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Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin Review

An enjoyable and hilarious experience held back by identity issues

Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is a game that I couldn’t hate nor love. It’s got a unique class system, tons of cool loot, enjoyable cooperative experiences, and a slew of dialogue so candidly cringe that it’ll make you laugh in nearly every cutscene. Despite these distinctions, SOP falls flat in some important areas, specifically with its balancing, level design, and loot management. It misses some marks that made Nioh 2 such a gem, but we can still enjoy much of what is there, making it a good (but not great) game that is suffering from a serious identity crisis.

This game was reviewed with a free code provided by publisher Square Enix.

Source: Square Enix

Time to Talk About Chaos

Let’s face it: we all tire of the scheming villain and their self-serving monologues. SOP knows of this “seriousness fatigue” and uses it to the dialogue’s advantage.

Jack, one of the Warriors of Light and protagonists of SOP, is the crux of this bold direction: his lines are short, to the point, and all pivot to one topic: Chaos. When one of his companions wants to open up, a quest-giver is struggling to detail the next task, or a villain yearns to stroke its own ego, Jack makes it clear he doesn’t care. He just wants to kill Chaos and hey, that rocks.

The story itself follows the events of Final Fantasy I, with a few caveats that present themself later on in the story. Every interaction in SOP works in-game for the characters, but on the outside looking in, it appears as a severe case of poor translation efforts. It’d be easy to say it is, but the amount of “to-the-point, no BS” lines from Jack come across as intentional — and it works.

Source: Tenor

SOP doesn’t take itself seriously despite presenting a serious plot and it works, making for a welcome plot that doesn’t act like it’s the most profound story in existence. It’s just a story that exists to justify the game, so if you’re looking for an amazing plot, look elsewhere; but if laughs are what you’re interested in, you’ve found your place.

Graphically, the game isn’t the most beautiful thing my PlayStation 5 has seen. It’s got odd lighting and a fuzzy look to it, but they never fully took me out of the experience. The music is delightful, and apart from some reused battle tracks, I thoroughly enjoyed many of the remixed themes from older Final Fantasy games. The game performed well on performance mode, but the occasional frame-dip during higher intensity moments crept its way into my playthrough.

Source: Square Enix

Superb Roleplaying Elements

Like Nioh, SOP is a loot-based action role-playing game. The gameplay itself is the shining centerpiece here, as it offers a level of nuance that benefits any RPG.

There are multiple weapons, classes, and abilities that are all cleverly interweaved to form a heavily customizable system. Each class has one or multiple types of weapons in their arsenal they can tap into, leading to most abilities being available within and outside of your class. I could unlock Onslaught ability under the Swordsman skill tree, so now any class that uses a greatsword can equip this ability.

The jobs themselves branch in diverging paths, offering a hefty level of specialization that isn’t afraid to overlap. Basic jobs branch into Advanced jobs, which later branch into Expert jobs. The amount of choice available in SOP can become overwhelming, but the trade-off is that you’re going to enjoy figuring out what works best for your build.

I used two Expert jobs: Tyrant, which allows me to enchant my weapon with any element, and Breaker, which gives me access to a massive Zantetsuken slash. The charged version of this slash does immense damage to health and enemy shields, and an enchanted version of it is even more damaging. In the end, you’ve got 20+ classes with varying weapons that are accessible, featuring tons of abilities that are tied to certain sets of weapons. This shows how Strangers of Paradise is amazing at being an RPG.

The Breaker job tree, fully maxed out. Source: Author

The nuance doesn’t end there, as SOP takes loot into account. Since you don’t choose what statistics to level up, as you would in something like Dark Souls, your equipment largely decides your character’s stats. Each piece of equipment is tiered, but they have the potential to offer Job Affinity.

Job Affinity is a percentage that is tied to a specific job. Increase your Job Affinity by equipping pieces of armor and weapons that have a specific job tied to them to increase the amount of experience gained for that specific job and gain special powers unique to said job.

Once you’ve built around Job Affinity, it’s important to review equipment level and weapon abilities, as some rarer weapons offer unique abilities that are specific to that weapon. You can collect and farm all of this loot throughout side missions and the main story, so don’t get attached to one piece of equipment. Until the endgame, you’ll find weapons being replaced and exchanged for different weapons rather quickly.

One of the many new items I need to determine if I should discard or keep. Source: Author

The problem with the loot system is how frustratingly overwhelming it can be.

