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April 2024

Stranger Of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: March 18, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 15, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Stranger Of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin blends challenging and strategic action gameplay with the world and lore of the Final Fantasy series to create a unique action RPG experience.

Buy Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is the story of Jack Garland and how he came to be the infamous first (and last) boss of the first Final Fantasy title. His story exists as a loose retelling of the original Final Fantasy game. He and his allies Ash and Jed are the Warriors of Light, summoned to Cornelia by the King to defeat the evil Chaos. Of course, all three have amnesia and are later joined by Neon and Sophia, fellow amnesiac Warriors of Light. This merry band of heroes has only one goal: Kill Chaos, who is the personification of the random and the uncontrolled. Jack has made it his goal to punch that specific thing in the face, and he will stop at nothing to do so.

It is difficult to praise the story in Stranger of Paradise, which can be oddly transfixing if you enjoy that sort of thing. Every character acts bizarrely, the big plot reveals veer between predictable and bonkers, and entire segments of the game are incoherent. At the center of that is Jack, who is the strangest protagonist I've ever encountered. He is dismissive of everything he's told, constantly belittles and attacks people around him, and he absolutely loves giving fist bumps. The tale of his journey is supposed to cover his fall from grace, but his personality is so absurd that a significant amount of his dialogue includes the words "Kill" or "Chaos," and he doesn't change much.

I can't recommend the game if you're looking for a compelling plot. The reveal of Jack's last name in marketing is odd, since the game structure clearly seems to build up to the reveal. (The trophy you get for finishing the game is, "His name is Garland.") Instead, you're watching a bunch of amnesiacs follow the world's angriest man until he becomes the world's angriest man dressed in blue armor. If it sounds fun to watch a villain spout an anime speech followed by the protagonist punching him in the face, then SoP will probably suit you. Otherwise, the cut scenes are skippable.

The gameplay in SoP is based heavily on Team Ninja's other Soulslike title, Nioh. If you've played either of the Nioh games, you'll see a lot familiar stuff. It's sort of like comparing Bloodborne and Dark Souls, except with a licensed twist. For those who haven't played those games, think of Dark Souls as having more of a fighting/action game feel. It eschews the weighty combat in favor of fast movements, parries, grabs and combos. It's still perfectly willing to murder you, though.

Jack's abilities are governed by his MP bar, but that doesn't function in the expected way. Jack begins with two MP bars. When you use a special attack, it'll drain one or more of the MP bars, which refill when fighting and killing enemies. You can expand the MP bar by "breaking" enemy stamina bars or absorbing enemy attacks with your Soul Shield. When you do this, your MP bar grows slowly. If you take too much damage or your own break bar is drained, you'll lose MP. Some spells also consume maximum MP in addition to regular MP. With careful play, you have a ton of resources to spend, but you'll need to be more cautious if you are badly hurt.

Soul Shield is one of the two blocks in the game. The regular Guard functions as expected. You lessen the damage you take at the cost of the break bar, and a careful button press can perfectly parry, which nullifies the cost. Soul Shield drains your break bar but absorbs any attack that isn't unblockable. It has a heavy cost, and overusing it means that you're easy to break. This means that you'll want to use Guard for quick attacks and Soul Shield for heavy attacks. Sticking to one means you'll run low on MP.

Another cool feature of the Soul Shield is that every foe has one or more attacks that have a purple name. If you block this attack with the shield, you'll temporarily absorb it, and you can use the ability. You only get a few uses of these skills, but they can be incredibly powerful. Most bosses have an attack or two that you can turn around on them for massive damage, and it's immensely satisfying.

At any time, Jack has access to two jobs and can swap between them at will, and he can swap out jobs to save crystals. Each job has a distinct active skill in addition to a variety of passive and command skills. Active skills can define jobs. Black Mage and White Mage get to cast magic spells, Void Knight can use Runic to absorb enemy magic to a degree that Soul Shield can't, Thief can steal enemy skills without needing to block them, Knight can buff their shield to do damage when blocking, and so on. Jobs are divided into three tiers, and you need to master lower tiers to reach higher ones. A higher-tier job usually has higher base stats, but sometimes it's better to stick with a lower job that has a better active ability.

It gets more complex. Your play style is determined by the weapon you have equipped, not the job. Any job that uses katanas plays roughly the same, and the unique passives of each class influences the style. Some jobs can use multiple weapons, which grants more customization options.

Play styles are very diverse. The standard Sword and Shield is a reliable all-around fighting style that anyone can use. Katanas rely on baiting enemies, so you can counterattack and block at the same time. Knuckles get faster and stronger with each hit that you perform without taking damage. Maces are the only weapon that spellcasters can use, and they can be enchanted to do elemental damage.

