This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin.
I've mentioned before, I like to go into a game knowing very little about it. That was easy this week, 'cos I can still barely remember the fucking title of Stranger of Paradise; even now, I'm going to have to look that up to double-check it wasn't "Stranger in Paradise" or "Stranger to Paradise", lest I earn the wrath of the Preposition Police. But anyway, the review code came down, and I said, "Ooh, what's this game?" And then two hours later, I said it again with a different inflection. "Eugh, what is this game?" The sort of tone of voice a doctor would use if they were looking at your endoscopy video and saw something with rudimentary legs and bat wings.
The second half of the title might fill in some blanks: "Final Fantasy Origin", the implication being that this game depicts the starting point for everything that the Final Fantasy series has done and been over the years. And you know something, viewer? If that is the case, then it would fucking explain a lot. In defiance of that, however, it's not a turn-based RPG, or even one of those hybrid systems I always hate 'cos they're like trying to kick a giant scorpion to death while programming the microwave, but a hack and slash dungeon crawler that's a little bit Souls-like. Ooh, you were late for this bandwagon, Final Fantasy! You're going to have to sit at the back with the tambourine players. It's called "Final Fantasy Origin" because it's a retelling of Final Fantasy I... uh, ostensibly. I mean, a lot of things happen that are reminiscent of stuff from that game, but they're like the glimpses of distant land you see while adrift in an ocean of sick.
The plot concerns an extremely angry man named Jack, who is on a quest to defeat Chaos, although whether he means the entire concept of chaos or a specific person or monster by that name, even he seems to be unclear on, none of which lessens the single-minded fervor with which he pursues his goal, angrily asking every boss monster he meets if they're Chaos and cutting every conversation with friendly NPCs short if they don't speedily provide Chaos' last known residential address. Not that Jack is incapable of relationships, because he comes with two sidekicks named Ash and Jed, who he met on the bus or something, when they all turned out to be carrying glowing rocks. I guess I assumed the four Light Warriors in Final Fantasy I came together over slightly more epic circumstances than meeting up through Glowing Rock Tinder.
Anyway, in the prologue of Final Fantasy I, the four Light Warriors travel to a nearby castle to rescue the kidnapped Princess Sarah from the corrupted knight, Garland. And Stranger On Top of Paradise seems to be doing pretty much the same thing, until you defeat Garland at the end of the first dungeon, at which point, Garland transforms into a girl wearing nothing but a basketball jersey, who explains that she was also on a quest to defeat Chaos, but decided Chaos didn't exist, and so prayed to Chaos to become Chaos and get defeated, but now she's been defeated, so she's failed, somehow. And that, specifically, was the first moment that made me wonder what the fuck this game was dribbling on about; by no means the last. She joins the party, and it turns out, her name's Neon. "Aha!", I said. "Jack, Ash, Jed, and Neon. Is this a clever riff on how the original game would only allow you to enter names a maximum of four letters long?" "Possibly! Anyway, here's your fifth party member, Sophia." "Well, fuck you, game!"
"Incomprehensible" is a pretty strong word; there's a lot about the story you're just not told from the outset, so perhaps more context would help. But it does feel kind of like every character spends every dialogue scene standing around, spouting meaningless garbage at each other. And this game certainly likes dialogue scenes; it forgot the all-important rule of "show, don't talk complete bollocks". The four Light Warriors gather in the throne room of a king who looks like he doesn't so much get dressed as upholstered, and he tasks them to purify the four Elemental Crystals. So they do that, and then come back to the throne room, where the same king, who hasn't moved, says, "What have you done?! The apocalypse is happening, just offscreen! If you don't believe me, ask this mob of angry townsfolk consisting of ten copy-pastes of the same dude!"
Would I be right in assuming that Stranger in the Vicinity of Paradise got cut down a bit during development? I assume it was going to have a full-on overworld with towns you can explore, full of NPCs that all dribble out one utterly banal sentence when you press on their heads, and all that got cut, because the final game is a linear sequence of combat dungeons and cutscenes that you pick from a fucking menu, that they drew a map on so you can pretend it's an overworld. And I guess they'd already written the NPC dialogue, because rather than let it go to waste, they stuck a sub-menu at the bottom of the map screen, where you can click a name on a list to get subjected to one of the copy-pasted townsfolk making an insipid observation on the current state of the plot; very useful feature, if you happen to have breast cancer, and will only survive by boring your own tits off.
The budget cuts also hit the combat dungeons to an extent; because so much of them consist of copy-pasted identical corridors, I was constantly getting turned around and confused. If you want to know where all the money did go, I'd bet on the weapons and armor department; you are constantly being showered with new equipment, every piece of which is lovingly designed and attached to your character model even in cutscenes, ensuring that the Light Warriors constantly look like they're going to a costume party as the donation bin in front of a second-hand kitchenware shop. I wonder if the people doing the face animation for cutscenes knew that the cast would be wearing full face-masks most of the time; I further wonder if the armor department's coffee machine ever didn't contain piss.
Oh, the combat? Yeah, whatever; it's fine. Light attack, heavy attack, dodge, block, other, better kind of block that fuels your special attacks. There's a very Final Fantasy-esque job system that creates the usual paradox: you pick your favorite job, max out its level to make it as effective as possible, then you don't want to fucking use it anymore, because all the shittier jobs need leveling up as well. The combat clicked a little better after I unlocked a few Tier 3 jobs and made the conscious decision to stop giving a shit; I mean, all the mage jobs are awful, 'cos using the spell-casting interface in the heat of battle is like parallel parking a hippo with a dodgy gearbox.
You also have two NPC sidekicks; the whole plot revolves around the world being saved by four Light Warriors, but they were probably hoping we wouldn't point that out. So you pick two out of your four NPC pals, and it really doesn't fucking matter which; you can't control them, and they're all equally effective at being meat piñatas for the enemies to hit instead of you. Having said that, they did have some useful advice in the boss fight with the undead dragon that kept poisoning me; they said, "You'd better cure that poison!" Except, there is no way to cure poison; I checked. No spells will do it, and the only consumables are the five health potions that get refilled at checkpoints, so unless there's a juice cleanse enema clinic on the other side of the arena that I never noticed, I don't know what they're on about; another thing that got cut, I assume.
So all in all, I wouldn't recommend Stranger Along the Lines of Paradise. Square Enix, who on Earth would buy something with so much of it so blatantly missing? Seriously, do you know? I'm trying to find a buyer for my old underpants.
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