Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasty Origin

By Paul Hunter

The minute a game gets announced with Team Ninja's name associated to it, I'm immediately interested. They've created some of my all-time favourite games like the modern Ninja Gaiden entries and both Nioh titles. So when I heard that Team Ninja was teaming up with Square Enix to create Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, a Soulslike game set in the original Final Fantasy universe, I was naturally very excited.

To my surprise though, the trailers seemed rather so-so with ho-hum graphics and a gruff lead character in Jack that was hard to get past. I still decided to check out Stranger of Paradise, if only to satisfy my Nioh itch after last year's excellent PS5 remasters and I'm glad I did⁠—the game turned out to be way better than expected. So let's descend upon World A to discover what Stranger of Paradise is all about, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: The Characters and Story

Given how much I was initially put off by Jack, Ash and Jed (your starting trio of characters), I'm genuinely surprised at how intriguing the story got a few hours in. My main early beefs with these self-proclaimed Warriors of Light is their flat personalities and annoying lowkey grumbles. And it's not just the odd awkward "grahh" or "hmmph" here or there, they make constant groaning noises and hilariously one conversation was simply all three saying "rugghh" in succession. You learn right at the game's start that all three characters lost their memories, but it's like they also lost their ability to hold meaningful conversations.

Thankfully, as the game progresses the story gets much, much better. There are several interesting plot twists that make you completely rethink the original Final Fantasy's story and characters. New heroes and enemies get introduced at a regular click that have more engaging personalities and also have the bonus effect of making conversations with Jack more compelling.

Perhaps most shocking is that I actually started to really like Jack's stoic nature by the story's midpoint, particularly because his personality actually starts to make sense given the hell he's been through. Plus, it became funny to hear him routinely channel his inner Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and demand other characters shut up and focus on the mission in such an aggressive, dismissive way. I was half expecting him to yell "know your role!" but alas he never did take it that far.

I don't want to get into any more details for fear of spoiling the story, but needless to say, Stranger of Paradise tells an excellent tale if you're willing to give it a chance to open up.

Liked: The Job Classes

Stranger of Paradise features a whopping 28 job classes, divided into Basic, Advanced and Expert classifications. Final Fantasy veterans will be familiar with most jobs on offer, which range from the iconic Red/Black/Red Mages to combat specialists like Knight, Warrior and Swordfighter, plus specialty classes like the Berserker, Dragoon and Paladin. Each job grants Jack associated abilities, such as the Dark Knight's Souleater job action that consumes your own HP to enhance your attacks with additional dark damage, or the Monk's Focus ability that uses MP to gradually recover HP.

In order to not overwhelm you with jobs, you'll gradually unlock more advanced jobs as you complete the prior jobs' skill trees. What's great is that if you want to unlock all jobs, the game basically forces you to try out every job and gain around 15-20 levels before you can access the next job. I say great because by playing as each job I was able to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses and it allowed me to really hone in and focus on my four or five favourites.

I found it interesting to control signature Final Fantasy jobs in real-time combat, considering my first exposure to these jobs were in the slower paced turn-based classic games on Super Nintendo. Being able to perform a Dragoon Jump attack or flick on the Berserkers 'Berserk' mode during fast and furious combat was extremely cool. And with more than two dozen jobs to choose from there's plenty of playstyles to experiment with, whether that's all-out aggression, mid-range magic, or long-range projectile movesets.

Liked: The Deep Character Customization

Jobs are just one way that you can customize your Jack in Stranger of Paradise. There are a bunch of other systems you can tinker with to create the ultimate enemy-shredding wrecking machine.

Gear is one of the best and easiest ways to upgrade or modify your character. Each class specializes in certain weapon types, of which there are eight in total including Maces, Knuckles, Axes and Greatswords. Each weapon has access to specific attacks, whether that's the lance's long-range AoE attack or the mace's fast and versatile blunt melee swings.

