I really didn’t know what to expect when I sat down with Team Ninja’s take on classic Final Fantasy last night, but I sure as hell wasn’t ready for what I experienced. At once, it was both a nostalgic romp through one of my favorite Final Fantasy game settings in precision timing action form and a bizarre B-movie with characters hammier than a pork sandwich. I’ve heard a ton of people complaining about the graphics as well, but I actually didn’t have an issue with them. PlayStation 3? Have you actually looked at a PlayStation 3 game lately? Seriously, c’mon. Yes, it’s absolutely not the definitive “current gen experience”, but to call it a PS3 game is ridiculous.
The goblins (imps), wolves, and the rest of the temple setting actually work for me and herald back to one of the more underrated games in the Final Fantasy series, the original game for the NES. At the time, creating your own party was a rarity when the JRPG was basically being shaped and molded by linear fare like Dragon Quest, so bringing your own concept team into a long playthrough was exciting. Sure, you could run the default team of fighter, thief/blackbelt, white mage, black mage, but it was way more fun to try to do something cool for your second or third playthrough like four blackbelts, four black mages, or the extreme four white mage composition. While playing Stranger of Paradise, I especially appreciated the callbacks to the early game creatures of Final Fantasy. I really, really enjoyed the soundtrack which played with the original music for the area. The combat and mechanics seem heavily inspired by both Nioh and Sekiro, and seem to work well once you get the hang of things – you can even “blue mage” your opponents by stealing their abilities by parrying and send them back at them, rewarding exact timing. While it’s impossible to tell exactly how in-depth the sets and skills get from the demo, I’m confident that the lessons and takeaways from Nioh will work out fine in that area in the greater game.
The team of Jack, Jed, and Ash is beyond puzzling. Is this some kind of galaxy brain discoverability and discourse play? Did they know we’d all be talking about these characters and how out of place they are in a Final Fantasy universe? Have we secretly become mere pawns in some genius marketing plan that seeks to create a conversation around this game via absurdity? Jack belongs in a wrestling arena or something and feels shockingly out of place among the fantasy trappings, an “angry dude” who loves powerbombing Bombs and ripping wolves in half. The dialogue is atrocious to the point that they should have just used text from the original Final Fantasy. I don’t know why this crew exists, but one thing is for certain – they are here to kill Chaos. Hell yeah. Jack is gonna snap into a Slim Jim right after he takes Garland out with a jump from the corner ropes.
The big boss fight with Garland actually worked for me as a battle. Taking him on by refusing to engage with the mage class was a lesson in parrying, blocking, and dodging, which brought out a bunch of mechanics that one could otherwise ignore during the demo. The battle absolutely felt Sekiro-ish, with careful and continued play rewarding me with opportunities to shred his stamina to nothing and lead to the critical blows. A phase transition halfway through the fight was both expected and pleasant. As boss battles go, I’ve had better. I’ve had worse. With Garland being the main villain of the original Fantasy Game (who yes, eventually becomes Chaos), I am really curious as to how many of the other major bosses in the title will translate into multiphase encounters, from Kraken to Tiamat. I can’t wait to see Jack rip one of Tiamat’s heads off and shove it into Warmech and say something like “This machine wants power? Let’s see it handle THIS! UNH!”. Maybe he’ll just pick up the entire desert tower and shove it into Tiamat. Who knows!
The Stranger of Paradise demo isn’t exactly what I expected when we all heard the rumors of a Team Ninja Final Fantasy Souls-like. Like an incredibly cheesy movie that borrows from big brands to create some weird spinoff, the more I think about it, the more I think it works in some strange way. It’s like the Freddy vs. Jason of games. It’s having fun with it, even if not everyone will. The amount of folks out there that care about canonical devotion to the source material can probably be counted on one hand, so maybe it’s alright that Jack is just gonna crush his way through Final Fantasy. The days of belts are over. The time for a new hero is here. A hero that KILLS CHAOS. What a ride, and somehow I’m curious to see what comes next.