Monster Hunter Generations (3DS) Review

The Hunt is On

The Monster Hunter series began on the PlayStation 2 and defined its own unique genre of giant creature battling action role-playing game. Its signature gameplay loop of hunting monsters, carving their bodies, and forging new armor has since been replicated in games such as God Eater and Final Fantasy Explorers. Nevertheless, Monster Hunter continues to build off of its own strengths and expand it with each game. After four mainline games and a number of expansions and spinoffs, Monster Hunter Generations for the Nintendo 3DS brings them all together. MHG collects fan-favorite monsters, village hubs, and characters in one adventure while introducing new hunting variations and special moves that completely alter a hunter’s playstyle. With hundreds of quests and a robust online multiplayer mode, MHG is a monstrous force to be reckoned.

Gameplay

If you liked any of the recent Monster Hunter offerings such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, you will enjoy this game. MHG features the same refined control styles and weapons from MH4U, and it’s easy to switch from one game to the other. The callbacks are welcome fanservice, and the additions allow you to experience MH in a new way. Although this is a novel adventure, a large chunk of the monsters and areas are recycled from previous games. Unless you are completely satisfied with MH4U tiding you over until a new mainline game, this game is highly recommended as a celebration of all things Monster Hunter.

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Use a variety of weapons to take down larger-than-life monsters.

Now, for everyone else who hasn’t experienced Monster Hunter, the core gameplay composes of your customizable hunter taking on quests to battle large creatures. The monsters provide widely different fights and have distinct appearances, such as dragons, wyverns, dinosaurs, snakes, and sea beasts. Upon beginning a quest, you are placed in one of several maps from wintry mountaintops to volcanic cliffs. Each map is partitioned into several sections (usually around 10), and you must search through each area to find the targeted monster. Once you find it, the monster lets out a mighty roar, showing you that it’s ready to fight back.

Battles are real-time action affairs where you must find opportunities to strike while dodging monster attacks. It’s not a strict back-and-forth, however. Your actions are limited by your speed and stamina. Unlike faster action RPGs, every move carries specific weight. Some may see this slower approach to gameplay as a setback, but the controls are deep and sophisticated. Each motion has value to it, and the flow of battle will vary between different weapons and monsters. If you are using a hard-hitting Hammer, you aren’t going to be able to swing it around easily. Each of your actions must be deliberate and strategic, while running on instinct. Lighter weapons like the Dual Blades allow you to attack more swiftly, but you sacrifice power and defense in the process. Since you are up-close to the monster, you need to dodge carefully, which brings stamina into play. Running, dodging, and some other actions use up stamina. If you run out, you slow down and start panting. You can consume items to keep your health and stamina in check, but even the consumption animation takes time.

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Survival requires strategic timing.

Conversely, there are times where the monster may get tired or even topple over. You can take advantage by wailing mercilessly on the monster or by powering up. Each monster has its own vulnerabilities, and targeting those weak spots can result in big gains. Monsters also have their own tells, or animation cues that tell you what they’re about to do. Just like reading an opponent in a fighting game or memorizing patterns in a boss battle, evaluating and reacting appropriately to monsters’ moves separates seasoned and rookie hunters.

The steep difficulty curve is the biggest turnoff from this otherwise exhilarating battle system. This isn’t a hack-and-slash game, and players who attempt to make it one may struggle. Learning the ropes has always been the biggest challenge in MH games. It’s never really explained how you should hunt. While this fosters independence, the lack of feedback can be frustrating. There are no monster health bars or indicators of an attack’s power. If you lose a fight, you may not know how well you were doing or what you’re doing wrong. MH fans have grown accustomed to this and even like it, but new players will likely have trouble. There are optional tutorial quests that teach you basics and weapons’ controls. However, truly learning how to succeed will take a lot of patience, effort, and possible external help from veterans and guides.

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The game is tough to learn, but fun to master.

