It was only a matter of time until Square Enix made a spin-off of their most famous franchise, Final Fantasy in the style of the Monster Hunter niche – creating Final Fantasy Explorers. The trailers for the game got me excited to play, with it’s unique ability system, monster collection and training, and the classic job system making a return. But… Squenix, baby, why’d it have to be so simplistic?

Within minutes of playing the game, it’s easy to notice how similar the controls and gameplay is to Monster Hunter. In fact, I’m probably going to reference Monster Hunter a lot during this review because MH is basically Final Fantasy Explorers’ better, cleaner brother that got the larger piece of meat at the family dinner table. In MH, there’s combos and mechanics unique to your weapon type that have punchy, meatier effects and take a certain amount of skill to learn. Final Fantasy Explorers however is about as simple as it gets – you press Y to do a standard attack, and execute abilities using a shoulder button + A, B, X or Y.

While you do get to set abilities yourself, this really limits your ability to chain attacks. I found myself mashing different abilities with no real strategy, then using my basic attack to regain AP (which is basically the same as MH’s Stamina system except both sprinting and abilities use it); rinse and repeat. As you repeatedly use abilities, you gain resonance which allows you to execute a variety of randomised bonuses. My favourite so far is a 1000 Needles-like ability that makes all your attacks (including the basic attack) do 1000 damage, 10,000 if it’s a critical hit.

There’s also elemental, damage, defensive and recovery boosts. The rate at which these bonuses are dished out seems somewhat random, but they really come in handy during bigger fights. There’s also an added effect that comes into play after using these resonance bonuses – while a bonus is active, you can potentially add that effect to an ability if it corresponds – so you can add bonus slash damage to sword abilities if the resonance bonus you get adds slash damage.

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When you’re back in the main hub, you can use the massive crystal to save this combination of abilities and bonus to create a new ability (you can also name it!), and also learn all-new moves for you to experiment with. This is actually a neat bit of customisation that’s pretty unique for this kind of game. Some sub-quests even have you switch classes and learn certain combos for extra points that’ll allow you to craft equipment or pay for abilities.

Your selection of quests available aren’t really varied, but at least there’s a focus on gameplay. You’ll either be defeating a certain amount of enemies (like an MMO!), hunting bigger mini-boss monsters or hunting Eidolons, the series’ finest monsters that usually feature as summons. The whole gang are back, including  Ifrit, Bahamut and my favourite, Leviathan. You can also turn into classic FF characters through a Trance system, letting you use the abilities of series favourites like Cloud, Lightning and Squall but to be honest the novelty of this wears off quick.

The Eidolons and FF characters are equipped via the magicite function, which lets you pick one of either an Eidolon or a character, giving you unique bonuses in battle when you enter Trance. You can also craft some character’s armour and weapon for use outside of the Trance system.

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To put it bluntly, Final Fantasy Explorers is an excuse for Square Enix to milk their franchise dry, and Final Fantasy fans like me will lap it up thinking what we’re buying is substantial. What you’re getting here is a streamlined and simplified version of Monster Hunter, which is fine if that’s what you’re after and you like repetitively dull combat.

Where Monster Hunter made combat feel life-or-death, which plenty of stakes and weapon strikes that actually felt like you were damaging your target, Final Fantasy Explorers feels like a hybrid of action-MMO where monsters don’t really react to your attacks and you just wail on the opponent until they’re dead. Oh, while I’m talking about something vaguely multiplayer related, the game does feature multiplayer which is where I think the game excels – because literally any game can be fun when you play it with friends.

This multiplayer functions the same as Monster Hunter’s – form a party of up to four people, take on quests and reap the rewards to upgrade your character.

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Despite all the negative things I’m saying about it, I have to admit that the monster collection aspects of the game were a lot of fun for me. They whole system is simplistic and doesn’t allow for much customisation, but I get attached to virtual pets easily (see: Pokémon). You occasionally get monster crystals that can be turned into actual monsters than you can bring on missions, letting you utilise their abilities and fight alongside them – THIS IS A REALLY COOL WAY OF COMPENSATING FOR MULTIPLAYER!

Yes, the game does have multiplayer, but for those who play solo, you can train a little ragtag bunch of monsters to take on the world. If you play multiplayer with just one other person, you can also each bring a monster friend along with you. You are limited by a “load” measurement – more powerful monsters use up more of your total load, which you begin with 300 total. This can be a small pain but so far I haven’t had to make many difficult choices between monsters yet.

Speaking of playing solo, the game’s singleplayer story has reportedly been beaten in under 10 hours by some Japanese reviewers back in 2014 (the game’s original release). After the main story, Final Fantasy Explorers really opens up with tons of “kill x amount of enemies” quests, abilities, jobs and pieces of equipment to craft and unlock… So as you can probably tell, you’re encouraged to blast through the earlier part of the game to get to the meaty 100+ hours of grinding and quests.

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It’s at this point of the review that I always realise – shit! I haven’t even touched on the graphics and sound yet! Well luckily this is one of Final Fantasy Explorers’ strong points. The world, while simple and offering very little exploration, is absolutely beautiful. The island of Amostela, where the game is set, has tons of environments with a few randomised dungeons that often lead to Eidolon fights scattered in there.

The main hub area is somewhat bland and feels empty, but the rest of the world makes up for that. Add to this a generically epic and stereotypical Final Fantasy soundtrack, and you’ve basically got what feels like part of the Crystal Chronicles series. All the game needs is a handful of different races to play as and it would fit right in.

Final Fantasy Explorers isn’t necessarily a bad game, it’s just so simple. If you’re looking for a less hardcore experience compared to other games in the genre, you’ve stumbled upon an absolute gem – especially for the cheap price tag the game has been at surrounding release (as cheap as £23 in some places!).

I could easily see myself sitting around with a group of friends, all taking on different jobs and having a great time playing this. In the back of my mind though, I’ll always know that there’s a richer, more fulfilling experience to be found elsewhere.

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