Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (PS5) Review

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (PS5) Review 4
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (PS5) Review 3
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
Developer: Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo, Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Played On: PlayStation 5
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
MSRP: $79.99
Release Date: 18/03/2022
| March 22, 2022

Over the last 35 years, the Final Fantasy franchise has dipped a toe into almost every genre you can name. Now Square Enix can cross “Soulslike” off the list with the arrival of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, an exceptionally dark spin-off based on the NES original’s lore.

You are Jack Garland, a warrior in a world where the natural elements are out of whack, and everyone has some kind of magical amnesia. With your allies Ash and Jed, you embark on a quest to restore the crystals that govern the elements, draw out the archfiend behind it all, and destroy it to set things right. Along the way, you gain assistance from two other crystal-toting warriors, Neon and Sophia, and learn that all is not as it seems, of course.

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Gameplay in Stranger of Paradise revolves around Soulslike combat with a healthy infusion of Final Fantasy trappings. Jack can equip two different Job classes and swap between them freely in battle, switching up your battle strategy to suit different threats. Each class comes with some unique skills, combos, and gimmicks, with most pulled from the series’ traditions. Companions have jobs as well, but are limited to certain options unlocked as you progress through the story.

Missions take place in fairly large and diverse environments, where interacting with save points allows you to assign points to your job trees and heals your party, but also respawns all the foes you’ve already bested. By beating enemies and looting chests, you’ll gain new equipment and earn points to spend on class upgrades, which in turn unlock new classes.

“Now Square Enix can cross “Soulslike” off the list with the arrival of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, an exceptionally dark spin-off based on the NES original’s lore.”

Stranger of Paradise sticks close to both the Soulslike genre and the Final Fantasy name, splitting the difference but not pushing either side to new breakthroughs. The styles certainly mesh better than I expected when the game’s existence was first rumoured before E3 2021. In fact, it’s comparable to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in how it reinterprets its IP in these unique genre trappings, making a somewhat impenetrable style more accessible to the common player.

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Where I begin to push back against Stranger of Paradise is its writing. Immediately upon its reveal it became meme fodder for relying too heavily upon dialog about “killing Chaos.” Players mocked a ridiculous scene in the first demo where Neon lays her heart bare, and Jack responds by shouting “bullshit,” turning on some nu-metal on his fantasy AirPods, and stomping out of the dungeon, only to pick up the conversation outside. I hoped the final product would rework such cringe-worthy material, but unfortunately the scene is intact.

Mercifully, most of this nonsense tapers off after the first few missions, as Jack is forced to face the truth behind his purpose and the collective amnesia affecting his friends. When Chaos begins to take centre stage again in the back half, the tone is much more natural and appropriately intense. However, those early hours might be enough to scare many players off, and ultimately the goofy tone hamstrung later character development.

Stranger of Paradise sticks close to both the Soulslike genre and the Final Fantasy name, splitting the difference but not pushing either side to new breakthroughs.”

If you’re familiar with the original game’s story, you likely know where Stranger of Paradise is headed in its final act. By the time I fought the first Fiend, Tiamat, I had formulated a theory that turned out to be correct—at its core, anyway. I knew the “what,” but the “how” and “why” were a genuine surprise.

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Again, though, I found it hard to connect when Stranger of Paradise tried to punch me in the feels. Jack had two emotions prior, rage and neutral, so I was glad to see them try to break him free of those trappings… but the damage was done. It’s a shame as well, as I genuinely wanted to buy into Jack’s emotional turmoil during the intense finale.

Eagle-eyed fans will notice there’s a mission level inspired by each of the other 14 main title Final Fantasy games. The team was pretty clever in selecting locales from later games as inspiration for those they adapted from the original, like connecting the volcanic Mount Gulg to Final Fantasy VIII’s Fire Cavern, or the Western Keep to Final Fantasy II’s Castle Palamecia. Flavour text before each mission connects the dots, but nothing comes of the allusions. (Between this and Dissidia NT, maybe it’s best if Square Enix handles any crossovers between games in-house from now on.)

“Eagle-eyed fans will notice there’s a mission level inspired by each of the other 14 main title Final Fantasy games.”

That sums up the whole experience pretty well. Stranger of Paradise sets the table and serves some appetizers but feels like it never brings the full main course or dessert. It doesn’t help that the first few bites are marred by some unexpected tones. With some better direction and a dash more ambition, it could have been a much stronger showing. They could have produced something truly special with the building blocks at hand yet settled for a less complex path.

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However, despite wasted potential, Stranger of Paradise isn’t a bad game by any stretch. It’s a palatable alternative to more hardcore Soulslikes, which aren’t my usual cup of tea; I alternated between the Normal and Story difficulties and found the former fairly well-balanced. The story that is here didn’t hit the narrative bullseye but still landed firmly in the inner rings, especially in its final chapters, and I’m intrigued to see where its post-launch content takes it.

As a long-time fan and not a game reviewer, I enjoyed the reinterpretation of a world that has captivated me for thirty years, but I also wish they hadn’t made it the butt of so many jokes along the way.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.
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