Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin made me very angry. This isn’t because it’s an unsalvageable game–there are a lot of things to like about it. The problem is that none of the things I want to like fit together. It doesn’t help that I’m coming here from a background of classic and modern JRPGs and this title is an action RPG that takes heavy inspiration from the Soulslike genre. The point is, I’ve never quit a Final Fantasy game with a headache until now.
I’ve heard it said that you only get angry about things you care about. In that case, I care deeply about Stranger of Paradise for many reasons. Some games are designed as standalone experiences. Others make more sense in the context of a larger series. When a series is as long and genre-defining as Final Fantasy, these context-driven games can be confusing. Here’s a bit of extra information to establish the premise.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a side story to the original Final Fantasy. Think of it as a prequel or an alternate version of the tale. Whatever the case, three things are clear from the beginning. Beloved Princess Sarah of Cornelia will be kidnapped by the gruel knight Garland. The monstrous Chaos must be slain. And four Warriors of Light must rise to save the world.
Beautiful Graphics, Slick Gameplay, Unimpressive Storytelling
Jack, Jed, and Ash, three strangers with matching magical gems, are compelled to seek out and kill Chaos. The king of Cornelia decides that they are the Warriors of Light. They set out to kill Chaos and save the world. But as their path leads them into darkness, it becomes clear that things aren’t as simple as they’ve been led to believe. If Chaos is only a legend, then why are they compelled to destroy him? And why will Princess Sarah be kidnapped by Garland when the two were once lovers? Who knows? And more, importantly, who cares?
Credit where credit is due, this game is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, it’s a little too gorgeous for my computer. Sometimes the display went slightly pixelated for no reason. Most of my screenshots look weird even though some cutscenes were almost photographic. I’m certain Stranger of Paradise would look better on consoles or with a high-end gaming computer. The facial animations are just wonky overall, and I don’t understand why talking to an NPC opens a separate cutscene every time. The music is pretty good, and the voice acting is nice except for how one-note Jack is.
Before we get any further down that road, let me talk about the nuanced real-time action combat. It’s definitely the main selling point of the game. Your enjoyment depends on how much you like polished, combo-heavy action with more loot than a Diablo title. If that’s your kind of thing, congrats! Stranger of Paradise might be made for you.
An Effort Was Made
Stranger of Paradise has three gameplay modes: Story, Action, and Hard. Even in Story mode, this game is difficult. If you’re coming to this from an RPG background, you should start on Story mode. The combat is very slick and stylish. It can be easy to get swarmed by enemies even on the lowest difficulties. However, recovering and taking them down is only ever a few button presses away. Much of the game’s complexity comes from Jobs, of which there are many. You can mix and match skills to create your ideal build, too.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the game doesn’t have a map. I kept getting stuck in the aggressively linear dungeons because I couldn’t find the right spot to progress. This was annoying enough in most dungeons. The level where a ballista was constantly firing at me is the one I quit with a headache. And as sleek and pretty as the action is, it’s also confusing.
It was really easy to lose track of what was happening. And sometimes the perspective made Jack disappear and I was suddenly playing a first-person game. People who are more accustomed to action gameplay may not have this problem. But if you’re a Final Fantasy fan like me, Stranger of Paradise is not going to be an easy transition.
The camera is pretty hard to manage in general. If you’re locked onto an enemy, it behaves itself. However, locking on causes problems when you’re being swarmed by foes. But leaving the camera free makes it easy for blind spots to form. And there are way too many loading screens between story missions. The environments can be really striking. I’d love to be able to explore them properly.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a Step in a Weird Direction
The single biggest issue with this game is that I don’t care about its characters. In theory, they’re fascinating. In practice, none of them are developed in any detail. This should be an opportunity to revisit Final Fantasy’s roots with added depth, but everyone is a basic Final Fantasy archetype. And while I could accept this if they were charming archetypes, they really aren’t. This a problem because modern Final Fantasy games thrive on the strength of their narrative.
Jack, the main character, has no personality or real character motivations. The game tries to do something clever with this by implying that Chaos isn’t even real. Unfortunately, this technique is dead in the water because Stranger of Paradise tells its story in Soulslike-style chunks. Orbs scattered throughout dungeons and short cutscenes convey the narrative. And that just isn’t enough.
In Soulslike games, little direct characterization and the plots revealed in menus and by picking notes off the ground are acceptable. But Stranger of Paradise is aggressively linear and offers few optional exploration opportunities. Environmental storytelling doesn’t work in that kind of setting. And Jack isn’t given enough interesting things to say, do, or think to keep my interest. And while it’s clear Cornelia is in trouble, the inability to explore makes it hard to internalize that.
All in all, I don’t think I can recommend Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. Maybe if you have a dedicated gaming PC and don’t care about lackluster narrative presentation, you’ll enjoy it. As it is, I can only shake my head and go back to Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion.