Look, we live in chaotic times, but thankfully with Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin there is one man who’s stepping up to the plate to put an end to any such wanton CHAOS. Yes, open the curtains for Jack, the angry grunge-core hero of the day with only two equal burning passions in life: an insatiable hatred and need to destroy the evil force of CHAOS that rules the land, and late 90’s/early 2000s emo alt rock.
Square Enix first presented this Final Fantasy prequel, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, at E3 earlier this year to a litany of memes and ridicule about just how much this Jack fellow appears to hate and want to kill CHAOS. And, to be fair to the Japanese gaming behemoth, they took it in good graces.
But for Square and FF Origin this was always all part of the plan. The concept for the game initially came down from long time Square Enix stalwart and Kingdom Hearts leader Tetsuya Nomura who stated that he, quote, wanted to tell “a story of an angry man”:
“The concept and planning of STRANGER OF PARADISE: FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN came around the time after DISSIDIA 012 FINAL FANTASY. I thought to myself that I wanted to have a game focus not on character battles but on locations where actions take place. After some time had passed, I started planning a new Final Fantasy with the themes of “a story of an angry man”. More time passed, and I was able to combine both separate concepts into one cohesive plan, which is what you see now”.
Immediately following the E3 presentation came the first rough cut of a trial demo available for PlayStation 5 users to try, and though the initial trailers were quite rightfully mocked, the game itself showed some promise after some hands-on experience.
Fast forward 4 months, with time for perpetual angry-man Jack to get just that bit even angrier, and for Stranger of Paradise to get just a little bit more polish and development to be able to release a second trial demo complete with an extensive combat tutorial, several levels of CHAOS to try, a complex class tree progression and equipment system, and wonderful 3 player co-op.
I hopped in with a friend to hunt down CHAOS for myself, and quite frankly, to my surprise, I had a blast.
The first thing to praise with Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is undoubtedly its combat system, which even within this short demo shows itself to be extensive and massively varied for all kinds of playstyles. The base foundations are your simple light attack, heavy attack variations, with further combo progressions unlocked as you go on. There is also a dodge and block as you might expect, but more uniquely is a special block/parry circle ability that you can time right to quite literally absorb enemy attacks and use back against them. For example if an enemy launches a fireball you can circle parry the attack and then unleash your own fireball once, any time you like. Knock an enemy about for a bit and eventually they’ll become “stunned” allowing you to then unleash a cinematic killing blow. It is a mechanic and control system that takes a little bit of getting used to, especially since it is clearly designed to be able to incorporate many different variations, but once you get it down it feels excellent and is a lot of fun. The challenge of the combat is good too, proving to be satisfyingly difficult and punishing enough without ever feeling unfair. The final boss we fought was a tough challenge that we had to try over and over, however that only made our eventual triumph all the sweeter. One of those few gaming moments where you may actually jump up and scream for joy after winning the fight, finally.
The real experimentation for FF Origin, however, comes in the games’ many, many, “job” classes. Any weapon you pick up has a specific class assigned to it, meaning you can then retool yourself for that class and fighting style. This is things like your stock warrior classes, or a mage, duellist etc, but even within these are so many varying subclasses each with their own distinct move set and playstyle. Using any subclass allows you to accrue upgrade points for that class specifically, and since you can quickly switch at any time between 2 classes you’ll be able to level all of them up simultaneously to each other. As a bonus, the quick switching will also instantly change your character’s outfit since each class benefits from different clothing, which, while utterly ridiculous, is very very funny – which might as well be the thesis statement of Stranger of Paradise overall!
Within the short demo you’ll probably only scratch the surface of these, and it is clear that every class has its advantages and uses in different scenarios, leaving a lot of potential for this system on the full release. Personally I most enjoyed primarily rocking my boxing gauntlets and then switching to a black mage when need be wherein you can cast many different elemental spells.
Clunky Menu Systems
The gear and inventory system is a little clunky and quite frankly more than a bit confusing, so I typically just leant on the “auto assign gear” button during the demo. Navigating through the menus is no straightforward task, and even after several hours in this demo I still don’t entirely understand what a lot of it is. This is even more of an issue since by the game’s own design you will have to spend a lot of time in these menus, as undecipherable though they are.
The main menu is no easier to sort through either, with finding my co-op partner proving to be quite the chaotic task indeed (easy now, Jack). Once we eventually cracked the code though we were off to the races!
Fun Co-op Nonsense
Stranger of Paradise looks to be best enjoyed in co-op, in my opinion. Your party has 3 members at any given time, and you can dress and improve your AI allies as you progress at any time, but they tend to be next to useless without a player controlling them. AI partners get a little lost in combat, and they frustratingly don’t seem to have any instructions to ever try to revive you when downed, even though you’ve carried them through every other bastarding fight. I would recommend trying to get at least one or two friends to join you, or try your luck with the matchmaking system.
The co-op however is not also without its annoyances. If you’re in with a coop player then whoever has the misfortune of not being Jack – heaven forbid! – will be at the mercy of the host since they get dragged into the inventory menu too anytime the host checks on their equipment at a save spot. The reverse, however, does not happen to the host ever.
In our co-op game too my partner’s clothing would never change even when he equipped new items. The bonuses and effects of his new equipment would work, but his character would still just be roaming around in baggy jeans, a white vest, and a sleek pair of Nike’s while carrying a comically large scythe on his back. Once again, ridiculous, especially placed against my emo black-robed deep fantasy man, but very, very, funny.
With the online co-op game too we suffered a few technical glitches wherein I would be fighting enemies that quite simply just did not exist on screen for my partner. Several times he could see me slashing away at the air, blood spurting forth both from me and this seemingly spectral enemy, but couldn’t do anything to help since that enemy didn’t exist for him.
All that said, the co-op is still a lot of fun and only helped to serve the absolute ludicrousness that this game serves up in abundance – plus there is the important caveat that it is still very much a work in progress, with the game currently not releasing until March 2022. Don’t come into this one looking to sweat out a hard, overly serious play session; FF Origin is so much better if you just lean into some of the zanier, ridiculous aspects.
After all, where else are you going to find an angry man who cuts off monologues to scream “bullshit” before storming off with his iPod playing Blink-182 or Fallout Boy, all while cosplaying as someone else’s idea of a cool looking fantasy character made from the dregs of a high school drama cupboard. It’s a trashy delight too ridiculous to elicit any actual self-serious criticism, opting instead to lean into the one very thing it claims to hate with the burning passion of a thousand suns: Chaos.