Once you get past that hurdle, the rest of the game provides an addictive loop of fighting monsters and building stronger weapons and armor from their carcasses. The moment a titanic monster finally goes down after a lengthy battle is comparable to delivering the final blow on a difficult boss. Carving its skin for goodies is the cherry on top. In-between quests, you are free to prepare for your next mission by making and upgrading valuable equipment based on a set number of needed materials. Usually, you’ll need to aim at specific monster parts to gain materials you need. Since the drops are random, you may end up grinding to defeat a single monster several times. It does get exhausting sometimes, especially when playing alone, but it feels great once you finally forge your new creations. Your new equipment actually looks handcrafted from the monster’s remains. The sense of progression feels satisfying as you find yourself defeating more difficult monsters and taking their powerful materials.

Your hunter doesn’t level up, so your equipment defines your stats. They also affect your skills, in another vaguely explained game mechanic. Unlike what you might expect, the skill-up bonuses from equipment only matter if you’ve gained enough to reach a certain threshold (usually +10). Upon gaining 10 points, you gain the new skill. They include stat bonuses, elemental resistances, weapon perks, dodge abilities, and more. Unfortunately, you often need to wear a complete 5-piece set of armor to gain certain skills. If you’re crafty, you can combine certain sets and forge special decorations to optimize your desired skills.

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The armor and weapons formed from monster materials look great up-close.

Materials can also be used to make powerful weapons. The large variety of weapons is one of the best aspects of this game, giving the game customizability and replayability. With 14 weapons types, you can find at least one that suits your playing style. A standard Sword & Shield allows you to balance attack and defense, the Lance tests your patience as you wait for opportunities to strike, the blunt Hammer charges up for heavy stunning moves, and Bowguns allow you to fire at monsters from afar. There are even status-changing weapons like the insect-powered Insect Glaive and the music-based Hunting Horn. There is a weapon for everybody, and mastering one is inherently satiating, especially in such a heavily skill-based game. Wielding another weapon completely changes how you play, so trying out new weapons can freshen up your hunting experience. The controls are all different but feel great. As a note, the game works best with the New 3DS or Circle Pad Pro. The extra nub/circle pad for camera control helps during hunts and is almost necessary for some weapons like the Bowguns.

MHG also has a brand new 15th weapon, or rather playable character, in Prowler Mode. You can now hunt as a Felyne, a cat that usually assists your character during single-player hunts. Felynes fight similarly to hunters, though are limited to blades, blunt weapons, and boomerangs. Besides being adorable, these cats run without losing stamina. They can also gather materials easily, catching bugs and fish with their own unbreakable nets and rods. You can activate special abilities, like healing or throwing bombs, by filling a meter. Felynes actually level up, offering a more standard progression that players may be more used to. Prowler Mode improves the less-entertaining gathering missions thanks to a Felyne’s abilities, but don’t underestimate leveled up Felynes when taking on monsters.

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The Meownster Hunters

The biggest additions to MHG are the new Hunter Styles and Hunter Arts. Styles represent different schemes to use a weapon. Fans who want to stick with neutral, familiar territory can use the Guild Style, which is essentially the MH4U control scheme. The three new ways to play are the Aerial Style, allowing you to better jump and mount a monster’s back to topple it; Adept Style, rewarding you with power-ups for successfully dodging a monster’s attack; and Striker Style, focusing on activating the new Hunter Arts.

Arts are special moves that come in the form of powerful attacks, effective dodges, and weapon-specific bonuses. For instance, a Great Sword can unleash a ground-splitting slash, a Light Bowgun can reload all ammo at once, and a Hunting Horn can activate all power-up songs at the same time. Each weapon has three exclusive Arts, and there are another half-dozen Arts that any weapon can utilize. Between the four Hunting Styles and multitude of Hunting Arts, the amount of playstyles essentially multiplies tenfold. For seasoned hunters, these are the most enticing incentives to pick this game up.

Apart from these additions and some quality of life improvements, MHG doesn’t add much more new content. There is one new village and one new hunting area. At least the few novel monsters are all high-quality, including a sleep-inducing owl and a new group of monsters dubbed “The Fated Four.” Regardless, anyone new to the franchise can witness all of the best MH monsters in one game.