You’re allowed to carry 500 pieces of armor, and while that sounds like a lot, it can fill up extremely quickly if you’re not regularly dismantling older pieces. This can slow down the pacing, forcing you into a smithy where you break down old equipment for materials that can upgrade new equipment. This system doesn’t really need to be used until the end game though, because upgrading equipment is pointless, especially since it’s going to be replaced by something better in the next dungeon.

Strangers to Balancing

With dungeons, they can be hit-or-miss. Like with Nioh and Dark Souls, SOP has “bonfires” as cubes. Don’t worry — your companions will constantly remind you about how they need to rest at the cubes, so you’ll be spending plenty of time there, especially when you want to upgrade your job tree.

Other than a few dungeons I can count on my hands, the locales you visit serve less as cool-looking places of exploration and more of rooms with enemies in them. That’s not to say levels don’t serve their purpose, they do, it just lacks in the exploration that Soulslike games offer. It straddles the line between offering an intriguing world and a dungeon of loot. It can’t be both Diablo and Dark Souls, but it tries to be.

One of the many “bonfire” cubes found throughout levels. Source: Author

When you have to explore, it can be enjoyable, but the lack of direction can create annoying backtracking. There were multiple occasions where my two friends and I had to run all the way back through a level to find a key to a door. On some occasions, we actually needed to reset the lobby because items that were needed to progress wouldn’t drop, or an elevator wouldn’t work. The constant resetting meant our inventories were getting filled to the brim with more loot than I could care to sift through, resulting in us constantly having to discard most of our inventories to make room for the good stuff that come later on in the boss fight. These frustrations build and make the experience of trekking through a level more annoying than it should be.

The bigger issue, however, comes from the balancing of difficulties. SOP has three difficulties, fitting into your typical “easy, normal, and hard” formatting. I played on normal, which mostly fit the difficulty of my experience, but much of the mid-late game encounters become annoyingly frustrating to deal with, even in co-op.

Cooperative Fun

Strangers of Paradise is a better (and easier) experience in co-op. During single-player, I never found the allies to be helpful, and if you go down, you lose, unlike in co-op, where allies can revive you. It’s encouraged to play cooperatively in the game, as you earn more anima crystals in co-op, which can gain experience in any given job. It’s clear that co-op is the intended way of play as it feels more balanced, incentivized, and streamlined (unlike most Soulslike games).

Source: Square Enix

If you’re not playing with friends, have fun trying to beat later-game levels, because the flaws of the game’s mechanics show through the cracks in its later stages.

In battle, you can fill up your MP gauge in multiple ways, but the main two ways are by blocking enemy attacks with your Soul Shield and by Soul Bursting enemies. A Soul Burst is essentially an execution that fills your gauge further, allowing you to garner more MP and activate more abilities, since nearly all of them require some amount of MP.

This system is extremely flawed, as activating your Soul Shield consumes some of your Break Gauge. When you have to deflect attacks the enemies throw at you from every which direction, your gauge will deplete, resulting in a decrease of your maximum MP. If you get hit a few times because you missed an attack or so, you’ll also lose MP because of your Break Gauge depleting. This makes it extremely difficult in the later game to hold on to the ever-so-important MP gauges.

Another feature is losing all of your garnered MP gauges upon death, which means if you die at the final boss battle of a dungeon, you’ll have to painstakingly grind up those MP gauges again before tackling the boss once more.

Jack meeting with the King of Cornelia near the introduction of the game. Source: Square Enix

Verdict

As much as I like the good things about Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy, there are too many problems with the game for me to say it’s amazing. I appreciate the job system and the nuance injected into the RPG systems of the game. Even the hilarious dialogue made the story more entertaining than it should have been. However, the underlying balancing issues make for a frustrating experience.

I’m not a stranger to difficulty in video games: I love Soulsborne titles. I platinum’d both Elden Ring and Demon’s Souls and have played an immense amount of other difficult games, like Nioh 2. My issue with Strangers of Paradise isn’t its difficulty — as the game can be really easy or really hard — but its poorly balanced system. The single-player experience is, in every way, inferior to playing cooperatively. The poorly designed MP economy ruthlessly punishes players for any mistake and forces you to rebuild your MP gauge from the ground-up.

As much as I adored the humorous dialogue and Final Fantasy I tie-ins, Strangers of Paradise needs more time in the oven to be as good as it should be.

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Paul Lombardo

Paul Lombardo

Journalist writing about video games and the stories they tell | Student at the University of Florida

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