After years of trying to get into Monster Hunter, I thought I'd finally found my opening. If any game could get me into co-op monster slaying, it would be Final Fantasy Explorers. It was a good try.
I don't blame Monster Hunter for failing to engage. I appreciate the idea of venturing forth with a group of like-minded hunters, working together to take down massive prey. I appreciate that some folks enjoy the hell out of going on missions to hunt materials to craft new weapons and armour to be able to tackle tougher missions.
I've played Monster Hunter games on the PSP, the Wii, the Wii U and 3DS. I've even played Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on iOS. The key here is that while I've played them all, I've never played them for very long.
Maybe it's because the grind is so well telegraphed. It only takes an hour in any Monster Hunter game to realise that you're going to need to hunt a hell of a lot of monsters to accomplish anything great. That leads to a lot of wandering the same areas killing the same things. Plus I've never really felt like I've accomplished much of anything. Perhaps if I pushed myself harder, stayed in the game longer that feeling would have surfaced.
Once the initial excitement of playing a new game with Final Fantasy in its name wore off, my experience with Explorers followed much the same path.
I'm an adventurer on an island hunting for crystals. That's all the setup I was given before being presented with the first in a menu full of missions at what looks very much like a fast food counter. It's an excellent metaphor for a game like Explorers versus traditional Final Fantasy fare. Normal FF games seat you at a table with a lovely view. The waiter reads you the menu, going into each item in exquisite detail. Between courses you and your companions share stories and chit chat. The entire meal is an experience. Final Fantasy Explorers stands impatiently behind the counter as your order, hands you a bag and sends you on your way.
There's nothing wrong with a little fast food now and then, and I enjoyed my first few bites of Explorers quite a bit. Those early quests, when I was just getting used to a combat system I found much simpler and intuitive than the game's obvious inspiration, were a bit of fun.
The Resonance mechanic was particularly compelling. Beating up creatures using a combination of standard attacks and dodges and button-combo abilities slowly builds up the Resonance meter. Once it reaches a certain point the player can activate various Crystal Surges, providing benefits to their party and often transforming basic abilities in nifty ways.
The mechanic gives players an excellent excuse to trash every monster they come across on the way to their quest objective. Or at least until your online teammates start getting frustrated that you're not making a beeline to the end of a quest and start spamming pre-generated messages to get your arse moving.
There are plenty of excellent ideas in Final Fantasy Explorers, and only most of them are cribbed from other games.The flexible Job system gives players a template of skills to help define their role in a party situation, while still allowing enough ability customisation to really make a character that suits your play style. The ability to replace other players with collectible monsters from Final Fantasy lore is incredibly welcome. I was even briefly excited at the notion of hunting down parts to craft and upgrade my weapons and armour.
But soon that same feeling of tedium started creeping in. Another trip to the quest counter. Another look at my "shopping" list. Another adventure in the same place I adventured before. Doing more things to get more things to make more things to do more things.
I can see how the idea of Final Fantasy Explorers would be enticing to the right sort of players. Folks with an established gaming group, friends joining together to take down a tough enemy or comparing equipment. Or at least people prepared to frequent forums dedicated to the game and share their experiences with others. Traditional Final Fantasy games come with their own rich stories. In Final Fantasy Explorers players have to make their own.
I don't blame Final Fantasy Explorers for failing to capture my imagination. I'm actually disappointed that it didn't. I figured slipping Monster Hunter between a couple thick slices of a series I love would be enough to mask the taste, but that flavour's just too strong to ignore.