Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, the eccentric alternate universe prequel to the original Final Fantasy, has finally made its way to Steam. The Team Ninja project is a unique take on the Final Fantasy universe that teeters the line between over-the-top and genuinely enjoyable.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin features a ragtag group of heroes led by the player. Players can choose between Jack, Ash, Jed, Neon, and Sophia as the playable character that leads the group, with each having their own unique personality. There is not much depth to any of the main characters, something that I thought would bother me, but I actually found them all quite endearing thanks to how over-the-top they often were. The dialogue is incredibly cheesy, which may put off players looking for a more serious and conventionally well-done story, but I enjoyed the fact that the attempt to be serious ended up being more comedic. There is one scene in particular early on where Neon is trying to explain a very serious situation and Jack simply claims “bullshit”, turns around, and plays some music on his phone while he walks away. It was such a random turn from a serious discussion that had me legitimately laughing out loud.
The story of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is certainly different than other Final Fantasy games. The world is in danger and our heroes attempt to defeat the villain Chaos only to discover some surprises along the way. Does Chaos actually exist? Jack seems to think so, but Chaos is believed to be more of an idea than a physical being. Jack is adamant that he can defeat the actual physical form of Chaos and be seen as the Warrior of Light, but events play out in a way that set him up to be the Garland/Chaos character that has appeared in several Final Fantasy titles. It’s a very roundabout way to introduce a backstory to a known character that certainly raises more questions than it answers. Those are explained away by this being an alternate universe, but that doesn’t make them any less confusing at times.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin tries at times to tell a dark, serious story, but it comes across as over-the-top at best and outrageously cheesy like when Jack takes on of the darker moments of the story and all he can think to scream out is “screw you”. His constant cutting off of other characters’ explanations so they can get to the point was great. He only wants to do one thing, as he says countless times, and that is to kill Chaos. Nothing else and no one else matters and he makes that clear in ways that counter the tone of the rest of the game in an unintentionally comedic way. Jack is an absolute Chad and he knows it, and the way he and the other heroes interact throughout the story had my sides hurting.
Once I stopped expecting a world full of deep lore and a serious, if not routine, story, I really did learn to love Stranger of Paradise as it is. It’s not a life-changing story, and some of the attempted edginess certainly made me cringe, but the story puts the game squarely in “potential cult classic” territory. The corny characters go from cheesy to lovable quite quickly if you are open to not taking it as seriously, which was greatly appreciated in a series that can sometimes be too serious for its own good.
The story may be cheesy, but the actual gameplay is anything but. The combat can be described as Souls-like and is some of the most enjoyable action I’ve played in some time. Enemies can be really challenging, and patience is required on harder difficulties. Each character can have a specific job that affects their combat abilities and that system felt really well fleshed out. There is a significant amount of customization when it comes to which affinities and skills to use which keeps combat feeling fresh throughout. Equipment bonuses are vital to success in Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, and getting an item that matched perfectly with my character build was extremely satisfying.
Those builds are important as the game progresses because bosses can be exceptionally unforgiving if you aren’t prepared. On the flip side, mastering a character build and having the right gear to enhance it feels amazing when it all comes together in battle. It even felt fun to fail sometimes, since the fluid action makes every engagement exciting and enjoyable. It’s really impressive how well the combat system and actual implementation work from start to finish.
The flexibility in character builds also sets up the game’s co-op quite well. Having the option to be creative is great on your own, but with friends, it opens up the possibilities even more. Setting up a co-op lobby is also really simple, which certainly helps, and I’m looking forward to playing through some of the DLC with friends and testing out all sorts of new builds and approaches.
What Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin doesn’t do is overstay its welcome. The level of cheesiness would be grating after too long, so I appreciated the primary focus on combat and the shorter length of the game overall. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time fighting more unique enemies in different areas, but if there was more added then the cringe factor may have become too much to bear. Like a good dad joke, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin may not be for everyone, but it grew on me and in the end, I loved every minute of it.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is out now on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC via the Epic Game Store and Steam.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
Like a good dad joke, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin may not be for everyone, but it grew on me and in the end, I loved every minute of it.