The first Final Fantasy game was released in 1987 and birthed a legendary series. After 35 years of constant releases and remakes within the Final Fantasy franchise, I was speculating about the release of “Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin,” which was released on March 18. While the new storyline is refreshing, this installment of the franchise didn’t achieve the level of character complexity that previous games delivered on, exemplified by the lack of memorable characters.
The story follows protagonist Jack Garland in the familiar land of Cornelia. Garland is on the hunt to kill a mysterious knight who takes on the role of antagonist, a title previously held by Chaos, a demon in the original “Final Fantasy” who disrupts harmony in the world. Garland is accompanied by companions Ash and Jed as well as a myriad of other characters. Garland, Ash and Jed are questioning if they are the Warriors of Light, the youths that will restore the world, because they are set on destroying the mysterious knight.
Players can play in five different difficulty levels: casual, story, action, hard and chaos, which is only unlocked after completing the game. Having different difficulty levels is nothing new to role playing games because it allows players to have a more relaxed or intense gaming experience depending on mood. The player customization follows a skill tree familiar to Final Fantasy fans, where players can pick from two of 28 different jobs to expand upon.
There are 16 different main locations to explore. Some of these locations, such as Chaos Shrine and Cavern of Earth, are reimagined from previous games while others, like Mount Gulg and The Ancients' Tower, are new. It is fun to see how the classic world of Final Fantasy looks in 2022 graphics. The locations are filled with a level of detail unlike previous games, containing ruins and steampunk-like structures in a more futuristic setting. My favorite area is the Crystal Mirage because it reminds me of Zora's Domain in “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” mixed with a medieval castle that I would like to escape to.
The world is filled with nods to previous games and world lore that is littered through the areas. For gamers wanting to understand the full story, be sure to look for collectables, as they can be difficult to come across but are necessary if one wants to truly get the full vision of the story.
The one gripe that I have with this rendition is that “Strangers of Paradise” doesn’t have any memorable characters compared to previous games, like the “Final Fantasy VII” remake with the beloved characters Cloud, Aerith and Tifa who all had developed thoughts and actions that made them come to life. I found myself often forgetting — or not even paying attention to — certain characters because they didn’t leave an impression on me due to the lack of character depth. While the cutscenes looked great, at times, I wish they would give me the level of character complexity to get to know what characters need, want and what drives them to do the things they do.
While I do appreciate how Team Ninja and Square Enix can continue the series of Final Fantasy, I think they need to keep the same level of storytelling that other games delivered on. To say that Strangers of Paradise is bad would be a lie; it’s got a fantastic character customization system that fills in the gap for underdeveloped characters and the familiar locations are polished with standout graphics.
I would recommend “Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin” to anyone wanting to get started in the Final Fantasy franchise but don’t know where to start. The story isn’t heavy on lore, but can help incomers adjust to the skill tree and jobs.