Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin looks like Square Enix’s biggest departure yet for the long-running Final Fantasy series. Though the name Final Fantasy has been synonymous with RPG for the last 35 years, Stranger of Paradise is an action game focused on challenging and fast-paced combat. With only two months to go before launch, The Verge spoke with its developers to talk about Stranger of Paradise and the unique place it occupies in the Final Fantasy family.
More than setting itself apart by being an action game, Stranger of Paradise looks and feels vastly different from its numbered siblings with its bloody aesthetic. Most Final Fantasy games entice by offering a bright world to explore with beautiful people to befriend. Stranger of Paradise, by contrast, lets you know right up front that your goal is to murder the shit out of everything that moves — a marked departure from Final Fantasy’s traditionally hopeful tone. Jin Fujiwara, a producer on Stranger of Paradise, understood that players might not be interested in such a violent game, especially in a world that’s experiencing its third straight year of a devastating pandemic.
“It is quite a challenge, taking this sort of dark tone for the overall story for sure,” Fujiwara told The Verge. “Though the initial glance definitely emphasizes the violence and the dark tone of the conflict, we do want to make sure that [players know] not all hope is lost.”
The Stranger of Paradise team knew getting Final Fantasy fans to buy in on a drastically different take on the series would be a hard sell. But they worked hard to create a game that pulled from the series’ rich 35-year history to make the foreign feel familiar. “The dungeons pay homage to some of the mainline Final Fantasy titles,” Fujiwara said. “Some of them are very recognizable; some might be more subtle compared to the others.”
Co-developed with Team Ninja, known for its work on Ninja Gaiden and, more recently, Nioh 2, Stranger of Paradise draws on a genre of action RPGs known for its punishing difficulty. Fumihiko Yasuda, a Team Ninja producer on Stranger of Paradise, cited influences from Dark Souls and Capcom’s Onimusha series but also said the team looked primarily at Final Fantasy’s own expansive history.
“I think our strongest inspiration was just the Final Fantasy series overall,” Yasuda said. “We were trying to look at the aspects of Final Fantasy and see how we can reinterpret that for this action game.”
“Though the initial glance definitely emphasizes the violence and the dark tone of the conflict, we do want to make sure that [players know] not all hope is lost.”
The Stranger of Paradise developers hope to court new fans totally unfamiliar (strangers, if you will) with the Final Fantasy series. When asked if they were intimidated by trying to do something so new in light of the recent success of “traditional” Final Fantasy entries, the team replied that the numbered games have their place and spinoffs like Strange of Paradise are specifically for this kind of out-there experimentation, both in gameplay and story.
“[Stranger of Paradise] is a separate saga,” Fujiwara said. “That allows for us to capture new fans and to expand on the lore.”
The only lore most fans would associate with the game right now is Jack’s burning desire to defeat Chaos. When the game was announced, the internet swiftly and brutally latched onto the protagonist frequently and enthusiastically shouting about “Chaos!” turning it into a meme instantaneously. One thing that may have gotten lost amidst rampant Chaosposting is that it’s a retelling of Final Fantasy I from the villain’s — Garland’s — perspective. Fans were somewhat amused and bemused by a Final Fantasy protagonist with such a boring un-Final Fantasy-like name — Jack — but his full name is actually Jack Garland.
The revelation of Jack’s full name and Stranger of Paradise’s other notable quirks (remember the pulsing butthole monster?) is the kind of information that makes it such an alluring game. Stranger of Paradise contains big “this might be crazy enough to actually work” energy, and that energy is further crystallized in the game’s newest trailer.
The trailer contains more interactions between Jack and Princess Sarah and introduces a new character Astos. It’s still unclear what purpose Astos and Sarah serve, but the trailer makes it seem like these characters will be integral to Jack’s journey and his possible descent into madness... er, chaos. What rockets this trailer straight from typical to “I am now paying rapt attention” is the inclusion of the Frank Sinatra cover of “My Way.”
“My Way” is a song popular at funerals, karaoke nights, and with mobsters. It is not the song you’d associate with a Final Fantasy of any flavor. The tonal dissonance between such a classic American hit and one of the most iconic blockbuster Japanese RPGs (that already has its own pretty damn iconic music) starts at bewildering, then wraps all the way around the gamut of emotions before landing at perfect. Jack wants to defeat Chaos his way, and the developers at Square Enix and Team Ninja want to create a new Final Fantasy experience their way.
Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin launches on PlayStation, Xbox, and Epic Games Store March 18th.