Final Fantasy's first attempt at making a Souls-like game delivers on fun gameplay and a flawed but satisfying origin story on Final Fantasy I's Garland. Long-time fans of the series will enjoy the nods to their favorite games while hunting down Chaos.
When Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was first announced, the first trailer for the game quickly became a meme, as the game’s protagonist, Jack, didn’t talk about anything except killing Chaos through the entire video. The initial announcement didn’t leave the community with high hopes for the game, and even though subsequent trailers got fans more excited, the overall reception remained mixed. While many fans got excited seeing fan-favorite monsters and Jobs from the series being included, others thought the game was too far of a departure from Final Fantasy based on the demonstrated gameplay and the tone.
Final Fantasy Origin really is a unique project: it takes many of the familiar elements from the series and combines them with a gameplay style very similar to Souls games. This makes the game an action RPG, with it also having the exploration style and mechanics from a Souls-like (such as bonfires and limited healing), all with a Final Fantasy spin on them. The storyline was picked to match this unique gameplay: in the Stranger of Paradise you control Jack, who is destined to become Garland — the villain from the original Final Fantasy. As a result, the game ends up being one of the darkest games in the series, while also being a kind of love letter to it as a whole.
Story and Setting
The game centers around Jack and his allies as they try to rid the world of Chaos. However, all of them have little to no memory of who they are, or even where they come from. When the game starts, the story is very fragmented, with only a few cutscenes, and Jack has no interest in characters explaining anything to him. Luckily, the story does pick up later on in the game and does a good job of illustrating Jack’s descent into becoming a villain.
Unfortunately, most of the other characters don’t really get any real development. There is a notable exception that we will not elaborate on to avoid spoilers, but all of the other side characters — including Jack’s allies — don’t really get a chance to grow as characters throughout the story arc of the game. This issue extends to other characters in the game as well: for example, there is an option talk to various people in Cornelia while accessing the World Map, but these seem to be quite generic and talking to them doesn’t result in anything meaningful.
Another element lacking in the game’s story are explanations for the world’s underlying lore. Instead, things such as the crystals that Jack and his allies hold, as well as the reasoning behind certain events that occur in the story are hidden behind documents that you can find within the game — the Fool’s Missives and Lunarian Logs. Final Fantasy Origin offers some interesting development and ideas to the original world of Final Fantasy I, but it’s unfortunate that these are not explained more actively within the game’s main story.
However, the Stranger of Paradise’s setting and the various areas found within it will be a treat for long-time fans of the Final Fantasy series. As the game takes place in the world of the original Final Fantasy, you will see a variety of familiar characters and locations from the game. On top of that, the game gives a nod to every mainline game in the series.
Almost every level in the game is based off of a location from a different Final Fantasy game, and that aspect is further incorporated into the game’s lore, which can be noticed via loading screen prompts — these claim that the locations were created based on the different ‘dimensions.’ Some of the levels will even borrow a mechanic from the locations they’re inspired from. An example of this is the level based on Final Fantasy XII, which requires you to destroy walls that are trying to push you off a ledge, much like the Demon Wall from the Tomb of Raithwall. Fans of the Final Fantasy series will enjoy recognizing the locations from their favorite game and noting how they were recreated for the world of Stranger of Paradise.
Gameplay and Difficulty
The trailers made it clear early on that Final Fantasy Origin’s gameplay is very similar to that of a Souls-like game. For example, you will recognize some of the familiar mechanics, such as the checkpoints, lack of maps, and limited healing. Yet, it’s worth noting that a few others were taken out to simplify the game for the people who are not used to playing games of the Souls genre.
Two of the major things from the genre that Stranger of Paradise does not feature is a weight system and a stamina bar. This means you are free to pick up any equipment you find (though, there is still a physical limit of the number of gear you can hold), and you can attack and dodge without having to worry about Jack becoming tired out. Though, the stamina bar is partially replaced with MP, which is spent when using all of the various Abilities in the game and can be effectively replenished with a few methods (such as normal attacks).
Stranger of Paradise also comes with a unique gameplay mechanic called the ‘Soul Shield’. This is a second type of block, which (if you time it correctly) will block all damage, leave most enemies open for a counter attack, restore MP, and increase your max MP. You can even use it to steal certain Abilities from enemies, allowing you to temporarily use them yourself! While this can be a very powerful tool for your battles, it can also easily leave you open to attacks if you’re not careful with using it.
Another unique ability in Jack’s arsenal is the Soul Burst. Every enemy has a Soul Break gauge, which can be depleted with consistent attacks and Abilities. Once fully depleted, Jack can use a Soul Burst on the enemy, which will crystalize and consequently break the enemy, killing them instantly. On top of the satisfying animations of these finishers, defeating an enemy this way will both restore your MP and increase your max MP, while also knocking back the enemies caught in this burst. Note that Jack has his own Break Gauge, and if his gets broken he will be stunned, leaving him wide open for an attack, while also removing any buffs he may have had.
