Final Fantasy Origin: Stranger of Paradise (SoP) is the most conflicted I’ve felt about a video game in quite a while, and I mean that with the most sincerity. Never have I loved a game so much and stayed up until 2 am playing, yet had numerous problems with it. But before we get into the review, let’s look at my:
Stats. Or how much blood, sweat, and tears I spent in-game.
In-Game Optimization: Resolution
How much completed: All Main Missions completed on hard difficulty and a couple of Main Missions beat on Chaos difficulty (think New Game Plus). All except two Side Missions completed on hard difficulty, still tracking down the final Side-Missions.
Hours: 40 Hours
Trophies: 43 of 46
Memorable Quote: “I don’t give a fuck who you are!” – Jack. Hands down, no argument, Jack is one of the best Main Characters in years.
Someone has to make the game, ya know?
Systems: Playstation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC On Epic Games Store
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Team Ninja. Release Date: March 18th, 2022
So why are we killing chaos?
When the first trailer for Koei Tecmo Team Ninja’s newest action game was dropped during Square Enix’s E3 2021, everyone meme’d the hell out of it. So for many, this will be the first and probably the only thing they think of; unless you saw the clip of Jack shouting “Bullshit.” while playing music and walking away. Sadly, this meant a lot of people just wrote it off as cringe-worthy and stupid, especially with how much the word chaos was shouted in the first trailer. But what if I were to say that that’s one of the fun parts?
Without going too far into spoiler territory, SoP’s story and characters are very refreshing. Here you have a Main Character who seriously doesn’t care and seems to only have one driving force; kill chaos. At times Jack is the type of person to skip a cutscene; he just doesn’t give a shit if you aren’t chaos, but stand in his way, and he’ll kill you. It’s like someone saw the long cutscenes normally in Final Fantasy and said, “No, these cutscenes are too long.” so they cut them down. It feels nice to have a game that doesn’t try to be the next epic, the next huge saga, or the next award-winning drama. Instead, you have a game that doesn’t take itself seriously and feels like an old edgy PS2 game in the best way possible. However, as it goes on, Jack and the story become less of a one-note character.
When first announced, SoP was touted as the prequel to Final Fantasy 1. Luckily if you’ve never played Final Fantasy 1, you wouldn’t be missing out on anything. However, some fans easily figured out what was going on with the story, especially when Jack’s last name was dropped. Even knowing what was going to transpire, the story of what led up to the famous first game was a blast to play through. Most times, I knew what was going to happen, but when we got a few twists, they were nice and helped the story play out. Yet, the first aspect that many may not like is the story structure. With the game involving a “time-loop,” some people may be confused, or just plain dislike it. Be that as you may, SoP would feel boring if it was structured normally. Instead, it gives you the story in fractured parts that helps keep your attention. Plus, how it comes together makes sense, especially the abrupt beginning people were clowning on. However, some story aspects don’t work well.
Throughout each mission, you will find Orbs scattered about. When collecting these, you either get a new Side Mission, piece of equipment, or Fool’s Missives/Lufenian Reports. The latter two are notes about specific places or story information. Reading this expands a lot of the story while keeping some info out that should’ve been told elsewhere instead of a menu that’s annoying to use, making it feel like Team Ninja doesn’t want you to read them. More on that Quality of Life (QoL) aspect later.
Another huge letdown is a menu that the game calls “Talk”. I mentioned this in my Demo Impressions. Instead of walking around on a map and talking to NPCs on SoP, you go to an option in the menu and listen to NPCs talk. However, this option is literally pointless. If I wasn’t writing about the game, I never would have watched these. You can literally take this option out, and absolutely nothing, yes, I mean absolutely nothing would be changed. In “talk,” you are treated to an NPC saying something pointless on a static shot in front of the same fountain with it all amounting to time wasted. Yes, a few are different, but it honestly doesn’t matter. Not only is it bad for these aspects, but the models here look atrocious.
