A dark and gritty Final Fantasy action RPG, inspired by the design philosophies of Dark Souls, set in the world of Final Fantasy 1, and developed by the people who made Nioh– that’s a ridiculously strong elevator pitch, enough to set tongues wagging, and sure enough, when Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin was leaked before its official announcement, that’s exactly what happened. People were excited, to say the very least, about the prospect of this game and what it could end up being. And we all thought the same thing- when the game is officially unveiled, will it look as excellent as it does in our minds?
Well, no. It didn’t. Here’s an understatement for you- Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin had a terrible reveal. It was an awful way to reveal a promising project, from the embarrassing state of the game’s visuals to the hilarious goldmine of memes that was its announcement trailer, so obsessed with C H A O S and killing C H A O S and everything to do with C H A O S. The fact that Square Enix went live with a PS5 demo almost instantly afterward makes you wonder if they knew that the game wasn’t going to make the strongest first impression with its announcement. They wanted to let it speak for itself- let the mechanics do the talking.
Of course, that didn’t go as planned either. The trial version of the game went live, but when people tried playing it, they couldn’t. It was broken, to the extent that it couldn’t be played at all. Square Enix scrambled to resolve the issue, which took them another day. It was complete and utter C H A O S. So yeah, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin didn’t get off to the best of starts, and with its terrible reveal trailer and the initial fiasco of its trial version, I understand why there’s still plenty of bad press surrounding the game. But now that the trial version has been fixed and can be played, those who have played it – myself included – will all likely be telling you the same thing- give it another chance.
Here’s another understatement for you. Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin looks bad. Visually, it looks atrocious. Unforgivably ugly. It would have looked jarringly outdated, washed out, and technically lacking even if it was an early PS4 or Xbox One game, and I know things like that are often said in hyperbole to make a point, but in this case, I really do mean that. This is a bad looking game, and for what’s essentially an experimental spinoff that needs to catch people’s attention in order to get them to give it a try, that’s far from ideal. But if you do give it a try, it won’t take you long to realize that beyond the superficial issues with visuals, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is shaping up to be a solid action RPG.
The prospect that excited us so much when Final Fantasy Origin was first leaked wasn’t an excellent looking game (although that would have been a nice bonus, of course). No, what excited us was the idea of a mechanically dense action RPG with tight and challenging combat, combining elements of Final Fantasy and Nioh into a single package. And if the trial version is any indication, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is delivering just that. After a short and effective tutorial that does a great job of familiarizing you with the game’s core mechanics (and of preparing you for how bad it looks), you’re let loose in a gothic castle and tasked with making it up to Chaos’ tower and fighting your way through monsters.
And right from the get go, it feels just right. The action and movement are responsive and slick, and the combat demands patience and proper skill. Enemies hit hard, but if you watch them closely, their attacks and movements are easily read, allowing you a chance to counter them, or at least evade with a well-timed dodge. At its very core, Final Fantasy Origin’s combat seems to be doing everything that combat in a Souls-like (or Nioh-like, I suppose, in this case) should do. Meanwhile, the soul crush mechanic is an excellent layer on top of that foundation, encouraging players to be more aggressive in combat and challenging you to find the perfect balance between defence and offence. Not only does it look and feel amazing when you turn an enemy into red crystal and shatter it, it’s also mechanically rewarding. The soul guard + parry mechanic is also incredibly satisfying when you get that timing right and manage to pull it off.
There’s also the Jobs system, which, of course, is classic Final Fantasy, and is gelling with the nature of this game extremely well. This was just a trial version, of course, but already, with three different jobs focused on three different weapons and three completely different playing styles, Final Fantasy Origin is hinting at great variety and depth. Each of the jobs has its own skill tree and progression, mechanics like affinity, and of course, its own pros and cons in the immediacy of combat itself. The greatsword is strong and powerful, but it slows you down and it won’t let you equip a shield. If you play as a mage, you can attack enemies from afar and you can equip a shield, but your melee attacks don’t do a ton of damage, and you end up relying on MP too much.
The fact that you can freely switch in and out of Jobs and are never forced to stick with any one of them helps a lot. It encourages experimentation, and inherently promotes variety in gameplay on a fundamental level. Then you have everything to do with equipment, of which there was quite a bit in the demo. You’re constantly finding new loot (although this might be tuned differently in the final game), and optimizing your build with the best gear feels instantly engaging, as any fan of RPGs will understand. And of course, it helps a great deal that you can see every piece of gear you equip on Jack’s character model. He looked plain and thoroughly out of place in the trailer (and when the demo begins), but at least the game lets you dress him up with gear that makes him look more like a Final Fantasy protagonist.
Other aspects of the gameplay are promising as well. Enemy variety was pretty good in the demo, with different beasts (all of which Final Fantasy fans will instantly recognize) having unique movement and attack patterns. Meanwhile, level design in the demo also hinted at classic Souls-like elements of twisting pathways and layouts that connect with each other and allow players to unlock shortcuts. In all of this and more, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is doing all the things that are most crucial in a game such as this one, and it’s doing them quite well. It seems to have a firm grasp on what makes for a good, mechanically solid action RPG, and it’s blending that knowledge with its FF1 trappings with great effect.
Meanwhile, if the trial version is any indication, this is also shaping up to be one of the most accessible Souls-like games to date, right up there with something like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It’s still challenging and demands patience and skill, but several aspects come together to make it much more approachable. The most obvious one is difficulty levels, of course, but beyond that, there’s the fact that death isn’t penalized nearly as harshly as it is in the likes of Nioh or Souls, while the sheer range of options available in terms of how you want to build your character and approach combat is also going to be great for players who want to play their own way, in a manner that suits them best.
This, of course, is true of even some of the hardest Souls games out there – build diversity is a crucial hallmark of the genre, after all – but Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is combining this with more accessible balancing of challenge (even on normal difficulty) and other things. Which makes sense- Final Fantasy, like Star Wars, is a massive franchise, and millions will want to play any new game, and millions, in turn, could be put off by what they might feel is excessively punishing gameplay. Square Enix and Team Ninja are smartly sidestepping that problem here, and based on the demo, they’re doing so without compromising the experience.
So what does all of that mean? Well, it means that where it matters, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is shaping up to be exactly as good as it needs to be, and exactly as good as we’d all hoped when we first heard about it. Yes, this is just a demo, and not completely representative of the full game, but it’s already given us a solid idea of what Square Enix and Team Ninja are going for here, which is quite encouraging, to say the least. No, it doesn’t look great- in fact, it looks pretty damn awful. But with the game not coming out until next year, I’m hoping the developers will take that time to improve the visuals and at least bring them up to a passably acceptable level of quality. Because in all other ways, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is an exciting prospect.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.