Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy OriginMarch 18th, 2022 (March 15th for Digital Deluxe)
PlatformPlayStation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC (Epic Games Store)
If you were to find me a decade ago and tell me that Square-Enix wants to make a prequel to the first Final Fantasy, I might call you crazy. If you added on that the main character wants nothing more than to kill Chaos and listen to an off-brand Limp Bizkit when he doesn’t get his way, I might even wonder where this crazy fan fiction came from. Nevertheless, somehow all of this is true. Square-Enix has partnered up with Team Ninja to build off the Nioh framework and turn the original tale of the Four Warriors of Light into a hardcore action game about five warriors and the dark crystals they carry. Stranger of Paradise is that very such game and tells the tale of Jack’s quest to relight the crystals of yore and ascend to become one of the most iconic characters of Final Fantasy history in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.
Lufenia and its inhabitants are major players of what is to become of the Stranger of Paradise story. Once footnotes in the greater Final Fantasy story, they are the main driving force behind Jack’s underlying motivations or at least those that don’t merely involve killing Chaos. All of the technology that seemingly exists out of place from the kingdom of Corneria are all a part of that technology of a race that has existed for millennia unseen. In the original Final Fantasy, players only step foot on the Lufenian continent towards the end of the adventure to relight the four crystals and could only be understood by way of Dr. Unne and the Rosetta Stone. This time around, there isn’t any need to seek out the Rosetta Stone as the Lufenians are once again all but absent for the modern world. However, through the technologies left behind are Dimensions that embody each main mission, each reflecting a prior Final Fantasy title in some way.
For lore aficionados of the original (whether you’ve played it on NES all the way up through the recent Pixel Remaster), Stranger of Paradise is a fantastic deep-dive into the events of Final Fantasy through the lens of a man on a vendetta to defeat Chaos at all costs. Story beats that built up the crux of the original Final Fantasy story are clearly laid out, some out of order from how players might still recall the original story. The Chaos Shrine marks the first step of Jack’s journey, only this time Princess Sarah is in no need of rescuing; instead, she asks Jack and his team of two others at the time to seek out a soldier named Garland she last met some ten years prior. From there, Jack and his crew venture eastwards to Pravoka to seek out the services of Captain Bikke and secure a boat for their adventure. The next step is to the Western Keep to meet with Astos, king of the dark elves. This is the breaking point from where Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Origin start to go their separate ways.
Astos serves as a guiding hand for Jack and his squad, which slowly grow to become five in number, each holding a dark crystal. To restore peace to the land and rid the world of any Chaos elements, a quest must be undertaken to restore light to the crystals. To do so, four fiends must be defeated and the mist they unleash to be absorbed within the dark crystals. Each time a fiend is defeated, lingering echoes of fallen soldiers and lost memories contained within the mist surge out, bringing hints of another time and age. These other timelines’ revelations help establish Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin as such a unique telling of the first Final Fantasy’s lore while spinning it into something unique all the same.
The main campaign to Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin runs sixteen missions long and close to twenty-five hours to see the ending credits and listen to Frank Sinatra’s My Way in full. Each of the sixteen campaign missions is its own self-contained area of multiple pathways, unlockable shortcuts, and loot and danger around every corner. Fans of Nioh’s mission design will feel right at home in the campaign flow to Stranger of Paradise. What makes each story mission unique is the use of Dimensions from other Final Fantasy titles to build out the setting and music to each location. Most are relatively subdued, with only a lingering leitmotif hanging in the area that fans might feel a tinge of nostalgia from those songs they heard so many years ago. Others are immediately noticeable, such as the regions based on Dimension XIII and Dimension VIII. In the case of these two, the former’s level is based upon the Sunleth Waterscape, complete with weather switching mechanics; the other might not be as noticeable visually but once you hear the repeating melody of Final Fantasy VIII’s Find Your Way in the background, you’ll immediately draw upon those distant memories of Squall and the Timber Wolves.