Despite all these problems, the story doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Tetsuya Nomura, who created the Original Concept (as well as character designer and creative producer), and Screenwriter, Kazushige Nojima, knew what they were going for, and I feel like they accomplished that. The story has a few lows but a lot of highs, with all the characters being fun and enjoyable in their own ways. However, personality-wise, Jack really stands out. Towards the end of the story, you’ll realize it is about the friends we made along the way to kill chaos and that SoP has a lot more heart and love than many give it credit for.
The Music and Sounds of killing Chaos!
When people think of the Final Fantasy franchise, the first thing that comes to mind is music. The series has produced some phenomenal, mesmerizing musical tracks that fans can name by composer, which game, and even what area in said game. Does SoP follow suit? Yes and no. This is due to a few reasons, the first being a lot of the tracks are just remixes from previous games. Most dungeons take inspiration from previous Final Fantasy games. So, a lot of the songs you hear throughout SoP are great because the team of Naoshi Mizuta, Hidenori Iwasaki, and Ryo Yamazaki are taking the “hit” songs from previous games and adding new touches to them. To base how well the music is on this factor alone doesn’t feel fair as these musical tracks aren’t from SoP, instead, these feel like a Greatest Hits Remixed list. Not per se a bad thing, as each song is amazing, but we already know that.
Then how is the music new to SoP that isn’t a remix of classic games? Well, they aren’t bad, but after so long in the game, you may start to get annoyed with some. Not only that, but no music sticks out. I can name two of my favorite themes from past games (Kefka’s Theme FFVI, Somnus FFXV). However, with SoP, I couldn’t hum or even think of a tune if my life relies on it. All I can remember is that the battle theme gets old fast because you constantly hear it. Even if the battle theme was amazing, the number of times you’ll hear it will just make you numb as the world music is never mixed into the battle theme, instead, it just happens and happens much too often. It would’ve sounded better if they mixed the music with the battle themes, or had different battle themes. Sadly, as far as music goes, SoP only holds up when hearing music from past games and not its own new tracks.
But, the sound of a perfect Soul Sheild or Soul Burst connecting as intended is literal music to my ears. Win you hit the Sheild or Burst perfectly, not only can you tell visually, but the noise they make makes you feel even more powerful. These sounds are the highlight of the sound department, but that’s not to say the other aspects are “bad”, just nothing sticks out as much as the aforementioned noises. You have your usual enemy groans and moans and the usual clang and smack caused by whichever weapon is used. However, none of these sounds add much to the gameplay. When fighting an enemy, you will barely say, “Wow, I could totally tell that was a greatsword cutting through the guts of a Malboro!”. Instead, you’ll be saying that when using the Soul Sheild and Soul Burst. Luckily this doesn’t carry over to English Voice Acting.
The singular greatest part of SoP’s voice acting is the fact that you can tell which character is speaking just by their vocal tone and the manner in which they speak. Most times, I didn’t need to read the subtitle during a mission as I’d be able to tell who was talking. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but when dealing with multiple characters at once, it is nice to have. Altogether, there aren’t any stand-out character voices in the game, but they all work well enough for each character, so no dialogue sounds too cheesy or bad. Instead, the voice actors are able to match the tone of the scene. Nonetheless, much like the story, there won’t be any awards given, but honestly? Does every performance have to be award-worthy? It’s just nice to have voices that are different, match the characters, and seem to be having fun.
One major downside that many players may want to fix, is that multiple times throughout the game, the music will overpower the voices. This isn’t just an SoP problem, as this happens quite often in games now, but it’s still worth knowing so players can adjust to their liking.
Is that an enemy I’m looking at or is the game just too blurry?