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One of the new monsters, the owl-like Malfestio

MH titles have never been too dependent on story, and MHG is no different. Instead, you progress on quests with a loose narrative tying them together. Quests range from large monster fights to item gathering. Although the game is mostly about the former, the latter is crucial in building up a stock of items (which can be combined to form better items). They can get boring, but they provide nice breaks in-between heated monster hunts. Likewise, capture quests – in which you must weaken and trap a monster – and one-on-one arena showdowns keep the grind from getting stale. In both offline and online play, there are ranked tiers of quests. Finishing certain quests unlocks an Urgent Quest, which upon completion grants access to the next tier up. However, there is no way to tell which of the dozen quests within in a rank are important aside from checking a guide or simply playing them all. Regardless, the higher-ranked quests produce some of the most exhilarating battles with multiple monster “hunt-a-thons” and epic arena fights with dragons. Returning fans may be disappointed to learn that there is no insane G-Rank difficulty, but jacked-up Deviant Monsters provide a worthy replacement challenge.

With all this said, the most enjoyable part about the MH series is its multiplayer mode. Up to four people, either local or online, can cooperate on a hunt. A group of hunters, all trained in different weapons, taking down a large beast, is where the true MH experience shines. Your group can participate in a large set of quests geared for multiplayer. One person picks the quest, and the group can decide if they want to go on it. For the most part, any cleared quest will count as completed for each player. The exceptions are the Urgent and Deviant Quests, whose completion only counts for the person who picked it. This unfortunately means that you’ll have to grind these quests multiple times for each player.

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Multiplayer hunting is one of the game’s biggest highlights.

Online play works great, and connection hiccups are rare. Joining or hosting a room for randoms is fast. A lack of voice chat hurts communication, and players are limited to keyboard chat and preset greetings. Voice chat would have been welcome since this game is so dependent on working together and communicating which quests you need completed. Although you can use outside chat proxies, there is little excuse to exclude voice chat, at least with friends.

Playtime/Replayability

With dozens of monsters and hundreds of quests, each taking an average of 20-30 minutes, there is a lot to do in MHG. Finishing the main storyline can take anywhere between 50-100 hours, depending on how many quests you do. Finishing all the quests, earning every achievement, and grinding to forge equipment easily adds several hundred hours to that count. Finally, playing with friends adds replay value on top of that.

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The action looks and sounds exciting!

Graphics and Sound

The graphics look as sophisticated as they’ve ever been, with gorgeously detailed monsters and scenic areas. The animations are spot-on and help you easily notice monster tells. Your customizable hunter fluidly attacks with little to no problem in framerate. There aren’t many cutscenes, but they all look stunning. You will quickly notice the music starts out eerily quiet when you begin a mission. This is purposefully done to offset the moment that the monster notices you, in which an alert jingle plays, leading to orchestral-quality battle music. Some of the new tunes, including “The Fated Four” battle songs, energetic arena music, and the calm Bherna Village theme, are beautiful pieces that are worth listening to on loop. The victorious jingle that plays when you finish off a monster is sure to fill you with a triumphant feeling. Characters only grunt, but you’d be convinced the creatures were real after hearing their roars and battlecries.

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Gotta Hunt ‘Em All!

Conclusion

Monster Hunter Generations is an engaging foray into a world filled with menacing monsters and spirited hunters. Although it’s not a new full-fledged entry in the series, there are enough exciting features and monsters to make this a worthwhile purchase. The Hunter Styles, Hunter Arts, and Prowler Mode, combined with the already impressive 14 weapons, add to the diverse playstyles. A solid multiplayer mode, albeit lacking voice chat, keeps the game a highly entertaining social experience. Even single-player’s addictive gameplay loop of epic monster battles and beefed up equipment is enough to keep any hunter engaged for hundreds of hours. It may have a steep difficulty curve, but mastering its deep strategic gameplay to take down huge monsters is a thrill worth the investment.

Score: 9/10

What are your thoughts on Monster Hunter Generations? Are you a veteran hunter or looking into the series? Do you have any favorite games, weapons, or monsters from the series? What do you think of this game or any other game in the “monster hunting” genre? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments below!

Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Review

Monster Hunting in Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy Explorers is Square-Enix’s attempt at incorporating a cooperative mission-based gameplay structure into the world of Final Fantasy.  Although Final Fantasy is in the name, this does not play at all like one.  That is not to say that this game is bad, but requires different expectations coming into it.  Rather than taking story or characters from any single game in the series, Final Fantasy Explorers instead features an original world while including cameos from the other entries.  This game does not have the elements most common to the original Japanese RPGs, such as a turn-based system or leveling up, but instead utilizes a simple hack-and-slash approach.  In contrast to story-heavy Final Fantasy games, Explorers prioritizes social gameplay and a mission-based structure.  The end result is a game that is not at all like Final Fantasy, but features enough fan-service that may still appeal to the most hardcore of Final Fantasy fans.

Story

Unlike main Final Fantasy titles, this game does not focus on story.  There is a bare-bones story that is told through some non-playable characters in town.  Overall, you are an explorer, not any certain character but rather a created avatar.  Your goal is to defeat monsters and gain licenses, raising your rank.  There is a threat at work and as you play through the game, you will be able to learn more.  The story is as forgettable as it sounds and is really meant to just guide you through the early parts of the game.  Luckily, this game is more leveraged on its gameplay than its story.

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A lot of your game time will be spent in this town.

Gameplay

Explorer!

Final Fantasy Explorers is a game that is easy to pick up and play, which complements its portable nature.  The game focuses on numerous missions, with each taking anywhere from 10-45 minutes depending on player skill and difficulty.  Most missions ask you to defeat a certain number of enemies or .  There are a large number of missions, divided into difficulty ranks ranging from 1-10.  Many of the quests are actually very similar, due to the limited number of monsters and bosses, leading to quite a bit of repetition.  In addition, the world is not very big and only consists of about 15 major areas separated by “randomly-generated pathways.”  By that, I mean you will randomly be put in very small basic pathways (straight line, T-shaped, L-shaped, etc.) with a few enemies each.  Go through 3 of these to reach a bigger area.  It will usually take less than 5 minutes to explore these “larger” areas, because of a lack of enemies or diverse topography.  For a game with the word “explorers” in the title, the small scope of the world limits the actual exploration.

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Fight classic Final Fantasy monsters throughout the land.

Such limited scope of the world makes the game feel cramped and makes missions feel repetitive.  Because you will need plenty of the loot given as rewards to make better equipment, be prepared to do some of these missions over and over again.  The game does allow you to embark in any of the major areas by using an airship, meaning you can literally teleport near a boss and finish the mission within minutes.  However, such a structure merely drives the point that there is not much to explore due to its small world.

Job System

Before taking missions, you must prepare your customized character in town.  There are a decent number of jobs, including mainstay Final Fantasy jobs of Knights, Monks, White Mages, and Black Mages.  The game begins with a few options and more advanced jobs are unlocked as the game progresses.  Each job functions like a typical RPG class and has different abilities, skills, and equippable weapons.  For example, Knights equip swords and have good attack and high defense, Monks are strong physical attackers who use knuckles, and White Mages focus on healing magic as opposed to attacks.  This system shines brightest in multiplayer mode, where a group of up to 4 people with different jobs can utilize individual strengths and playing styles.  The game rewards teamwork in this regard.  However, in solo mode, it is harder for some jobs to stand out, such as the weaker, primarily healing White Mage.  While it is doable to play alone in any of the classes, some are more frustrating than others.  Regardless, having a myriad of options welcomes experimentation and customization, as each job feels unique.

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Monks use knuckles to vanquish their foes.  White mages assist by healing.

Battle System

Regardless of the job you pick, the mission structure is similar.  Go into the world and hack away or cast magic spells at everything you come across.  All action is real-time as opposed to turn-based.  Attacking and dodging effectively are the primary strategies.  For those expecting a complex battle system where using different weapons and pressing various button combinations will result in battle combos, it is best to look elsewhere.  Final Fantasy Explorers only uses a single button for basic attacks.  Pressing it multiple times will allow you to do several more swings of your weapon, but it is not at all a deep system.  Luckily, there are different weapons to experiment with.  However, aside from each having a unique feel and speed, the simple battle system limits each weapon’s true potential.

