|No matter what, you're spending an unhealthy amount of time.|
You know, this is a risky proposition. But having played these two titles almost back-to-back, I think it's very important that they go head-to-head. One is a seasoned franchise, stoked in the fires of Rathalos and polished more than ever before, and the other is a new attempt at capturing the same audience, with its own new twists to the gameplay and experience.
Which one did I like more? Well. Read on, and find out.
Final Fantasy Explorers
-A nice, big open world.
-Statistic-based jobs, abilities, and equipment upgrades allow for a massive variety in approach and play style
-Wrinkles in traditional, squad-based gameplay make ease of access and objective more approachable.
-Pretty disappointing online lag.
-Lack of variety in boss battle approaches hinders replay value.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
-New weapons and climbing mechanics are fun and varied
-Single player is vastly more approachable, with lots of benefits for online play
-Has a ridiculous amount of variety in fights
-Online equipment changing is a long haul.
-Expedition system accelerates out of control too quickly.
-The grind... the grind...
Square Enix has quite a bit going for them in the MMORPG field, and they successfully pulled off a team-based Action Role Playing Game with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. So it's very interesting to see them take a stab at the Monster Hunter style of gameplay. Mind you, saying this game is like Monster Hunter is a very thin comparison. Aside from the tiered quest style and there being boss battles, the two have quite a few differences.
Explorers focuses more on job acquisition, which means not all "styles" are available to the player at the start of the game. That's okay though, since later jobs are sort of like extensions and weapons can actually be shared between them. The game also uses a nice monster catching system to add members to a solo playthrough, allowing players to experiment with non-traditional roles like a healer and buffer. This variety in play style is wounded by the lack of interesting enemy encounters, however. While the Eidolions are a varied bunch, they focus around one sort of gimmick and then are never to be found again. Even when they change location, it rarely adds to the engagement. There's a bit of quest variety, and since it all takes place on a lovely, interconnected open world, there's potential to have to switch up for certain encounters. Upon beating the game, however, I found myself rarely challenged, or even rewarded, in the way I am with Monster Hunter.
As for 4 Ultimate, what is there to say? Well, a lot. This is the definitive Monster Hunter experience. After having played Tri Ultimate for a short while, I was turned off by the repetitive nature of the game and slow start. Not so, with 4U. It moves the tutorials along at a brisk pace, and the constant change of locale in the single player (as well as multiple unlocked side mechanics along the way) makes the entire thing feel as, well, JRPG as Monster Hunter has ever been. The new climbing and mounting mechanics make the game feel free in ways the previous entries were restricted, and oh my goodness, the monster variety is incredible! Sure, it IS the second entry in the "4" subseries, but it blows even Tri U out of the water with monkeys, spiders, and giant scary hermit crabs.
And then, of course, there's the online. Explorers has a few positives, though I mean it when I say "few". While its main hub has everything you could ask for- ability altering crystal, item, buff, and weapon shops, and even an airship that can drop you where ever you please on the map- it suffers from the one thing that any game like this NEEDS to lack- input lag. I don't care if the characters around me are jittering like a... jitterbug, if I feel a marked delay between my button press and when my skills are occurring, that's bad news for an ARPG.
Of course, this is cushioned (somewhat) by a lack of real "action". Since statistics are such a hefty part of the game and since abilities can be customized to such an extensive degree, positioning and targeting are really the only action-like qualities. You can dodge, but sometimes, your armor will automatically save you.
On the other hand, the only things that truly wound Monster Hunter are the fact that its equipment changing room is so far away (which can be annoying between quests), and the still-insane loot-drop rates, which aren't helped in the slightest by the new luck-boosting food items. Online is as smooth as ever, and can even handle multiple monsters in the same room, something Explorers doesn't even try.
It's hard to say which of these I like better. On one hand, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the best Monster Hunter there is, period. On the other, Final Fantasy Explorers is the first in a series, and there's some obvious flaws. But the things it does right are SO good- its job system is fantastic, the abilities are cool, and the fact that you can exploit certain jobs to help your material and monster grinding is awesome! Explorers still has some growing pains, but manages to be a more grounded affair because of its smart interconnected map and new ideas.
Still, Monster Hunter has a sword and shield that transform into a giant axe. I mean, come on. How can you possibly beat that? My only fear is that, because of its low sales, Square Enix won't invest time into making an even BETTER Final Fantasy Explorers- and if this is to be the only installment in the series, I'd say you should give it a try, just to see how different Monster Hunter can really be.
Final Verdict: Love Monster Hunter, but looking for something more numbers-based and immersive? The complete world of Final Fantasy Explorers might be for you. On the other hand, MH4U is the culmination of great monster design, well-oiled mechanics, and an engaging single player mode. It's hard to compete with a series like this, but when Explorers offers something so different, it's also hard to say it's competing.