There was once a time when purchasing a Final Fantasy product guaranteed you a story rich RPG. Sadly those days have long since past. After blowing most of their budget on a CGI movie flop and merging with former rivals Enix, Squaresoft became a money grubbing conglomerate that will stick the Final Fantasy label on anything to make a quick buck. Final Fantasy Explorers happens to be one of those plot anaemic FF spin-offs, but thankfully the gameplay on offer isn’t half bad. Drawing inspiration from Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise, players take control of an explorer who stumbles upon a rural hamlet (after cowardly fleeing from a dragon.) Using your monster hunting um… exploration skills you decide to eek out a living at your new home by completing the local guild’s quests.
Final Fantasy Explorers is a third person action RPG, not dissimilar to Toukiden: Age of Demons. Players begin life as a weedy Freelancer whose repertoire of moves is limited to attacking and running. Sounds a bit dull huh? Well, fear not because advancing the “story” will grant you access to new abilities and a range of new jobs. There are over twenty classes that you can play as including ninjas, paladins and alchemists (who disappointingly lack any Edward style metal appendages.) When venturing out of town, on a mission, you can equip yourself with up to eight skills. Executing these special moves consumes action points, which naturally replenish over time (a process that can be accelerated by striking enemies with regular attacks.)
Like many other games in the genre the appeal of Final Fantasy Explorers is the incentive to improve one’s avatar, which will enable you to challenge tougher missions. Beefing up your character is accomplished through weapon upgrades and by forging new gear out of the materials scavenged from defeated foes. Spells can also be enhanced with new traits by using the game’s novel mutation system. More powerful magic and flashier armour aren’t the only things that can aid you in combat however. During a skirmish you can also tap the gem situated on the bottom screen to activate trance mode. This nifty feature can be used to temporarily transform you into a Final Fantasy hero. The roster of guises you can assume include Cloud, Lightning and um… Vaan. What the deuce? No one likes that guy. Can’t we have the bunny girl from FF12 instead?
My rating for Final Fantasy Explorers is four stars. That’s an impressive score when you consider that I have yet to dabble with the game’s multiplayer functions. From what I hear the online play is a lot of fun, even if coordinating strategy is difficult due to the title’s limited communication options (much like North Korea, Nintendo disapproves of people expressing themselves.) Antisocial gits, such as myself, can still enjoy soloing Explorers thanks to the inclusion of AI controlled monster companions. Teaming up with Tonberries, ostriches, humanoid cacti and serpentine ladies was a neat touch – although the minions in question are a bit dim when it comes to navigating narrow corridors or avoiding damage from the end of level Eidolon guardians.
Visually the game isn’t on par with other FF releases. Due to the frame rate dips, which occur in areas containing multiple enemies, I can however understand why Square opted for a less intensive graphical art style. If you seek a Monster Hunter experience, minus the frustratingly hardcore elements synonymous with that series, then Final Fantasy Explorers is the game for you. Despite not crafting optimal equipment I had little trouble besting the campaign within fifteen hours. Anyone who desires trickier battles need not fret though, as there is plenty of post-game content to tackle once the end credits roll. Final Fantasy Explorers may be too simplistic for Monster Hunter veterans and the feeble storyline will disappoint some RPG fanatics, but for the most part I enjoyed it. One could say that I had a ton-berry good time playing this game.