The combat of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin will immediately draw players in or push them away. As another masocore (masochistic hardcore) title from Team Ninja’s development studio, players will be subject to combat that requires excellence and quick reactions to even make it past the first three goblins blocking the players’ way in the Chaos Temple. The fast-paced action combat largely relies upon three offensive abilities and three defensive ones, with job class abilities mixing the experience up greatly. For attack, players have a basic attack on R1, a contextual attack on R2 that activates job abilities or weapon abilities depending on where they fall in a combo, and instant abilities on Square. To defend, players can either press or hold L1 to block/parry, press X to evade or roll away, or press Circle to perform a Soul Shield and block a majority of attacks (nearly everything that isn’t Red in name). Performing a Soul Shield against an enemy attack that’s Purple in name will allow Jack to snatch that ability and use it as his own Instant Ability. When doing battle, combat typically flows from making basic attacks to job/weapon abilities and ending the combo with an Instant Ability, assuming that the player has any to spare.
So, if Jack can block most attacks with the Soul Shield on Circle, where’s the challenge? Well, that lies heavily upon the Break Gauge. Every enemy and Jack himself carry a Break Gauge that will drain upon taking direct hits or blocking attacks with the Soul Shield. Once depleted, that character will go down momentarily. For any enemy, that leaves them open to be attacked with a brutal ability where Jack ruthlessly kills his prey, turning them into a giant mass of crystals and shattering them into a haze of crimson fragments. Even attacks that Jack successfully mitigates via Soul Shield will drain a significant chunk of his break gauge, which only replenishes upon stepping away from the action for a short amount of time. This goes the same for enemies, and it’s suggested to keep on the offensive and keep attacking enemies to keep them from restoring their break gauge. If Jack can’t do that, at least strike an enemy with a weapon ability as those typically can deal damage directly to the enemy’s break gauge and reduce the maximum that the enemy’s gauge can refill.
In many ways, the Break Gauge mechanic to Stranger of Paradise feels like a natural successor to the stamina and ki systems of Nioh. Both systems reward the player for being able to press the offensive and utilize blocking and evading at the right times to keep up a strong offense. If players can’t master at least the use of the Soul Shield, they’ll swiftly and repeatedly be all knocked down by Garland before they can even clear the first mission. Unlike most other masocore games on the market, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin offers three difficulty modes at the beginning (a fourth and far more challenging Chaos difficulty is unlocked upon finishing the campaign) that can be freely chosen even during the middle of a mission. If a mission is proving too much of a challenge on the higher difficulties, players can take it down to Story difficulty and even activate Casual mode, which gives the players a few more boosts to guide them through the story. While Final Fantasy Origin can still be somewhat of a challenge no matter the difficulty, the Story and Casual modes both give the player the ability to see Jack’s story through until completion and discover the real meaning behind being a Stranger of Paradise.
While the original Final Fantasy locked the four Warriors of Light into the jobs selected at the journey’s onset, Jack is free to change his role any time he pauses the action to swap out his gear loadout. Jack is wise enough to carry two job classes on him at a given time, and swapping between the two is as simple as pressing the triangle button to switch between the two. At the beginning of Stranger of Paradise, Jack will only have access to the most basic of classes, Swordsman with its two-handed greatsword. Each time Jack picks up a new weapon type, he’ll advance his knowledge to eight different basic jobs. By leveling up a class, not only will Jack unlock new passive and active abilities, but the end of each skill tree will often unlock a brand new class. Continue this enough times and Jack will start unlocking advanced and expert classes once unlocks are earned across multiple classes. For example, the Void Knight requires Knight and Red Mage unlocks. To get those two advanced classes, Jack will have to invest some time learning the ways of Swordsman, Swordfighter, and Mage.
The job system makes Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin unique compared to other masocore games along the lines of Nioh and The Surge. Players could merely stick with a single class and the weapon type of their choosing, but it’s in the job abilities that make each class stand out from one another. Mage classes are the most obvious, with the ability to cast white or black magic via the R2 button and charge out to cast spells by hurling grenades, Final Fantasy XV style. These consume MP, the same resource that powers Jack’s weapon abilities, so it can be a balancing act between the two ability types and replenishing by way of blocking an attack with the Soul Shield on the circle button.