Luckily, the skill system makes up for it as one of the best parts about this game.  Each job comes with its own set of special skills from dynamic blows to barrages of arrows.  Skills take time to activate, but you can use them at any time, even one after another.  The only limits are: Ability Points which are used up to activate skills, and cooldown periods in which you must wait to activate the same skill again.  Those willing to explore each job will be able to appreciate the diverse skillsets each one provides.

In what is perhaps the most original part of this skill system, skills can now be upgraded through Crystal Surges.  Crystal Surges are special temporary upgrades activated by building your Resonance meter through attacking enemies.  These upgrades may add an element to your attack or give you bonuses, such as increasing attack, defense, and HP recovery.  By using skills during a Crystal Surge, an upgraded version of the skill is created, incorporating the type of bonus gained.  For example, using an attack skill while the Fire Affinity Crystal Surge is activated will allow you to create a fire element version of that skill.  Note that you will still have to buy that upgraded skill with Crystal Points to permanently keep it.  However, once you own that skill, you can create an expanded skill with even more bonuses by using it during other Crystal Surges.  Building off of the previous example, your new fire skill can also gain the ability to poison enemies if you use it during a poison-type Crystal Surge.  This skill-building mechanic can be quite addictive, especially if you are willing to grind for the numerous additions each skill can have.  A small criticism of the Crystal Surge system is that it is too random.  Depending on your Resonance level, you have a choice of up to 4 Crystal Surges you can activate. Unfortunately, you cannot choose which 4 are available, which may not be helpful.

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Battle across large fields.

Another big aspect of this game that primarily serves as fan-service is the Trance system.  By filling a Trance meter, you can temporarily become a hero from past Final Fantasies, such as Cloud, Squall, and Tidus, among others.  While it is fun to suddenly take on the form of a classic character, the whole process is too short to change much.  If you activate a Crystal Surge during Trance mode, you can use an iconic move, such as Cloud’s Omnislash.  However, they are a little-watered down and do not fully resemble the attacks as originally represented in their respective games.  Regardless, this is a nice nod to Final Fantasy fans, though not a fully realized experience.

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Play as fan-favorite characters like Cloud!

All of these elements come together to help you fight the real meat of this game, the Eidolons.  In the Final Fantasy universe, Eidolons are summoned creatures that help in battle (fire beast Ifrit and ice goddess Shiva, for example).  In Final Fantasy Explorers, they are the major bosses.  Eidolons are a step above the normal enemies and can be quite difficult.  Some more strategy is required during these encounters, which is appreciated considering the game’s repetitiveness.  However, aside from a few cases, the bosses feel a bit uninspired.  While you can break parts of bosses to get more loot, there are no truly weak spots or special sequences that make the bosses stand out.  If your team has the right stats, you may even be able to defeat the bosses without a sweat.  They really are just giant hard-hitting enemies.  Another disappointment is that recurrent encounters with a limited number of Eidolons (about a dozen) make the game feel even more repetitive.

Solo vs. Multiplayer

For this type of game, the multiplayer aspects are the focus.  Thus, solo mode is just passable in this game.  Playing merely to enjoy the lackluster story will likely bore the solo player.  As a replacement of real-life partners, monster allies can be created to accompany players on missions.  However, they are a bit unbalanced. They are either too weak to make dent or so overpowered that they take down bosses for you.  Another disadvantage to playing solo is that the game is designed to support multiple jobs, so only having one job is limiting.  Monster allies can help offset these issues but are no substitute for the fun to be had in multiplayer.

Multiplayer with friends is the real highlight of the game and makes the game feel more alive.  Final Fantasy Explorers supports both local and online multiplayer for up to 4 people at once.  Having to work together to beat a boss is more of a thrill than doing it alone or with computer-controlled monster allies.  The unique jobs synergize to form a cohesive team.  This can be realized when playing local multiplayer or online with friends.  The same cannot always be said when playing with random people online.

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Multiple people can team up via local and online play.