Visuals and performance may be the single worst aspect of SoP. Now, visuals can be broken down into many different talking points, and different personal opinions. Some people like 8-Bit JRPG graphics and others are wrong. But in all seriousness, the visuals on a game can be a make or break for some gamers. I have no preference, as long as I can see what is going on. Sadly for SoP, I was barely able to tell what was the dungeon decreation and what was the enemy. This is due to a few factors; the visuals resemble 720P with a lot of blurred screens at times, with some levels insanely bright or stupidly dark, and a lot of the designs for dungeons aren’t really that great.
Just picking one of these visual elements to tackle first is hard because each is bad in its own way. So, let’s go with resolution. Now, I’m no Digital Foundry, but anyone can see that there is something up with SoP’s resolution. Even in the resolution mode, everything looks bad. At points, there looks to be no anti-aliasing. Not only that but so much of the scene looks blurry as if it was out of focus. At times the resolution seems to drop to 720P, and for a game that needs you to be able to tell what’s happening combat-wise, it really hinders the gameplay. But when you factor in the other visual problems, it gets worse.
As noted, a lot of the dungeons are designed based on previous Final Fantasy games. But besides that, the dungeons seem uninspired. Most dungeons feel blad and have so many elements that are the same that you can easily get lost, trust me, I sure as hell did. When you have dungeons with no minimaps (which it’s okay to not have,) you damn well better have a great level design that helps players tell different areas apart. Thing is, this isn’t the case, most times you will get lost because so many places look alike. It’s hard to want to play a level when you can’t tell what’s what and what’ll kill you or not. For a game that takes inspiration from previous titles, it’s just sad to see so many of these dungeons feel bland, uninspired, and just hard to navigate. But, this lack of differing designs doesn’t matter when you can’t even see what the hell is going on due to the horrid lighting. Here are two notes I wrote.
“This Snow level is fucking blinding! Damn!” “The lightning in this Forrest level is atrocious! (Natural Distortion dungeon)”.
Yes, you can quote me on both those notes. Having tried a few different tricks of changing the brightness on the game, on my TV, and in my room, I can tell you nothing makes it better. That aforementioned snow level is supposed to be blinding as it’s a type of fog/snow, but the manner they do it makes your eyes hurt so damn much that you want to stop playing. There’s a way to make a level have a type of fog that still hinders your vision while not making the player’s eyes bleed. Sadly, Team Ninja didn’t get that memo. This blinding light also occurs during the Natural Distortion level in the forest. The worst problem with that? This level was in one of the trial versions, and it looks exactly the same! It seems nothing was changed, and when looking at the level, you’d think it was bugged because the lighting can get so bad.
On the opposite side, you have levels that are so dark you need to squint to see what is happening. Good luck playing this game with any light coming into your room because if you have a room light on, you’re screwed. When your level is so dark that I have to turn my brightness back up, that’s pretty bad. Luckily, there are a few that have okay lighting, but when it gets bad, it gets phenomenally horrible. Some I don’t even want to go back to even though I need to.
I hate to say all of this, as I’m a fan of Final Fantasy, but none of these dungeons do the series justice. Instead, it feels sad and makes you want to go back to those games.
We haven’t even got to the character models yet. During most normal cutscenes, the models are just fine, nothing groundbreaking or bad. But the “talk” section we mentioned earlier? Well, if the writing and static shot won’t traumatize you, the character models will! After thinking more about it, the “talk” section really fills thrown in the last second, with the facial models showing this. Some of the character’s faces are legit terrifying and may make you scream. Not only that, but several characters have faces that are the same or damn near the same. Later in the game, when there is a crowd, a few character models are the same. Now, if it was a big crowd, this makes sense, but when you have a small crowd where people can notice this, it comes off as trying to save time.
Luckily one Final Fantasy celebration that works well is some of the enemy and NPC designs.
Old Enemies, New Faces.
I’ll keep this quick as we still have my favorite section incoming.
