Review – Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
That initial Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin reveal trailer, back at Square Enix’s E3 2021 presentation… boy oh boy, that was something indeed. A lot of people cringed. Others were puzzled, who could blame them? Some were revolted with the idea of an uber-violent Final Fantasy spinoff starring Eminem’s long lost brother. I, on the other hand, was stoked. I have no idea why, but the damn thing clicked with me right away. It looked like it was going to be either something completely bonkers in a fun way, or something so utterly stupid, so freaking idiotic, I’d laugh at it while playing.
That demo, available not long after its reveal, did wonders to prove the world that you SHOULD take Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin seriously, at least gameplay-wise. The demo showed us that the game was basically what would happen if Nioh and Final Fantasy had a baby. A ridiculously fast-paced Soulslike, with a focus on looting, completing missions, all while casting traditional Final Fantasy-esque spells and upgrading your character’s skill tree based on which classic job you had chosen. Team Ninja and Square Enix were developing something special. I had that hunch. I couldn’t wait to put my hands on the final product… and here we are. Time to finally kill Chaos and have fun with Jack and his cringy bros.
I want to talk about the gameplay first and foremost, because I know this is only a small percentage of your concerns towards Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. You don’t need to worry, it’s great. As previously mentioned, this game was developed by Team Ninja and plays just like Nioh, with the same mission-based approach to the Dark Souls formula. As to be expected, there are some additional elements added to the controls to make it stand out from Team Ninja’s samurai games. The first one is a secondary defense mode that allows you to absorb incoming enemy spells and briefly learn how to cast them.
The main draw of the combat system, and possibly the game as a whole, is its job mechanic, which feels like a mixture between Final Fantasy V and Tactics. You start off with a few basic job options, but the more you play with each one of them, the more experience points you can get to spend on each job’s skill tree. Reaching the bottom of the tree allows you to unlock a brand new (and stronger) job. Sometimes, you’ll need to complete more than one skill tree in order to unlock a more advanced job, which requires replaying some previous levels, but the game does have some neat features to make backtracking feel rewarding.
Not only does backtracking to earlier missions allow you to gather experience and loot quickly, but you can also replay them with different objectives and even completely redesigned room exploration patterns and enemy placements, not unlike the Master Quest dungeons in Ocarina of Time. These side missions are also stupidly generous with their completion bonuses; more often than not, you’ll be rewarded with Anima Shards, which allow you to level up your character quickly.
You are able to choose two jobs at any given time, and swap between them with the press of a button while on a mission. You can also set your clothes and weaponry for each job, essentially making your character completely change his looks during a fight. It makes absolutely no sense in terms of realism, but it allows for a ton of experimentation. You can specialize in being a physically-focused Swordsman with one of your job slots, and become a Mage on the other slot.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin wants you to go aggro on almost every enemy in front of you, but be aware that they all have two different bars: one for health and one for poise. If you’re wondering, yes, it works exactly like Sekiro. If you deplete your foe’s poise bar, you can kill it with a Doom-like finishing move, complete with over-the-top killing animations and a whole lot of edge, which also recovers a bit of your MP meter, and even momentarily extends it. The game’s main “penalty” for dying is having your MP meter reverse back to its initial minuscule size.
One thing I’m sure a LOT of people and outlets will praise Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin for, especially right after the exhaustive (and frankly, pointless) social media debacle surrounding Elden Ring and its level of difficulty, is the fact that this game has different difficulty settings. Plus, you can actually lower them during a mission, whenever you hit a checkpoint. I particularly didn’t think this game was as hard as any Dark Souls game, Nioh, or even The Surge 2, but if you want to properly follow its story (more on that later) without wanting to grind for hours on end, you can do so. It actually makes boss battles unbelievably trivial, but hey, to each their own.
Everything works because Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin runs pretty well, way better than any of its pre-release demos, may I add. It also loads stupidly fast, all thanks to the power of the PS5’s SSD drive. That doesn’t mean this game is technically flawless. For starters, its framerate might be good for the most part (certainly better than Elden Ring), but there are constant drops. Whenever you fight a big horde of bosses, or loads of particles fill the screen, the action will slow down for a few seconds. While you can get used to those hiccups, they never ceased to annoy the hell out of me.
There’s also the fact that, despite featuring some fantastic art design (Nomura’s at it again), Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin looks a bit rough. There are times this game can look excellent, especially during cutscenes, but its visuals are flawed. Its resolution is still a bit low, certainly lower than what you would expect from a PS5 game, and its lighting effects are just plain rough. I don’t think I have ever played a game on my PS5 where I was constantly tinkering with its HDR settings, as I would never find a way to make it not look like I had jacked my TV’s saturation and brightness meters to eleven.
Now, let’s talk about the star of the show. You’re here to know if Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is dumb. You want to know if it’s cringeworthy. My answer is yes. This is one of the stupidest games I have played in years, and, honestly, that’s a VERY strong selling point in its favor. Seriously. To me, this game feels like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: you never know if its sheer ridiculousness is intentional, meant to act like a parody of Square Enix’s own convoluted storylines, or if it’s just so absolutely idiotic that it just ended up feeling a parody. I don’t think I’ll ever find the answer to this mystery, but I don’t care. I was in the right mindset to enjoy this edgelord extravaganza, and I had a blast with it.
Without a doubt, its story is cheesy, its characters are silly, its dialogue would make Tommy Wiseau blush, and the protagonist… hoo boy. Jack, or as I like to call, The Real Real Slim Shady, is just the best. Or the worst. It depends on who you ask. Whenever this Disturbed and Korn enthusiast opens his mouth, something epic is uttered. More often than not, he’ll talk about Chaos; the man has a grudge on it just like Timmy’s dad from The Fairly OddParents has against Dinkleberg. He really wants to kill Chaos. It takes a mere couple of minutes for him to mention his urge to kill Chaos upon booting the game up for the first time. You just need to watch a nonsensical scene featuring Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” first. No, really.
Here’s the catch: everything feels completely over the top and unnecessarily edgy, but at the same time, it feels… candid. Almost naive, to a borderline adorable degree. There are some cutscenes in which the dialogue exchange is just nonsensical, “Padmé and Anakin talking to each other” levels of stupid. But in no moment do the voice actors deliver their lines poorly. The lines might be dumb, but gosh darn it, they deliver them like pros. Well, with the exception of whoever voiced The Real Real Slim Shady. Every single line uttered by him is bad, but at the same time, it totally falls under “so bad it’s good” territory, therefore I didn’t care.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is this generation’s DmC: Devil May Cry, in the sense that its edgy appeal is equal parts cringeworthy and borderline adorable, but what really matters is the fact that, underneath the JNCO jeans, the Hot Topic merch, and the Papa Roach CDs, lies a fantastic slashing experience that mixes elements from different games and genres to create something special. If it wasn’t for its admittedly rough visuals and the occasional wonky framerate, this could have ended up becoming one of the, if not the best Final Fantasy spinoff of all time. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin might be as dumb as Limp Bizkit’s lyrics, but damn if it isn’t as fun as Wes Borland’s riffs.
Even though Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin features an absolutely fantastic art style, as well as strong cutscenes, it looks a bit unpolished for next-gen standards.
The combat mechanics and controls are borrowed from Nioh, with some additional Final Fantasy-esque features sprinkled in the mix, such as jobs, skill trees and spells. It works better than you would expect. The only thing bringing the overall gameplay down a notch is the occasionally unreliable framerate.
Even though the fully orchestrated soundtrack is downright fantastic, it’s hard to pay attention to it with all the gloriously cringeworthy dialogue being spouted by every single character every two seconds. It’s bad, but it’s hilariously bad.
First and foremost, this is a fantastic Soulslike that manages to mix the gameplay from Nioh with a ton of elements from the entire Final Fantasy franchise. Furthermore, it’s hard not to love this game’s bizarre tone. Whether this stupid edgelord story was intentional or not, I love how cheesy it is.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was provided by the publisher.