Online multiplayer can be fun, but a lack of communication options can make finding that enjoyable experience difficult.  In online multiplayer, you may create or join rooms.  These rooms actually have quite a few options.  For instance, you can look for people who are stronger than you or others of equal or lower level.  You can even specify what you want to do online using preset options, such as grinding for loot, doing high-rank missions, or helping others train.  Once you get into the room, however, it is difficult to actually coordinate all of this due to a lack of chat options.  There is no voice chat, and the comments you can make are limited.  In addition, online lobbies allow anyone inside to choose a quest, meaning there can be multiple quests being chosen at once.  Members in the lobby will then have to decide which quests to go on or just leave the room altogether.  Odd inconveniences have happened before in which I have entered lobbies where people had already embarked on quests.  I did not know where to go or what to do and just left the lobby.  If there was a quest I did not have access to, I could not even join in.  A way to reliably communicate could offset this.  Instead, we get limited presets that are vague like, “Let’s do this.”  Note that while you can edit the presets, there are character limits.  The confusing online infrastructure is barely passable due to the simple nature of the game itself.  For a more enjoyable experience, I recommend playing with others that you can communicate with in real-time via an actual chat system (like Skype).

Despite the flaws online, multiplayer is still the way to play, and finding a good group to play with will surely extend the life of this game.  Taking down the strongest and highest-ranked monsters calls for a skilled, synergized team.  Plus, it is simply more fun to play with real people considering how repetitive the game can become when playing alone.

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A view of the bottom screen.

Lastly, there are other features that round out this title.  For one, quest options can make the game more challenging by adding extra conditions, such as decreasing the time limit or increasing damage dealt by enemies.  You get more rewards for completing quests with these handicaps.  You can also take on subquests that act as bonus conditions to get more Crystal Points.  They are usually simple missions like defeating a certain number of enemies or activating a certain Crystal Surge.  Finally, Streetpass functionality gives you License cards, or profiles of other players, but do not do much else.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are a little primitive looking, but are decent considering that this is a 3DS game.  There are some odd textures but the game still handles all of these graphics well considering the action.  The style is appropriately cutesy and super-deformed, matching its lighthearted tone.  The environmental settings are perhaps the nicest things to look at and make the world feel bigger than it is.  Interestingly enough, there is no 3D functionality, which may not be a big deal, but is certainly disappointing given how much better the game could stand out with it.

The sound is decent as well, with music selections that feel epic and action-packed.  The best part is probably the borrowed music from other Final Fantasy games during Trance mode.  These iconic themes are nice fan-service but make the actual game music feel a bit uninspired.  There is no voice acting, but the voice clips from non-playable characters are so poor in quality that perhaps this is for the best.  The female voice that shouts “Explorers!” sounds particularly forced, and you hear it every time you take on a quest.

Playtime/Replayability

The average playtime of the story, without too much grinding, is about 15-20 hours.  However, it is important to note that the single-player story mode is really just a tutorial, and the real meat of the game is found post-game.  There is a lot to do, including grinding for equipment, mastering the numerous jobs, finishing the higher ranked quests (which can get very difficult without multiplayer), and completing the explorer’s notebook.  Multiplayer extends the life of this game, as long as you can find people online that will work with you.  That said, even multiplayer mode can get repetitive due to the mission grinding structure, making a prolonged play-session a little boring.  Finding the right balance of playtime and multiplayer sessions is key for the longevity of this game.

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Explorers!

Conclusion

Final Fantasy Explorers is a decent game best played with friends in multiplayer mode.  The solo mode is repetitive and unbalanced, but with multiplayer, the game experience feels more complete and exciting.  While there are hiccups and flaws due to a lack of communication options in online multiplayer, it is still a solid mode to play with the right group of people.  The jobs, skills, and trance systems add depth and variety regardless of which mode you play.  In addition, the featured cameos of classic Final Fantasy characters and Eidolons will please most fans of the series.  While it can be compared to games like Monster Hunter and MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV Online, this game is perhaps closer to a slightly faster version of the 4-player action title, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.  In comparison to its larger counterparts, this title falls short in terms of features and the scope of the world, but taken on its own, it is an easygoing game that can just be picked up and played.  Overall, Final Fantasy Explorers has numerous flaws and a repetitive nature, but there is still fun to be had for those looking for a simple multiplayer hack-and-slash action title.

Score: 6/10

What do you think of Final Fantasy Explorers?  Do you have a favorite job class?  How does it stack up against other cooperative multiplayer experiences?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!