Have you ever wanted to see your favorite classic characters rendered in 3D, with some receiving an update? Well, SoP does quite well in that aspect! Team Ninja brings back classic enemies and NPCs, with some receiving design updates and others staying pretty much the same. The classic Final Fantasy 1 Fiends all get updated in their design to match the story, and these updates make sense while still resembling the classic look and looking unique, all while pretty damn cool. This goes as well for the ones that aren’t updated with them still looking amazing, especially in this new 3D format.
60 fps? No, more like a slide show!
We’ll be keeping this quick as well, as we touched on this a little earlier, and I don’t have the technical know-how to deep delve into performance.
Alongside the huge negative that is the level design and how bad the resolution looks at times is the horrible FPS that SoP has. Whereas Nioh 2 had a few drops in FPS, SoP feels like it’s constantly dropping and is not a solid 30 or 60FPS. For an action game that relies on split-second decisions and being as precise as possible, this unsteadiness and drops make it insanely hard to play at times. During some heavy action and moments that have a lot going on on-screen, my FPS dropped so bad my game was in slow-mo, and I died because it damn near crashed my PS5. Now, some FPS drops are okay, as every game has that, but when your screen resolution looks this bad, and the game becomes hard to play due to constant FPS drop, that’s unacceptable. Hopefully, this gets fixed in a future patch, as this and the visuals are what really hold the game back.
This corner seen above was a constant FPS drop for me. No matter what mission was played, if this corner was in it, it would severely drop my FPS.
On this subject, a Twitter user, @DeathChaos25, might have figured out what makes the game’s FPS so choppy and resolution so bad. The problem? Unoptimized game models. Some of the models for small enemies and even a fur coat are so badly large that this seems to be where a lot of the performance issues are. To learn more on this, click here, as it’s a fantastic read, and you can honestly learn a lot about it! It actually made me go down a large rabbit hole about game models on Youtube.
You fight, I fight, we all love to fight! And Dress to impress!
Yes, I saved the best aspect for (second) to last! This section will be big, as SoP has close to one of the most addicting combat systems and is the shining point of the game. Let’s get one huge thing out of the way first.
When the game was first announced, a lot of people threw around the term “Souls-Like.” This is a term I have problems with as this can mean a lot of different things to people, nonetheless, I can see what people mean, as SoP, at first glance, seems like it can be a stamina-based action game. But, while playing SoP, I’d label it more of a Nioh, Ninja Gaiden, FF7R, and Devil May Cry hybrid. The combat really feels like a more simplified Nioh game, with almost the same about of depth, while incorporating the other games mentioned. SoP plays like Team Ninja took all they learned from their previous games and combined it with aspects from FF7R and Devil May Cry, all while making it its own thing. To say SoP’s combat is addicting is an understatement, but to say it’s perfect would be lying.
As I’m a positive person, let’s talk positive!
SoP’s combat starts off simple in its approach, yet once you get used to the mechanics, you can dig deep and mess around with tons of different options. With 27 (spoilers: actually 28) different Jobs, you can really mix and match some moves that carry over to other Jobs, plus you have two Jobs equipped that you can cycle through whenever. With this Job cycling ability, you can go from a devastating up close Berserker Job to a distance Sage Mage. There are countless pairings, so you literally have the ability to play your way. Plus, all jobs can work on all enemies. On top of having different Jobs, there is an abundance of weapon types, and a few of the Expert Jobs allow you to choose from different weapon types. Once you get that two Job combo that works for you, then choose all of your weapon combos and other combat settings, Jack will be perfectly suited for your playstyle. The ability to customize so much of your combat experience already adds to the fun factor. But how do combos work? Well, this is where the likeness to FF7R comes in.
When attacking (and other ways, like some command abilities), you gain MP. At first, you only start out with 2 bars, but when you successfully Soul Burst, you gain more MP bars. There are a few ways to get more bars, but at the moment, that doesn’t matter. Well, to use your Combo Abilities that are tied to weapons, you have to use MP. This plays out like the Abilities and Spell menu in the Command section of FF7R. This is not only a fantastic combat mechanic, but it helps show its Final Fantasy lineage. These Combo Abilities are completely customizable and help set you apart from others. The control of how much you can change in Jack’s fighting style is amazing and continues to add to how fun and addicting the combat is.
