Back in June, I wrote a lengthy piece here concerning my impressions of the first public demo for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. I rambled, I posted a picture of a literal piñata, and if you ask me now to reread what I typed back then and determine whether or not I came across in favor of the game, I couldn’t tell you to save my life. Naturally, as soon as Square Enix mic-dropped a second demo our fearless site leader Erren Van Duine immediately asked me back to do the whole thing all over again.
What’s changed from trial one to trial two? A fair bit, actually. For one thing, the whole game feels far more responsive. That’s not to say it’s by any means smooth, but it’s improved. The graphics are a touch sharper, the character models are more refined, and the one thing that really matters with Team Ninja games — the moment-to-moment gameplay — has been enhanced significantly.
The first demo was a fairly barebones affair, with a limited scope and a single (albeit sizable) major area. Our second date with Stranger of Paradise rolls out the red carpet; eight job classes are ripe for the picking, as well as a brand new zone, a revamped return trip to the old place, a menu-based world map, and even a brief multiplayer shenanigan. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the quality of said multiplayer shenanigan, because the first time I gave it a twirl, everybody else present stood around like mannequins. It was creepy. (The second time I tried, the game told me I wasn’t allowed to access it, didn’t explain why, and sent me on my merry way back to the single-player festivities. Moody!)
As you might imagine, with eight job classes on the menu and a Final Fantasy uber-nerd at the helm, it’s difficult choosing just the one. Thankfully, Team Ninja knew I’d say that, so they graciously allow us to wield two classes at any given time. Furthermore, you can swap classes out at any of the game’s Dark Souls bonfire-like locales. Finding the right synergy for Jack to send monsters packing is paramount to one’s success; the jobs you equip as you head into the fray (and what an endless fray it is) will broadly dictate your play style, offering unique strengths with equally distinct weaknesses. In short, don’t let the jobs choose how you fight. You have agency here — level up the jobs that best suit your preferred smackdown methodology.
This leads me to my biggest point of praise. If there is one thing Stranger of Paradise is doing very, very well right now, it’s the action-packed execution of classic Final Fantasy combat flair.
Dragoons do not hop; they leap, and when they return to the earth only gods can survive the tips of their spears. Pugilists are more Goku than Evander Holyfield; they strike with the sort of mystical and magical ferocity one would expect from any JRPG worth its salt. And those stylishly smirking devils we call Red Mages? Some of their more traditionally turn-based outings have shown the distinct limitations of a skill set; not so when battles are hard-knocks, lightning-quick affairs. Access to a little bit of everything means survival against, well, a little bit of everything. Truly, the crimson-capped crusaders are better served here.
Would that I could tell you all this pomp and savage circumstance is linked to a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. Would that I could tell you it held at 30. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has another five months to cook before it goes gold and lands in our hands, but the developers will need a little luck on their side to transform this stuttering mess into a finished product. Is it right of me to judge the end result based on a demo? Of course not, but if I’m judging the demo, I’ve got one word for you: “ow.” (This was also Kylo Ren’s last line in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and if you think about it hard enough, you’ll understand that I mention this to further disparage Stranger of Paradise‘s stability issues.)
On more than one occasion, and likely more than ten, Jack took damage and neglected to dish any in return because the game stuttered out of control on me for pivotal dozens of frames. Make no mistake, I’m not great at action games and I don’t pretend to be! Plenty of other times, Jack got smacked in the head and it was entirely my fault. But it’s markedly easy to tell the difference, and it means Square is still having some major issues on this score.
That roughness is especially unfortunate during the biggest battle encounter of the demo. You’ll be up against a pair of iconic elemental creatures who, yes, are blatantly visible in the footage I’m about to add to this article to help break apart text segments for easier reading. But a few of you might wish not to view that footage before diving into the demo, so I’m being cheeky about their identities. Why you’d elect to read my nonsense instead, well, that’s on you.
