Here’s 10 minutes of it
This past weekend we got a glimpse at what Square Enix would be giving us in the future: and everyone went crazy. Not for the right reasons, though!
Strange of Paradise was a bizarre reveal: a Team Ninja joint under the supervision of Nomura, with a Final Fantasy subtitle. In no world is this going to be universally beloved. But I’ll tell you what: I’m incredibly excited for this thing to come out.
That Final Fantasy moniker is kryptonite to the development team in some ways, because it’s going to draw mainstream folks in who don’t normally play character action romps. Although there’s plenty of opportunities for Nomura to do his weird thing and link this thing to the series somehow, this really is a modern Team Ninja game through and through: you can see the DNA of Ninja Gaiden and Nioh all over it. Plus, y’all know who Nomura is, right? His special brand of insanity isn’t for everyone. So without further ado, the game!
In case you missed it, the PS5 demo is live now, and if you remotely enjoy the action genre, you should give it a shot. While we aren’t given much in terms of the narrative upfront, we do know that a bro and his retinue are pissed at an entity named Chaos (Garland), and really want to kill him. At the start of the demo we’re basically crashing into Chaos’ house and taking out a bunch of enemies as we level up and climb the tower.
Interestingly, Strange of Paradise employs the job system from Final Fantasy. We start off as a swordsman wielding a two-handed blade (into warrior), then get the opportunity to roll a mage (into black mage). Here is where things get super action-oriented: you can swap between jobs with the press of the triangle button, and even chain-cancel into jobs during a combo. In other words, you can lob spells at enemies who might be weak to water (like the classic Bombs, which are in the game), then when they’re down, swap back to swordsman and unleash a wind-up attack or combo.
The more I play Stranger of Paradise (and I am still toying with the demo) the more I get sucked into its systems. You can dodge and guard (and just-defense), sure, but there’s also a soul guard system that allows you to suck up select abilities and use them in a limited fashion, Blue Mage style. I was immediately reminded of Royal Guard in Devil May Cry, a concept that Team Ninja has danced with before.
There’s even a customizable Dynasty Warriors-esque “normal, action – normal, normal, action – normal, normal, normal, action” combo system that allows players to easily acclimate to builds, which is going to be a boon given that you’re expected to swap constantly. Even in the demo it was a delight to figure out how I wanted my hero to play out, as I made my way through the swordsman tree in a bid to eventually unlock the upgraded warrior job. There’s a much greater incentive to level up at your own pace and actually earn rewards than a lot of similarly framed games (at least, as far as the demo pacing goes, it could be a lot more sluggish in the real thing).
So far enemy variety is fine, and foes telegraph their moves above their head like a classic Final Fantasy game. This is in part to showcase which abilities can be absorbed (those are adorned in purple lettering), but it also provides a link to the turn-based JRPGs of old. It’s a nice little touch that I hope doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Add in a full heal “cube” that’s essentially a bonfire from Souls or a shrine from Nioh (complete with respawning enemies and a replenishment for your potion stock), and you got a stew going. It also sports a gear system that’s very much in line with Nioh, which some people might find annoying. For me, it really depends on how deep it all goes in the mid-to-late game, as Nioh ultimately did right by it, and made it exciting to pick up new items. It really all comes together in a weird and satisfying way.
Stranger of Paradise reminds me of several games from a few generations past, notably The Bouncer. And I mean, it’s kind of the perfect comparison. It was an edgy oddball game that a lot of people dismissed, it was developed by Square, Nomura was a character designer, and it had a bro-down trio party. It’s also a little janky (I had some framerate hitches in the demo, even in performance mode, which are hopefully smoothed out in the final version) The similarities are uncanny. And I have a feeling that when this thing actually comes out in 2022 (on PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Series X/S), I might be a member of a select group that really digs it. And that’s totally fine with me.
If you don’t have a PS5, we have some gameplay here of the first 10 minutes for your enjoyment. If you do, just download the demo and try it yourself.