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The ‘Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin’ demo is a baffling mess

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is shaping up to be a batshit crazy take on the classic JRPG series. The characters are all badasses (in the most lame way possible), the combat is a Frankenstein’s monster of what’s trending, and the art direction is uninspired and dull.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is an upcoming action RPG that’s a joint effort between Team Ninja (Nioh) and Square Enix (Final Fantasy). It is an intriguing attempt at collaboration by two of the most influential video game studios in Japan. Unfortunately, at least judging by the recent demo, it isn’t very good.

You play as Jack, an edgy antihero with a big sword, a bad temper, and terrible taste in T-shirts. The demo starts as you saunter up to a big gothic door, your trusty wise-cracking companions by your side. From the very first line of dialogue, delivered in a hilariously self-serious manner that screams JRPG, I knew I was in trouble.

“Looks like Chaos has been waiting for us”. Indeed Jack, it does.

Chaos, by the way, appears to be the main villain of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin; although that wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I found him at the end of the demo, moodily waiting in an empty throne room, dressed in ridiculous armour that looked like it was lifted from Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, before we go any further and I get carried away, let’s cover the basics.

The gameplay of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

The gameplay is just about what you might expect from a collaboration between Team Ninja and Square Enix. The RPG elements are rather light, pretty much amounting to skill trees and customisable gear. That said, the amount of time I spent in these systems felt excessive considering their relative simplicity.

Between battles I constantly found myself being encouraged to investigate my new loot, hoping that I would find some less embarrassing threads to wear – or an even bigger sword. The problem I had with this is that the game unquestionably wants to be an action-forward title.

By repeatedly being told to change your outfit or choose pretty inconsequential skills, the rhythm of the game stalls.

stranger of paradise
Screenshot: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (demo) / Team Ninja

It also doesn’t help that the monsters of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin are embarrassingly basic. The two most common enemies I came across during my brief adventure were short, dagger-wielding goblins, and these fireball-shooting fireballs (I mean come on, the enemy’s main attack is essentially what it is).

When compared to the disgusting creations of Dark Souls, or even the majority of its wannabe clones, there was very little to get my blood rushing. What wasn’t extremely derivative was extremely boring.

fireball monster
Screenshot: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (demo) / Team Ninja

A Dark Souls clone without any fire

Team Ninja have a strong track record of making extremely challenging action games of their own. The Ninja Gaiden series, and more recently Nioh 2, demonstrate that the studio are capable of crafting titles that stand on their own two feet – which makes this game all the more disappointing

There was a moment in the Stranger of Paradise demo when the level circled back around on itself, prompting me to kick down a ladder to create a permanent shortcut between the entrance and mid-section of the dungeon. For any FromSoftware veteran this mechanic needs no further explanation – it makes perfect sense in games like Bloodborne that are divided into intersecting gauntlets.

In this context it was meaningless; I had no reason to return to the earlier part of the level and the threat of dying at that particular point was negligible.

stranger of paradise: final fantasy origin
Screenshot: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (demo) / Team Ninja

The more I think about it the less sense it makes – which in a way is the perfect analogy for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The ladder mechanic was simply included to create a connection to a different game, the underlying idea being that players would form an association between this game and the one it reminds them of.

The problem with this is that the comparison isn’t flattering.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin reminds me of Dark Souls, and consequently, a game that I would much rather be playing.

chaos final fantasy
Screenshot: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (demo) / Team Ninja

On a more positive note

Ok, so while the initial signs aren’t great for the latest Final Fantasy spin-off, I believe there is still some cause for hope. First of all, this demo has been released to gauge reactions, suggesting that the creators themselves aren’t entirely happy with where the game is currently at. However, even if that is the case, there needs to be something in the game worth saving to make that insight of any value.

Earlier in this article I mentioned Chaos, who I presume to be one of the game’s main villains. The boss battle that ensued after I found him was actually quite good; fast-paced, somewhat tactical, challenging. Now don’t get me wrong, there were also aspects I didn’t like; poor camera angles resulted in unfair deaths, your companions are useless and get in the way, and the difficulty at times felt somewhat artificial.

stranger of paradise boss
Screenshot: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (demo) / Team Ninja

Nonetheless, many of the game’s combat mechanics work well in these specific circumstances. For my money, if Team Ninja are to salvage Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. then this is the place to start.

And hell, if the studio are anything like their games, they will be up for the challenge.

The Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin demo is now available on PS5.