We’ve finally got around to try out the "Lite" version of Square Enix’s new team-based action RPG Final Fantasy Explorers; a playable taste of the early stages that allows adventurers to transfer certain parts of their save to the real thing when it releases in Japan today.
Anyone who’s played Monster Hunter or similar games will feel immediately at home here, with most of your time spent choosing a menial task dished out by the local village quest giver and then running out of town and off to complete whatever you were just asked to do, with quests naturally getting more difficult as you go along.
But before that it’s important to prepare for battle first, and in Final Fantasy Explorers that involves picking a job from a selection of series classics, selecting some relevant abilities to help you kill whatever you just signed up to kill, then finally strapping on the best equipment you have to hand and setting off to knock the stuffing out of whatever crosses your path. Jobs fall in to one of four categories, all culled from the typical MMO party set up of tank, healer, damage-dealer and finally a stat-buffer. Players can then customise their chosen role with abilities unlocked using "CP" earned through quests and bought from the giant central crystal in the middle of town. As in similar games equipment can be created, upgraded and customised using materials collected out on the field and from defeated monsters in addition to basic versions bought from the local shop.
Final Fantasy Explorers’ quests are all rather unimaginative — kill six goblins, collect twenty items, kill this boss – that sort of thing. Now it can easily be argued that Monster Hunter is very much the same and you’d be right to do so, but the reason why Final Fantasy Explorers falls down in this area — and Capcom’s wyvern-bothering juggernaut doesn't — is largely due to the enemy behaviour, or in Explorers' case, the lack of it. Enemies in Explorers don’t have any notably unique quirks or personality; there’s no vulnerable body parts, no fight-or-flight reactions to player attacks, and there’s certainly no opportunity to blow sleeping enemies to smithereens with a few sneaky barrel bombs meaning that in the end all the fights feel like a rinse-and-repeat affair of unleashing abilities as often as possible while whittling down the enemy’s health and hoping you brought along enough potions to survive an accidental pummelling. This issue extends to the bosses too, and there’s really no excuse for iconic summons like Ifrit to be reduced to little more than oversized punching bags in yet another overly flat and featureless arena.
The game fails to deliver the expected Final Fantasy visual splendour too, even going so far to disable the 3DS’ stereoscopic screen capabilities. Now we didn't mind this at all in Dragon Quest Monsters 2 because we could see every last drop of graphical power being used to full effect, but Explorers feels distinctively underwhelming compared to even other demos from the same publisher, such as Bravely Second.
Overall Final Fantasy Explorers isn’t actually a bad game, but it suffers from being a merely "OK" one on a handheld that has the most up-to-date and accomplished entry in the genre it’s trying to muscle in on. The game lacks the depth of Monster Hunter and can’t make up for it with style and focus the way the Phantasy Star series arguably does, which leaves this demo feeling rather flat. Perhaps the final game will be better, but for the time being, we can't help but feel a little deflated by this much-hyped release.