I digress. Yes, that particular boss battle is, I’m going to hell for this, but chaos. But it’s not quite the right kind of chaos. It’s the chaos that erupts when an already challenging fight is hampered by technical difficulties. It’s Kirk and the starship Enterprise up against Khan and the Reliant, but imagine the Enterprise is just about to fire photon torpedoes, and the screen freezes for a critical second, and Khan’s ship warps behind him and Ricardo Montalban is like, “nothing personal kid,” and you get the picture.
If you think that sounds like entirely too edgy a description, two things. A.) This is literally a video game that showcases its lead character yanks a Cactuar upside-down and squeezes the poor thing until it combusts into purple-and-black energy particles. B.) Star Trek is never edgy, come on now.
I’ve seen it said online that Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, in its present state, looks like a bad PS3 game. I’m in the crazy camp of Square nerds who actually thinks Final Fantasy XVI‘s debut trailer is visually gorgeous, so what do I know, but I wouldn’t go quite that far here. I happen to think Stranger of Paradise looks like a perfectly average PlayStation 3 game, thank you very much.
No, but seriously, the textures are embarrassing and the landscape is… unflattering. Some of the monster detail is superb, but virtually nothing else pops in any positive way. I do believe there are enough improvements to the game’s visuals to refrain from pretending otherwise. And I’m hoping that we see all the more upgrades in the months to come. I think it’s important that we remember this demo is based on a build that’s unlikely to be reflective of the project in its current state, too. There’s reason to be hopeful here, and I don’t mean to insinuate in the slightest that graphics are more than a single piece of the puzzle when it comes to making good games. (I love Xenogears, for goodness’ sake. I can handle ugly.) Still, if nothing else I’d really love to see significant updates to the image quality, because there’s so much blur and brightness-flickering that it is, legitimately, a distraction.
I don’t need to talk about the story, do I? There’s no way you haven’t seen the memes already, right? If you haven’t seen the memes, go, look up the memes. Yes, his name is Jack Garland. Yes, we all guessed it already, and I literally opened my previous impressions piece by stating as much. Yes, Jack Garland has a single, eight-letter word in response to leading lady Neon’s bizarre dialogue, and no, that word isn’t rated “E for Everyone.” In Jack’s mild defense, Neon was essentially pulverizing every little bit of cringe FFXIII chatter, which I’m sure is an intentional development wink, these writers have to be self-aware, Kazushige Nojima, please email me immediately and tell me you’re in on this joke?
Then again, Tetsuya Nomura is legitimately surprised that “western fans” figured out Jack’s identity and ordered a shift in Tokyo Game Show’s marketing plans as a result, so I hate to break it to me but I don’t think any of this script writing is supposed to be so painful.
I’ve spent a great deal of time tonight presenting my distaste toward a lot of what’s going on with Stranger of Paradise. But the fact remains, it’s shaping up to be under-the-hood good. It’s vital that I emphasize that Team Ninja has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of making a Final Fantasy with Nioh‘s DNA in it. When the performance isn’t tanking on me due to little unpredictable wrinkles like, uh, raindrops in a forest or an abundance of wheat in a tutorial field, it’s easy to forget — if but for a moment — that the dialogue may have been ghost-written by an alt-universe version of Stephanie Meyer whose vampiric obsessions are replaced with life-sized statues of Fred Durst, Papa Roach, and 16-year-old yours truly.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is not going to be a video game we play for its beauty. It’s certainly not going to be a video game we play for its narrative. And it’s not going to be a video game we play if we have any hope of ever convincing our grandparents that gaming is a form of art. But if it can stop running in slow motion when the action gets jam-packed, I suspect that Stranger of Paradise may earn a front-row seat when we just want to flop, unwind, and pummel the ever-loving bubbles out of sahagins.
Chaos of Paradise: Final Chaos Origins launches on March 18th, 2022 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC via Epic Games Store, and Chaos.