't matter. It's the crafted armor and weapons that matter more, as they're much easier to see while you're playing.

Starting out in Final Fantasy Explorers, you have but a handful of job classes to choose from that you can play as. As you complete special quests, the number opens up considerably. There's everything from traditional knights to mages of the black, white, red, and blue variety; monks, thieves, ninja, and even classes unlocked through specific methods like defeating a specific number of enemies or crafting a certain amount of weapons and armor. The immense amount of job classes available allows such a fantastic number of customization options to suit any player's play style. With a plethora of class-exclusive gear and abilities for each class, the customization becomes even greater and more personal-- at least far more than what the initial character creator offers.

One of many classes within Final Fantasy Explorers.
Unlike most Final Fantasy games, however, there is but a weak semblance of a plot to be found in Final Fantasy Explorers. You're one of many explorers, warriors sent to the game's main island to seek out a means to explore the Grand Crystal. This crystal is said to be able to allow kingdoms the world over to thrive, so it's kind of a big deal to reach. Along the way and between quests, you'll talk with various NPCs in Explorers' main hub, a central town.

Here at the town you can do a number of things. Obviously, primo numero uno is to take a look at and accept a numerous amount of ever-expanding quests at the quest counter. There is also a shop which specializes in health and ability point (AP) restoring items to purchase, a synthesis shop where you can trade materials earned from fallen foes, found from gathering spots, and dropped by boss monsters to create new weapons, shields, armor (in head, body, and leg categories to create armor sets), and accessories. Finally, there is a fortune teller in town, as well as a place to craft monsters to aid you in battle in solo mode. These monsters are available to be crafted once they are collected through rare drops of enemies.

Like Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy Explorers employs a quest system. Each quest is in one of ten star categories. The more stars there are, the harder the category of quest. You begin with one-star quests that are as simple as picking up 10 items from dropped enemies or just taking down a specific number of foes to get yourself accustomed to combat.

Combat itself is a drastic departure from Monster Hunter. Final Fantasy Explorers opts for a more button-mash happy style to its battling, unlike Monster Hunter's more cerebral and highly strategic approach. Still, with Explorers, you can't just expect to mash the attack button all the time and win against the game's more powerful foes, different Eidolons from the Final Fantasy series serving as the game's bosses. Though with weaker enemies, this approach is usually a winning one.

With the Eidolons of Final Fantasy Explorers, the summoned creatures known from other Final Fantasy games, these enemies have a more complicated series of attacks and patterns to them. Most of the time you'll need to pick your times to attack very carefully, or else you'll see your HP dwindle into nothing quite quickly. Common summons from the Final Fantasy series like Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Alexander, Leviathan, Odin, and more are just some of the beasts and creatures you'll find yourself going up against.

Alexander may lay about the battlefield, but it's still one tough cookie for those who underestimate it.
Thankfully, you're not just limited to your regular attack button for combat. After all, though I've called Final Fantasy Explorers a Monster Hunter-lite like game, it's not THAT basic. By using CP (command points) to purchase new skills, abilities, and spells, you can assign up to eight to use in battle. By holding either the L or R button, you'll get a set of four to choose from to unleash, with each assigned to a different face button. Abilities and spells cost AP to use, as does running in general, and this is restored naturally over a relatively short period of time.

You can have monsters join your cause in solo play.
The abilities and magic used have a cool-down period, which is very reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series' ATB (active time battle) system. Explorers feels like an action-RPG version of this very familiar combat system from Final Fantasy games of old. Depending on the ability or spell used, the cool-down amount varies, with more powerful moves taking longer for you to wait before they can be used again.

As you fight foes, you'll come across something called the Crystal Surge. When this occurs, you can hold the L and R buttons together and select from one of four temporary bonuses in battle. This can be anything from adding elemental strength or status effects to your attacks and abilities to attacking for and taking damage for 1,000 HP with each hit, a supremely risk vs. reward-type bonus. Additionally, there is a Trance skill that fills up as you play through a given quest. When the crystal icon on the touch screen is full, you can tap it to initiate a trance state. Here, you can use Magicite from Eidolons you've captured from encasing them while their HP is extremely low to summon these foes into battle to let loose powerful attacks.

