Final Fantasy as a franchise has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Countless spin-offs, remakes, MMORPGs, and a wide variety of sequels that don’t seem like it’ll stop anytime soon. The IP has solidified itself to be one of the most versatile brands in the gaming space. And now, we have Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin.
When I first heard that Team Ninja, the developers behind the excellent Nioh games, will be helming an origins story for the original Final Fantasy game, I thought what could possibly go wrong? It turns out, there’s a lot.
It’s All Just Chaos
To address the elephant in the room, yes, this game is very campy. This will not be your typical Final Fantasy story. Yes, it will have elements that series fans will pick up on alongside a few nods to iconic imagery but for the most part, Stranger of Paradise is what a B-movie treatment of the Final Fantasy brand will look like.
Some people will find that amusing while others may find it off-putting. Personally, I’m a bit of both. The game is as every bit ridiculous in tone as the trailers suggest. Don’t go into Stranger of Paradise thinking that you’ll be experiencing a typical Final Fantasy story. This is not a narrative that makes you think, it’s a popcorn flick that unintentionally makes you laugh with every turn.
You play as Jack, who will waste no time in making sure he reminds the player or anyone he talks to that he wants to kill Chaos. His entire personality revolves around that singular goal. You are initially joined by two companions, Ash and Jed.
The first meeting between the three is so underdeveloped, the devs must’ve said it out loud as a joke and one of the heads just said go for it. It was the first signal to me that I shouldn’t expect anything more than surface-level depth with the script.
Jack, Ash, and Jed lock eyes after following each other along a road. Jack says his mission is to *gasp* kill Chaos and Ash and Jed basically say “cool. Same.” The trio fistbumps each other and now they’re a team. That is it.
Immediately the game already lets you know that this is not your typical Final Fantasy story. The one that takes time with its colorful cast of characters who each have their own quirks and memorable aspects about them. A large part of the franchise’s success is related to how well-written the people are for the most part. Stranger of Paradise does not have the same luxury. It’s only really there to push the player from one place to another. And in a weird turn of events, they actually make it work.
I initially hated what I was seeing. It was starting to feel like a remastered PSP game being brought back to consoles two decades later. But, the game is so unapologetically old-school with the way it presents its story that I can’t help but laugh along the way. It’s hard to be overly critical with a narrative that has no intention of presenting something more than what it is already trying to say. It’s like dissecting the recent Fast & The Furious sequels. You can do it, but why would you?
The story only really gets somewhat interesting with the twists at the end but, before you reach any of those, you have to slog through hours of boring and filler content. Most of the dialogue and scenarios are unintentionally funny with how they play out. Jack is a character you will either hate for being Final Fantasy’s equivalent to a talking brick or ironically love due to how ridiculous he acts.
Let’s say someone is being emotional in a cutscene and they detail why they feel that way. Jack will say something along the lines of “bullshit.” and walk away while playing rock music. (I’m not joking this actually happens in the game.)
To be frank, I’m not quite sure who this story is for. Long-time fans of the franchise may get a nod or a reference here and there but other than that, it is terribly written, paced, and structured. Most of the fun of playing Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin will come from the absurd moments that come out of nowhere. I often found myself in complete disbelief at what I was seeing on screen. For better or for worse.
Souls-like That Lacks Soul
With a spotty narrative that will either be a hit or a miss, the one saving grace of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is in its gameplay. It’s actually pretty fun. It is Team Ninja after all.
Animations and effects are over the top and satisfying with controls that are responsive. You have the basic setup of light and heavy attacks. A block, a dodge, and a parry system. And finally, a special attack that consumes MP, which you can refill by doing normal attacks, absorbing enemy attacks, and performing executions (which look and sound fantastic).
While the difficulty is not much of a problem with most of the enemies, you still have to think about what you are doing as some enemy attacks hit hard and fast. Sometimes, the number of visual effects on the screen will make it harder for you to see telegraphed attacks from enemies, so avoid spamming abilities and combos as you will either be caught in a devastating blow or be stunlocked after your stagger meter is depleted.
What elevated the experience is the excellent job system. You can be a swordsman, lancer, mage, ronin and so much more depending on what you prefer. You can swap in between all 27 of them on the fly. Each has its own combos, skill trees, and builds that the player can play around and experiment with. Classes hit fast and hard and there isn’t really one that stands out that breaks balancing.
This is further complemented by the overflowing amount of gear you will get throughout the game. Each one has different stats, perks, and special effects depending on what job you pair them with. Although, the quantity comes at a cost, more on that later.
Considering that 80% of what you do in this game is combat, they did a good job in making sure the experience is not all that bad.