You customize a job's attacks by leveling up the job and unlocking skills. An unlocked attack can be used with any job in that class. For example, the tanky Paladin can equip a shield and mace at the same time, which gives them the option to use elemental attacks from the Black Mage skill tree or holy attacks from the White Mage skill tree, effectively letting you make a versatile elemental powerhouse. Different skills scale off different stats, so if you're playing a high-strength character with an ax, you might choose different skills from a high-stamina character with an ax.

You can also pass along Command skills, which are active skills that cost MP but are used from a menu. These usually grant a passive bonus or ability, including Jack's Lightbringer skill, which massively increases his breaking power at a cost to his max MP. Careful use of such skills can go a long way. White Mage has a skill that massively boosts the duration of the next buff. Use that on the Tyrant class, which can enchant its own weapons with a temporary elemental buff, and you can get magic fists that last for an eternity.

If you thought that was all the customization that SoP has, there's more. Almost every piece of armor is also associated with a job. This affinity ranking gives you passive bonuses, with higher rankings yielding better bonuses. When you are equipped with a job, you get some passive affinity bonuses, so it's easier to hit the bonus benchmarks with the right job. That isn't required, though. You can wear a bucketload of Sage-affinity armor on Paladin. At 250%, Affinity Sage can nullify damage from magic attacks while guarding, which makes the tanky Paladin even stronger.

In addition to Jack, you can bring along two party members. Each party member can access a limited selection of jobs but otherwise functions like Jack, except they're AI-controlled. Surprisingly, the AI partners are really good. They are incredibly effective and powerful in combat, especially if you take the time to gear them properly. On the default Action mode, it's possible to play a support style where you buff them and let them go to town on enemies. If anything, I feel they might be too good sometimes, but it's better than being an albatross your neck like they were in the original demo.

SoP also features multiplayer, where you can hop into someone else's game and replace their allies. You play as their chosen allies, but you retain all of the skills and abilities you have as Jack. In my playtime, this was incredibly powerful. Having three allies work together on a boss can overwhelm foes. There are limited revives, but you can have a dedicated White Mage to keep everyone healed.

This means that SoP is in a weird spot for a Soulslike. It's designed for beginners in a way that most of the lot are not. Your punishment for death is limited to a reduced MP bar, and the overall game becomes much easier. Damage ramps up quickly, but that goes for both sides. You can and probably will get crushed by foes a few times and then effortlessly stomp on their faces. Souls or Nioh vets will probably want to start on Hard, and a Chaos difficulty unlocks after you finish the game if you want more of a challenge.

If you know how to play, you're going to see some absurd combinations of skills. Some default classes can be too powerful. My go-to was the Sage class, which can cast both Black and White magic. You can swap between Black and White magic, but every cast spell grants you an emblem. Get three of each emblem color, and you can cast Ultima, a rainbow-colored deathsplosion that melts health bars. This makes Sage a play style based around building MP, using it to cast spells, and saving up for when you can cast a tactical nuke. It's a ton of fun, but once I learned how to use it, I was nuking bosses with a couple of Ultimas.

On the other hand, if you're not comfortable with the game, you can die really quickly. Enemies will often chain-stun you, gang up on you, knock you down, and not play fair. This is common for Nioh's gameplay, but it might catch you casual action fans off-guard. SoP includes both a Story mode and a Casual mode. Story mode reduces the difficulty by enough that you can play it as more of a beat-'em-up, while Casual mode reduces the MP penalty and lets you block any attack. If you only want to see the story, you can.

Overall, this makes for a very fun game. At times, it feels a lot like a reskinned Nioh, but that isn't a bad thing. The frenzied combat captures the fun of customizing your character's classes in a way that brings glee to the Final Fantasy V fan in me . It's a well-designed action game with a variety of fun fights, and if you're a Final Fantasy fan, it's probably worth playing just for that alone.

Visually, the game looks pretty nice. On the PlayStation 5, it runs smoothly, which is great for a game that rewards pinpoint precision. The character animations are nice, but some of the faces look odd. One particular piece of design I liked was that each dungeon is based on a similar dungeon from other Final Fantasy games, though some are more successful than others at evoking their themes. The voice acting is surprisingly excellent, and several characters act the hell out of certain moments in a way that brings genuine emotion to something that's objectively ridiculous. Astos the Dark Elf King is a standout of a role.

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origins is a strange, ridiculous, and largely delightful game. You have to accept a game that is almost painfully free of irony and self-awareness, but if you do, you'll find one of the most enjoyable spin-offs to carry the Final Fantasy name. The combat is fast, frantic, and fun, and the customization options are through the roof. The only thing that holds it back is if players enjoy the story in the same campy way as Resident Evil 4 or only find it to be frustratingly unfun.

Score: 8.0/10

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