Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is Shockingly Awesome

Announced during the Square Enix E3 show, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin caught a lot of people by surprise… but not for the right reasons. The game looked confused, muddy, and had a bunch of very out of place people running around screaming “Chaos!” constantly. Worse, a demo launched on PlayStation 5 that was broken and people couldn’t play it. Well good news: Square Enix fixed the demo and it’s playable now. Better news: after playing it, Stranger of Paradise may possibly be my most anticipated game in some time.

There isn’t really much story to be had here. You’ll play as Jack (or “Jack Final Fantasy” as some of my friends have lovingly nicknamed him) who shows up at a castle claiming he’s there to kill Chaos. He’s joined by his friends Jed and Ash, who have no personality except wanting to kill Chaos. They’re bros. I’ll just get it out of the way now: this is the worst part of Stranger of Paradise. The characters are boring and the writing is nonsense. This is, however, a demo, and not really the point it’s trying to show.

The real star of the show is the gameplay. Stranger of Paradise has you fighting monsters in real-time action combat in a style that isn’t too different from Nioh, which makes sense because Nioh developer Team Ninja is on the project. You have attacks mapped to the trigger, and enemies have a stagger bar that, if you manage to empty, lets you instantly kill them. There’s no stamina bar so you don’t need to worry about that, but you do need to dodge away from attacks. However, there’s also a nice Final Fantasy edge to the combat. The most notable: there’s six jobs that you can play as, and switch between on the fly in the middle of combat. Each job has a different set of attacks, weapons they can equip, and abilities they can use. For example: the swordsman can do a spinning slash, the lancer can throw his spear, while the mage has, well… magic.

To use these special abilities you need MP, and that’s where another major system for Stranger of Paradise comes in. As I mentioned before, if you remove an enemy’s stagger bar completely, you can instantly kill them. Doing this gets you MP, and also increases the max amount of MP you can have. You don’t want to just kill every enemy by punching them to death, because you won’t be able to gather enough MP like that, so it’s a really neat system to get to experiment with.

However, there’s more. There’s also “soul shield,” which is likely going to become the game’s standout mechanic. The idea is simple: it’s a fancy parry. Someone swings, you put up the soul shield, it stuns them and you can counter attack. Basic. However, the real cool thing about this mechanic is that you can steal enemy attacks. For example: there’s a gryphon that can shoot a wind shockwave. Should you use the soul shield you can grab it and hang onto it, able to use it at a later time whenever you want. It means that, no matter what class you’re currently playing as, you’re doubling as a blue mage, and that’s simply fantastic.

It wouldn’t matter if the enemies weren’t fun to fight, but I enjoyed all of them. The aforementioned gryphon is covered in armor, making it a slow and heavy tank. You can rip that armor off to make it easier to hurt, but you also make it faster and able to fly. Packs of wolves are led by an alpha that you can kill to weaken them. You can fill bombs with fire magic so they grow in size and eventually explode. Stranger of Paradise ends in a boss fight, and you can disrupt his elemental attacks by countering with elemental attacks of your own. It was really neat that nearly every enemy in the demo seemed to have some sort of unique gameplay mechanic, and I had a good time trying to figure them out.

There’s more to Strangers of Paradise, but getting into it nitty gritty would take a while. You’ll find equipment that can give you stat boosts, so you can customize yourself a bit. You can spend some MP to go into “Lightbringer” mode, which lets you lower an enemy’s max break meter and send out a shockwave that deals a ton of damage to all break meters. You have Ash and Jed assisting you in combat and can toss the potions to keep them alive, so they can be more effective meat shields. If you play on harder difficulties, the game drops better loot for you. You can unlock better classes by leveling up the starting clsses more, and since you keep everything in new game+ there’s already reason to give the demo multiple runs.

If any part of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin appeals to you, the game is set to launch sometime in 2022 for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X|S, and PC. If you have a PlayStation 5, there’s a demo available right now, until June 24th. I strongly suggest giving it a shot.

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