Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a prequel to the very, very first Final Fantasy. Ever. It’s weird to think of a game released in 2022 acting as a prequel to a game initially released in 1987. It’s even weirder to think that the game was developed by Ninja Theory and is an action-RPG that feels part Souls-like, part Ninja Gaiden, and part Final Fantasy. The whole situation was weird since it was first announced. Initially, I didn’t want to give it a second glance. It didn’t help that the release trailer featured the leading man, Jack, giving more edge than a razorblade and griping about “Chaos” every two sentences. But, as a fan of the series, I caved. Stranger of Paradise ended up being a lot more fun than I expected. If you’re able to withstand most of the dialogue (especially when Jack opens his mouth) then you’re in for a fun ride.
The story is hard to summarize without giving too much away. The Cliff’s Notes version is that three warriors from another world, each holding a darkened crystal, have arrived in the town of Corneria. They are asked by the king to restore the light to their crystals. Does this sound familiar? If you’ve played the original Final Fantasy, then it should. However, Stranger of Paradise takes this story, throws it on its head with morbidity and edginess, and takes a bizarre, oftentimes contrived direction. The person leading the charge is Jack. Jack is sexy as sexy can be, but whenever he opens his mouth, chances are the player will cringe. His friends (Ash, Jed, and two others that join the cause) make up for it, but not by much. However, the neat thing about the story is that it constantly pays homage to the original Final Fantasy, as well as the rest of the games in the series. There will be major references, subtle references, and references in-between that long time fans of Final Fantasy will appreciate. Seeing the series in a new light and new look helps make up for the story’s shortcomings and Jack’s constant state of anger.
Jack and his crew might be quirky bunch, but man do they look good. Stranger of Paradise is a beautiful looking game. The environments you explore, the people you talk to, the insane number of weapons and armor available that alter your teams’ appearances, the monsters, the special effects, and so much more look exquisite. It’s not wise, because the enemies hit hard, but if you wanted to, you could have Jack run around in nothing but his underwear. Sometimes, it’s the little things in a game that make it that much more special. The music features new tracks, as well as old ones from games’ past with remixed instrumentation. It’s fun to hear how modern composers tackled the tunes from classic composers. Finally, despite the script, the voice acting is solid. You can opt for English or Japanese voice options.
Jack and his friend’s journey take them through locales that are familiar to Final Fantasy fans, and a lot of the journey goes through a progression that will appear familiar to those that played the first Final Fantasy. The world map uses a point-and-click interface. You can select story missions and some side-missions. There’s a few things you can do before starting a mission, but the most important is readying your team with gear. Your team’s strength relies entirely on equipment. There’s no level gaining. Instead, having the right weapons and armor will determine whether or not you’re ready for a mission. Otherwise, there’s not much to do while on the world map. The true fun of Stranger of Paradise begins as soon as you begin a mission.
And what fun it is. While frustrating at times, the action in Stranger of Paradise is non-stop chaos (ugh) for all the right reasons. You take control of Jack while the AI handles the two party members in your team. With the push of a button, you can have them go all out with their attacks. Trying to describe all that Jack is capable of will make this section super wordy so I’ll try to be succinct. Jack has access to a variety of classic Final Fantasy jobs. He can “equip” two jobs at a time. Each job has special attacks that can be used in combos. These attacks range from melee to magic. All of them can be seamlessly linked together; he can even switch between jobs mid-combo. As his job experience grows, he gets to spend points on a chart to learn more abilities for said jobs. Jack hits hard and fast. All enemies have regular HP, but they also have a break gauge. Depleting this lets Jack perform an instant kill that fills up Jack’s Soul Gauge. With enough Soul Gauge, Jack can enter a powered up state where his attacks hit harder and surrounding enemies feel the brunt of their hits.
Of course, enemies hit hard, too. For defense, he can dodge, parry, roll, and guard. One of Jack’s most important maneuvers is the Soul Guard. Not only can this assimilate an enemy’s attack (think Blue Magic) but it dramatically increases his Soul Gauge. However, too much use of it causes Jack to become vulnerable. It’s a lot to keep track of and the game doesn’t do too good of a job at easing you into all of it. After a few missions, things become second nature. Each new mission brings exciting rewards, monsters, and usually an epic boss fight at the end. There are multiple levels of difficulty in case things become too easy or too tough. For me, I played on standard difficulty and got plenty of game overs. Was it frustrating? Yes. But, it was easy to regroup and reequip Jack in order to come out on top.
Jack’s quest is a sizable one. It can take up to 40 hours to finish on the standard difficulty level. Earning the platinum trophy will tack on at least 10 more hours. To top this off, there has been word of DLC being introduced. So, just because the main story ends, it doesn’t mean the game has to. I’m glad I was able to overlook the script (especially Jack’s portion) because this turned out to be a really fun action game. The combat was satisfying. Seeing so many throwbacks to the series was great. And at times, the story was interesting despite its bleakness. If you’re able to tolerate Jack’s antics, then you’re in for a fun and fast-paced game that pays homage to a classic series.
Overall, 8/10: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin often feels forced and silly, but it’s easy to forget its shortcomings when you’re engaged in exciting combat.