Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is my first venture into the world of Final Fantasy. The Final Fantasy series celebrates its 35th year this year. Naturally, I felt that a game released in such an auspicious year for the franchise would be something incredible. Despite its unshakable dedication to providing top-quality combat with a variety of foes, its lack of a memorable story has left me with mixed emotions about the game.
For lack of a more accurate description, the combat throughout Stranger of Paradise is spicy. The build-up to each fight starts from the very beginning of each mission, just as multiple flavours can combine, leaving you appreciating the hint of spice. Working my way through each level, building my character’s skills and armour helped me to appreciate the combat sections. Each enemy I encountered went through the stages of being intimidating, being difficult to beat, but ultimately satisfying when it has come to an end.
However, all of the spicy combat in the game has been weakened by the sheer fact that the story is bland. I may get heat for this, but I simply did not feel invested in any of the characters in the game. I'll give some credit here, the story became interesting at the very end. This didn’t change the fact that each time I quit the game, nothing about the narrative pulled me in to continue it. Perhaps if I was more familiar with the franchise as a whole, I could find more appeal in the story. Alas, as a newcomer, I did not.
Customisable Difficulty Settings
Now, even as a newcomer to the franchise, I know that Final Fantasy games are notorious for being three things: difficult, really difficult, and extremely difficult. Stranger of Paradise is no different, being beaten up by a small cactus isn’t exactly something I admit with pride. Thus, the ability to change the difficulty settings for the game was something I welcomed with open arms. This is one of the key factors that made combat in the game so enjoyable. As I was able to tailor the intensity of each battle to my experience level, I could tackle the enemies without feeling too frustrated. Admittedly, fighting games are not my strong suit, but the constant option to alter the challenges each enemy presented allowed me to build my skills as I progressed. Ultimately, if I felt a boss was too hard, I could lower the difficulty. If I wanted more of a challenge, I could raise it. Both things could be done without any penalties being presented, and that was immensely appreciated.
Jack of All Trades
The next key aspect of the game that helps to build towards satisfying combat sequences is the ability to turn Jack into a character that suits your individual play style. Specifically, you can have two Jobs (essentially classes), which would give Jack specific skills that can decide how you must attack your foes. Fortunately, for someone as indecisive as myself, you can switch between all of the Jobs at specific points in each mission. If you prefer to fight from afar, you can be a variation of a Mage. If you want to slice and dice your enemies, then you can grab the biggest sword you can find to be a Swordsman. Each “Job” I applied to Jack altered the challenges that I faced from each enemy, and in turn, it made combat unpredictable. The way I tackled an enemy with one Job would be exceedingly different to how I needed to tackle them when I equipped another. It stopped the combat from becoming stale, even when enemies were repeated in most areas.
Enemy Repetition Has a Purpose
The final layer of the build-up to enjoying the intense combat sequences comes from the minor battles you engage in as you venture through each area. Most areas in the game have distinct enemies in them that utilise similar skills to one another. They are cloned throughout the levels, but they act as important lessons for the boss you’ll face at the end of that mission. In a game that has put a strong emphasis on fierce and difficult combat, I found it extremely clever that they hid valuable lessons within smaller battles. Without realising it, I had been subconsciously taught how to tackle the large boss at the end. That works in the game’s favour as there was a purpose to the repetition of the minor enemies.
Unfortunately, the top-quality combat sequences and the build-up to the large boss battles are all swamped in a bland story. Again, I may have been more enraptured by the story if I had more experience with the franchise. A story shouldn’t have to heavily rely on a person’s past experience to be even remotely interesting. I understand that the majority of the game puts emphasis on the fact that our “heroes” cannot remember their past lives, but the overall story feels really underdeveloped. I must admit, the story does gain its teeth eventually, but this is at the very end of the game. By this point, I had lost all interest in figuring the story out - I had persisted with the game solely because of the combat.
Even the characters, who all have the potential to be interesting, fall flat. The only character that is redeemable in this department is the happy-go-lucky Jed. He is the one character that has even an ounce of personality to them. Perhaps there is a type of beauty in the things that remain unsaid within the game, but it makes it highly confusing, and a little dull for anyone who is experiencing Final Fantasy for the first time.
As much as I want to love this game as a whole, the story lets it down. As a newcomer to the Final Fantasy franchise, the storyline would put me off of playing any more if I didn’t know that some of the other games are renowned for being incredible. Having a story that I can be invested in from the very beginning is what makes a great RPG.
That being said, the combat and build up to the various boss fights were unarguably brilliant. I haven’t experienced such joy from the intelligent use of repetition in any other fighting game. From being able to tailor the intensity of each battle to my own experience level to building Jack to be a character I enjoyed, combat is truly where this game shines.
Reviewed on PS5. Code was provided by the publisher.