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Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review

Initial release date: March 15, 2022 Writer: Kazushige Nojima Composer: Naoshi Mizuta Series: Final Fantasy Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows Developers: Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo, Square Enix Publishers: SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD., Square Enix

"Review Copy Provided By Square-Enix"

“I Don’t Give a Fuck Who You Are!” - Jack Garland

Is truly a line that sets Jack Garland apart from every other Final Fantasy hero that has ever existed and goes a long way in making him one of the best there is in gaming as he proceeds to punch the holy hell out of boss in the most crude way possible. When Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was first announced and showcased in 2021, it was mocked for its use of the word Chaos and the rather forward adult language that came from Jack and company which was starkly different from anything that had been in a Final Fantasy title before it. Add to that, the inclusion of the callbacks to the original Final Fantasy with Cornelia and the showing of Garland and then the randomly inserted Frank Sinatra classic “My Way” left a lot of people completely confused as to what this game was trying to be and what to expect. Three demos and several trailers later and here we are with the release of the game. Is Stranger of Paradise as weird as it seems at first or is it a damn good time with us needing to go out there and kill Chaos? I’m choosing to kill Chaos so lets mosey!

There’s been a lot speculation as to what exactly Stranger of Paradise is when it comes to it’s plot as many deem it to be a remake or retelling/prequel of the original Final Fantasy while Square-Enix themselves deem it is an alternate take on that entry while at the same time teasing that it is a full on remake of said game. So what is it then? Well, it IS a remake/re-imagining of the original game yet it is also an entirely new tale that we’ve never had before as well. The reason I say that is because there wasn’t much in the way of story to be had in the original Final Fantasy save for there being four Warriors of Light off to save the Kingdom of Cornelia from the evil Garland. What Stranger of Paradise does is give that simple story a backstory, setup, and execution that it never had before all while having a very Tetsuya Nomura level style of aesthetics and story telling added…..and leather and belts.

Jack Garland is a man of mystery that is driven by a singular objective to “kill Chaos”. He is joined by companions in Jed and Ash as they are all drawn to Cornelia for reasons that they do not know yet they all have crystals and are eventually joined by two more Warriors of Light. The question then becomes why are there five Warriors of Light when there have always been four? Questions like this along with the overall surreal nature of the game from the high fantasy settings to the other “dimensions” to the occasional playing of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” all play a role in making you wonder what is truly going on and is this a retelling of the original game.

It’s easy to slot Stranger of Paradise into the “Soulslike” genre due to how much it takes from that genre, yet I would say its easiest to say that this game is an amalgamation of “SoulsBorne”, Nioh (obviously), Ninja Gaiden, and a title you probably wouldn’t expect to hear from me being none other than Tomunobu Itagaki’s Devil’s Third. Devil’s Third? The failed high profile Wii U title? YES that game has a very strong influence on Stranger of Paradise as you can tell with how the main characters are both no nonsense straight laced badasses with quippy asshole like one liners and decimate their foes. Stranger of Paradise is truly one of the most accessible games to come out this year with the “Soulslike” genre and is easily a lot more accessible than something like Elden Ring and is also, to an extent, much more forgiving than that title is as well.

The controls are very much Nioh and Nioh 2 with a mixture of Ninja Gaiden and Devil’s Third giving it more of an action-oriented feel than say something of the Souls series which is slower and more methodical. You have your standard attack mapped to R1/RB with your heavier attack/magic attack mapped to R2/RT, however, it can only be used when you’ve built up some of your MP meter underneath your health after attacking some enemies or by using this games signature Soul Shield ability. The Soul Shield allows you to absorb certain attacks and be able to use them to fire back at enemies such as the fireballs from Bomb enemies and other elemental spells. When it comes to the combat, you can customize the various attacks that you get to use by setting the various attacks you gain from leveling up your job class. Experimentation is key here.

One thing I truly love is the Glory Kill like finishers that Jack does which makes me think of God of War, Gears of War, and the fatalities of Mortal Kombat. Upon staggering an enemy, ala Final Fantasy XIII, then you can press Circle/B to grab them and watch Jack brutally kill his enemies in a way that would make even Kratos blush. It's such a call back to the Blade on Bone system from Ninja Gaiden 3 and the pedigree of Koei-Tecmo and the by gone era of ruthlessly violent video games that would be deemed offensive in today's climate.

Where this game differs from the Nioh series is in incorporating the Final Fantasy series’ Job System which also plays into the progression system as well. Each of the numerous classes has an extensive skill tree of which you’ll need to master multiple job classes to be able to unlock more as some will have multiple class requirements to unlock. You have your typical job classes of Sword Master, Black Mage, Thief, Fighter/Pugilist, and Dragoon, but there are also some interesting new classes such as the Tyrant and Void Knight. There are a staggering number of classes offered here and this truly one of my favorite instances of the implementation of the job system in any Final Fantasy. Each of your party members has a default starting class and are also able to switch to other classes as well.

The enemy variety is impressive with you constantly running into different enemy types every few steps. Enemies are truly ruthless in their desire to have you dead and will apply tons of pressure on you (Tonberry’s are an absolute nightmare to deal with) along with having to deal with unfavorable environments to fight in where you could fall off to your death. Boss battles are just as chaotic and engaging and will require you to have a good grasp of not only the attack patterns of the boss but also what job classes you’re using, the teammates you bring along, and the level of comfort you have with using Soul Shield. There’s also an online multiplayer feature to this game allowing you and two other friends to dive in dungeon crawl!

The one area I find that tends to be a weakness of Stranger of Paradise is the loot system. If I were to describe it in one word, it would be: Ridiculous. I say that because for some strange reason the game just gives you an overwhelming amount of new gear every few moments between defeating enemies and opening chests which leads to you often pulling up the equipment menu to hit optimize to have the best equipment on your party. What’s worse is that in all the equipment you’re given, you will be given dozens of useless gear that will just hog space which can only be remedied by either dropping the equipment, sending it to your storage, or using them to be deconstructed by the smith. This is something that should be patched as it really gets old with the amount of gear given.

So how does the game look overall and how does it sound? Well visually, it walks a fine line of looking like it could’ve come out when Final Fantasy XIII came out and yet also looks like Nioh given the similarities in look between Jack and William. The character models are not the most detailed that I’ve seen and when compared to the games released in the last 2-3 years it does look a bit dated especially when you see some of the NPCs are repeated in cutscenes, however, that’s a minor nitpick and one you wont be focusing on much given you wont be in towns much as you’ll mainly be in dungeons and in battles. Environments all look stunningly good especially when you add in effects like rain, fire, snow, and more. The voice acting is pretty solid with your core team as they are always talking and gives off a great sense of comradery with Jack just being the biggest loveable asshole you’re going to meet with how he is with his team as his walls come down as the story progresses.

When it comes down to it, Stranger of Paradise is one damn fine game with a narrative that intentionally stays cryptic as the story goes on and then naturally reveals itself. The gameplay is refreshingly fun with an insane amount of depth to it beyond the surface level with a lot of fun systems to dive into although the above-mentioned issues of the loot system do bring it down a bit. Should you pick up Stranger of Paradise if you are a Souls fan or if you’ve never played a Souls title OR if you enjoyed Ninja Gaiden or Nioh? Yes, you most definitely should as it will give you an endless amount of replayability including the multiplayer feature allowing you to play with 2 additional friends! Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a welcome addition to the franchise and a true celebration of the franchise’s 35th anniversary with all of it’s callbacks to series history over the last 35 years along with telling a great origin story of the very first villain of the series.

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