It’s a good thing I finally jumped into the looter shooter genre a few weeks ago, because all that Borderlands mileage has gone a long way in preparing me for the ridiculous campy ARPG loot extravaganza that is Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin.
Yes, it’s a goofy Final Fantasy spin-off in a virtual expansion sea of clunky Final Fantasy spin-offs (Dirge of Cerberus, anyone?). It’s also filled with all the “My mission is to slay Chaos” nonsense that everyone remembers from the game’s launch in March 2022.
B movies are funny. Just like SOPFFO’s insane dialogue. I’m pretty sure it was compiled by some experimental WarGames-esque computer program that was fed a steady diet of cheesy 80s movies and testosterone-soaked hustle culture YouTube videos. I’ve rarely been able to make sense of the story, and that’s even funnier. What can I say, I’m a sucker for unintentional absurdism.
What’s no laughing matter, however, is the game’s steep difficulty curve, which of course has endured some obligatory comparisons to that of other Soulslike titles, including Bloodborne, Nioh, and of course , the titular Demon’s Souls. It’s a bit more forgiving than those versions, so the actual level of Soulslike TSTIME present – deeper stuff beyond the solid challenge and tight, unforgiving combat – is likely to be up for debate.
It turns out that Team Ninja, the developer behind Nioh, helped concoct the strange brew that is Stranger of Paradise, and it definitely shows. The battles in this game are tough, intense, and at a fundamental level feel like absolute butter. That is, if the butter required a lot of skill and a careful, but constantly reactive strategy.
True Speech: You will die a lot in Stranger of Paradise. Luckily, this rarely feels unfair, and the checkpoints are quite generous, so you’re not teleported to the start of a stage unless you choose to. Keep in mind that previously defeated enemies respawn if you use one of these cubed save areas, so you’re essentially trading in a classic Final Fantasy inn-style rest stop that restores all of your MP (less every time you die), HP, and potions for a slight setback in villain map clearance.
I’m totally in love with Stranger of Paradise’s fast-paced combat, and while the near-constant amount of loot you get can be overwhelming (as can the endless menu system), the rewarding combat completely makes up for it. Every enemy encounter requires focus and attention – even those annoying, tiny, hard-to-hit bats can pose a ridiculous threat if you’re not on your A-game.
The weakest part of the whole experience, at least for me, are the outdated visuals. I played in Performance mode on an Xbox Series X, and even then there are parts of cutscenes that blatantly bump into the frame rate department, often for painful seconds at a time. Character models look janky and lack detail, while common enemies repeat too often. Environments feel bland and generic, filled with uninspired hallways, lackluster elevators, and boring stairwells. In short, Stranger of Paradise screams PS3-era software.
That’s not to say everything is below average. The end-level bosses are undeniably impressive, with interesting designs and animations that really show off the development team’s chops. Plus, for what they are, uninspired maps can seem, well, Okay on time. This is especially the case when lighting effects kick in, such as when the sun peeks over the distant horizon. Yet, alongside the abundant amount of menus, the game can come across as an undesirable MMO instead of a polished standalone experience. The atmosphere is very disappointing, unfortunately.
Trying out three-player online multiplayer is always on my to-do list for Stranger of Paradise, but for now, I’m working my way through the borderline absurd single-player mode. I think if I had played the original Final Fantasy, which SOPFFO is based on, I would have enjoyed the characters and locations more. At the very least, I can enjoy the nod to FFVII lore through the Mako Reactor stage.
I’m one of those boring people who didn’t really start playing RPGs until Final Fantasy VII, so even though I wanted to play the first Final Fantasy game in ages, I haven’t quite gotten into it yet. . I’ve heard it hasn’t aged very well, though I’d still like to try one of these days, if only for the historical context and broader understanding of SOPFFO.
To be fair, before FFVII I tried Final Fantasy III on SNES a bit, as well as Chrono Trigger, but I was probably too young at the time to really appreciate either masterpiece . I came from a world of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and Contra, so these new games with menus, turn-based combat, and stories that extended beyond brief cutscenes were like learning a new language.
Either way, I don’t have to be a Final Fantasy historian to appreciate good gameplay, and Stranger of Paradise delivers that in spades. Like Borderlands 3 and its continued pedigree of looter-shooter excellence, Square Enix’s goofy new franchise iteration has kindly laid the groundwork for my next foray into the genre: Elden Ring.
Where I will find the 200+ hours to do this is yet to be determined.
Disclosure: Square Enix has provided a review code for coverage purposes.