Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin Review - Prima Games

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin Review: Let’s Do the Time Loop Again

The assassination of Jack Garland by the coward Tonberry

by Lucas White

The latest Genre spinoff from Square Enix’s flagship Final Fantasy is the most earnest videogame I’ve played in ages. There’s no bullshit or pretense, just tons of enthusiasm and heart. Stranger of Paradise’s memetic “CHAOS” vibe is what most will take home from this adventure, but that’s only the beginning. It’s the “krscht” sound a cold beer can makes when you crack it open. The real fun, pain and intrigue is yet to come.

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin Review

I’ve been playing Stranger of Paradise for dozens of hours, putting off this review since the day I got a copy (late on launch day; it be like that sometimes). Usually when I deprioritize a launch day review project it’s because I’m busy and trying not to skip it. This time I was busy, but also my brain hasn’t stopped orbiting around Final Fantasy Origin like a Moon. My opinions on this game continue to contort and evolve to this day, to this very moment. Honestly I don’t know what to do with it all.

Stranger of Paradise has made me laugh, hyped me up, tugged a heart string or two and pissed me off so thoroughly I wanted to quit multiple times. But I kept going. I vomited my brain out into a whole separate feature last week. I’ve almost hit the Platinum (my first for the Epic Games app!). I wrote guides, everything. I’m still juiced up on Jack Garland’s unrelenting energy.

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Jack Garland is the driving force behind this game in so many ways. He’s loud, angry, dirty, hairy and really likes nu metal. He’s the anti-Final Fantasy protagonist. Which is thematically appropriate, because well, you know. Jack is part hero, part villain and part DOOMguy, doing good deeds but with the cadence of a violent misanthrope and literally punching exposition away along with his problems. This is Jack for most of the story, and yet somehow he’s a compelling protagonist.

Shifting tones in Stranger of Paradise happen gradually, stretching across a good 30 hours of initial story time and fueled by a bunch of disjointed dialogue, non-linear revelations and metaphysical sci-fi gobbledy-gook. It’s what oldheads like me might consider the worst of “modern” Final Fantasy, boiled down to its purest self-indulgence. But by the end I was rooting for Jack more than Cloud, Squall, Tidus, That Other Blonde Kid and Lightning combined.

The writing team at Square Enix fed the 1987 Famicom classic Final Fantasy through a wood chipper running on a neural network forced to watch Army of Darkness more times than I did in high school. This game’s scenario popped out and it’s wild, awesome and hilarious. But most shocking is how lovingly this story holds to the original game’s framework, embellishing every part of it with, well, chaos but preserving the foundation fully. That’s made the wait for Stranger of Paradise, from the first demo in the Temple of Chaos to now, so full of intrigue. As a sicko who likes the old Final Fantasies best, I ate it up and then some.

While this unhinged adaptation of a NES cartridge drove me, fighting monsters and punching architecture to dust sustained my momentum. Team Ninja was involved here, and I mean actually involved, not “involved” like in those dope Nintendo Musou games that do Omega Force dirty in the marketing. You can draw a straight line from Final Fantasy Origin back to Nioh, but with a little extra octane kicked in.

Stranger is primarily a “Soulslike” but with a dash of Ninja Gaiden. A game that will kill you and send you back to checkpoints and reward patience, but also moves super fast, has combos and canceling built in on purpose and bombards you with enemies. Also there’s lots of loot happening? It’s a mess, but a fun mess to dig through.

Related: Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is the Soulslike I’ve Needed

I just wish the way progress worked was… better. This is a Job system at its heart, and I love those; give me a bunch of passive tinkering and new threads and I’m there. But weirdly enough the Jobs only go so far at first, and equipment is far more important. But equipment being important in a Soulslike with loot and an active Job system is a lot to handle, and RNGsus’ arms are far too short to box with RNGod. The “Affinity” system and leveling structure hold Stranger of Paradise back big time.

Towards the story’s end, there’s a massive difficulty spike. And by massive I mean the recommended equipment level average shoots up hella high and all you can really do is grind. But to grind by this point you need stronger equipment, which is governed by that level rating. Which means you’re too strong to replay old levels and get anywhere. And you aren’t strong enough to have fair fights at the current level. What do you do?

Bang your head against the hard level over and over until loot drops that passes the stat check hurdle. Or Git Gud, I guess (not really). Compounding the issue is the random element of Job Affinity, which turns building your gear up into more number crunching than a Diablo game. You can brute force with “optimization” but I’m not sure the game knows what that word means.

Affinity is measured in percentages, informed by a Job’s skill tree plus your gear. Everything is labeled clearly and makes sense, but the spread is all over the place. In the postgame? It’s kinda grows to exciting because every murder becomes a loot box. But when you hit a stats wall it’s devastating. Your pace is totally at the mercy of drops.

Related: Square Enix Went Absolute Sicko Mode in February’s Nintendo Direct and I’m Here For It

For example I spent the entire game with Ash as a Pugilst and/or Monk, and I would either not get those Affinities in drops, or would get them on items he couldn’t equip. I had to bench him eventually because I literally never found anything for him that felt useful.

You don’t need to pump Affinity into your chosen Job, but it’s a good idea due to all the bonuses you get. The numbers aren’t high enough to make diversifying useful during the main story, so you are at the mercy of grinding for gear with relevant synergy or trying to bash your way through with high numbers. And when you’re trying to overcome that slump, in a level that’s objectively too strong for you, it’s like an episode of Popeye made while the writers and animators were being tortured by demons.

But once you clear the hump, Stranger of Paradise is a blast again! It’s unbelievable how much of a difference videogame bullshit (cheap deaths, etc) makes in this experience. My arc went something like this:

  1. Oh man this game rules
  2. I hate this game how am I supposed to get past this
  3. Damn it, I have to drop down to Story, but I refuse to pick Casual!
  4. Oh man this game rules
  5. CHAOS mode??? Heck yeah buddy let’s go all the way
  6. I hate this game how am I supposed to get past this
  7. Oh I found an exploitable grinding spot with a giant bird just like in Elden Ring, that’s odd; I’ll spend a few hours fighting this thing then maybe I can try the other levels
  8. Oh man this game rules

An emotional rollercoaster to say the least, but a ride I kept going back to no matter how defeated I felt. I wasn’t even this stubborn with Elden Ring, and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the compellingly strange adaptation of the original Final Fantasy. Perhaps it was the unhinged but genuine camp tone. Perhaps the gameplay loop was truly that much of a brainworm.

It definitely wasn’t the goddamn Tonberries.

Pros:

  • A Final Fantasy doing camp impressively well
  • Plays like Nioh sponsored by GFUEL
  • Jack Garland kicks ass

Cons:

  • Loot system is a mess
  • Weird difficulty spikes
  • Recurring technical issues

Score: 8.5/10

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review