Look, I’ll start this review for Stranger of Paradise : Final Fantasy Origin by admitting I was wrong. Like many people, I cringed hard when Team Ninja’s take on the original Final Fantasy was first shown off, complete with a corrupted demo.
Now that we’ve hit launch, it’s hard to describe Stranger of Paradise as anything more than one of the most inventive Final Fantasy titles- and is sure to find its own passionate fanbase like many other non-mainline titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Dissidia.
It’s no perfect game, but one thing I definitely picked up on while having to review Stranger of Paradise was just how nice it felt to have the game feel so authentic to itself, especially when authentic means having great action and a fairly unique story.
The Story Which Is Surprisingly Enough About Chaos
Weirdly enough, Stranger of Paradise feels like the most appropriate title for celebrating 35 years of Final Fantasy. Not because it does so in any way, but rather because it’s impossible to make sense of the game’s plot if you’re not even a little familiar with the premise for the original Final Fantasy.
You play as Jack, a stranger in the kingdom of Cornelia who meets up with Ash and Jed, carrying magic stones that lead them to believe they’re the prophesized Warriors of Light, come to kill chaos. You’d remember the sheer amount of memes born from Jack’s psychotic obsession with killing chaos- they’re very much a core part of his characterisation.
Without going into spoilers the effect the game seems to be going for is very much rooted in your knowledge of the bare-bones plot of the original Final Fantasy: four warriors of light want to save the realm by restoring the Elemental Crystals and defeating the Fiends who guard them and their master, the treacherous knight Garland.
There’s no twist that feels unexpected in the game- heck, an early trailer reveals to you that Jack’s name is Jack Garland, but I also highly recommend steering clear of the game’s ending not so much for where Jack and friends end up, but how they get there. It’s an absolute delight, and one of the most satisfying endings for a game I’ve played in a while.
That being said, cutscenes in the game are, well, rough. Dialogue feels stilted and janky, and Jack and his fellow Warriors of Light will say things like “You know I’m like this” when it’s been 15 hours and no, Jed, I actually never knew you were like this.
On the other hand they do create the same kind of jank charm a lot of PS3 games had with this presentation. Jack in particular is an amazing character for no reason other than he’s a Stardust Crusaders-era Shonen protagonist who’s so incredibly badass that it’s a genuine surprise that Chaos doesn’t spend half the game trying to separate Jack from the others so they don’t have to fight him.
An Amazing Combat System
Contrary to popular belief, the praise for Stranger of Paradise isn’t just for its bonkers storytelling. It legitimately has some of the best combat I’ve seen in an RPG, incorporating the job system of classic Final Fantasy with Nioh’s more Action Souls combat.
I know people like to call Stranger of Paradise a Souls-Like, but it only makes the definition by a hair, if I’m being honest. The game’s much closer to titles like Monster Hunter or even Sekiro, being very much action game first rather than some sort of methodical strafe-dance.
To that end, each of the different weapons in Stranger of Paradise boast ridiculously large movests- all customizable based on how many times you hit the normal attack before hitting the skill attack button. You unlock more moves by upgrading Job Trees, and once you unlock weapon skills they can be used as long as you have the weapon equipped, regardless of which job is using it.
What really caught me off-guard is how even on a basic level, each weapon really feels unique. The Katana has the Sessshin Stance, which boosts your damage and lets you chain Skill Attacks into each other. Meanwhile polearms have thrusts, overheads and sweeps, and you’ll want to be swinging your left stick in the appropriate directions to use either of them.
This plays well into the actual job classes themselves, too- each plucked from the iconic pantheon of Final Fantasy jobs and the lesser jobs that make them. Each job really feels unique, and even though they’re tiered, it never feels like you have to be rolling all expert Jobs to beat the final boss (heck, I defeated them with a Dragoon- an advanced Job- and I regularly prefer the basic Ronin over its Advanced Samurai counterpart because the iai slash just feels cool).
They’ve made it so you can change jobs like styles in a Devil May Cry game, letting you instantly swap without breaking momentum as long as you do it right after landing a skill attack. Seriously, it just feels fun to do, especially once you get into the flow of maybe having a mage class to help generate MP before going into an MP-hungry main class.
And that does lead to my one gripe about the combat system: you are constantly starved for MP. MP acts as your main penalty when you die, with your maximum MP shrinking down and requiring you to do Jack’s violent finishers (accessible by exploiting the game’s Break system) to extend your max MP, giving your dragoon more jumps.
Ok Time For Some Actual Gripes
Of course, as much as I love Stranger of Paradise, there’s some genuine gripes to be had with the game that would be remiss to leave out of the review. Chief among them would be its gear system.
If you’re a recurring GamerBraves reader you’d probably know I have no love for tiered loot. Unfortunately Stranger of Paradise embraces the tiered loot system, as every Flan you kill explodes into piles of colored light which you’ll want to look over with a fine toothed comb to see if this one give the stat you want, or the job affinity to help you boost your job xp.
…Or you could just hit the Optimize Gear button and have the game just give every character the highest level gear.
While I’m glad they did that, it also just trivializes the loot system entirely since the Optimize button shows that the gear’s level is actually more important than the gear’s skills. Unlike games like Diablo there’s no game-breaking affix skills, since those are from the skill tree instead.
Worse still, optimized gear means half the time, your character looks like a weirdo. I’ve yet to find any kind of a transmog system in the game, meaning that Jed’s doomed to wear a gimp mask while Jack has parachute pants because no high-level enemies drop Dragoon armor.
You can turn off helmets at least, which is a relief. But in a game where you’re likely to really want to show off your various jobs it’d be great if you could customize your outfits since some of these armor sets look really good, they just happen to not be optimal.
Tremble Before Chaos
All in all, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin feels like a breath of fresh air for Final Fantasy, and a total blast to review. While a lot of people were worried this would be similar to the Inafune years of Capcom- mindless pandering to the west at the expense of the franchise, Stranger of Paradise feels like its taking time to celebrate the Final Fantasy series. Just not in a way anyone who’s been watching more than a decade of Marvel Movies might be used to recognizing.
On top of that the game features an excellent multiplayer, meaning you and your friends can experience the literary genius of lines like “I need to kill Chaos, like a hunger or a thirst” with each other.
There’s gripes to be had for sure, another minor one about the game is that visually, it’s hideous. But they’re all just kind of left by the wayside once you actually pick up the controller and start your bloody campaign against Chaos.
Also, Frank Sinatra is canon to Final Fantasy. I’m not even joking. This game is amazing.
FF Origin Review
|A genuinely enjoyable story||Visually, it's not that pretty|
|Some A-class combat||Boring loot|
|Fun multiplayer||The storytelling is an acquired taste|
Game reviewed on PS5 in Performance mode. Review Copy of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin purchased by reviewer.