The concept for Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin was born shortly after Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy finished production. However, it was only after the development of Dissidia NT by Team Ninja that it would strike a promising partnership through its parent company Koei Tecmo with Square Enix. From this union, Stranger of Paradise was born, and now that it is finally in our hands, we can see the action of Team Ninja’s excellent Nioh franchise, as well as hints of the Dissidia Final Fantasy multiverse combined within this title.
Stranger of Paradise is a sort of re-imagination, prequel and reboot of the original Final Fantasy for the NES, all in one single package. You play as Jack, a no-nonsense Warrior of Light with a strong sense of camaraderie but a dark fury brewing inside of him. Accompanying him are Ash and Jed, two other warriors of light, and soon after Neon and Sophia will join them in their ranks. Their mission is simple: they need to kill Chaos. Why? No time for questions, Team Ninja has developed a fantastic action game and you have to kill Chaos!
Immediately after starting the game, some problems become apparent. The introduction is immediate and doesn’t dilly-dally, but it comes off as sudden and undercooked. Jack meets Jed and Ash and that’s it, they go hunt Chaos. It’s even more obvious when faced with character dialogue outside of story critical cutscenes. Facial animations are really stiff and weird, looking incredibly lifeless. These issues don’t necessarily impact the gameplay, but between the odd story pacing, the facial animations and the dialogue, the game feels at times like a B movie. Gear faces similar issues, with equipment often looking indistinguishable from one another, especially when they all share dark and toned down color palettes. It’s uninspired, which is a bit of a shame, and you better get used to fedoras because I found them to be a common piece of equipment.
If you persevere and look past the weird exterior, embrace the camp, the cringe and the edge of youth, Stranger of Paradise has a lot to offer whether you are a Final Fantasy fan or not.
It’s possible Koei Tecmo would have solved these issues had they been given more time for polish. Regardless, if you persevere and look past the weird exterior, embrace the camp, the cringe and the edge of youth, Stranger of Paradise has a lot to offer whether you are a Final Fantasy fan or not. If the camp and cringe is not for you, that’s perfectly fine! This is because Team Ninja have developed another masterfully crafted character action game. Simply put, combat is awesome. So much so that I ended up learning and mastering every single job in the game during my first playthrough. If challenging action games are your thing, you won’t be able to put this game down.
Combat has you constantly switch between two jobs that you can preset outside of combat at any time. Your objective is to explore each level and beat the boss at the end of every stage. Among your set of tools you will have multiple melee and magic options along with a varied arsenal of weapons. You can decimate enemies by depleting their HP or by breaking their stance and performing Soul Burst. This move is extremely satisfactory and fast to pull every time, and the animations are very varied. Performing Soul Bursts on Tonberry and Cactuar never gets old.
Jack’s signature skill, Lightbringer, will allow you to deal increased break damage and cause instant Soul Burst on defeated enemies. A ver powerful ability to turn the odds in your favor when surrounded by hordes of enemies, but it will cause two gauges of MP to instantly vanish. In addition to this, hearing Jack maniacally cackle while smashing blood red piles of enemies turned crystal adds a lot to his character. He’s just kind of messed up, and I love that for him.
On the topic of Jack, he initially comes across as angry, brutish and short of patience. But behind that surface he is also kind to his peers and very funny, in his own dry and particular way. Party and combat banter will pop up at times, fleshing out characters and their relationships in subtle ways. The game makes sure to give you enough time with your party to get a good grasp of their personality and bond with them, while keeping you invested in the gameplay, making for a very satisfactory gameplay loop.
And if you are thirsty for lore and world building, Lufenian Logs are collectable files that you can encounter in each main mission and offer extra lore about the original Final Fantasy plot, and lore regarding the crystals and the world of Cornelia. Whether you are invested in the plot, the gameplay or both, you will get your fill of it.
Some environments are very pretty and distinct, but others can look samey and that samey-ness can make them confusing or difficult to navigate.
The level design is very fun, albeit somewhat maze-like. Some environments are very pretty and distinct, but others can look samey and that samey-ness can make them confusing to navigate. I loved Dimension 2, 12, and 13 and how each stage has its own gimmick referencing their original games, and the environments are beautiful and easy to recognize. While other stages like Dimension 14 are mazes where you can easily get lost.
It’s not just the stages that reference the past of the series, the soundtrack features rearranges from every mainline Final Fantasy to date. Stages like Dimension 13 or 8 will be pure ear candy for fans. Sound design is also effective and very intuitive. Throughout my playtime, I learned to recognize when my MP gauge was full, when enemies had their stance broken and it helped me navigate combat by informing me of what was happening on my blind sides.
My experience with the game’s performance might come as a surprise. Image resolution and texture quality is blurry on an older gen console, except during most story important cutscenes. But I quickly got used to it. No matter if you are playing on last or current gen the framerate is very stable and fluid, which in a fast action game like Stranger of Paradise is critical. Loading times are very fast, especially after every death, which helps reduce frustration when fighting a challenging boss or before a difficult room full of enemies.
Something that I had trouble adapting with from the beginning until the end were the menus. They look very similar to the menus of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, even sharing some icons. These menus can be difficult to navigate, and they are not very intuitive. Dismantling and managing equipment is cumbersome. I tried to manage them manually at first, but after getting tired of spending minutes on menus, I ended up simply letting the game equip the best gear for my party and move on to the missions. The font is fine, but it is quite small and it can end up straining some people’s eyes. In terms of accessibility, the game features several difficulty settings, which is a nice addition for those wanting to experience the game without feeling pressured. Other than that, accessibility settings are limited.
If it’s an electric and captivating combat system you are looking for, you have that here. If it’s the corny, funny and at times beautiful and nostalgic story, you’ll feel right at home.
Despite all of the chaos surrounding the game, I had an incredible time with Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin. And I have faith that if people are willing to look past its facade and give it a chance, they will find something for them in this game. If it’s an electric and captivating combat system you are looking for, you have that here. If it’s the corny, funny and at times beautiful and nostalgic story, you’ll feel right at home. At its best, Stranger of Paradise feels like a game that our inner rebellious teenager would have imagined and written in our notebooks, while ignoring our teacher’s lesson. It’s a game made with a lot of love, by fans for fans.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One using a launch day review code provided by the publisher, Square Enix Asia.
Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin review
ABOUT THE SCORE
A wonderful, memorable experience. Any flaws in this game are easily outshined by moments of excellence.
Combat system is fun and varied.
Plenty of aesthetic details pay great homage to Final Fantasy heritage
Many laughs to be had, Jack and his friends have a lot of chemistry
Menus are obtuse and difficult to navigate
More time in the oven needed to fix odd pacing and facial animations