Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Following the same path that they took to both showcase and receive feedback for both editions of Nioh, Team Ninja in a team up with Square Enix have brought the Souls-esque level of “prepare to cry” into the origins of the Final Fantasy universe. While we still don’t know all that much about Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins, we do know that it’s related to the original Final Fantasy for the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System. Shrine of Chaos? Check. Garland? Check. Heroes of light… Maybe? Clearly not from around here or being welcomed to Corneria, Jack, Ash and Jed set off into the shrine to apparently do what they do best. Fight like there’s no tomorrow.
If you’ve played Demon’s Souls (PS3 or PS5), Dark Souls, Nioh, Nioh 2, The Surge, The Surge 2, Code Vein, Bloodborne, Hellpoint and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others, you should find yourself on familiar footing or right at home for the challenge ahead. Unlike the fast paced nature of Final Fantasy XV, things have been slowed down and the difficulty has been ramped up as this world only has one goal. To kill you. Repeatedly.
So a bit like Nioh and Nioh 2, this early look doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the story. We know that the world is that of the original Final Fantasy, or a parallel version of it anyways, but other than that, and knowing that Chaos is being shown up front this time around instead of hiding in the background until much later, that’s about it. We have our Protagonist Jack and his two companions Ash and Jed, but other than a bit of banter, not much is known about these three.
If I take a moment however on this point, I do want to say that I’m a little disappointed in a way at the setup of the protagonist and his companions. The reason for this is that, again, we have a “boys” trip. While I enjoyed the hell out of Final Fantasy XV both on the PS4 and actually though Google’s Stadia, what was missing was that it was only ever a group of guys. Now I know that the premise of FF XV set up for this, but after the mixing and matching of the parties in most Final Fantasy entries and then both Lightning and her sister Sarah at the helms of Final Fantasy XIII, going with yet another full group of male like characters (as we don’t know their backgrounds yet) feels both off and a missed opportunity for equal representation.
Without much of the story to comment on though, what I can very much comment on is in the visual and the aesthetics departments. While a bit visually on the darker side out of the box for my tastes and I hope we can brighten that up a bit down the line, there’s no denying that this is a pretty world to look at even if there’s corruption and such to be found within it. The other thing is, while the environments are fantasy-esque, the enemy types so far are very much Final Fantasy making this very easy to see why this would fit in with the rest of the series.
Starting off in a tutorial against Goblins, you’ll soon find yourself up against Bombs growing to blow up in your face all the while spewing fire all over the place. Now could the same be said to call it very Final Fantasy if we removed such things as Goblins, Bombs, and then the skeletons that show up? Of that I’m not sure but being able to cast Fire, Ice, Water and Lightning (Fira, Firaga, etc, etc) on potentially unsuspecting foes does help carry that feeling over as its magic we are all familiar with from the various entries over the course of the past few decades. I still think Fire 1, Fire 2, Fire 3 and Fire 4 were easy to remember to be honest!
That said, I’m glad for these aesthetic elements because once you move away from the visuals of your enemy types or magics, the rest feels like a more fantasy based Soulslike affair. Light attacks, strong attacks, blocking, parrying, and dodging are all available, or seem for now all available, to the three classes set before you. Fighter, Mage, and Lancer make up the first of your available classes in order to fight against the forces of chaos.
Each has a perk to it such as Mages can cast magic while Lancers can poke at people with a slightly better attack range or simply throw their spears from afar. Like it’s turned-based counterparts of Final Fantasy 3, Final Fantasy 5 as well as one of my personal favorites Final Fantasy Tactics, there’s going to be a class for everyone to feel comfortable with and then there are going to be classes that you simply don’t like and shelf off to the side.
In order to get better acquainted with these classes, thankfully more than one can be equipped at a time and changing between them is most often a breeze but sometimes you wonder if your controller is simply ignoring you or playing hard to get. Obviously and it goes without saying, within a boss battle. As you use these classes though you’ll be able to learn new abilities for these classes to use as well as some passive unlocks such as more attack power or health that will carry across from one class to the next as they apply to Jack more than the class they were unlocked on.
So with all of this, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin will not be for everyone. It’s difficulty from the beginning felt a bit higher as while the controls were similar enough, there’s enough being changed that will need to be learnt on the fly such as being able to absorb attacks in order to use them against your enemies. Mana for special attacks and magic is another big one as the mana bar will get smaller and smaller every time that you die and you’ll have to rebuild it by fighting against enemies and performing parries that will let you increase the size of the gauge.
Finally, making this VERY Soulslike, I got my ass handed to me repeatedly over the course of three hours to “Chaos?”, aka, Garland. It was a brutal boss fight and in part because I just couldn’t get comfortable with the Fighter class like I could with the Lancer class. Add in that you need the Mage class to level the playing field or git gud really fast, and while the challenge was there, the developers were also not afraid to switch things up mid fight making him stronger, harder and faster to take on. And yes, I hope you all have Daft Punk stuck in your heads right now.
It’s a learning curve. It’s a big learning curve but I enjoyed every minute of it and it wasn’t until I realized how much time had been recorded that I realized how many times I had died to Garland. So with that, I did what one should do, I took a break, I restarted the stage, I leveled the Lancer class, and I wiped the floor (not really wiped…) with the boss completing the demo making me want more.
From the hour-ish demo that Square Enix dropped just a few weeks back, there’s plenty to look forward to already for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. Like Team Ninja’s Nioh and Nioh 2’s alphas, betas, and last chances though, I know that the difficulty may not be full represented as the stages being offered as a challenge were out of order and you may not have had what was needed in order to make it a bit easier starting off. This said, with plenty left unknown, there should be plenty to look forward to as the combat was very much on par with the rest of its Soulslike brethren once you get settled into the mechanics.Score: N/A for previews