Whilst the Final Fantasy series hasn’t been afraid to change things up between entries to offer more diverse RPG experiences, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin feels like one of the most unique entries yet. Acting as a spin-off of the very first game, it re-tells the original story with a new cast of characters leading the way, whilst the brutal action-orientated combat showcases a more mature side to the series.

It makes for an interesting combination that’s a whole lot of fun to play, especially with the flexibility offered within its brilliant combat. Unfortunately, the wishy-washy narrative stops Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin from achieving Final Fantasy greatness, with it offering more moments where I was left scratching my head (and sometimes cringing) instead of feeling engrossed in the tale.

Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin re-tells the story of the original Final Fantasy in a kooky kinda way, with players taking on the role of protagonist Jack as he rampages through the land looking to destroy a mysterious evil entity known as Chaos. That’s probably something you already know given how much of a meme was made of the whole thing when the game was initially revealed, but it does get explored in a bit more depth and even takes some interesting turns throughout the full game. Just expect to cringe at just how much Jack REALLY wants to take Chaos out and how he lets everyone know about it…

The problem with Jack is that he just isn’t a very likable character. I can forgive the constant aggression, f-bombs, and obsession with Chaos; lacking any form of real personality and never feeling like more than a brawny and aggressive goon feels like it doesn’t live up to the series’ reputation for genuinely intriguing protagonists, though. The same goes for the allies he meets on the journey, with no one in the game really standing out as a memorable addition to the cast, despite their billing as the game’s equivalent of ‘Warriors of Light’.

That being said, it was definitely interesting to see some of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin’s interpretations of characters and enemies that players might already know from the original game. It was these characters that got me most invested in the story, not only because of the whole nostalgic buzz that they brought, but also because they were genuinely interesting to encounter. I won’t give away any spoilers here, but long-time Final Fantasy fans can expect to see a few familiar faces on their journey.

“Whilst there are moments where the weirdness pays off and it makes for some brilliant scenes, they didn’t make up for the fact that the narrative just wasn’t very good.”

I guess the real problem is that the story just feels a little disjointed. Whilst I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in seeing how events played out, the weird tonal shifts, awkward interactions with Jack, and general sense of vagueness just made it hard to feel fully invested. There’s plenty of additional details to be found if you’re willing to take the time to explore the world, but sometimes it just didn’t feel worth it. Whilst there are moments where the weirdness pays off and it makes for some brilliant scenes, they didn’t make up for the fact that the narrative just wasn’t very good.

Whilst Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin’s storytelling falls short of the mark, I’m happy to report that it manages to deliver in almost every other aspect of its design. The combat is outstanding, for example, but what else would you expect with Team Ninja at the helm? The combat is more action-focused that any other Final Fantasy title, with Jack able to unleash a variety of combos, spells, and special attacks to dismantle the foes in front of him. Players are able to block attacks or unleash parries too, meaning it’s just as effective to play on the defensive and pick your opportunity to strike. It’s also possible to ‘Break’ your enemies by continually attacking them, which leaves them open to a one-hit kill Soul Burst attack that also restores your MP. It’s worth noting that enemies can break you too though, and whilst this doesn’t bring with it an instant kill upon Jack, it will leave him vulnerable.

It all comes together to make for an entertaining combat experience where battles are varied, entertaining, and tough – Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin doesn’t hold your hand at all, and believe me, some battles can be tricky when facing formidable groups of foes. What helps even the odds is the unique Job system, which allows Jack to switch between different jobs that each have their own special attacks and skill trees to help them feel unique. Best of all, two jobs can be equipped at a time, giving players plenty of flexibility when it comes to diversifying their attacks in the midst of battle.

“There’s just so much variety and strategic finesse to be found in the combat mechanics that it’s hard not to find yourself completely engrossed. Bravo, Team Ninja.”

There are twenty-eight jobs available across the game, with some of the more typical options such as a Swordsman, Mage, and Marauder joined with more advanced options such as a Red Mage, Samurai, Dark Knight, and Dragoon. Basically, if you’ve used a job in a previous Final Fantasy game, there’s a good chance it shows up here (with the exception of a Summoner which is a shame). Do you mix up a Swordsman with a Black Mage to get a good mix of melee combat and magic? Or do you mix up a White Mage with a Ninja to become a quick-paced killer that can also heal when required? There’s plenty to play about with, whilst players are also able to level up each job in order to make them more powerful.

It’s also worth noting that you can change the jobs of your allies, meaning you can customise your party to ensure everyone is playing their role in combat. Whilst it’s more action-orientated at its core, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin still brings with it plenty of the classic RPG hallmarks of the series that players will want to take advantage of.

The Job system really complements the action and ensures that combat never grows boring throughout the game. In fact, it excels throughout, with the difficulty curve ensuring that players are constantly on their toes in battle, especially when facing off against some of the epic boss fights that really test everything you’ve learned. There’s just so much variety and strategic finesse to be found in the combat mechanics that it’s hard not to find yourself completely engrossed. Bravo, Team Ninja.

Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:

Progress through the game is achieved by completing missions from the world map, with both Main Missions and Side Missions on offer (and also displaying the rewards you can get from them which is handy). A big emphasis is placed on changing up your gear and making sure the party is equipped for each encounter, so taking time out to complete Side Missions and find more powerful equipment can be imperative to your success. There are plenty of different locales to explore on these missions that bring with them some pretty neat sights too, and whilst I wouldn’t say Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is the prettiest game I’ve played, I certainly enjoyed exploring its world. It runs well on the PlayStation 5 too, though it is a little bit disappointing that the 60fps Performance Mode is limited to a 1080p resolution – especially since I’ve seen more visually intense titles offer better options on the console.

One cool feature of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is the online multiplayer, which allows players to team up with two other friends to tackle missions together. It’s really fun, with other players taking on the role of the allies of the host player but bringing with them their own gear and loadout so they’re not shackled by any forced limitations – they’re also able to grab loot and earn experience points to level up jobs too, so they don’t have to miss out on any goodies. Admittedly, I’ve not played a whole lot of multiplayer yet, but what I have tried has been great and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it with friends on the higher difficulties.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin might have clumsy storytelling, but the fantastic combat and intriguing world design more than make up for it. This isn’t going to be an entry in the series where you’ll be enamoured by the narrative, but instead one where you’ll feel like a badass as you destroy enemies in battle, with the varied and intuitive combat mechanics some of the best I’ve come across in an action-RPG for some time. It’s just a very, very fun game to play.

With its re-telling of the original story as well as the little nods to other aspects of the series, there’s plenty here to appeal to Final Fantasy fans – they just might be underwhelmed by what’s on offer. If you’re looking for an explosive action-orientated experience though, you DEFINITELY won’t be disappointed.

Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Website: https://square-enix-games.com/sopffo/en-gb/