I really like the idea of Final Fantasy Explorers. I like Final Fantasy and I like hunting games, so why not mash them together? I’ve played a few of the games in this genre now, so I know it’s not exactly an easy genre to get right, but I went into the game feeling pretty optimistic.
My first impressions of Final Fantasy Explorers were pretty much what I expected: it’s a Monster Hunter-esque game so it probably starts off really slow and boring. And yeah, it isn’t until about 2-3 hours after fighting smaller enemies and wimpy bigger monsters like Adamantoise that things finally get interesting and the Eidolons show up. My first real foe was Ifrit, and the game was hyping him up. He’s so tough that the NPC who gave me the quest told me that I should get help from some skilled adventurers to take him down.
So I figured, maybe I should. I transitioned to the game’s online co-op mode, and began my quest for new friends. To its credit, the matchmaking gives you options that seem like they would be helpful, letting you search for games at similar story progress or focusing on specific missions. Unfortunately, every pinpoint accurate search I did turned up zero results. So I figured I’d settle for close enough, and just try to find someone at a similar story progress. I found a few games, but every single one I joined had people who were already out doing their missions, and none of them seemed to be done in a reasonable time period. I do mean every single one, too. I don’t think I joined a single lobby in my entire experience that didn’t have people already out on a mission.
Eventually I joined a lobby with two people out on a mission, leaving me and one empty space to pass the time. Someone else happened to join the game, and that’s where I ran into a new problem: there’s almost no real way to communicate with people. You have a list of preset messages that you can edit, but it’s not ideal for on-the-fly communication and it certainly wasn’t good for telling this mystery person that I needed to kill Ifrit. I figured my only choice was to take the quest and hope that this person would come along.
Instead, the mystery player separately picked an extremely easy 1-star quest about killing toads. Before I could even try to find an appropriate response in my pre-set messages, the player said “Let’s do this!” and left on their quest, forgetting to bring me along. It was like some kind of bad joke. The worst part is that I have more than one experience similar to this.
Basically what I learned from my online experience is that if you’re going to play multiplayer, doing it with actual friends or at least coordinating on a message board is the only real way to go. Not just for finding people to do the right quests, but being able to communicate after you’ve picked your mission. Maybe it’s easier to figure things out once you’ve hit end-game stuff, but trying to play Final Fantasy Explorers online was one the most frustrating and silly experiences I’ve had with a multiplayer game in a while.
The online didn’t work out but I still had to slay Ifrit, so I figured I’d go it alone. Well, I brought along two monster friends, a lizard and a vulture, but up to this point they’ve died more often than they’ve attacked anything. With my buddies in tow, I set out on my adventure and was reminded that while my online experience was bad, there’s plenty to like about Final Fantasy Explorers.
There’s a lot of Final Fantasy touches I really enjoy about this game. I like how distinctly Final Fantasy the mechanics feel, from the job system to the abilities you use it’s a distinctly RPG take on the hunting genre that really stands out to me. I like how approaching the smaller enemies still feels fairly engaging, to the point where battle music constantly fades in and out like you’re taking part in random battles from a more traditional Final Fantasy game. Heck, I like that there’s a game mechanic that turns you into random Final Fantasy characters like Cloud or Bartz.
But I have to wonder if there was too much of a focus on making it feel like a Final Fantasy game and not enough effort put into making the meat of the game engaging. When I finally reached Ifrit, I found that maybe the game hyped him up a little too much. Sure he had more health than my previous foes, and he took out my monster friends in one hit, but it felt like I was fighting a slightly tougher Adamantoise. His fire attacks burned me, but did surprisingly little damage, and that’s just when his attacks even landed. A few minutes into the fight I had pretty much perfected how to dodge everything he could throw at me. It took a while to whittle his health down, but Ifrit went down pretty easily.
The combat system is a lot less reflex-intensive than something you’d find in a Monster Hunter. All of the boss’s attacks are heavily telegraphed and they even give you a heads-up they’re coming with little name boxes for the attacks like other Final Fantasy games. Perhaps this gets balanced by the fact that there’s no real dodge, but most attacks can still be easily avoided by knowing which direction to run in. It’s generally pretty easy to know when to attack and most bosses made me feel more like I was mashing buttons to lower a health bar than actually engaging them in a life or death battle. Healing is fast, attacking is simple, and even the punishment for dying isn’t that severe, just giving you a slight time penalty. It’s unfortunate, but I got a very similar experience in just about every boss I fought after Ifrit.
This just isn’t a game where the fight itself feels all that interesting. Figuring out a build and strategy is the real key to victory, and while that’s interesting by itself, it doesn’t really make the 15-20 minute mission feel that exciting. It’s cool that you can use all these different classes with different skill layouts, and you can actually commit to support roles much harder than any hunting game I’ve seen before this, but I personally found it difficult to get invested because the combat situations themselves were too simple.
I came away from Final Fantasy Explorers thinking it had a lot of great ideas, but as an overall product it could really use some refinement. A better online matchmaking system would be a nice start, but I think the real benefits that could come from a sequel are more engaging combat and an improved difficulty curve. I wouldn’t describe Final Fantasy Explorers as bad, but as it is now it just didn’t pull me in. I want to like it, but I feel like I’d like the potential sequel a lot more.