The debut trailer for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin elicited quite a varied reaction from watchers when it aired during the E3 Square Enix showcase. Aside from the onslaught of memes piled up on social media regarding the trailer’s constant usage of “Chaos,” there was an immediate critique about the character design and the dreary atmosphere.
The tagline of a “Bold New Vision” for the Final Fantasy was questionable. Sure, Team Ninja would be helming the project, but would their unique perspectives manage to give this Final Fantasy a distinct, new identity amidst this dull coloration? After playing through the demo twice, I’m excited to say that this upcoming game very well might live up to its bold tagline if its missteps are approached with elegance and refinement.
The demo begins with the protagonist Jack and his two companions, Ash and Jed, entering the Shrine of Chaos. Their objective is simply to kill Chaos. We aren’t told of any underlying motives or characterizations regarding the cast or even how they have ended up in this world and focuses mainly on combat.
Players control Jack, who has enough depth to warrant being the only playable character in the demo. There are multiple Jobs he can utilize, such as Warrior, Mage, and Lancer, and then Advanced Jobs that can be unlocked, which are upgraded variants of their original forms. For instance, Lancer’s Advanced Job is Dragoon, and Mage’s is Black Mage. The variance of builds can get confusing when trying to grasp the combat potential. Each Job controls uniquely with their attack speeds and abilities too.
One of the central features is the Break Gauge which both Jack and enemies have. If this gauge depletes, stun takes effect and is assuredly a fundamental mechanic that can turn the tides of battle.
When fighting, there is a parry mechanic called Soul Shield, and this is truly where the heart of the combat lies. Properly utilizing it grants swift reprisals and increased MP restoration with the caveat of a lowered Break Gauge.
There are way too many intricacies within the combat system to discuss, but needless to say, the menus become a common sight with constant gear reshuffling. Reminiscent of systems in games such as Nioh, gear is dropped by enemies and found in chests which all have their own sets of stats and abilities. There is even a mechanic with certain equipment that grants bonus experience for specific jobs when worn.
Speaking of experience, each Job has its own Skill Trees, and the ends of these trees are how Advanced Jobs are gained. When it comes down to it, each component and mechanic ties strongly into one another, thereby requiring necessitated thought into a vast spectrum of a puzzle with each choice. The demo does grant a tutorial right when beginning, but the deliveries of information are mostly substandard and devoid of context. This is undoubtedly an experience where you learn by doing rather than by reading.
Terrain impacts combat, with pillars and fallen rocks acting as makeshift cover from ranged or swift ground-based foes. With fighting being the evident-centric focus of the game, the lack of puzzles and such make sense, but I would still like to see some more variety in the designs.
One of the major faults I had with the demo was the party member AI. There is no way to command Jed and Ash as they instead do their own thing whenever the hell they feel like it. At best, they’re somewhat decent light damage add-ons but not much more than that.
Their HP and Break Gauges aren’t viewable either, which can make them a hindrance. Enemy AI can shift focus from Jack to his companions, and it can ruin the flow and pace of the battle when they mindlessly get stomped on. Improvements to communicating in battle with Jed and Ash need to be at the forefront of the given feedback.
Secondly, the framerate takes a few hits. It was reasonably poor in some areas, most notably in locations that were sprawling with numerous enemies. I have no doubt this issue will be addressed in the full release, but it deserves mention nonetheless.
My hesitation regarding the character designs, mainly Jack’s, were thankfully nonexistent the further I played, as his attire changes depending on the gear he has equipped. This may not change some people’s minds because his base appearance is quite plain and not comparable to typical designs of the series.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was a shockingly thrilling and addicting experience. After the reveal, I wasn’t expecting to have this much fun, but credit where credit is due, this game has a lot to offer. There’s a decent flow of action linked to a Job class system the encourages variety. The experience is only enhanced on hard mode so if you have the opportunity, give this demo a try.
Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is releasing for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC in 2022.
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