Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin: Trials of the Dragon King Review – Brilliance Mired by Negligence
Title: Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin: Trials of the Dragon King
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: July 20, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin unironically became one of my favorite outings in the Final Fantasy franchise, boasting an exceptional combat system and an endearing cast. And while its narrative was one of its lower points, the intrigue of its premise and the eventual conclusion left a favorable lasting impact.
However, there were also three DLCs announced, each expanding upon the storyline and adding to the already in-depth gameplay mechanics. Admittedly, I’m late to the party here, considering that the first DLC, Trials of the Dragon King, launched last Summer, but I finally chose to go through it now that all three DLCs have been released, and it was a relatively mixed affair.
Trials of the Dragon King occurs after the conclusion of the base game’s main story, focusing on Jack and the party figuring out a reliable, efficient way of ridding the lasting control of Lufenia for good. Amidst their efforts, they encounter an iteration of Bahamut, who drifted into their realm, and the cast ends up conversing with this cosmic being. The provided plot for this first DLC is light and sparsely delivered, with it not a primary focus, as the new gameplay systems are emphasized much more.
With Bahamut’s arrival, players can replay missions while utilizing the new Trials mechanic, essentially restrictions that make the experience far more challenging. These Trials can be customized to one’s liking, with most having levels of severity that can be amped up. Then, in return for completing missions with these restrictions, players are awarded a number of Dragon Treasures depending on how strenuous the collective Trials were.
The Trials comprise many options, such as enhancing enemy stats, raising the party’s susceptibility to status ailments, and much more. Unfortunately, I found this system’s implementation relatively poor because the DLC’s storyline relies on you achieving a fair number of Treasures. After reaching certain thresholds of acquisition, you can view brief conversations with Bahamut that progress the narrative, eventually unlocking a few missions, with the only non-recycled ones being two new boss battles.
These new boss fights are magnificently designed, easily topping the quality of the already great bosses in the base game. Their telegraphs are apparent, attacks are varied and memorable, and the second phases are distinct but not wholly separate from the identity of the previous one. Ordinarily, I’d recommend this DLC to hardcore fans because of these fights alone, yet because of the Treasure requirements, even I grew increasingly annoyed about reaching them.
I view the Trials as akin to the Pro Codes from the Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind DLC, except required for the story in this case. It’s undeniably a lazy and uncreative way to pad out the already meager story length needlessly. I would’ve much preferred the Kingdom Hearts III implementation of these options, where they were wholly optional. A new shop opens where the Treasures can be exchanged for terrific equipment so they could have solely had that use.
Moreover, the new scenes, almost entirely comprised of conversations with Bahamut, are so humorously brief that they would have been far better as an uninterrupted sequence of events. The contents discussed between the cast here are genuinely engaging for those compelled by the story. Yet, the genuinely awful Treasure necessities mire any meaningful impact these cutscenes would have otherwise had. The game simply does not do an adequate job of creating incentives to keep going.
These Treasures can also only be obtained on the new Bahamut difficulty, and while that may seem incredibly bizarre, it’s not as questionable as one may initially assume. Being properly outfitted for the Bahamut difficulty requires players to unlock the higher-level variations of already-present missions, where defeated monsters will drop worthwhile gear. It only took me around an hour to obtain 400-level equipment from my prior 200-level setup, so the DLC isn’t demanding in that regard.
Granted, there is more to this DLC that isn’t tethered to the Bahamut requirements. For instance, Staves were added as a weapon choice alongside the Pilgrim, Evoker, and Summoner Jobs. Additionally, each Job now has two selectable Class variations, Evocation, and Ultima, that take the base Job in different avenues, requiring a new collectible material used for upgrades. And if those facets aren’t enough, Jed, Ash, Neon, and Sophia are playable in single-player, and Accessories were added.
So, there’s no shortage of added content in this first DLC, and I genuinely believe that these implementations alone would have provided enough motivation for replayability rather than the forced Treasure collection.
But I think I’ve complained about that design choice more than enough. It bothers me because even with the light story, the gameplay add-ons are genuinely significant and worth the price of admission here. Summatively, the fumbled story progression stands out and unjustifiably hampers the approachability of this DLC.
If you enjoyed the original release of Stranger of Paradise and have been yearning for new content, then this DLC will certainly scratch that itch. All of the new ways to interact with the game, ranging from the enjoyable new weapon to almost intimidatingly staggering Job customization thanks to the Class selection, grant dozens upon dozens of hours of replayablity.
However, the dreadful method of narrative progression is enough of a turn-off for those not willing to sink in the time to engage with it. Furthermore, its locking of the new fantastically designed bosses adds greater insult to injury. Here’s hoping the following two DLCs don’t suffer from a similar grave failing when I experience them.
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