Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin review – Action-RPG is bizarre fun
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is the latest Final Fantasy spin-off, and it’s a wild ride.
Stranger of Paradise is one of those games that feels decidedly average at first. You’ve seen similar before, but the more you play it, the more you begin to root for it. In time, its quirks become addictive, and its imperfections become endearing. Before you know it, you’re barrelling towards the last boss, and you’ve become an observant connoisseur of the game’s loot and combat mechanics — as well as its bizarre tonal shifts.
This is a Final Fantasy game with a ‘Souls-like’ twist. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but after spending many hours with Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins, there’s something here that transcends the launch week memes.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy – Key Details
- Price: $59.99 / £59.99
- Developer: Square-Enix
- Release date: March 18, 2022
- Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy trailer
When the game starts, you’re jarringly thrown right into the middle, not the start, of new hero Jack’s quest to find and kill Chaos. Jack is your typical gruff Final Fantasy protagonist, and at first, he’s painfully dull outside of cringe-inducing one-liners.
Before you reach the first dungeon, Stranger of Paradise looks and sounds like a Final Fantasy game. You’ll hear familiar theme music, notice names that have become staples of the series, but something just feels off, even with a spectacular opening cutscene.
Stranger of Paradise is a loose retelling of the original Final Fantasy game. Once again, Four Warriors of Light must go on a quest to destroy Chaos because of reasons, crystals, destiny, etc. Jack is joined by the game’s standard stoic burly guy of few words, and the token high-energy guy with spikey hair, who we called Budget Prompto for the first few hours.
The fourth Warrior of Light joins the team later and is a welcome addition to their mission. While this group of characters lacks the loveable comradery of Noctis and his crew from Final Fantasy XV, they will grow on you. Their banter soon becomes focused on Jack’s lack of personality, so this level of self-awareness somehow makes that character more palatable.
Lots of lovely loot
The problem is that the first 3 Warriors start the game looking like a group of surfers who’ve wandered into a palace by accident and now find themselves on a quest from a king without much explanation. The starting costume designs are woefully boring, but luckily, you won’t need to put up with them for long.
The game throws a lot of loot at you from the start, and we had fun tinkering with our gear and making our guys look like a squad of ninjas. The constant changing soon becomes tedious though, and when it does, the ‘Optimize’ button is your friend. There’s so much loot that nobody could be expected to go through each piece individually, so the “optimize” function is a lifesaver.
This way, you can bash that button, make sure your team is well-equipped, and get straight back to the action. It’s also fun to see what your characters will look like each time you press it, as who knows what stylish gear you’ve picked up.
Another day in paradise
You’ll also want to get back into the action as soon as possible because the action is what this game is all about. As a Team Ninja title, Stranger of Paradise is at its best when the player is in combat.
Once you’re slashing away at enemies, you’ll start to feel the Ninja Gaiden dev’s influence. Not only does the game feel like closer to the action combat of Final Fantasy XV, but it also channels Team Ninja’s Nioh series.
The result is a game that merges Nioh’s mechanics with Final Fantasy aesthetics – and it works surprisingly well. Those looking for a Souls experience in the Final Fantasy multiverse have essentially been given their wish, although we’re still not sure who was asking for it.
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Not only is the combat addictive in Stranger of Paradise, but it’s also brimming with depth, allowing each playable character to switch between jobs in an instant depending on the situation. You can tackle challenges with a team of tanks or switch to casters when the need arises. Or you can mix and match, creating a varied team who are equipped for any threat.
We spent way too much time experimenting with these systems, swapping and switching jobs and abilities, and we’ve still not seen everything. The freedom is refreshing, as the game doesn’t force you down a set path or push players to commit to one specific build. You can go nuts and just do what works for you.
Creative customizable combat
While the game features a traditional block/guard system, it also contains the interesting ‘Soul Shield’ ability. Not unlike the ‘Harden’ system from Mortal Shell, it lets the player block and absorb damage, then turn this back on the enemy in creative ways. MP is the currency of combat in Stranger of Paradise, and it’s a constant risk-reward system between performing skills and managing their cooldowns.
Should you come up against an especially tough foe and lose, you can go away and re-strategize. We played the game through on normal difficulty, and while some areas/enemies gave us a tough time, it never took us long to figure out a way to defeat them. There is a hard mode, but those used to Nioh and other Souls-like games will be familiar with that level of challenge.
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On normal mode, we found Stranger of Paradise to be a relaxed experience that was most rewarding when you took the time to engage with and learn its various systems. If played on easy/casual mode, the game is a breeze. Those planning on playing the game more than once would probably benefit from upping the difficulty each time. This is because the best loot is found on the hardest difficulties.
It’s also worth mentioning that those who enjoy games with epic long-winded boss fights (such as recent Final Fantasy titles) will love Stranger of Paradise. These encounters are the ultimate test of your squad and remain fun despite their length, which is something the developers should be commended for.
While our initial reaction to Stranger of Paradise was one of indifference, the game managed to charm us once we gave it more time. It then became an enjoyable and relaxing experience that didn’t outstay its welcome or descend into too much of a grind.
It delivers a fluid and engaging combat system that borrows from other successful games in Team Ninja and Square-Enix’s back catalog of hits.
Stranger of Paradise is not the game that’s going to pull most players away from Horizon Forbidden West or Elden Ring, However, it’s a nice distraction to keep Final Fantasy fans occupied until the sixteenth main entry arrives — whenever that may be.
Reviewed on PS5