It’s been roughly 35 years since the original Final Fantasy was released and fans of the RPG franchise are going to be able to return to Cornelia once again thanks to Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The spin-off from the mainline Final Fantasy franchise breaks away from the usual RPG format and offers players a challenging action gameplay experience paired with a brand-new look at one of the series’ most iconic locations and villains.
SOPFFO puts players in control of Jack, the leader of a band of heroes who are all linked by their obsession with hunting down and killing Chaos (a goal that spawned a lot of Chaos memes when the first announcement trailer dropped). The story is full of characters and locations that die-hard fans of the original Final Fantasy are sure to recognize. Many friendly and not-so-friendly NPCs reflect characters from the original release. That said, the game’s story is entirely standalone and should still make sense (as much sense as a Final Fantasy game ever makes) to new audiences, as well.
In terms of gameplay, the combination of RPG elements like upgrading loot and working through a series of talent trees (one for each Job) with Souls-like difficult combat and mapless exploration does make for a pretty interesting and exciting gameplay loop. Players don’t have to commit to one Job (the Final Fantasy version of classes) and can freely swap between each of the Jobs at any point during a dungeon. During active combat, players have two Jobs equipped and can switch back and forth between them with a single click. The dual Job pairing makes for some interesting strategy choices (especially at the harder difficulty levels) as players try to optimize their party for each boss.
For those who are frightened at the idea of challenging action combat, it should be noted that the game includes three difficulty levels for the first playthrough, including a Story Mode that basically transforms the strategic combat into a fairly straightforward hack and slash. Players on Story Mode still need to keep an eye on their health and use potions wisely, but it’s not quite as important to master parrying and countering enemies with ideal weaknesses and fight strategies. Action mode and Hard mode, on the other hand, really do bring the heat and deliver a seriously challenging lineup of fights. There are seriously deadly monsters around every corner and the multiphase boss fights at the end of each level require careful practice, timing, and strategy to succeed. The game also includes three player co-op to allow players to team up and work through the game’s main and side missions together. At launch, crossplay is limited to console families.
Exploration and world-building in Final Fantasy Origin is a bit of a mixed bag. Players are shuttled between main mission locations linearly through an overview world map. There is an entirely optional chance to interact with NPCs at each location through a “Talk” option on the world map, but aside from that, there isn’t really a way to explore the lore or flavor of each location aside from just playing through the mission. It should also be noted that each mission can be replayed (at any difficulty) to grind experience or items. Within each mission there are no maps and players have to work through a labyrinth of dungeons full of hidden doors, traps, monsters, and treasures. We found ourselves feeling a little unnecessarily turned around and stuck looking for the right door or ladder, especially in the last few levels, but generally, the level design was flavorful and engaging despite some frustrating moments. Using any of the game’s save spots – cubes that are the equivalent of Dark Souls bonfires – respawns all the level’s enemies and can make the exploration quite a bit more tedious.
Jack, his friends, and the Cornelia royal family are the heart of the game and there’s a pretty difficult task at hand to create player investment in this large cast of characters without the usual RPG experience. There are cutscenes that kick off and wrap up each level and banter during the dungeon crawling, but overall it would’ve been nice to see a bit more character development and relationship building between Jack and the others. The game’s final act really relies on the player having an emotional investment in Jack and his connections to the world and some of those punches didn’t hit quite as hard as they could have if more time was spent watching Jack explore the world with his friends outside the peril of the game’s dungeons.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin seems to prove that the Final Fantasy franchise can thrive in the action game scene with this first franchise venture from Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo. The title isn’t a true home run, but it is an exciting adventure that expands the franchise lore in a unique direction. The Final Fantasy Job system is as interesting and exciting as ever and adds a unique twist on the action game format as players grind through each challenging dungeon and fill in all the Job talent trees one by one.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin releases March 18th for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Game Rant was provided a PS5 copy for this review.
MORE: 10 Times Final Fantasy Went Sci-Fi
- Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review
- Check all news and articles from the latest Reviews updates.