Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is quite the mouthful of a title, but it’s also a Final Fantasy title we had been looking forward to for quite a while now – here are our thoughts on the PlayStation 5 version of the game, which is also available on PC and Xbox.
Of course a lot of our anticipation had to do with the fact that Team Ninja was developing this particular Final Fantasy game. We most fondly remember their early Ninja Gaiden games for the original Xbox as some of the best action game of that console generations, while others will probably associate them more with the Dead or Alive and/or Nioh series. It’s a team that knows how to deliver engaging combat, so we were curious to see how they’d apply that to the Final Fantasy IP. It turns out they went more in the direction of Nioh than Ninja Gaiden.
At first sight, they certainly have the Final Fantasy look and feel down – a group of heroes with JRPG-style outfits and hairdos, where you play as moody protagonist Jack as the world is subject to the evildoings of Chaos. Despite your lack of a heartwarming personality, your band of fellow warriors follows you wherever you go. There’s Jed and Ash as fairly one-dimensional allies, and then you have Neon and Sophia, female characters that are surrounded by a bit more mystique. In the later parts of the narrative, this element makes the story an interesting one as well – although it feels a bit disjointed in the first half of the game.
Structure-wise, Stranger of Paradise isn’t too unlike Nioh in a lot of ways, with a similar map for missions and optional quests and an elaborate weapon system. This also ties into how you level up, as specializing in a certain weapon type will enhance your proficiency in similar weapons as well – which is nice when you run into more powerful versions and don’t need to level up from scratch.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to swap gear as well, because loot isn’t rare in this game – another resemblance to Nioh. You can automatically equip the best possible loadout with the simple press of a button, but action RPG fans will enjoy tinkering with their gear to find something they like best as well. This will partly depend on how you want to engage with combat scenarios, which we thought was going to be a lot more ‘hack and slash’ than it really is.
Like in Nioh, combat in Stranger of Paradise leans heavily on Soulslike elements like blocking, dodging and parrying. The Final Fantasy license doesn’t help in this regard, as Team Ninja has embraced all of the flashy effects that come with that IP’s combat sequences – which in real-time combat scenario can obscure part of the action and cause frustration. We ended up dialing down the difficulty level because of it, which also helped with some of the extremely challenging boss fights in the game.
Although it felt like a shame to have to do this, it increased our enjoyment of the game quite a bit. And while you can alternate between weapon types as much as you want, sticking with one boosts your experience level for that type, which in turn unlocks additional combos, and Stanger of Paradise has a fun customizable system for it that gives you a lot of freedom to tweak your combat style to your own liking, mixing up attacks and abilities and branching these out as you progress.
Visually, Stranger of Paradise – Final Fantasy Origin runs great on the PlayStation 5, but we’d be lying if we didn’t say that we expected more from a visual point of view. When you consider how groundbreaking Ninja Gaiden was on the original Xbox and how visually impressive Dead or Alive is, we expected more vibrant environment – even though the character models and combat both look good.
Because the combat itself is satisfying (if you look past the shortcomings mentioned earlier), it’s a shame that the story isn’t more captivating, making Stranger of Paradise feel more mission-driven than narrative-driven for a large part of the campaign. It’s a more than solid action RPG though, with more depth than your typical slasher but less of the grind that you’d expect from a JRPG or Soulslike. It’s a success in many ways, it’s just not as groundbreaking as we would have liked.