Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin review — strange, ugly, fun

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Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is repulsive. Its story is so-bad-it’s-good levels of amusing at best and complete nonsense at worse. Its production values are well below normal standards for Square Enix’s best efforts, like Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Some have embraced Stranger of Paradise’s shlock. I never could. I love this series, and it bothered me to see a game fancying itself as some kind of retelling of the original Final Fantasy while acting like some kind of joke.

I thought I would hate Stranger of Paradise, which comes out on March 18 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But I don’t. I actually like it.

A fun fight

Despite Stranger of Paradise’s ugly graphics, shallow characters, and nonsensical script, the game is fun. Team Ninja has created an interesting combat system that combines elements of trendy Dark Souls-inspired RPGs with classic Final Fantasy staples, like tier-based magic and job classes.

The game’s job system is the real highlight. You start with a few basic classes, like mage or duelist. You can equip two of them at any time and switch between them whenever you want, even during combat. You don’t level up your character, you level up your jobs. As you do, you can unlock new abilities and perks from skill trees.

It's fun to punch things.
It’s fun to punch things.

You can also unlock new jobs from those trees. That’s what makes progression so satisfying. You start off with basic classes, and the game encourages you to master them and unlock more complicated jobs. For the best, you’ll have to unlock nodes across different skill tress. To become a sage, for example, you have devote some time as both a black mage and white mage.

It both gives you an excuse and a reward for trying out a bunch of different jobs and gives you a lot of flexibility. Toward the end, I focused on a magic-heavy build centered around the sage job, but I also had the breaker class equipped if I wanted to focus on pure melee combat.

A lot of loot

I compared Stranger of Paradise to Dark Souls. While it does have a lot of similarities — attacks mapped to shoulder buttons and a focus on dodging and countering enemy attacks — it’s also a lot faster-paced than your typical From Software experience.

It also has a more traditional level-based structure. You aren’t in an open world or a bunch of inter-connected zones. Instead, you play through the game one stage at a time. Each of the levels takes its inspiration from a different Final Fantasy game, which is a fun for franchise fans like me.

You also get a lot more loot than you do in a Souls-like game. In fact, I can’t think of another RPG that gives you more loot. After every fight, you’ll likely get a few new weapons or pieces of equipment. On one hand, this is great. You’re constantly getting stronger.

Stranger of Paradise is dumb, but it's usually entertaining.
Stranger of Paradise is dumb, but it’s usually entertaining.

On the other hand, it’s a bit much. You’ll be going into your equipment menu after almost every fight. And since you have so much loot, you don’t want to spend too much time examining it. Instead, you’ll just push the “optimize equipment” button and move on.

The sheer amount of loot also makes some systems more tedious than helpful. You can, for example, go to a smithy to add some extra perks to an item. But, again, you get upgrades so frequently that it feels silly to even bother.

But, yeah, it sure is ugly

I don’t want to sound mean, but Stranger of Paradise’s presentation — its story and aesthetics — often feels amateurish. Cutscenes awkwardly warp characters from one location to halfway across the world, lacking any kind of a narrative flow. Sometimes the game insists on showing us events for no reason, like lead character Jack stopping by an inn for five seconds. Some plot points can only happen because characters momentarily act like complete idiots.

Character personalities and motivations are subject to change at any moment. Tone is all over the place. Sometimes the game wants to be sincere and touching, other times Jack is shouting F bombs (how edgy) and doing his best impression of an outdated ’80s action star.

Also, even if you choose to play the game in the 60 fps performance mode, most cutscenes still play at well below that. Character models look like they doused their faces with an oil-soaked rag. Some levels feature fog and mist effects that make it difficult to see.

Cool throne.
Cool throne.

I know it’s kind of an obnoxious thing to say, but Stranger of Paradise looks like a PlayStation 3 game. Now, that isn’t entirely damning. There are a lot of great PS3 games. But it does feel dated. It’s like a game inspired by God of War 3, even when that same franchise has had to reboot itself in order to find a place in the modern world.

I guess I’ll allow it

So, yeah, Stranger of Paradise doesn’t look good. Its story is a bunch of nonsense. Maybe you’ll find that amusing, maybe you’ll find it annoying.

But all of that doesn’t matter as much as you might imagine. Because you spend the bulk of the experience fighting monsters. Stranger of Paradise makes fighting monsters fun.

It’s far from the best Final Fantasy game. It certainly isn’t the best action game. But it’s still a fast-paced and enjoyable playthrough.

GamesBeat review score

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin comes out on March 18 for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Square Enix gave us a PS5 code for this review.

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