Hands-on Preview – Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
Square Enix‘s E3 2021 conference wasn’t good. Nobody will ever try to deny this statement. Between the gigantic amount of time spent on a Guardians of the Galaxy game, a barrage of mobile games (“don’t you guys have phones?”), and the disappointing unveiling of Babylon’s Fall‘s gameplay, there was very little to be happy about that showcase. Then the now-infamous trailer for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin dropped. An excessively edgy trailer with an Eminem lookalike mentioning he wanted to kill Chaos every five minutes, the game quickly became the laughing stock of not only that conference, but maybe E3 2021 as a whole.
To add insult to injury, Square Enix was supposed to drop a demo right after the end of the conference, but for reasons beyond the comprehension, its files were corrupted, leading to even more jokes about chaos messing up with the game’s files. We had little expectation for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin to impress. The demo was fixed a day later, allowing us to finally see what Team Ninja’s edgelord take on the original Final Fantasy was all about… and boy, I cannot believe I’m going to say this: I unironically loved it.
To sum things up pretty quickly, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is basically what you get when you put the gameplay and level from Nioh together with the themes, characters, and some gameplay elements from Final Fantasy, most specifically Final Fantasy V. The copious amounts of violence and gore stand out like a sore thumb when you hanging around with cactuars nearby, but the gameplay more than made up for how utterly stupid the plot and characters were.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin might control like Nioh, but its button placement is a bit tricky. You actually dodge with the X button and perform a special magic parry attack with Circle. You can use this kind of parry to block magical projectiles and actually use them in limited quantities against enemies. For instance, if a Bomb throws a fireball at you, you can parry it, “absorb” it, and use it twice against enemies, without having to spend MP. You can stagger enemies and finish them off like in Sekiro, but with the unnecessary (albeit epic) gore from Doom.
R1 is your traditional attack button, while R2 doesn’t exactly stand for “heavy attack”. It all depends on which job you’re using at the moment: a magic staff will summon a magic wheel, which allows you to choose between any of Final Fantasy‘s traditional elemental spells (Fire, Water, Thunder…) and cast them, with their strength depending on how long you press the button for. Other jobs might assign a passive buff to R2, or an actual strong attack. All of those cost an MP bar, however. If you press R2 during a button-mashing combo with R1, on the other hand, it will actually be used as a heavy attack. It sounds complicated, but it feels natural once you kill a handful of Goblins.
Speaking of jobs… Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin features a job system that is slightly based on what Final Fantasy V had back in the day. Depending on the kind of weapon you find lying around, you might unlock a new kind of job for your character. Each job has a specific experience bar and skill tree, and it’s quite easy to level up. Either that, or Square Enix just wants us to skyrocket from pleb to warrior before fighting a single boss, but hey, I’m not going to complain. You can set two jobs at once, such as a warrior and a black mage, and swap between them at will with the Triangle button. Each job has its own set of clothing from the scraps you collect from dead enemies, and seeing the protagonist change clothes in an instant is downright stupid, but oh so funny.
The demo ended with a battle against Chaos, because who else would it be. It was a cheap-as-hell fight, with the boss tanking tons of hits while dealing a stupid amount of damage. Even though my two AI allies were as good as playing the game with my grandmas cheering me up, it was still fun to deal with a boss that’s brutal, but still beatable. In fact, I have little to complain about the gameplay itself. I knew that Team Ninja was a dev team that could be trusted when it comes to gameplay. Not so much when it comes to delivering games with good stories…
The game is still far from being released, and I hope Square Enix and Team Ninja will take their time to improve the framerate and resolution. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has a nice art style, but it’s hideous to look at. The resolution is grainy and the framerate, while targeting 60fps on a PS5, is still very inconsistent. Also, would it be too much to ask for a bit more of color? I get that the game is supposed to be edgy and dark and broody and everything else we loved back in 2002, but a bit more color and light wouldn’t hurt. There are sections I can barely see a foot in front of me.
All in all, I thought Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was going to be the brand new punching bag of 2021 and 2022, but despite the stupid trailer and stupid dialogue, this demo was awesome! It controls pretty well, being hard but fair. It also actually manages to perfectly port the world of Final Fantasy to a tough and gory Souls-like environment. I initially believed this was going to be the Balan Wonderworld of 2022, but if this demo is any indication, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is now one of my most anticipated games for the next year. What a twist!