Team Ninja really nailed the combat with this title. The combat is fluid, fast, fun, and can be punishing if you just button mash. The Soul Shield and Soul Burst have to be one of the greatest additions as it’s a blast to use, especially when timed correctly. Team Ninja really knocked this out of the park and found combat that just feels fun to use. I seriously (and actually did) could play for hours due to the addicting it is. Hell, I’d suggest SoP on combat alone because it’s just that fantastic. However, one factor that I love that I can see others not liking is the magic system. SoP’s magic is unique with an all-or-nothing approach. When casting, if you want to use more powerful magic you have to let it load, so you are literally just standing there hoping you don’t get attacked. This makes it so you just can’t spam high-end magic spells to demolish enemies. Instead, you have to find the perfect opening. This all-or-nothing magic makes the class exciting to play, all while being dangerous and taking skill.
With the story being Jack and friends fighting Chaos, you do get two AI companions. On most difficulty levels, they do actually help some, especially if you need a distraction when casting magic. However, on the chaos difficulty, it feels like they barely help, but that’s another subject. For now, let’s talk about difficulty.
Sop has multiple difficulty options that if you’re having trouble fighting an enemy, you can easily move the difficulty down. Difficulty in action games (especially stamina-based action) is always a heated debate. However, SoP handles this well, for the most part. Now we get into the negative side of the combat. And let’s stick with difficulty.
The chaos difficulty you unlock post-game (think of it as New Game Plus) is absolute bullshit at times. You can be level 230 (300 being the max) and die from a bullshit one or two hit combo from a level 190 normal enemy. I have no problem with difficulty or games built to test you. Yet, for some reason, it seems Team Ninja didn’t balance chaos mode correctly, and you will die or have your Break Gauge broke for the littlest of reasons, and it doesn’t feel fair or fun. As much as I wanted to go and beat every level again up until level 300, I had to stop due to how unbalanced it felt. Even with all the best of gear, messing up one action means instant death, even if the character is super low leveled to you. I want to scream from the rooftops how bullshit this gets. Hopefully, in the future, Team Ninja will look at chaos difficulty and fix it, because as of now, I went from wanting to play everything all the time to not wanting to play ever again.
Continuing with the chaos difficulty. As noted, this difficulty is SoP’s New Game Plus and its endgame, Nioh has the same game structure, and it’s one of the most fun New Game Plus/Endgame content out there. However, the manner in which you unlock missions in SoP is so annoyingly time-consuming and needs a change. Each mission and submission have different equipment level numbers for chaos mode. So one mission can have equipment levels that should be played at 150, then goes up to 300. So that one mission can have up to 20 different ones to unlock as the equipment level on the mission goes up. But to unlock each equipment level in that dungeon, you have to farm Anima Crystals. You barely get these per beating a mission, plus some missions/submissions cost a lot to unlock. And instead of you playing through stuff, you have to grind for so many of these that the endgame becomes an unfun grind fest. There should’ve been a different structure here, as this is not fun in the slightest and really hinders what could’ve been a blast to play through again.
Talking about grinding, the equipment system feels pointless. The game relies on equipment level to gauge how well you are doing and if you should do a mission. So instead of taking time and effort to make a build, all you need to do is use the highest equipment level. The only time a build makes sense is when you are at equipment level cap, which, trust me, no one is going to want to do at the moment. It’s just astonishing that a game that has all the makings to create a build for your character playstyle has no incentive to let you. Instead, the only thing that matters is equipment level. There were multiple times I loved a piece of equipment, but since there is no way to level them up, they become obsolete literally minutes later. Your gear changes from mission to mission. Hell, at least Nioh had a system where you could level up equipment so you can have a piece you love to follow you. That simple change would fix so damn much here.
