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There’s something special about the Final Fantasy franchise. Despite seemingly countless entries of varying quality, when I see those two F-words front and centre on a video game, my heartbeat reaches a higher tempo. Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin had the exact same effect on me when I first saw it revealed, but was I right to be excited?
The grand, bombastic announcement trailer makes it clear the game’s narrative isn’t straightforward. Playing as Jack, accompanied by a customisable party of characters who comprise the “Heroes of Light”, our role is to save the world from the darkness of Chaos. So, typical stuff for Final Fantasy then.
See the combat trailer for Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin here
After all, it should be. Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin takes us back to the world of the first game in the franchise - 1987’s Final Fantasy (which is available in remastered format) - and weaves a mysterious story of locked memories that I won’t spoil here.
The gameplay of Stranger Of Paradise combines hack-and-slash action with loot ‘em up rewards. As you cut down foes, you’ll gain weapons and armour, with stronger enemies yielding more valuable gear.
Combat offers a range of attacks and blocks, as well as limited control of your two fellow party members. While they can be helpful, success really comes down to how well you can master the core mechanics of attacking and blocking/dodging. One good hit from an enemy can break your posture, leaving you vulnerable to KO.
Honestly, I was surprised by how brutal Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin can be, but it never feels unfair. It very clearly signposts what a challenge it offers, even if you opt for one of the less-brutal difficulty options, of which there are four, ranging from Casual to Hard.
The game takes place over a string of different levels. These maze-like arenas task you with getting from A to B, routing bad guys along the way. Each zone has a main mission, while usually offering side quests that can be reaccessed after initially beating them. These optional missions differ slightly but ultimately still task you with the job of crushing your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their Cactuars.
In addition to earning better items, Stranger Of Paradise also has a job system. As you journey, you’ll earn points to unlock skills and attributes based on your character’s job, from Swordsman to Ronin, and more. How you play is up to you, and the job system caters to your style.
You can tell from the gameplay that this is the work of Team Ninja. Their distinct style is clear in all of their work, from the Ninja Gaiden franchise to the Nioh games. They’ve even worked on the Zelda Musou game Hyrule Warriors, and Square Enix’s Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, so they know how to integrate their brand with anything.
While Team Ninja have done a very good job of making an action RPG, it feels like an odd choice for revisiting the world of the game that started this legendary franchise. The idea of being able to see Castle Cornelia on a modern console had me very excited going into Stranger Of Paradise, but it was essentially reduced to cutscene appearances.
However, that’s not what this game is offering up. Instead, it delivers a tight, action-heavy experience where you tear through hordes of enemies, earn loot and level up. Sadly, I was unable to test the multiplayer mode during my review, but overall Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a very good game in its own right.
Pros: Very good combat mechanics, gorgeous visuals, intriguing narrative
Cons: Repetitive gameplay, voice acting seems off at times
For fans of: Final Fantasy, Ninja Gaiden, Dynasty Warriors
Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was tested on PlayStation 5 with code provided by Square Enix. The game releases March 18, 2022, for PS5, PS4, PC and Xbox consoles. Read a guide to our review scores here.
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