A reimagined Final Fantasy dungeon-crawler
Final Fantasy is back in a darker, more brutal dungeon crawling world. The demo is currently available on PS4 and PS5 and will continue to be available until April 19th, 2022. The demo is about 2-3 hours of gameplay depending on the difficulty you select and gives you the ability to experience the early parts of the game and collect loot and experience that carries over to the main game.
In Stranger of Paradise, you take control of Jack Garland, a brooding man of action over words whose obsessive goal in life is to find and kill Chaos. You are accompanied by three others, Jed, Ash, and Neon, who, along with Jack, have traded their memories for the power to be able to fight the darkness.
Release Date: March 18th, 2022
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Square Enix
Availability: Microsoft Store, PSN, PC (Epic Games Store only)
At the start of their story, we learn that the world is covered in darkness, while the people cling to the hope of a prophecy that promises four warriors of light who will fight back against the darkness. While the demo only gave us a quick view of what the rest of the story has in store, we learn that Chaos may not be a single entity but a culmination of the terrible things in the world. This doesn’t stop Jack as he leads his small band of warriors to find the single entity known as Chaos that he believes is out there.
While Final Fantasy 15 gave us an incredible open world to explore, and Final Fantasy 7 a more linear story, Stranger of Paradise adopts a missions-styled dungeon crawler format.
The main menu presents a world map, with different dungeons or story sections highlighted over their respective location. These missions have level recommendations and the ability to run through previous dungeons to get more loot, level up your character, and tweak your build before going to the next location.
Compared to previous Final Fantasy games, the difficulty has been ramped up. You are given a choice between three difficulties and can switch between them should you so desire, but each level still offers a good challenge. Throughout a dungeon, you are presented with checkpoints in the form of “Cubes” that refill your potions, heal your party, and offer you the ability to level up and unlock new skills before venturing out again.
The intro cinematic to this game is gorgeous on the PS5, with close-ups of beautiful water animation and moonlight gleaning off soldiers’ armor. These graphics do end up falling off as soon as you are placed into the actual game, and graphics take a back seat. While some sections, such as the open wheat field where the tutorial takes place, do look impressive, it doesn’t show any significant steps forward from Final Fantasy 15 from 2016 and, if anything, a small step back. Facial animations of characters don’t seem to match their words with the words we are hearing. You also will occasionally see waving hands disappear into nearby objects mid-conversation.
While the graphics aren’t going to be a selling point, the developers have taken their time focusing on the gameplay and customization. Combat is brutal, both for your benefit and against it, all in real-time. Jack wields not only your weapons of choice but also powerful soul magic. This gives you the ability to commit impressive finishers unique to each enemy type, be it crystalizing their body and smashing it to pieces or simply ripping their head off. These finishers are not only fantastic to watch but raise your max MP for the rest of the dungeon and restore expended MP.
The break gauge from Final Fantasy 7 Remake returns and adds another level of complexity to trying to wear down an enemy to get in a powerful finisher. Not only do enemies have a break gauge, but so do you, and should your bar be depleted, the enemies also have some intense finishers that can make quick work of your already dwindling health bar. Stranger of Paradise also has an incredible amount of customization. Just in the small scope of the demo, you can see the potentially hundreds of different builds that may be available with the game’s full release.
As you run through dungeons, enemies and chests will give you an impressive amount of loot, ranging from common gray to legendary gold. As your gear’s rarity increases, so do the item’s additional stat bonuses.
With multiple armor pieces and two hands for weapons, you’re given numerous different places to equip small stat boosts that can significantly affect your playstyle.
As you level up a weapon type or “job” as they are called in this game, you also unlock different abilities and combos when using that weapon. The customization of just one job can be daunting at first. Thankfully, Stranger of Paradise this game offers an “Optimize” button for whichever jobs you have equipped. This also optimizes the gear of the two other people in your party, who have almost as much customization as Jack does. Jack is also given the ability to switch between two jobs mid-combat, which switches your weapon and your gear and skills in the moment. These switches and opportunities allow you to completely change up your play style in the heat of the moment, depending on the best way to counter the enemy that you’re fighting.
This game also gives you the ability to go through these dungeons not only with your party members but with your friends too. In the world map, you are given the ability to either host or join a world for a total of three people playing in the same world and working together to clear a dungeon. Stranger of Paradise also encourages playing with friends or randoms online as loot in multiplayer is scaled up and will be better than the usual gear found when playing alone.
Stranger of Paradise offers a unique twist on previous Final Fantasy titles. I’m excited to see the increased difficulty and dungeon crawling focus on gameplay fleshed out in the full game. The ability to carry your loot and progression over to the main game makes this a great demo that would be worth your time in trying out, even if you’re not entirely sold on the concept just yet.
Stranger of Paradise releases March 18, 2022, on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC. Preordering on the PlayStation Store gives you 72-hour early access or 24-hour early access on PC.
Disclaimer: This preview was carried out using a free demo that is open to the public. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Version tested: PS5
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