Darkness, edgy one-liners, men's fashion, and Chaos. It's hard to have watched that first trailer for Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin when it was debuted a few days ago. The meme engine began comparing the main character, Jack, to Chads and mocking the trailer's ability to fit the word 'Chaos' eight times over in their two-and-a-half-minute-long trailer. I enjoyed getting sucked into the trailer too; it looked like a group of Anime boys trying their best to cosplay Final Fantasy characters. Now that the demo is out, and actually playable, I need to publicly apologize: the game is actually really fun.
Combat is extremely soulslike. The trailer mostly focused on flashy finishers and in performing Soul Bursts on enemies, where you turn them into MP after staggering them. Is it interesting to watch in a trailer? Yes. Does it genuinely show off what this game is going to play like? No. I had come away from the original trailer believing it was a hack and slash game closer to the original God of War games. As Jack, you'll need to approach battles intelligently, especially when there are multiple foes present, otherwise you can quickly get overcome. To start with, Jack only has a Broadsword for his Swordsman job. You can hack, slash, and defend with it as well as unleashing a variety of special moves.
Final Fantasy Origin - Combat
A unique gameplay mechanic is the Instant Abilities, where you can absorb an enemy's purple attacks to give Jack a new ability. Goblins throwing stones at you means that you now have some stones to throw. This ability gets more impressive as you absorb a fireball from a Bomb enemy and can turn around and roast a nearby Goblin. It's a satisfying combination of understanding the mechanics and enemy patterns, good timing, and then a satisfying reward. There were times in the demo that I found myself leaving some Bombs alive just so I could head back to them and get another charge of Fireballs. One familiar Final Fantasy mechanic is that all enemies can be staggered. While staggered, you can get an instant KO on enemies while also boosting your MP to above max. Again an example of rewarding players for competent execution.
Level design is especially soulslike. Take on one enemy to learn about them, then you might fight two or three in the next corridor. Progress through enough of the level and you'll find yourself somewhere higher in a room you've previously explored with a ladder to throw down. Final Fantasy Origin helps out with frequent checkpoints, ensuring you're never more than a quick dash from where you previously died, and you don't lose anything in death either.
It seems like a lot of the soulslike content isn't to punish players for mistakes, but raise them up for what they manage to do well. With a steady increase of stats due to gear, or leveling up your classes, it gives the game a better sense of access to players who don't want to be put through the meat grinder and want a fun but tough Final Fantasy experience. Chances are if there's a boss you're having issues with, you just need to spend some more time leveling if it's too tough. It's an interesting mix, but I think it works.
Final Fantasy Origin - Customization
The customization that's shown, even in this demo, has me really excited for how the game will turn out. Characters will frequently pick up different armor and weapons that all have different levels, stats, and even randomized abilities. A Twilight Headband that's LV 7 might have more Magic Defense to it, but if the weaker one has an increased drop rate, then that's the one I'm wanting to pick. With the number of drops you'll receive, Final Fantasy Origin has got a touch of "Looter Slasher" in it; this also means you can do a lot to tweaking to your build, searching for the perfect item. Each of these weapons and pieces of armor is also cosmetic, changing Jack's Banana Republic look into something more fitting of a potential Warrior of Light. I'm looking forward to seeing some Fashion Fantasy, or pantsless speedruns if the Dark Souls community has taught us anything.
Each Job also has its own level of customization and evolution. There's your normal skill tree, giving you bonuses to stats and new special attacks but you can then take those special attacks and pick how in a combo they'll be used. You can make pulling off your super-powerful attacks easier, or fit them into the end of a three-chain combo for the satisfying feel of dealing a lot of damage. Work your way through a normal skill tree and you can unlock that job's advanced form like Swordsman to Warrior, Lancer to Dragoon. These jobs can even be quickly swapped between in case you want more customizability.
Final Fantasy Origin - Shortcomings
One aspect of the demo that seemed to fall very short of the mark was in the AI of your companions, Jed and Ash. You have no way to customize what they are equipped with, what they should be doing, and you don't even get an indication of their health on screen. During some battles it was also difficult to figure out what they were actually doing, pacing around a goblin but never attacking for... some reason. For all that is quite fleshed out in this demo, I hope that this is one aspect that won't be carried over to the final release. Having Jed and Ash as NPCs that get hurt, go down, and pop right back up again, practically just distractions for enemies in combat, seems extremely shallow for the depth that the rest of the game carries.
What was shown in the trailer for Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin was an angry man shouting about Chaos and muttering edgy lines while literally ripping a wolf face in half. What the demo gives is a deep RPG with plenty of customization, way better style options, and engaging and tough gameplay that does an excellent job rewarding players for competent play, while not punishing those who want to just swing a big sword around. Two days ago I was laughing along with everyone else, and now I'm genuinely excited for the full release of Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin (hopefully, the name gets a bit shorter). Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to KILLING CHAOS.
Be sure to check out the rest of our E3 2021 Coverage here.