You’ve never played a Final Fantasy quite like this before.
Using the original Final Fantasy as inspiration, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins turns up the action, and attempts to make the long-running fantasy series more mature. You’ve got a protagonist with an attitude problem, intent on killing Chaos. And alongside him stand yet more “Warriors of Light”. Although with crystals of pure black, they’re not all that sure of themselves. Needless to say, it makes for an engaging adventure.
It’s just a shame, though rather apt, that the story of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is delivered in such a chaotic way. You get bits here and there, and many important plot points are delivered via messages disguised as collectibles. So, fail to scour each and every one of the game’s environments, and you might be left a bit lost at times. There’s also the fact that the game’s story scenes are a bit rough around the edges.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t really matter if you get lost while unravelling the story of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin; it’s so crazy that you’ll just enjoy being along for the ride. This is a game that revels in being a bit weird, with a protagonist who’s a lovable jerk. Jack’s insistence that he’s going to kill chaos is comical, and the game is fully aware of it. You’ll chuckle when he stops NPCs from delivering time-consuming monologues because he simply doesn’t care. Jack just wants to turn things into blood-red crystals before smashing them into little bits. And there’s a lot of that to be done.
With Team Ninja leading development, anyone that has played Nioh or its sequel will find Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin rather familiar. From a world map you choose from a growing number of missions and, taking control of Jack, it’s up to you to battle your way through them. There are powerful bosses waiting for you at the end, of course. There are many environments to visit, each wildly different from the last. And their often-labyrinthine nature means you’ll be glad when you unlock a shortcut back to a health restoring cube, where you can also develop your character.
There’s no traditional levelling up system here, however. Instead, there’s a job system, allowing you to develop Jack as you see fit. You can have any two jobs equipped at any one time, and you can switch between them with the push of a button. In the early hours you might opt for the Swordsman and Mage classes, for example, allowing you to cast spells at range then switch to wielding your blade in close combat. But as you play through Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin you’ll unlock yet more jobs, and by levelling them up you can gain access to more powerful advanced (and later expert) jobs.
The freedom you’re given is astonishing, really. You’re free to choose which skills will end your combos. You’re also free to assign up to three commands you’ve learned to a quick access panel. In addition to each class having a unique skill available, and weapons having their own unique quirks, there’s just so much depth. And that’s before aspects such as Affinity, which allows you to gain a wide range of perks, and gear bonuses are taken into consideration. You can spend hours obsessing over your build, optimising your gear, skill and command loadouts, and saving your presets for future use.
It would all be for naught, though, if the combat wasn’t up to scratch. And thankfully it is. It’s fast paced and brutal, forcing you to think on your feet and choose your targets wisely. One key feature is the ability to “break” your enemies, which then allows you to perform a Soul Burst; an insta-kill attack which restores your MP and increases your MP bar. It’s something you’ll want to do, as using your MP-powered skills really makes a difference in combat. Also, while guarding is an option, utilising a riskier Soul Shield manoeuvre is more beneficial, allowing you to steal certain enemy abilities and use them against them. It’s entertaining stuff.
On normal difficulty Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin puts up a decent challenge, requiring you to complete side missions between main story quests to get powerful loot and give you a fighting chance. But multiple difficulty options means the experience can be tweaked to personal tastes; play on the easiest setting and there are few barriers to going from one main mission to the next. Online co-op is also possible, and with a full team of three human-controlled warriors, encounters become much more manageable. When playing alone, you have two computer-controlled companions instead, although you can command them to up the ante when you need to.
One of the most surprising things about Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is how it pays homage to the Final Fantasy series on the whole. Final Fantasy fans will find each location vaguely familiar, and they’ll hear melodies that they’ve come to know and love woven into the soundtrack. While most enemies are new, they’ll come up against familiar foes such as Cactuars and Tonberries, with the latter being as formidable as ever. Characters humming the classic Final Fantasy theme from time to time is just the icing on the cake.
Playing on PS5 for review, it’s only the presentation of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin that’s dragged our time with it down a little. Two graphical presets are available: high resolution or high frame rate. With both seemingly targeting 60fps but failing to do it solidly, you may as well go for high resolution; even more so considering the game can look very blurry at times when using the high frame rate option. But even on the high resolution setting the visuals of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin can be underwhelming. Decent DualSense implementation is a plus on PS5 though.
Take its unfortunate performance issues in your stride – which will hopefully be ironed out by Team Ninja post-launch – and you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun with Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. Its story may be ridiculous and not particularly easy to follow, but you’ll enjoy trying. And besides, the real draw here is the combat, which is not only highly entertaining but so, so deep thanks to the brilliant job system. This is a new type of Final Fantasy game, one that puts action at the front and centre, and it’s a blast from beginning to end.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review – GameSpew’s Score