Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin - Memory Lane
PS4, PS5, XBO, XSX, PC
I have gotten the name for this game wrong a lot. A lot. It feels like one of the mobile games where I just assume the devs have thrown dictionary magnets at a fridge and taken whatever works out. By the end of the game though, the name makes sense but it’s certainly a road of mental backlips to get there.
The Final Fantasy Origin in the name refers to the setting. Consider this game as a sort of “isekai Final Fantasy 1” where people have been sucked into the world and they just seem kinda cool about it. Their memories are gone, and all they remember is that they want to kill Chaos. You’ve probably seen the memes going around, it’s not too far from that. Jack, the protagonist (and cardboard personified) is stalked by Jed and Ash and decides with little fanfare that they’re all going to join up and fight the big bad together, all because they have cool matching crystals.
The dialogue is also over-the-top trashy bordering on hilarious. I don’t think it’s meant to take itself seriously, despite a somewhat serious tone later in the story. Maybe this is meant to be a biting satire on the power-fantasy of game protagonists. I doubt it, and you know what? That’s ok. There’s been loads of games with awful dialogue that still end up being amazing like Dragon’s Dogma. I digress.
It took me a bit to work out exactly what the combat felt like, until I remembered who developed this (Team Ninja) and instantly realised it’s very Nioh. I love Nioh, so it’s apt that I also adore the combat systems here. You start by choosing 2 basic jobs of your choice, and as you level up to the maximum of level 30 you unlock abilities, job affinities and other bonuses. Once you reach the maximum level for the job or rush the unlock, you unlock the next tier of job. Rinse and repeat from basic, to advanced, to expert jobs. There are 27 jobs total to unlock and truth be told, the main difference is their R2 ability, their weapon skills and proficiencies and some other minor details. Between the 27 jobs and the 8 weapon types, you’ll have plenty of options to futz about with what you find fun though.
Combat comes down to a few things: Armour, weapons, dodging, and hp/burst. Armour and weapons are given out aplenty, so you’ll end up using Optimise Equipment a bunch, and just making tweaks because it is adamant that the grey piece with slightly better defence but literally no skills or affinity is the best. The skills are nice, and I think at higher levels, and harder difficulties they’ll be practically mandatory, but the affinity is what you want early on. It works in two ways; affinity for all jobs is a measure of exp earned on kill, so you can level a bunch of jobs all at once even if you’re not using them. On your own job though, the higher the affinity, the more stat bonuses you’ll unlock, which can make all the difference.
Once you’re done thinking about all of that stuff, you get to put weapons to mob-faces, and that’s where the meat and potatoes is. Resistances to weapons, damage types all take place, but you also need to consider two things, Dissidia-style: do you want to beat down the enemies hp, or smash their break gauge, stun them, and do a finisher? The break finishers both replenish your MP and raise your maximum MP. The other way to get your MP back mainly is to use your Break shield to block and attack at the cost of your own Break gauge, so there’s a lot of judgement made in the heat of battle around each attack to see what you need to do. You don’t want to over-exert yourself and actually get stunned as it’ll mean certain death, but you also don’t want to be a chicken so you can get back that precious MP and use the big skills.
I played on the hardest difficulty originally available (Hard) and it’s a hell of a challenge. Admittedly I would wager this game is meant to be played with 2 friends via co-op, taking the place of your overwhelming useless NPC friends, but through a variety of scheduling issues, review deadlines and embargoes it just wasn’t happening. It’s doable solo, for sure. In the same way that Dark Souls and Nioh are doable solo. It’s a different feeling, but you’ll still manage to have fun. Of the game’s 16 or so missions, each took me around 1-2 hours. About half of that was spent going through the mission, taking out mobs and poking around for secrets and the other half was me cursing in frustration at the final boss. I am by no means a terrible gamer, but man, these bosses on Hard will beat you up, take your lunch money, steal your bike and then make out with your partner behind the bleachers. They are not messing around. Thankfully when you wipe to a boss in each of their two phases, the game will offer a pickup to give you some helpful hints about them. Not “Try dodging” or “git gud lel”, but instead what parts of their body might be weak, and to what. As there’s little feedback on what might work and what won’t (I miss the Dragon’s Dogma days of “‘Tis weak to fire”), the hints are useful. You don’t have to beat them that way but I’ll take whatever handicap I can get.
The levels themselves are broken into mission structure, rather than the open world style of some other games. Each mission is based on a level from another Final Fantasy mainline title. Is this 35th anniversary nostalgia bait? Yes, yes it is. Do we care we’re being baited? Well that’s the funny thing about nostalgia, it sneaks up on you. Hells no we don’t mind at all. Seeing the Mako Reactor (FF7) come to life in this game, or Sastasha (FFXIV) as a pirate grotto, I am into it. As I haven’t played all the mainline games, some of it was lost on me, but when they lay it on, they lay it on thick. Music, enemies, design all just oozes the game it’s referencing. Very cool.
Graphically it’s not all that though. Some of the textures are a bit hit and miss, and in a couple of boss fights (thankfully only a couple) the framerate dipped down lower than I’d like in a fluid combat game. Most of the time it’s ok, and that’s why some of the world graphics are a bit on the dialled-back side too, to make sure you keep that framerate as crisp as possible. It’s a tradeoff, and it’s one I can live with.
This is such a hard game to review. The story is a bit rough but with consistent attention and finding a few of the extra lore tidbits in the world, something potentially interesting starts to unfold. The dialogue is awful to the point where I wonder if the devs are having a laugh, but the battle system is a tonne of fun, and it’s challenging as all get-out. I have a feeling there’s the expectation you play this with friends and really hit that insanely hard difficulty. The combat system is complex enough that people who are amazing at this style of game will do some amazing things with it and I look forward to seeing those videos. I’m not amazing at it, but I can do some of the cool stuff and feel like a god doing it and that’s a hell of a feeling.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was reviewed on a PS5 with code kindly provided by the publisher