The Final Fantasy series will celebrate its 35th anniversary this year on December 18th and in anticipation of the big day Square Enix has lined up a host of projects.
The celebration kicked off with the release of Chocobo GP, which provides fun fan service, but their second title is something else entirely.
Working with Team Ninja, Square Enix’s latest game Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin looks to put a unique spin on the series’ strong lore.
Stranger of Paradise is said to be a dark interpretation of the first Final Fantasy game, which was released in 1987 for the NES and Famicom.
The game follows a team of warriors, Jack, Ash, Jed and Neon who appear to be the four prophesied warriors of light.
But Jack and the others are on their own mission to destroy an entity called Chaos for reasons unknown to them, they just know they have to destroy it.
After completing a mission to defeat a knight claiming to be Chaos, the team are tasked by the King of Coneria to bring peace to the world, thrusting the heroes on an adventure to decipher what is the truth behind Chaos and if they are the warriors of light.
Stranger of Paradise does a great job at mixing the old with the new. There’s a lot of remerging plots and themes from the original Final Fantasy, mixed with enough differences to make this experience completely new.
Stranger of Paradise follows Final Fantasy tradition with a lot of detail being paid to character designs.
They are brimming with so much originality whilst still looking like they belong to the Final Fantasy universe.
Bosses look majestic with their designs pushing boundaries of creativity and that’s saying something with what has been seen in the Final Fantasy series.
Each level sports original designs, filled with an ominous glow and enigmatic structures that can be simply captivating at times.
The overall aesthetic of Stranger of Paradise feels very much like a Team Ninja game whilst still being very Final Fantasy.
The only issues would be the lip-syncing for characters models during cutscenes which is very hit and miss during the entire game.
The soundtrack is an ensemble of grand orchestral pieces that admirably accompany the corresponding visuals.
Whether it be an epic battle theme or a tranquil melody they add an extra layer to the overall experience.
The game comes with dual audio with the voice actors delivering great performances, especially during the Japanese dub.
The English dub works well but some of the characters do have accents that feel slightly out of place.
Stranger of Paradise is an action RPG that focuses heavily on fierce combat, much like the majority of team Ninja’s games.
Each level will consist of the player battling through different sections until they reach the boss.
Most enemies will drop loot allowing players to customise each character. Levels are very linear with few different areas protected by Dark Vents or elemental obstacles that are hiding rare loot and secrets.
The game will warn you if a stage is too tough for your current level which will result in players having their gauges easily broken if they proceed.
There isn’t an open world to explore, players will pick missions via the world map and instantly travel there.
I think as there is a heavy emphasis on combat and customisation which has been executed admirably, it's fine for the exploration to take a back seat.
Being developed by Team Ninja it's safe to assume that combat would be at the forefront of Stranger of Paradise and it really delivers.
There are several layers to the combat mechanics that allow for strategic gameplay during intense confrontations.
Firstly each character will be allocated a few jobs that they can switch between on the fly.
Each of these jobs will be based on a different fighting style that focuses on using a particular weapon.
So being a Swordsman will allow the player to wield different types of swords and being a mage will grant access to an array of magical weapons.
All the weapons come with their own skillset, combos, spells and even a move list for players to master.
Each of the jobs can be individually levelled up and built into a different loadout that grants different kinds of buffs and abilities
Having the option to switch between them on the fly is great as this allows players to be ready at all times for the diverse variety of enemies.
Jack will come with an arsenal of extra skills that allow him to brutally destroy his enemies, normally at the cost of his MP.
The first and most important skill is the Soul Brust which allows him to crystallise and then shatter the enemy, which in turn returns some MP.
The Soul Shield will allow Jack to block enemies' attacks and follow up for a counter.
It also has a secondary function that allows him to absorb and use certain enemy attacks. This is a great skill that really elevates the gameplay.
Jack’s limit breaker is called Light Bringer which at the cost of MP will grant him some buffs allowing for easier Soul Breaks.
Alongside these skills, Jack will be able to cast spells that are really effective against elemental based enemies.
Players will always control Jack who will be aided by two A.I. characters at all times. They move freely by themselves and have an ability called Resonance which will allow them to fight more aggressively.
Combat can be tough at times with enemies providing challenging attack patterns to defeat.
Players won’t be able to simply button mash to victory as each enemy is susceptible to a particular job or element. There are also techniques such as staggering which can also be incorporated to defeat foes
There is a steep learning curve that opens up very strategic battles. Boss battles were a major highlight of the game that simply looked stunning while presenting amazing challenges.
If combat proves to be too difficult, players can change the difficulty settings on the fly which is very handy, as some stages could prove a bit too challenging.
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Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is basically the best of both worlds with the combination of Square Enix’s RPG elements merging with Team Ninja’s fighting mechanics to create a whole new experience for the series.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is still very much a Final Fantasy game, but it's great to see Square Enix take a risk with this title which has been fantastically executed.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is out for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows on 15 March