In a move that was probably inevitable, Final Fantasy Explorers will be making its way to North America next year. It comes at a perfect time for Square Enix, which will look to capitalize on the rising popularity of the monster hunting genre in the west.
First released last December, Final Fantasy Explorers takes the Monster Hunter formula and repurposes it for the Final Fantasy universe, its most notable elements being the inclusion of well-known monsters and the iconic Job System. Jeremy dove into the TGS build and the subsequent demo in depth last year, where he professed to have fallen for its mix of familiar elements and more action-oriented gameplay.
"Explorers has obvious precedent in games like Crystal Chronicles and Monster Hunter, it's vastly more accessible than either — especially for Final Fantasy veterans versed in the series' lore and mechanics," Jeremy wrote last year. "Fast, fluid, visually impressive, and totally drowning in series' references (I talked to a warrior lady named Beatrice in the hub town, for pity's sake), Explorers seems like just the ticket to get holdouts hooked on multiplayer combat."
The success of Monster Hunter 4 earlier this year would seem to pave the way for Final Fantasy Explorers. Up until recently, the genre has struggled to gain traction in North America due in part to most of its releases being on the corpse of the PlayStation Portable. Now that it's largely shifted to the Nintendo 3DS, though, it's beginning to reach a wider audience. Earlier this year, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was the first in the series to surpass one million units shipped.
Will Final Fantasy Explorers be able to follow in its footsteps? That depends on whether it can achieve solid word-of-mouth from the hardcore Final Fantasy and monster hunting fans who will buy it on Day 1 regardless. While it should be taken with a grain of salt, reviews on Amazon Japan have been mixed (via Siliconaera). Final Fantasy Explorers is currently average 2.5/5 among customers, with the most helpful critical review claiming that it takes about 9 hours to get to the ending. Traveling is another problem, with running taking up AP that needs to recharge, slowing down the pace of the game.
Interestingly, Final Fantasy Explorers doesn't appear to be a total Monster Hunter clone. It has has seen quite a few comparisons, for instance, to Crystal Chronicles - the odd little action spinoff first released on the GameCube more than a decade ago. Japanese players have likened it to an MMORPG, suggesting a more structured experience than what you get in a typical Monster Hunter game. In that regard, Final Fantasy Explorers may end up having more appeal to those who prefer traditional story-based RPGs than it may have had otherwise.
Obviously, we'll reserve judgment until we see the game for ourselves. If nothing else, its faster pace and familiar elements should make for an engaging experience for fans of the series. It's honestly kind of a surprise that it's taken Square Enix to capitalize on Monster Hunter's popularity in Japan; but their reluctance to cash in seems to have paid some dividends, as it's now positioned to launch on a more popular platform at a time when the genre is on the rise in the west.
Final Fantasy Explorers will be launching on January 26, which should give it some breathing room in the wake of the usual holiday rush. Regardless of how well it ultimately does, getting a spinoff like this localized in the west is certainly a victory. Whatever happens, at least we get to try it for ourselves.