E3 2021 Preview | Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
It would be an understatement to say that Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin hasn’t had a good first impression. Square Enix revealed the game during their E3 presentation, only for fans to make jokes about the protagonist and how often he says “Chaos.” Matters only got worse when the PlayStation 5 exclusive demo was corrupt, making it so people couldn’t play the game for two days. Well, now the demo is working properly, and we’ve played it… we have some things to say. Here’s our thoughts on Team Ninja’s take on the Final Fantasy series.
The demo starts with a tutorial, which begins in an open flower field. Players will interact with a glowing orb and get tutorial missions, immediately finding that the interact button is the PlayStation 5’s touchpad. This is ultimately a strange decision, considering that this game will be available on Xbox as well. It also happens to be an awkward placement for an interact button. As strange as it may be, it doesn’t deter us from continuing. We control the camera just like any game, but then we get to the combat tutorial. The attack buttons are the R1 and R2 buttons, R1 being your standard attack while R2 is your strong attack. Dark Souls fans should be familiar with this, but something still seems off.
While you can combo standard attacks with strong attacks, strong attacks will require MP to perform. It’s a bit unusual given that many of these attacks don’t do anything magical. In the tutorial mode alone, the protagonist, known as Jack, will spin his greatsword and bring it down for overhead attacks. Why these attacks use MP instead of a stamina gauge just feels like a strange design choice. This is especially the case with the strange Soul Shield mechanic. Soul Shield allows you to block enemy attacks with the right timing by pressing the circle button. What makes it strange is the gauge that it uses, which acts like a stamina gauge. Blocking attacks will decrease the gauge, and depleting it will break your defenses temporarily. With this acting basically as a stamina gauge, it’s strange that attacks ignore it completely.
Another use for Soul Shield is the ability to gain instant abilities. When a foe uses an attack with a purple name, using Soul Shield will block and absorb the ability, allowing limited uses of it. Soul Shield will also recover MP, though the best way to recover MP is to perform a Soul Burst. This is done by breaking enemy defenses and coming up to absorb their crystal form with a finishing attack. As strange as Soul Shield’s design is, it’s still a cool mechanic. While strong attacks use MP, there’s other abilities that make more sense to use it. One such ability is Lightbringer, which you can activate by holding the left trigger and pressing the face button it’s assigned to. This allows you to consume one MP bar to temporarily ignore stun from enemy attacks. It also causes more break damage, breaking enemy defenses much easier.
Finally, with the tutorial done, it’s time to enter the Chaos Shrine. One thing to note is that the music is actually pretty good, which is no surprise for the Final Fantasy series. There’s even a cool rendition of the Temple of Chaos music from the original Final Fantasy. Honestly, the sound design is one of the best things going for the game, thanks to Naoshi Mizuta, Hidenori Iwasaki, and Ryo Yamazaki. Even the voice acting is pretty good, though that won’t excuse some of the writing. I actually had no problem with the dialogue, but apparently saying “Chaos” is problematic for this game. Either way, the voice acting itself is fine, including talents like Mocean Melvin as Jack, Alejandro Saab as Jed, and Mark A. Neely as Ash. Christopher Sabat also performs admirably as the returning voice of Garland.
First thing I noticed while working through the mission is the new allies. Jed and Ash join Jack on this mission to face Chaos, controlled entirely by AI. The characters feel like a step back when it comes to being helpful, and part of this is due to the lack of access. While players will have full access to Jack’s equipment, abilities, and controls, they won’t have the ability to do anything for Jed or Ash. They can’t change their equipment, they can’t issue commands, and they can’t alter their AI priorities. This will likely change in the final game to some degree, but it was extremely noticeable here. You can’t even see their health to know if they’re hurt or not. When they go down though, you are able to use a potion to revive them. This will likely happen a lot, as the AI is barely useful here.
Inside the Chaos Shrine, you’ll come across a cube, which will act as a checkpoint. This checkpoint will not only recover HP and MP, but also refill your potions and revive enemies. This is how checkpoints often work in Souls games, though this game doesn’t fully push into the genre. Part of this is due to death not really penalizing the player. You don’t lose anything from death, and in fact, you actually maintain all your experience and items found. The only downside is that you have to work through revived enemies, which is not much to ask for. Either way, you’ll interact with these cubes the same way you interact with anything else: the Touchpad. This will also be for opening chests, picking up equipment (changing your appearance), climbing ladders, and opening doors.
