The Final Fantasy series has been Square Enix’s (Formerly Square) flagship RPG franchise since the first game hit store shelves on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Many of these chapters have served as the standard for RPG gaming in their respective generations. Even their spin-off games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and even World of Final Fantasy, have met the high expectations set upon them. Now in 2022, we have the latest side-game in the series, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, a (currently) one-off game taking us back to the world of Final Fantasy I to mark the series’ 35th Anniversary. The unique element of this is that Square Enix did not helm development but rather Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja studio, the team behind franchises including Nioh, Dead or Alive and perhaps most notably, Ninja Gaiden. While it is nice to see a shift from Omega Force being brought in to do a hack’n’slash spin-off game, although Final Fantasy Warriors wouldn’t be a bad thing, how does this Ninja Gaiden x Final Fantasy style game fare? Read on to find out.
After the Final Fantasy series was left not competing for minimal system resources and not having to compromise its vision for hardware limitations, it has consistently set itself high standards for world-building and character development. Unfortunately, this is where I hit my own roadblock to playing the game. There is some meaty content in the narrative, especially in the latter half of the game. However, to get to those gems, you have to trudge through a storyline that begins dry, convoluted, poorly paced, features unmemorable characters, and has almost no exciting character development. As someone who likes video games for their storytelling components, it put up a barrier that saw me putting the game down frequently to move on to another game I was more invested in. If you can work your way through the initial unremarkable narrative, then fans of Final Fantasy I will likely see the adventure worth the wait. Still, those after a substantial story will find more from the mainline Final Fantasy RPGs.
One wise development approach undertaken by Team Ninja and Square Enix was that they hosted three public testing periods immediately from when the game was announced. The changes between the versions were notable, and it is clear that the team took community feedback in influencing the final build, at least regarding gameplay. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin features a good balance between the hack’n’slash gameplay elements that Team NINJA do best, and critical elements that are synonymous with the early Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy-style dungeon design, a robust job system with 28 classes to use – each of which handles differently, and some satisfying yet challenging battles that will keep you on your toes are some of the elements which harmonise with the game’s action RPG battle style. The components were not just shoehorned in for the sake of adding them, but adequately adapted and integrated to feel as if they truly belong in the battle system style. The combat flows well, and the experience is only hindered by an overwhelming user interface that attempts to show too much at any one time, and that despite the small playable cast, they weren’t able to adapt the game to allow you any more than three characters on-field at a time.
Players are treated to a mixed bag when it comes to the audiovisual quality of Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. What lets the game down primarily is the visual quality. There are elements I love, from amazing pre-rendered cutscenes and the inclusion of different graphical modes available on the PS5 version I reviewed to the fact that all equipment had unique designs that could be visually seen on characters. However, due to the convoluted UI, a somewhat gritty aesthetic style and lighting giving everything a gleaming effect to them, everything had a bit of a cluttered feeling to it. With fantastic music and a competent English voice cast for primary and secondary characters, the audio side of things was a lot better – with a stellar backing soundtrack and a great choice of Frank Sinatra’s My Way as a licensed track.
Especially for those who have nostalgia and love of Final Fantasy I, there is much to enjoy about Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin if you can put up with the initial slow pace of the narrative and some graphical issues – especially when you get to the final chapters of the game. If you don’t, then you may end up like me, wanting to progress but finding mental barriers to progression. But with the foundations set, it is still an enjoyable game to play through with many innovations from Team Ninja in making this a “Team Ninja game BUT with Final Fantasy”. I also feel that if you were to take key elements of the story and put it into a succinct, feature-length CGI film, it would be an excellent addition to the Final Fantasy universe.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is now available to purchase on the PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S both physically (select platforms) and digitally (all platforms).
A PlayStation 5 review code was provided for the purpose of this review.