I love the original Final Fantasy. Given that the game came out so long ago, that might not be something you hear often anymore. Even I, one of the game’s biggest advocates, wasn’t around for the game’s original release in 1987.
I discovered the original Final Fantasy through the Dissidia games, or more specifically the character Garland, the main antagonist of his game. A former knight of Corneila, fallen from grace, kidnaps the princess and must be stopped by the Warriors of Light, who soon discover the darker depths to his plans.
Garland has so many of my favorite villain tropes, and was part of why the world of Final Fantasy felt so great to experience. Final Fantasy had a great sense of adventure, and a wonderful mystical feeling about it that ultimately created a franchise with more than 16 installments. When I heard that this story was going to be retold with next gen consoles, I couldn’t have hoped for a better game to come from Square Enix right now.
Then I watched the trailer and I stopped caring. See, Strangers of Paradise isn’t a remake of the original Final Fantasy. It’s a retelling, set in a gritty motorcycle punk dystopia where your protagonists are competing to see who has the biggest muscles and who can drop the most F-bombs.
Strangers of Paradise isn’t an exact retelling of the story of Final Fantasy, but it contains a lot of its’ characters and a lot of its locations. It’s also really hard to imagine the story of Final Fantasy existing alongside this ‘prequel’, as it changes a great deal about the story and world so that the two seemingly cannot exist together.
Strangers of Paradise feels like the phenomena of “hardcore” reboots, seen mostly in the 90s and early 2000s. It reads like someone at Square Enix said, “What if we took Final Fantasy, and made it edgy?!”
The thing is, Final Fantasy was already edgy. Every Final Fantasy game has dealt with dark topics and emotionally complex characters and stories. They have always felt “adult”, especially with their villains providing interesting stories and dark themes to the games the like of which I haven’t really seen elsewhere.
Final Fantasy has always balanced its dark and compelling stories with a vibrant and mystical world. It felt alien and deeply rooted in its namesake, fantasy, but never to a point that the gritty tone of the adventure itself felt out of place or unbelievable.
Thankfully, the world of Strangers of Paradise manages to maintain a lot of the whimsical feel the series is known for. It’s just the brick-headed, action B-movie protagonist that feels alien in it. It doesn’t help that he starts the game literally wearing a t-shirt and jeans.
My gripes with the style aside, it’s not my only problem with the game. The characters are one-dimensional, and once you’re introduced to them you pretty much know who they are. This is something that changes a little bit later in the story, but for the most part the cast is delegated to one keyword for their personality and that’s it (this is especially annoying considering some members of the cast turn out to be some of my most beloved characters from the original.)
This problem is especially present with Jack, who starts the game so single-minded and edgy it hurts. His goal is to destroy chaos, and it’s all the guy ever talks about, growling about how determined he is to crush it and actually interrupting dialogue because he isn’t getting to the action fast enough. Very little about this will change over the course of the story, making him one of the hardest hurdles to get over to enjoy the game. Calling Jack a toxic narcissist you just have to learn to accept would be an apt way to describe our lead protagonist.
The story is overly complicated, but that can sort of be expected from a Final Fantasy game. While the early parts of the story did a really bad job of keeping me engaged, it starts to pick up near the end, and to its credit answers a lot of questions it presented early on. I can’t really tell you if I appreciated the story at this point or not though, because I felt so fatigued that it sort of started going over my head.
The story isn’t exactly where this game shines. Credit has to be given to the gameplay in Strangers of Paradise. They took the concept of Classes in the original Final Fantasy and expanded on the system in a way that makes them really satisfying to play and to level up. Protagonist Jack can switch between classes at a moment’s notice, and it makes combat in the game really mechanically interesting.
That’s sort of the weird charm to Strangers of Paradise. It shifts between the most awful game I’ve had to sit through in a while, to a genuinely fun experience I couldn’t find elsewhere, and it bounces between the two like a tennis ball.
Strangers of Paradise is a game I find hard to hate, even when I really want to. Though my problems with the story and characters are legitimate, I’m willing to accept that I came into this game with a little bit of a bias. It wasn’t my Final Fantasy, and so I wanted it to be bad. In many ways it lived up to my expectations, but a lot of what this game does right relates to the fact that it is, in fact, a game. It’s hard to say a game with great gameplay isn’t fun because the story and characters are underwhelming.
The Final Word
Strangers of Paradise is a game that feels a lot like an experiment, and it wasn’t exactly a failure. If I could give the production team at Square Enix some advice, it would be that their storytellers should return to their roots, and their gameplay developers should keep the new ideas coming.
Our Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!