This is your brain on Chaos.Image: Square Enix
Since its announcement during E3 2021, Team Ninja’s Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin has been a hotbed for shitposts and memes. These memes primarily involve out-of-context scenes of protagonist Jack Garland’s music buttons and his unbridled obsession with killing “chaos”.
Prior to booting up the game’s third demo, I was under the impression that Stranger of Paradise’s awkward dialogue and tone were an internet exaggeration, and that the game proper, as seen in this latest demo, would be more subdued. I was wrong. That same bizarre tone is in full effect, and Stranger of Paradise is shaping up to be the funniest Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played.
The plot of Stranger of Paradise ties into 1987’s very first Final Fantasy game, with the world in, uh, chaos after the four elemental crystals that maintain its balance fall into darkness. A prophecy in the kingdom of Cornelia foretells four warriors of light that will save the world from darkness, and Jack Garland, pulled from another world, may be one of them. Stranger of Paradise’s premise seems like bog-standard fantasy, but playing it, what stands out is how the game leans into absurd tonal shifts between scenes, up to and including a sitcom-esque dynamic among Jack’s party.
The demo’s opening scenes perfectly encapsulate Stranger of Paradise’s bizarre tone. the opening cinematic begins in a dark castle bathed in the light of a thunderstorm as a legion of guards get eviscerated by a towering knight, who then kidnaps a princess. The demo then snaps into the beginning of a boss fight between Jack’s party and a multi-headed dragon, set in some sort of factory.
All very grimdark high fantasy so far, but then a cutscene before the combat tutorial hit me with that tonal whiplash. The scene opens on Jack walking in a seemingly endless prairie, accompanied by a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” which can be heard in the game’s final trailer. The scene’s music choice, which felt like a YouTube fanedit had somehow made its way onto my screen, left me dumbfounded, especially considering the foreboding opening cinematic just moments before. But far from putting me off the game, this fueled my desire to discover what other cringe shit Stranger of Paradise has in store.
Another prime source of that delicious cringe are the interactions between Jack and his party. When they’re first introduced, Jed, Jack, and Ash grunt stiffly at one another before showing off their crystals, essentially cool vibrating rocks, like school children. After discovering they’re all on the same mission to fix the crystals and kill Chaos, they engage in a dorky three-way fist bump and instantly become best friends.
In terms of personalities, each acts as the party’s light-hearted jokester, while I see Ash as the team’s Barrettnot only because he’s Black, but because he’s a brawler with a heart of gold. neon, who completes the party early in the game, serves as the foil. Jack, a man of few words and many grunts, reminds me of RE6-era Chris Redfield with his bulky, awkward presence and stilted line delivery. Replace Chris’ alcoholism with a fever for killing Chaos and the two are essentially twins.
Jack really, truly can’t let the chaos thing go. Anytime he opens his mouth, nine times out of 10, it’s to voice how thirsty he is to kill Chaos. Before the party sets out on their journey, Jack goes so far as to compare his mission to vanquish Chaos as an insatiable hunger or thirst. His party, on the other hand, either outright ignore him, play along with his interminable rants like a drunk guy they don’t want to rile up, or question whether their supposed mission’s even possible.
At one point, Jack calls bullshit on the naysaying, leading to the infamous cutscene where he storms out of the castle blaring numetal music from his phone. Now having played the game, the scene’s even funnier because it cuts to the party walking out the castle’s entrance with Jack still blasting the same song, implying that he ignored everyone the entire walk back to the entrance of one of the demo’s longest levels.
When someone offers a tentative, “Yeah, we’re still down with fixing those crystals or whatever, but you’re gonna need to calm down with all that chaos stuff,” does Jack back down? Absolutely not. His retort’s tantamount to a toddler saying “nuh-uh,” which marked my amusement at his antics turning to an unironic pity. More than killing chaos, this guy needs a therapist.
Lest I give you the wrong impression, there’s actual gameplay between the wild-ass storytelling, and I’m liking it so far. Combat’s got a good flow, as you’d expect from Team Ninja, and some fun abilities keep it breezy. Jack has a powered-up form called lightbringer to make clearing out a crowd of enemies a cinch. A mechanic called soul burst allows you to recover MP from stunned enemies, turning them into red geodes before they explode with a satisfying pop. Soul shields require careful timing, knocking back enemies and letting you wail on them further. Projectile reflections are in there, too. This robust moveset, alongside a cavalcade of easily switchable weapons and jobs, made my mind race with party build possibilities to experiment with.
While I’m on the fence as to whether Stranger of Paradise’s humor is completely intentional, I walked away feeling much more compelled to check out the final game. While its real-time battle system effectively scratched my itch for crunchy skill-based combat, it’s been overshadowed by my desire to discover whether Jack’s belief in (and killing of?) Chaos will ever come to fruition. This is partially out of a need for some sort of closure after listening to him prattle on about this singular topic in every damn conversation, but also a burning curiosity as to what this maniac’ll do if and when he’s proven right. I believe in you, Jack, even if you listen to uh, Limp Bizkit.
Stranger of Paradise is slated to release on March 18 on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via the Epic Games Store.