Even if you like Final Fantasy games, expect to feel like a stranger in a strange land while playing Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins. This violent retelling of the original final fantasy game from 1987 does away with the series’ adventurous spirit and heartfelt mysticism to focus largely on muscle, attitude, and extreme everything. Square Enix labels this remake as a “hardcore action/RPG”, an apt description for a game that rarely relies on its aggression. This edgy experiment shines when swords are drawn and giant beasts enter a frenzied state, as the battlefield unleashes a flurry of combos and magic against terrifying monsters that pose a real threat. When swords are opened and characters need to be explained or explored, Stranger of Paradise has seldom seen in Final Fantasy’s 35-year history.
Don’t be surprised if you give your first audible groan within minutes of meeting protagonist Jack. Showcasing the emotional range of a brick, Jack is a blank slate of a lead, offering little in terms of backstory or personality, yet entertaining for all the wrong reasons, given how often he chaos. The one named aspires to kill the darkness. He hears this dark ambition for almost anyone, who occasionally drops F-bombs along the way because he’s angry. The story clings to the threads of silly chaos for dear life, offering some interesting twists near the conclusion, but mostly falls flat and does little to build the characters or the world around them.
Jack eventually befriends a handful of like-minded individuals to make the journey, but they are as lifeless as he is, and they are best at being together. At one point, Jack meets Jade and Ash on the road, and after only a few seconds chatting about Chaos and Crystals, they agree to travel together and cement the occasion with a fist bump. There are. The fist bump is as terrifying as it sounds, and is oddly remarkable, as you’ll see this gesture several times, each one unintentionally as comical as the last. I didn’t care for much of the story, but enjoy where it ends. No, the last moments don’t make the trip worthwhile, but at least it ends with a bang.
Hunt of Chaos takes place within the land of Cornelia, a place where most of the fictional tropes the series is known for. Developer Team Ninja does an excellent job of frequently changing locations within its level-based progression – throwing the party into lava caves, snowy mountains, and dazzling forests full of wild animals. Most of these locations are confusing in design, sending Jack and company down a mazelike path, some with puzzle qualities that require backtracking to solve. Without a map, expect to get lost from time to time. In a strange twist, the party can dart through a swarm of uncontested enemies, meaning you can quickly cover ground and get your bearings again. You can run from beginning to end boss of a level without encountering a single enemy – a design flaw I exploited to speed up exploration in some of the more confusing levels.
It’s not that I didn’t want to join the war. As messy as Stranger of Paradise is in its story and world, it fully embraces the wrath of a warrior to deliver an extraordinary combat experience. Well-executed melee combat and long-range magic pricks with enthusiasm, and Jack can switch between them on the fly. Enemy movements and unblockable attacks are easy to read, making all fights fair and a true test of skill. There’s even two AI companions you’ll be able to join and count your own kills, even against bosses if you need to keep your distance. Some bosses are incredibly challenging, and your allies might not be good enough to help, but you can always lower the difficulty to any save points for this fight – another nice touch.
The combat mechanics are robust, allowing Jack to bombard the enemy with abilities at moderate speeds. The reversible move works well, as does the Soul Shield counter that allows Jack to bank magic and send long-range attacks while attacking his attacker back – the latter is fairly simple, yet sometimes- It’s hard to ever get used to how frenetic fighting can get. When enemies are giving you a fit, saving magic can turn the tide to activate devastating Lightbringer attacks. Best of all, when an opponent’s break gauge runs out, you can execute them instantly with a stylish finishing move that also deals splash damage to any other enemies nearby.
Jack lives up to his name on the battlefield as a jack of all trades. Instead of focusing on just one job, Stranger of Paradise encourages the player to use no more than a dozen of them, in whatever style best fits the situation. Each square is fully featured and fun to use. I enjoyed being able to strike a precise sword at a black mage in the blink of an eye from a samurai who casually rained death from afar. Figuring out which jobs work best with each other is often fun and reason to experiment.
Pointing skill trees makes each action more powerful than the player intended. Specific armor pairs also provide meaningful statistical bumps. Each class can reach a master rank at level 30 and offer a variety of fine customizations, such as determining which special attacks are triggered at specific points on a combo chain. Again, the combat in Stranger of Paradise completely heats up and gives you a true sense of ownership over it.
Nearly every defeated enemy drops a weapon or armor, and you quickly learn how often you should dive into menus to tinker with each character’s loadout, as you spend just as much time in menus as combat. can. Weapons offer almost every kind of characteristic percussion you’d expect, and armors offer cosmetic changes. Gear’s “cool” factor is tied to their levels, meaning that at level five, you’re wearing leather, and at level 105, you’re gleaming in a terrifying dragon-scale suit.
With so many different options at your fingertips – from gear to jobs – that’s where Stranger of Paradise shines brightest and delivers the excitement. These adventures extend to two friends in online cooperative play, but only if they sync up with your battle level. If you’re not in the same level range, you should play at the lowest player’s level, which can be a nuisance if they’re just starting out and you’re in the middle or final game.
Stranger of Paradise is the weirdest final fantasy game ever, tying wildly between the terrifying and the fantastic. If you can bear Jack (and that’s a big question), the masterfully crafted fight is worth watching. You may come to this game for the story and the Final Fantasy feel, but it’s all about the combat and something else.