Finally, the thing that most games in the genre do is horrible – the camera. Literally, the worst enemy is the camera, and no, that’s no joke. God forbid you are in a tight space – which SoP is filled with – you’ll most likely due to the camera freaking out. I have no idea what it is with stamina-based action games, but the camera always sucks, and with SoP, it’s no different. There were countless times I lost what was happening or got attacked because the camera just went Exorcist on me. Combine this with how bullshit the chaos difficulty can be, and wow, you’re in for a bad time.
As a side note, I would love a PVP mode. SoP combat is so damn amazing that if there were a PVP mode added I’d play that for hours alone. Yet if they add this, a rework of the equipment would be needed, so I can actually make a build for my jobs.
If you want more information and help in combat go look at my extra-large tips article!
Quality of Life, the difference from I want to play more, and I spend too much time on menus!
Menus. Menus can be great, menus can be a bane. Like a lot of the other elements, SoP’s menu is a bit of both. I try not to compare a game to another, but I believe it’s acceptable to compare a game with another that the developer made, especially if it’s the same time and recent. SoP takes a lot of elements from the Nioh series, like a lot of elements. This isn’t a bad thing because if something is good, why not reuse it and upgrade it instead of tossing it? But for some reason, with SoP, Team Ninja takes a lot of the bad and leaves out some of the good elements. It’s weird, as they weren’t hiding that a lot of the menu layouts, themes, and settings are the same as Nioh but there are multiple QoL settings that Nioh had that SoP is missing for no reason. For a game so loot-heavy, there is no option to look at all the individual states and equipment effects? In Nioh, this information is vital for your build, yet here it’s missing.
On the loot elements, with so much of it, there need to be more ways to go through it. Why can’t I mark loot as junk during a mission? Also, there should be a Smithy option at the save cubes. Why isn’t it there? You could get rid of loot on Nioh for XP at the Shrines. Why isn’t there a system like this, instead of me going back to the overworld with hundreds of absolutely useless loot to trash there? Equipment would feel less useless if there was level matching, again, much like Nioh. There were many times I loved a piece of equipment, but it was way too under-leveled.
Finally, Co-Op was something that was heavily talked about and something they really focused on. But, just like Nioh, it’s a bad system that is no fun to navigate, and most times, you never get anyone. On top of that, the chat options feel pointless, and we either need much more chat options or the ability to play with a mic. As much as you may want to play Co-Op, it’s barely fun and only good if you have two other friends you can play with and use voice on a separate app.
Sadly this section could go on for a while. As much as SoP feels like an improvement in the action and story section, there are so many QoL elements that are just missing that would greatly improve the gameplay and make you want to play more.
Honestly, Jason wrote too much and I just want to see the Final Verdict already!
Sheesh, I get it, I had a lot to say. Trust me, I even have a lot more. Nevertheless, SoP is not perfect and at times feels like a huge step-down from Team Ninja’s amazing previous game, Nioh 2. But, If they changed a lot of small elements in the gameplay and performance it would damn near be perfect. In Total, SoP is a game that wants to be a game. A game that wants to be fun, kill chaos with your friends, and not care what others think. The combat is so addicting especially when you mess around with jobs and find what works best for you. At times I found myself playing for hours just because the combat was that engaging and just a blast. If Team Ninja were to update/tweak some of the problems I have stated throughout here then I think they would have a game that many would love. With the upcoming DLCs, this seems likely, as they supported Nioh 2 for a while after launch. If not, maybe in a sequel?
All this said, there are so many small things that can put you off from the game, but, damn, are there so many things that absolutely shine, and when they shine, it’s as bright as a flawed diamond. With that in mind, if your gaming space is already busy, waiting for a sale and for hopeful future updates would be best. Nonetheless, if now or later, grab your friends and kill CHAOS!