It is cool to see enemies that were just in 2D in the earlier games be reimagined in a 3D real-time action setting. Plus, Stranger of Paradise features co-op as an option. Slashing and dashing through the levels with a buddy is sure to bump up the experience’s fun factor a couple of points up. It’s also worth noting that achievements and progression carry over to each account which is a nice touch that is often overlooked.
Unfortunately, this is where the praises for the game will stop. While the moment-to-moment gameplay is fun, everything else that ties it all together isn’t.
Stranger of Paradise has the skeleton of the Nioh games written all over it. Selecting missions from a world map, going through linear levels, souls-like combat with a much faster pace and fantastical coat of paint, etc.
The Nioh games were one of the better attempts at the souls-borne genre made famous by FromSofftware. Given that they are adopting a similar system for Stranger of Paradise, you’d think it would be a win right? I’ll tell you right now, it most certainly is not.
Gameplay will only be as good as the sandbox the player is allowed to use it in. The level design in Stranger of Paradise has one of the most boring and generic layouts I have played through in recent memory.
It doesn’t help that the graphics look like they belong to the 7th generation of consoles. And even then, the 360 and PS3 had games that are so much better looking than what Stranger of Paradise is trying to look like.
As for the environmental audio, there are barely any. It’s all just overshadowed by the continuous playing of background music which to be fair, has some cool remixes of classic Final Fantasy tunes. The combat track, however, became so annoying by the midpoint, I began dreading it. You’ll be doing a lot of combat in this game. That means you’ll be listening to the same generic combat music over and over and over and over until you can’t wait for it all to be over.
Everything that made the Dark Souls franchise special was taken by Team Ninja with Nioh 1 and 2 and turned into its own unique experience that was both punishing and rewarding. All that charm and attention to detail felt like it was thrown out by the window with Stranger of Paradise. If anything, this game felt like what an alpha build of the Nioh games would be.
A Counterintuitive Experience
Despite my earlier comment of a wide variety of gear available for you to acquire, Stranger of Paradise features a loot system that will make you hate getting new loot. Inventory management is abysmal with no filter options and ranking. A level 20 shield can be sandwiched in a sea of level 4s and 11s.
The game will give you hundreds of loot and you have to shift through this with all your jobs, and your companions. Each piece of gear also has specific perks and buffs depending on the matching job which is also another thing you have to balance when it comes to navigating the cluttered UI. By the latter half of my playthrough, I just stopped caring about getting the most optimal builds as I was beginning to spend more time looking at stats than playing the game.
In terms of the difficulty, I played on the normal mode and for the most part, I wasn’t really experiencing any rough scenarios up until the later levels where it just ramps it up to insane levels. The game does give you the option to lower the difficulty in the middle of your playthrough but, it shouldn’t feel like you have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unplayable, but the difficulty curve is not as smooth as I would’ve wanted it to be.
One other thing I found really odd, why is this game’s file size so big? The presentation is nowhere near modern standards and the file size is about twice the size of Elden Ring. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Final Verdict – 6/10
Overall, this was a very rough experience that will be a 50/50. If you are someone who enjoys a campy tone with early 2000s gameplay, then maybe you’ll find value in Stranger of Paradise. If you are a longtime and die-hard fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, go into this thinking that it’s not what you will expect. There is a lot of questionable choices in both the narrative and UX experience but none of it is too bad that it brings down the entire game. There is fun to be had here, even though a lot of it will be unintentional. The co-op features might make it even better as you experience it all with a buddy.
From the very beginning, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin did not give out a good first impression. The trailer that was initially showcased to announce the game’s existence was laughably bad with dated graphics, questionable-looking gameplay, and possibly the most generic-looking emo protagonist to come out in recent memory.
This is a Final Fantasy game we’re talking about. A world filled with interesting characters, unique visuals, and captivating stories. As for the full game release? It’s barely an improvement if there are any.
An inconsistent story, bland characters, boring level design, and an unpleasant UX experience all encapsulate what Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is. The game is saved ever so slightly by the great combat and job system it has. Additionally, the ending may provide a bit of value to fans of the original game in the series.
The game is not offensively bad. It ran at a fairly stable framerate and the fast loading times for the PS5 definitely help stomach the experience since you’ll be loading in a lot of areas as you jump from one to another. But, it’s also not anything worth experiencing immediately. Maybe it’ll be worth picking up with a good discount later down the line but it is definitely not worth it at full price right now.
It’s not a horrible game, but it’s also not anything great. It’s an okay experience that will either click with you or not. I’d say pick up and play the demo first then decide if this will be for you. It does offer a pretty sizeable bite of what the experience will mostly be.
This was a bit of a miss for Team Ninja. It almost felt like they were forced to make this out of a contractual obligation. Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin feels like a game that should’ve been released 10 years ago. Some people will love that, some won’t.
This review was made using a game code for PS5 provided by the publisher.