I gravitated towards the Ninja class, harkening back to my early days in FFXI. This class comes with twenty scrolls that can be invested in various ways, from four different elemental spells to Utsusemi which allows players to evade the next attack coming their way, and a three-scroll costing weapon buff that adds paralyzing power to whatever weapon is equipped at the time. What’s so significant about this weapon buff is that human bosses are typically not immune, giving players a free combo against Garland or Captain Bikke once the enemy is completely paralyzed.
If there were anything to focus on that might sour an otherwise perfect experience with Stranger of Paradise, I would boil it down to two areas of focus: items and missions. For items, Stranger of Paradise takes another suggestion from Nioh in its randomized loot. Not only does each item have its own gear level, but depending on the rarity, it will contain a number of passive boosts on it as well as an affinity for a given job (some weapons will also give Jack unique weapon skills as long as they’re equipped). Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin constantly throws gear at Jack and his party like a loot treadmill, and it’s impossible not to stay geared up as long as you aren’t completely ignoring those glowing beacons whenever an enemy is slain or a treasure chest opened. Because of this, players might not see much need to stick with any one piece of gear that might be better for their selected class because of the affinity boosts. It isn’t uncommon to jump into the gear menu and automatically optimize your gear three or four times in a single mission and quickly become a statistical powerhouse. Completing certain side missions will expand the ability of the Smithy to upgrade or even change those passive affixes on a piece of gear or even upgrade the affinity up to an extra 15% with an upgrade at the very end of the game. If players weren’t constantly discarding and improving their gear, there might be a use for this, but ultimately it feels far less utilized and worthwhile than even Nioh’s blacksmith mechanics.
Similarly, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin’s side mission structure feels like a weaker version of Williams’ adventures. After completing a story mission, players can often return for one or two side missions, almost always with the task of hunting down a specific boss or number of enemies. More often than not, you’ll be replaying story missions in reverse, running from the save point closest to a boss encounter to whatever your chosen mission objective is. The challenge and puzzles to most story missions is gone for these side missions, and some tend to drag on much longer than they feel just because of how much you’re retreading the same content.
For a title that stands on the shoulders of the original Final Fantasy and shouts out Chaos to anyone willing to look its way, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is something that feels nearly impossible for Square-Enix to have produced. Not only is this an alternative history take on the original Final Fantasy but also one that sees the origin story of what would become one of the series’ most iconic villains of all time. It’s no isekai, but Stranger of Paradise is absolutely a stranger even in its own land. If you’re fresh off of running through the original as part of the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series, you owe it to yourself to take this chaotic road trip across Corneria and relight the four crystals once again.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5 (code provided by the publisher).
Final Fantasy Origin: Stranger of Paradise is a chaotic alternative retelling of the very first Final Fantasy, following the story beat by beat until it transforms into something unique in its own way.
- Strong English dub that goes all in on Jack's insatiable desire for Chaos.
- More than twenty-five job classes to level up and master
- A story that goes all-in on seeking out chaos and destroying it
- Combat mechanics feel great when you charge up a heavy axe swing or perfectly time parries and counters over and over again
- Resolution and Performance Graphic modes available
- Two-way Cross Save between Playstation 4 and Playstation 5
- Lots of additional challenge in postgame Chaos difficulty and new unlocks
- Story loses its momentum towards the end as things become more chaotic
- Weak online matchmaking support
- Break Gauge mastery essential across all difficulty levels
- Lackluster side mission and additional content
- The entire northeastern continent is ignored (most likely for future DLC)
- Ugly image quality and shimmering on PlayStation 5
- Camera control is atrocious for locking onto a single enemy when others are around
- Chaos difficulty a slow grind all the way up to the current item level cap of 300
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