Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin on PS5
Final Fantasy is a franchise that has dipped its toes into every possible game type by now. We’ve got racing games, fighting games, even a mobile battle royale. With Stranger of Paradise, Final Fantasy continues the action RPG feel of FFXV, but this time it mixes things up with the gameplay of Nioh.
Fans of the series will immediately notice that Stranger of Paradise does borrow much of its story elements from Final Fantasy I, hence the ‘Origin’ in the subtitle. This lends itself to a feeling of nostalgia as you fight classic Final Fantasy enemies with mentions or twists on FFI areas.
The story, for those unfamiliar with the game that started it all, focuses on the “Warriors of Light” who are destined to rid the world of Chaos, an entity that is currently causing issues and spreading darkness for the people of Cornelia. There is plenty of mystery remaining to be uncovered, but that is all you need to know. As far as beginning characters go, you play as the gruff and abrasive Jack, a knight of Cornelia and one of the Warriors of Light. Jack is the type that only lives to fight with a laser focus on the main enemy. With him is the boisterous Jed (very much feels like FFXV’s Ignis) and the tough-but-friendly Jed (closer to FF7’s Barret).
While the game does certainly pose a challenge, the difficulty can be adjusted. You can choose between Story, Action, and Hard. Story difficulty additionally allows for the activation of Casual Mode, making the game more accessible. With Casual Mode you can actually block unblockable attacks, your max MP won’t drop after death, and any fallen allies revive instantly.
Those who have played Nioh (also from Team Ninja) will be familiar with the mission mechanics to Stranger of Paradise. Unlike usual Action RPGs, there’s no larger world to explore. Each mission is selected from a map dotted with areas and takes place in a contained dungeon that players must navigate. While there are hidden chests and breakable walls, every dungeon is rather linear and rarely give much to explore outside of necessary backtracking.
Speaking of chests, they are nice for loot, but never felt necessary. Throughout the game it seemed like they never gave anything more in quality or quantity than the average enemy and merely served as a distraction from the path of the dungeon. On the whole though, this game gives you a metric ton of loot of comb through. The best part is just how cosmetic equipment works in Stranger of Paradise. Every single cutscene feels like one giant meme because there are some absolutely goofy pieces.
Thankfully, with just a press of the button, the game will optimize every party member’s equipment for their currently selected job. This saves tons of time especially considering you could easily be up 10-20 items over the next few enemies after just poring over minute improvements in swords for too long. Provided you are doing missions above your current gear’s level, you will never run short of equipment upgrades as long as you are following the story.
There are plenty of jobs to play around with in Stranger of Paradise. Out in the field you are allowed two jobs to switch to at the press of a button and at a checkpoint you can set your jobs to whatever you have unlocked, no limitations outside of required weaponry. From the outset, you unlock the base jobs when you first collect the singular weapon that specific job uses, such as a lance or spear or a club for mages.
As you unlock your way down the job’s tree, you can unlock further jobs, combos abilities, skills, and manage a job’s affinity. A job’s affinity is helpful because you gain passive benefits that carry over between certain related jobs. As you start to unlock the more advanced jobs that don’t lead any further, the capabilities of even the base jobs improve. The combo abilities gained can be applied to any other job, provided the proper weapon type is equipped. Later jobs even allow for weapon types to cross over, leading to more variety in loadouts.
This all leads into the shining point of Stranger of Paradise: the combat. The actual rhythm to combat can be as slow and tanky or as fast as you want it; it all comes down to weapon and job choice. Despite the difficulty being Souls-like in comparison, the combat isn’t careful or methodical. You want to get in close and clean through an enemy’s break gauge so that Jack can perform a brutal execution that is reminiscent of the animated kills in God of War.
Though, this version is less grisly as the enemy breaks out into red crystals before shattering under his onslaught. Bosses have two break gauges which noticeably separates their first and second phase. A boss’s second phase always begins with an execution where I felt like Kratos every time.
The break gauge is a double-edged sword, though, as Jack also has one and it can drain quickly if you take too many hits. When your break gauge is emptied you are briefly stunned, unable to fight, and extremely vulnerable. Despite having two companions at your side in Strangers of Paradise, in single-player, if your HP hits zero, it will force a reset at the last used checkpoint, and the status of your teammates doesn’t matter. While this means success never hinges on an AI companion, it doesn’t help when you’re getting rocked by some enemy and they aren’t right on you for the save.
The AI teammates are fine, and that’s about it. They certainly exist, but 90% of the time fights are won or lost based entirely on the player’s actions. It is nice to come out of a break gauge execution and have the teammates cleaning up the remaining enemies, but it’s not a constant thing. They do certainly draw enemy aggro, and that’s enough for the most part.
Stranger of Paradise is a peanut butter and chocolate combination of Final Fantasy XV and Nioh. The beauty of it is that you don’t even have to be a fan of Final Fantasy I to enjoy Stranger of Paradise. The story explains everything you need to know and anything you bring into it from previous knowledge is just extra. The combat is just spicy enough that you can feel like a powerhouse, but lets the players somewhat tweak the difficulty to their own desires if they’d rather face a tougher challenge. If this is the way that Square Enix will be remaking the early Final Fantasy games I am entirely in. This iteration takes modernization to the best possible level.
Score: 4 out of 5
AI is just okay.
Chests don’t contain anything special.