Use Trance to even take the form of some Final Fantasy all-stars.
Quests can only be failed through one way, and it's a much less punishing way than Monster Hunter. Each quest has a time limit to it. When you lose all of your HP in battle, you have the choice of being revived by spending five minutes of the quest timer. If you lack five minutes on the timer or the timer hits zero mid-quest, you automatically fail it. Therefore, while it's important to stay alive, you don't have to replay as many quests as you would in Monster Hunter.

Really, that's what Final Fantasy Explorers is. It's a much friendlier Monster Hunter. While I wouldn't exactly call it "baby's first Monster Hunter", the game definitely errs on the easier side of this type of game. There's much less grinding of materials to wade through to get the armor set you want, and there's less punishment from missing an attack or not timing your attack correctly (as attacks are pretty much automatic and have no waiting period to unleash them).

Because one pair of wings isn't anything to brag about.
There is but one map to journey across in Final Fantasy Explorers, and like Monster Hunter's various ones, it is split up between areas and loading screens. The map is quite large, possessing many sub-areas that feature paths to boss areas. A problem with this map structure is incredibly apparent when you're free-roaming the map or having to find and take down more than one Eidolon in a given quest. You see, the sub-areas can have up to three rooms to them before you enter the chamber with the Eidolon. If you aren't finished with the quest, then, after defeating it, you have to go back through the previous rooms just to reach the main map again. Then, you have to run across the barren maps of the game to reach the next series of sub-areas just to meet the next boss to take down. It's a lot of running through sparse areas that makes for a huge slog and pacing killer. That's one of my main problems with Final Fantasy Explorers, actually exploring the map.

This coeurl takes this beatdown like a champ.
Final Fantasy Explorers' main story arc concludes around the five-star level quests. However, like any good Monster Hunter clone, the fun isn't over after you've beaten the final boss and have viewed the ending credits. Quests can go up to ten stars, with more stars equaling the ability to find rarer drops more easily, and with this comes more difficult challenges: facing two Eidolons at once, fighting foes with special challenges added to them such as double HP and attack strength for all enemies, and a lot more challenging... well.... challenges. What do you do when the game becomes too challenging?

If playing alone is too lonely, hop online for some cooperative exploring!
Like Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy Explorers allows for up to four players connected either locally or online to enter a lobby together and take on quests as a team. That aberrant Ifrit or Omega (a post-game boss) giving you trouble alone? Go online with a team to take them down! You can search lobbies with painstaking detail, looking for quests that are a specific star ranking, a certain Eidolon to take down, or a myriad of other filters to search for. If that doesn't work for you, you can always create your own lobby and wait on other players with a similar quest rank they want to take on to join. Then, there's adding passwords to create private lobbies. (Shh. I won't tell the password if you won't tell the password!)

On the presentation side of Final Fantasy Explorers, the visuals don't really impress too much. The most impressive part of the package comes from the character models and creatures, and even then, for the detail involved, there are a lot of jaggies. Plus, the frame-rate isn't very consistent either. Sound-wise, Explorers uses sparse voice acting, only used for welcoming messages when you talk to certain NPCs in the game's central hub. The music is pretty disappointing, not coming anywhere close to being very memorable, unlike the majority of Final Fantasy games in the series, even spin-off-wise.

Those looking for a deep, Monster Hunter-like experience might be turned off by the overall simplicity of Final Fantasy Explorers. For me, I think the general ease of combat and more accessible, inviting gameplay and structure make for an enjoyable Monster Hunter clone, regardless. The trudging pace of exploring the game map, and the unfortunate level of quality of the presentation aside, Final Fantasy Explorers is an addicting change of pace for those wanting a different kind of Final Fantasy experience, or just want to stop hunting Rathalos and company for a little while.

[SPC Says: B]

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