Stranger in Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is going to be a kick in the teeth for many Final Fantasy fans, but not in the way you might expect. Sure, the brutal and intimidating combat from Team Ninja will instantly put many people off, but it's the way the story is told by the Nioh developer, in stark contrast to Final Fantasy's usual narratives, that countless players will struggle to contend with in this upcoming action-RPG..
For those unfamiliar with the new Final Fantasy game, announced at the Square Enix E3 2021 presentation, Stranger in Paradise is being developed by Team Ninja, the studio behind the Souls-esque Nioh games. Nioh put players through crushing combat gauntlets against towering and tough foes in equal measure, with checkpoints few and far between and healing items more than worth their weight in gold.
Crucially though, Nioh saves all of its storytelling scenes for after any given mission. At the culmination of a quest, when the player has bested a tough boss, a story segment will typically play out, advancing the overall plot of Nioh and setting up any subsequent missions. It might be a look at how the death of a boss impacts the overall story, or a scene deepening the bonds between the player character and their allies. These expositional moments almost act as a reward, a way of the developer patting you on the back and saying "good job" for overcoming the quest and its subsequent boss fight.
This will still very much be the case in Final Fantasy Origin. Throughout the Stranger in Paradise PS5 demo that we played earlier this week, there's no expositional story dialog in the slightest – instead you're left to worm through a dank dungeon with zero background information or knowledge (except from killing CHAOS, of course). This is typical of Nioh games, that set up their missions with a simple paragraph or two of text in the game's hub zone, before sending you on your merry way to slaughter and be slaughtered in turn.
This is going to be quite the challenge to overcome for players who are used to Final Fantasy's typical narrative structure. Throughout games like Final Fantasy 7 all the way through to 15, the plot is generally advanced at a fairly tempered pace, with the rare exception being if the player runs up against a boss they can't best for a while, or if they choose instead to take time away from the main story to focus on side content. Generally speaking, the plot of Final Fantasy games advances at the will of the player, as they plough headlong through trivial tasks and quests.
Things are going to be very different in Final Fantasy Origin. If it truly is taking up the narrative mantle of the Nioh games, which is sure seems to be doing from the look of the PS5 demo, your progress through the new story by creative director Tetsuya Nomura is going to be directly tied to putting down some very tough foes indeed. The final boss of the new demo itself was no pushover by any means, and represents a rude awakening for those experiencing their first taste of Team Ninja's action-packed games.
Learning from the past
Throughout my time with Nioh 2 earlier this year, I struggled mightily with putting down bosses of all shapes and sizes. There was one particular bastard, called Yatsu-no-Kami, a gigantic snake with smaller slithering snakes making up its arms, that I really couldn't best for well over two weeks. I think I even remember putting the game aside entirely for over a week, just walking away from the entire thing to properly reset and give myself another clean crack at the Yatsu-no-Kami further down the line.
This is going to happen again and again in Final Fantasy Origin, and it's going to shake up how players experience the plot in a big way. What if someone can't best one particularly tough boss, and end up walking away from the game for weeks on end? That's a prime case for forgetting what's happened in the story of Final Fantasy Origin entirely, especially since they'll be dumped back into the game mid-mission, right before the boss or particular section that they couldn't overcome.
Complicating matters is Final Fantasy Origin's lack of a summoning system. If you were stuck on a section in Nioh, you could at least offer up a special Ochoko Cup in the hopes of summoning in another player, this significantly increasing your odds in downing your dominant foe. There's no such system in Team Ninja's new game, as although the player is given NPC allies to accompany them, the two allied fighters aren't exactly pulling their weight against particularly tough foes.
This is all to say that newcomers to Team Ninja's eclectic blend of action and story might have a tough time of it in Final Fantasy Origin. It's not a reflection on the game's quality, mind you, which I've so far found to be a pretty excellent amalgamation of full-blown, fast-paced action combos and Final Fantasy's usual brooding characters. It's instead an observation of what, outside of the combat itself, might really drive a wedge between Final Fantasy fans and the game's story.
Stranger in Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin launches in 2022 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.