Another thing Final Fantasy Origin features is its expansive Job system. Jack can pick between two of any of the over 25 Jobs available in the game and freely switch between them during battles. Many of the well-known Jobs from Final Fantasy (such as the Black Mage and Dragoon) are featured, along with some new Jobs (such as the Breaker). On top of this, there are eight different weapon types that can be used in the game, each one having its own unique gameplay style.
With the large amount of Jobs, Job combinations, and the different weapon types available to you, there is a seemly endless number of ways you can play the game. While some Jobs feel like they are better suited for co-op play, and others feel like they get outclassed by Jobs acquired later on, every one of them is viable for use in completing the entire game. Even though the amount of customization within Jobs, Abilities, and gear can feel overwhelming at first, it also means that game presents you with the option to find your perfect playstyle.
One thing that the fans of Souls games may find disappointing is the difficulty. If you play the game on its normal difficulty (called ‘Action’ in this game), you may find that, while the game can get hard at times, it will not reach the level of difficulty the Souls-like games are usually known for. However, those looking for a challenge can tweak the game in a couple of ways: by putting it in Hard Mode, and/or by removing your AI allies from the party, leaving you to fight through the game alone.
On the other hand, if you are someone who typically doesn’t play or enjoy Souls-like games and only want to experience the story, there are two easier modes you can play: Story and Casual.
Graphics and Music
While the opening cutscene for Stranger of Paradise looks amazing, the graphics for the rest of the game are not up to par with the current generation of games. On top of this, there are times where the frames can drop even if the game is running on Playstation 5. While these drops are not game-breaking, frame issues of this kind should not have been left in the game, especially when the graphics aren’t the best either.
Developers could have done more work on some of the models as well: it looks like they reused models for the residents of Cornelia. This is odd, as there aren’t that many townspeople in the first place. In addition, while there are some great designs for the weapon models in the game, there are only about 4-5 unique designs for each weapon type, with the rest of them being mere recolors of the other designs. However, all of the bosses have impressive and unique designs, and the enemies are recognizable (with how they tend to look in the series) while still having the designs that fit within the world of Stranger of Paradise.
The music score is definitely a high point of the game. The songs are appropriate and further well-made for the dungeons and cutscenes, while also adding to the sense of respect paid to the previous games in the series, as was mentioned earlier. Many songs from the original Final Fantasy were remade to be used in this game, and on top of the levels being designed after other games in the series, the songs in all of these areas will also take a musical queue from the area they originally came from.
A great example of this is in the Final Fantasy VII level, where you can hear parts of the Mako Reactor song while progressing through the mission. Some of the songs are more subtle or spread out with their musical queues than others, but when you do hear them and recognize the song, it adds a nice thematic touch to the experience.
Multiplayer in Stranger of Paradise is pleasantly polished, and you can play through almost the entire game with up to two other players. Matchmaking with others is simple: you can specify which level you would like to play on, and you will either get matched up with other players going through the same level, or get the option to invite friends to join you.
There are no flaws when playing the game this way, as you are able to make progress in co-op just as you would while playing solo: all loot is individual (meaning that the people you play with will not take any gear that drops for you), and you will even gain extra rewards if you complete a level as a guest.
Longevity and Replayability
The story for Final Fantasy Origin is not very long for a typical JRPG or a Final Fantasy game. It will probably take around 20-40 hours to finish the story, depending on if you decide to do the game’s side missions or not. Once you beat the game, you will unlock a final difficulty, which acts as the post-game content.
In this difficulty (called ‘Chaos’), you will be able to replay every level in the game in increasing difficulties, in order to get better gear and truly maximize your character. This mode will also give you the ability to further level your Jobs past the cap in the normal story, allowing you to get even more customization options for them.
With the high amount of customization between the many Jobs and weapon types, the game offers a lot of replayability. You can try a new Job combination, focus on mastering a certain weapon type, or you can even do a playthrough in co-op if you played solo so far, giving you a new way to experience the game.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a very fun game, and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the series. While there are definitely some flaws in the story and graphics, the gameplay itself and the way the game honors the series as a whole will make up for it.
This may not be the best game for someone looking to get into Final Fantasy for the first time. However, long-time fans and people interested in a more fast-paced RPG may very well enjoy taking out enemies with all the various abilities in their arsenal. This game is also a great opportunity for learning about the origins of Final Fantasy’s very first villain.
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I'm a huge gamer who especially loves the Final Fantasy series. I will play just about any game, especially if it has anything resembling a Dragoon.