Players will start out with the Swordsman class, offering powerful sword skills to fight multiple foes. Over the course of the demo, you’ll also come across the Mage and Lancer class, offering different weapons and abilities. If you level up these classes, not only will you gain skill points for new abilities and upgrades, but you’ll eventually be able to gain access to advanced classes. The ones on offer in the demo are Warrior, Black Mage, and Dragoon. In my time, I was only able to upgrade to the Warrior class, which offered a nice War Cry ability that works sort of like Regen magic. Each class feels vastly different, though I found my comfort mostly with the Swordsman and Warrior classes. Thankfully, with the press of a button, players can swap between two classes at will.
One thing that was a bit confusing was the Mage class. They’ll use short range mace weapons to attack, but also have access to a variety of spells. Weirdly, accessing magic works with a spell wheel, offering different abilities, but also seemingly on a timer. It felt too cumbersome to make it work for combat, so I only used it for the one required situation where you have to use Watera to douse out some flames to progress. At least the Lancer felt more manageable, with good attack range and a strong attack allowing you to throw your lance. Regardless, I found the best balance with the sword classes, so I stuck with them all the way to the end.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin offers interesting combat overall, and fighting real enemies helps to practice. While players can attack, dodge and block, the combat design still feels a little off when it comes to the way it controls. The foundation is there to make it truly work, but it just needs some fine tuning. Utilizing Soul Shield helps out quite a bit here, especially when obtaining Instant Abilities. Just be careful with your timing or with breaking your defenses, as it leaves you wide open. Your allies also don’t heal you, though you’ll have a set of five potions to use after each checkpoint cube.
While there are normal enemies like Goblins and Bombs to deal with, players will also have to deal with Dark Vents. These strange orifices will spout out enemies to distract you from destroying them. Destroy the Dark Vent and you’ll eventually Soul Burst it to be able to progress. At one point in the demo, an area even has three to deal with, spitting out tons of enemies. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but if you just focus on the Dark Vent, you’ll destroy all the enemies. Lightbringer definitely helps for this, as you’ll break the Dark Vent down faster, and enemies won’t be able to interrupt your attacks (though you’ll still take damage, so do so with caution).
Visually, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin does seem a little lacking. While character models and enemies look great, the environment feels like uninspired and drab. The whole setting is full of grays and other desaturated tones. It doesn’t help that some areas are incredibly dark, making it harder to see certain details. Even the original Demon’s Souls felt slightly more colorful than this. It’s also worth mentioning that the demo offers two play modes. One is resolution mode, while the other is performance mode. We opted for performance mode, though it didn’t seem to help, as the frame rate would often drop during our demo. Thankfully, the load times are at least fast on PlayStation 5.
Finally, after working through a few different enemy varieties and even an ambush to recover a key, we get towards the end of the demo. After disposing of a fairly easy to exploit Griffin, we use the key to enter the hall where Garland resides. While he pushes the desire to become Chaos, his motivation is unclear here. The original Garland became Chaos in a desperate attempt to defeat the Warriors of Light. This version seems to simply want to be Chaos, though how things will go, we’ll likely know in the future. The overall story of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is still a bit of a mystery. Either way, the Garland fight is definitely a huge leap in difficulty.
I admit, it took me quite a few tries to defeat Garland. Getting used to timing my dodges and Soul Shields was crucial to defeating him. It also helps to manage potions and MP during the battle. Lightbringer is a helpful technique, though I would often find myself dying during combos, so I had to be much more careful with using it. With two phases to the fight, the halfway point would have Garland weakened for a Soul Burst. I quickly began using this time to recover with War Cry, taking my time as Garland tried to recover his break gauge. Of course, I would never let him recover, so I would attempt to Soul Burst him, only for the battle to continue, and his second phase to begin.
Garland uses a series of elemental attacks, favoring fire and ice, though even occasionally using lightning. His fire attacks aren’t so difficult to avoid, but his ice attacks can be a nightmare. One attack he does is a series of sword slashes, ending with a thrust that sends a path of ice forward. It was difficult to avoid, and it often took me out, but I eventually learned how to keep my distance. From time to time, Jed would help out and attack, though Ash felt like wasted space here. I don’t really remember seeing Ash ever actually attack Garland. Usually, he would keep his distance and keep moving around without offering assistance.
It took a lot of attempts, but I was determined to defeat Garland. Figuring out his attack patterns, attacking him when he’s vulnerable, and even just when to dodge or block were essential. It also helps to save as many potions as possible for his second phase. Once I managed to get him down to a small portion of health, it was just a matter of hitting without too much risk. Obtaining victory, I completed the demo, in which I was invited to participate in a survey.
Overall, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a weird take on the Final Fantasy series. There’s a lot of potential here, but a lot of the content still seems questionable. I feel like a change in controls is necessary to make the game more approachable and overall more functional. The demo should be available for all PlayStation 5 owners to try until June 24th. If you want to see what a combination of Nioh and Final Fantasy feels like, I suggest you give it a try. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is expected to release sometime in 2022 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC.
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