You can also equip armour for your head, arms, torso, legs and feet, and some one-handed weapons allow you to also wield a shield. Weapons and armour come in five basic rarity types, along with a sixth ultra-powerful rarity called relics available during the post-game. As the rarity increases so too does the odds of getting better weapon/armour perks, plus better-quality gear tends to have higher job Affinity. Your job Affinity impacts how rapidly your job rank rises, and if you gain enough Affinity you'll unlock job-specific passive abilities or stat increases that greatly improve your survivability. The Cyclic Warrior, for example, can gradually increase your MP limit, while the Tyrant can restore HP when targeting enemies weaknesses. Perks like these can make a world of difference, especially when playing on the hard or ultra-hard Chaos difficulty.

Stranger of Paradise has a bunch of other systems to fine-tune your character, such as class-specific abilities, equippable attack combos and weapon-imbuing to unleash fire, water, lightning and other elemental attacks. There's a whole smorgasbord of tinkering options for those wanting to meticulously build their character to their exact liking, but for those less interested the game also lets you 'optimize' your loadout with the click of a button. I've completed the main story and have put over 40 hours into the game and I'm still learning ways to further optimize my character, a testament to just how deep the customization is.

Didn't Like: The Muddy Graphics

So...I'm guessing 'high quality' graphics weren't in this game's budget. Because damn are the visuals hard on the eyes. Considering how beautiful Nioh is it's utterly appalling how soupy the graphics are in Stranger of Paradise. Seriously there are PS3 games that look better, and after recently playing Soulslike games like Demon's Souls PS5 and Elden Ring, playing Stranger of Paradise feels like stepping back in time 15 years. In moments of complete irony, there are a few times during missions where a party members comments that 'everything looks the same' and it's 'easy to get lost'. Uh, yeah.

Thankfully there are some graphical highlights like the cutscene character models and most of the bosses, but that's like 10% of the game. The other 90% are missions with fuzzy graphics, many of them with an unnecessarily dark filter, almost as if the developer was so embarassed by the graphics they purposely made levels near pitch black to hide the god-awful textures. You'd think playing on a PS5 would bump the graphics up to at least a 'decent' level, but no, this version looks terrible too.

Didn't Like: Chaos Difficulty Balance

I really did not have much enjoyment with the post-game Chaos difficulty. Unlike Nioh that had what I consider to be an excellent post-game with new higher-tier gear and a harder difficulty that was properly balanced, after beating Stranger of Paradise there's not a lot to keep me coming back. That's because frankly, the Chaos ultra-hard difficulty you unlock feels so frustratingly unbalanced.

For starters, most enemies including the weakest in the game can kill you in two or three attacks. Given the aggressive pace of combat, it's very hard to avoid all enemy attacks, which this mode certainly seems to want you to do. You do have a Soul shield to block most attacks without taking damage, but your Soul meter drains incredibly fast and takes forever to recharge. Also, and even worse, some key Job abilities are completely useless on Chaos difficulty. For instance, the Monk's Focus heal is way too slow to matter, and ditto goes for the White Mage's Regen that restores like 60 HP every three seconds, meanwhile enemies dish out around 1,000 damage with every attack.

Despite how ridiculous Chaos mode is, I've managed to clear about half the missions, so it's not impossible but it's certainly not very fun. I usually play Dark Souls games up to NG+3 or higher, so I enjoy a good challenge, but the gameplay also needs to keep pace with the rising difficulty. And in Stranger of Paradise, Chaos mode often feels more cheap than fun, making me wonder whether the developers spent any time whatsoever play testing to try and get it right.

The Verdict

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a flawed, but actually quite enjoyable action RPG. The story is surprisingly good, combat is incredibly satisfying and the excellent character customization goes very deep. Graphics are a major sore spot, as was the disappointing end-game content, but overall I'm glad I got to experience this game. I really do hope that Team Ninja follows up this game with more Final Fantasy Soulslike titles, because I'd be down to play another. I just hope any subsquent game has a higher budget so we can get graphics at least as good as Nioh.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action Role-playing
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.