Initial Thoughts: Square Enix Goes Full Blizzard With Final Fantasy Explorers

Initial Thoughts: Square Enix Goes Full Blizzard With Final Fantasy Explorers

Square Enix targets a more casual audience with their take on Monster Hunter.

What's the best way to capitalize on a popular gaming trend without being a pale imitation? It's a question that developers have had to grapple with throughout the medium's history. With Final Fantasy Explorers, the franchise's attempted answer to Monster Hunter, Square Enix's answer seems to be, "Go full Blizzard."

As far as models go, Square Enix could do worse. From World of WarCraft to Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard has long been known for the mastery of co-opting a new trends and making them their own. They accomplish this feat by mixing an attractive presentation with well-balanced, intuitive gameplay and familiar characters. They have been criticised at times for being a little too light - Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm come to mind - but there's no denying the broad appeal of their games.

Square Enix is uniquely positioned to leverage familiar characters in the service of carving out their own niche in a given genre.

Simple as Blizzard's formula might seem, though, few publishers are in a position to copy it. Their success is the product of years spent building up a familiar stable of characters and properties, then leveraging the built-in fanbase that comes with them. In addition, Blizzard's sustained success has made them an attractive destination for some of the developers in the business. The publishers in position to take advantage of Blizzard's formula for success are long-standing companies like Nintendo, Capcom, and of course, Square Enix.

Perhaps knowing that they can't really compete with Monster Hunter even if they sprinkle in Eidolons, Chocobos, and the Job System, Square Enix has opted to go for the broadest audience possible with Final Fantasy Explorers. This is the game for people who find the idea of Monster Hunter appealing but are turned off by its deliberate combat and somewhat complex systems. It's much more of a hack-and-slash action RPG than its competition, which puts a premium on skillfully timed attacks and dodging.

That's not necessarily a negative. There will be some who miss Monster Hunter's more thoughtful approach, but there will be plenty of others who gravitate toward Final Fantasy Explorers' more kinetic action. There will never be a point in Final Fantasy Explorers where you think, "How exactly do I use this weapon?" Whether you choose a bow or a sword, you'll be able to wade right in and start doing damage.

The armor in Final Fantasy Explorers is pretty cool, too.

That's not to say that Final Fantasy Explorers completely lacks depth. The first few missions are quite easy, but you will have to put some thought into your approach to Ifrit, who is a tough opponent with some very dangerous attacks. Using the materials you collect from monsters to imbue your weapons ith elemental attacks is one key to taking out the likes of Ifrit and Shiva. There are also Crystal Surges - a power-up that will temporarily grant special passive and active buffs. And, of course, it helps to have a well-balanced party capable of absorbing attacks and dealing large amounts of damage, which is accomplished via the various classes available through the Job System.

In that respect, Final Fantasy Explorers is very much in the tradition of Blizzard's "fun, accessible, but deeper than it looks." I'm guessing that some will dismiss it as a "My First Monster Hunter" game, but this was probably the right approach for Square Enix. For those who have never really been able to get into Capcom's franchise - and I count myself in that group - Final Fantasy Explorers is an enjoyable alternative.

As for whether it will have any staying power, we'll just have to see.

Is it worth checking out?

Jeremy is working on a full review of Final Fantasy Explorers, so he'll be able to answer this question better than I can. Having spent several hours with it, though, I will say that I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

As I said, I've never really been motivated to invest the time required to learn the ins and outs of Monster Hunter, which is mainly a function of my preference for turn-based tactics and competitive games. With Final Fantasy Explorers being so easy to pick up and play, though, I've had a much easier time getting into it. It's the kind of game that you can play casually with a significant other or your kids - something that can enjoyed over a pizza with some music in the background.

In the long run, Monster Hunter is probably the more rewarding of the two games. Its ecosystem feels more diverse and alive, its combat is deeper, and its encounters feel more like actual "hunts" in the way that you have to bait and chase your quarry. Ifrit is no slouch, but at least you don't have to worry about him running away. What's more, Monster Hunter is a much more attractive game on 3DS. Final Fantasy Explorers doesn't even support 3D.

For me, though, Final Fantasy Explorers is in the ideal place of being engaging without being a full-time commitment. It's the kind of game that I can break out and play with my friends without worrying too much about being out of practice or knowing where to find everything. Even better, it's the kind of game that I can hand to a friend and have them up to speed in the space of about five minutes.

So while Final Fantasy Explorers is unlikely to pry dedicated Monster Hunter fans from their game of choice, it does fill a very welcome niche for those looking for something a little lighter. And that, at least, is what will probably keep me playing for the time being.

Tagged with initial thoughts, Reviews, Role Playing Games, Square Enix.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

USgamer's Best Games of 2016: Biggest Disappointment

We pick through the wreckage of some of this year's biggest disappointments.

USgamer's RPG Podcast Delves Into Final Fantasy Explorers and Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam

AXE OF THE BLOOD GOD: Does Final Fantasy Explorers live up to the franchise's name? Is Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam worth checking out? We share our thoughts!

Axe of the Blood God Episode 20: Dragon Quest XI is Real at Last

Jeremy checks in to discuss Dragon Quest XI, Final Fantasy Explorers, and Odin Sphere with Kat.

Diary of a Final Fantasy Explorer: Tripping the Lite

Jeremy hunkers down to spend a whole lot of time with the upcoming 3DS action RPG, beginning with Japan's recent demo.

TGS: Monster Hunters and Crystal Chronicles had a Love Child and Named it Final Fantasy Explorers

Oh, and there's an awful lot of classic Final Fantasy in there, too. Hands-on impressions inside.

It's Time for Nintendo Switch Games to Have a Better Handheld Experience

It's no longer a good idea to relegate the Switch's portable mode to second class.

More Reviews

Elsinore Review

What a piece of work is a man.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review

After a decade, a new alliance is here.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review

With these hands we will destroy, and with these hands we will rebuild.

Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers Review

Now, this is a story all about how, our life got flipped—turned upside down.

More Role Playing Games Games

Mega Man X is Back!...On Mobile

No, it's not Mega Man X9 (yet), but at least you get to play as Cinnamon.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Tips and Tricks, Beginner’s Guide, Controls Layout

In this Assassin's Creed Odyssey guide, we'll be walking you through ship combat, recruiting new crew members, the full controls layout, Exploration versus Guided mode, and more.