Strangers of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin was revealed at Square Enix’s E3 2021 event last week, and although it boasts the name of one of the most successful and beloved franchises in gaming, its trailer received mixed reception. Part of the criticism was caused by the artificially faded aesthetic, colorless environments, edgy character designs, graphical fidelity that looks like something of an early PS3 game, and the dialogue overusing the keyword “CHAOS.”
Final Fantasy Origin currently has a trial available in the PS5 store until June 24. Unfortunately, the demo was broken for a couple of days, but I jumped in as soon as it was fixed. I selected the hardest difficulty and beat the demo after two hours of masochistic bliss. Now I'm here with good news: Final Fantasy Origin is incredibly fun. Not only has Team Ninja taken some of the best elements of Nioh and implemented them in ways that are equally satisfying and brutal, but the seamless weaving of Final Fantasy’s classic jobs and magic systems are impressive.
Square Enix is taking a risk with Final Fantasy Origin. Sure, it looks ugly and can feel uninspired, but I had more fun playing it than I did during both Nioh games.
Final Fantasy Origin’s combat system is a large part of what makes the game promising. Players can slash, block, and dodge, but the star of the show is the Soul Shield. This is similar to the parry in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice; when pressing Circle, a magically infused vortex appears in front of you for a short time, and if you use this right before an enemy strikes, you negate the damage and increase your maximum MP (Mana Points).
MP is used to execute special abilities, and depending on what weapon you have equipped, these powers can skewer bats with a halberd, conjure water to put out a fire, or enable a mid-air flip with a greatsword to crush a wolf. There are also other abilities that can be used regardless of what weapon you have equipped. This includes Lightbringer, which strengthens your weapons and provides a temporary boost to your Break Gauge.
With every block and use of Soul Shield, you lose part of a yellow bar positioned at the bottom of the screen. If this fully depletes, you will be temporarily stunned, and enemies have free reign to obliterate you. To recharge the Break Gauge, you need to be passive for a short time. This forces you to be careful about how you use your Soul Shield and how often you block an attack. This adds a much needed element of strategy to the combat considering there is no stamina bar.
You also need to be careful with your MP, as it takes a while to get it back in the midst of battle. Players begin each new life with two bars of MP, and there are two ways to increase its size. The first method is to successfully use Soul Shield right before an enemy hits you, and the other is to destroy an enemy’s Break Gauge and perform an execution that instantly destroys them. Lowering the enemy’s Break Gauge can be done with consecutive attacks, but if you stop the onslaught, that meter will begin to recharge.
Players need to balance being aggressive, deflecting attacks, ensuring their Break Gauge isn’t low, and gaining enough MP to deal serious damage. This combination of thoughtful elements is tons of fun and makes every new encounter satisfying. Beyond just the structure of combat, character animations feel hefty and each movement is responsive. Final Fantasy Origin’s combat’s system is impressive, and I can’t wait to see what Team Ninja does with it.
Classic Job progression
In this trial, three weapon types are available: a greatsword, halberd and hermit club. Every weapon is attached to a Job, and each of these have distinct Job Trees. For example, the greatsword can be paired with the Swordsman. This tree provides abilities and buffs, from simple things like increasing strength to more complex additions like a skill that lets the player do a mid-air double slash. And if you go further in the tree, you unlock the more advanced version of that Job. In this case, the Swordsman leads to unlocking the Warrior.
Players can then choose which version they prefer; the Swordsman has an offensive ability that lets them keep swinging their greatsword wildly, while the Warrior can use a defensive power that staggers nearby enemies and slowly regenerates health.
There are a total of six Jobs in this trial, with the three basic choices being Swordsman, Mage and Lancer. The three advanced Jobs, which can be unlocked by going further in their respective basic trees, are the Warrior, Black Mage and Dragoon. Players can only have two jobs equipped at a time so you need to be strategic.
I had lots of fun experimenting with the different Job movesets and deciding which ones were my favorite. With the Mage, players can use Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, Water, Quake and Aero spells immediately. And with the Black Mage, Flare is available, although it takes a substantially higher amount of MP to execute. What’s particularly interesting is that the upgraded versions of these spells are also executable as long as you hold the attack button. For example, if you keep holding R2 while casting a spell, Fire will upgrade to Fira, and then Firaga.
The level of variety is impressive considering the trial has only six Jobs available. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I hope this number quadruples in the final version of the game.
Jarring world design
Final Fantasy Origin’s combat and progression systems have great potential, and I cannot wait to jump back into the game next year to see how Team Ninja expands on what’s already here. However, this excitement is dampened by the game’s faded aesthetic, minimal environmental detail, and severely lacking graphics.
Team Ninja seeks to present a world imbued with hopelessness. This has been done excellently before, with classics from Fumito Ueda like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus taking the cake. Hidetaka Miyazaki, the brilliant director behind Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Demon’s Souls and Sekiro, has previously stated that Ico showed him what video games could do. And with Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, it’s clear how he was inspired by the worlds Ueda and his team crafted.
These games understand the importance of silence. Not only does the world look faded, but they evoke hopelessness by focusing on atmospheric sound design and environments that are void of life, yet strangely beautiful.
Gentle despair is compelling; it’s easy to fill your world with blood and death, but a true sense of desolation is something that Final Fantasy Origin fails to accomplish. Electronic music is constantly blasting between every battle, and the main character makes cheesy remarks with each kill. If Team Ninja’s intention was for the game to appear cool and edgy, the world should be stylish. Instead, it’s poorly lit, boasts minimal detail between rooms, lacks an exciting color palette, and possesses an eye-straining choppiness.
Final Fantasy Origins tells its story in a dead world. It’s meant to look faded, colorless, and uninhabitable, but when compared to other games, the way Team Ninja handled this leaves much to be desired. To put it succinctly, Final Fantasy Origin would benefit from a more distinct style.
Final Fantasy Origin has plenty of potential. It boasts an addicting combat system that relies on balancing offensive and defensive maneuvers to emerge victorious. And its utilization of Jobs to create a considerable diversity in abilities is promising; I’m excited to see how much further Team Ninja takes these mechanics.
However, there needs to be a total shift in the game’s story and aesthetic. Final Fantasy Origin looks dreadful, and it’s hard to get fully invested in the experience when each room is barren and colorless. Regardless of how much I might enjoy playing the game, it could benefit substantially from redesigns of its environments. An intentionally faded world can really work, but the Final Fantasy Origin trial has proven that in this case, it doesn’t.