If you’re looking for some rhyme or reason for why ever-angry protagonist Jack pulls out a smartphone-type device to play New Age-style new metal in serious moments, I’m afraid you won’t find it. (The song was never seen again.) As a dark reimagining of the original Final Fantasy, Stranger in Heaven is indeed weird, but it doesn’t elicit surprise or wonder, just complete confusion about how it came about.
It can’t just be attributed to Tetsuya Nomura’s worst protagonist in a long time. While the developers may cringe at the memes that have been circulating since the game’s release, it’s not an exaggeration when I say that much of what Jack has to say can be summed up as “I have to kill Chaos” and “where.” Is it chaos? No trace of humor or charm to make up for it. I Am Jack has no personality at all. But in his defense, his allies aren’t much better.
Stranger in Paradise is a B-rated compared to the lavish production values of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and while I can put up with a camp, garbage romp, most of the demo just makes me laugh out loud for all the wrong reasons . There are shoddy cutscenes, audio breaks suddenly, audio is poorly mixed, dialogue is drowned out by music, and – despite being an action game – I’d recommend sticking to resolution mode as the visuals are distracting in performance mode, which is also problematic Keep a steady 60FPS.
Then there’s the hilariously scary script itself. Characters either speak in vague jargon or with confused grunts and false starts ummmmmmm — the latter not uncommon in Final Fantasy dubs, but just as irritating. In all fairness, the original 8-bit JRPG was hardly known for its deep storytelling, in which four warriors of light came together to clear a world of chaos (Turning Point, Stranger Things in Paradise ended up with five). But rendering the same scene in hyper-realistic 3D cutscenes, when our original strangers meet for the first time, you have to suspend disbelief on the top of the mountain, provide zero character development and motivation, and then go straight as the best Go old-fashioned fist bumping buds.
The saving grace of Stranger in Heaven then comes from the gameplay. While the mainline Final Fantasy game has moved to real-time action, this spinoff is dedicated to Nioh and Team Ninja, the studio behind Nioh 2, is known for its hardcore, soul-style action. It’s true that Stranger in Heaven’s combat is similar to Nioh, albeit with some changes to make it less masochistic. After all, this is the first game in the genre to include difficulty options, with “Story Mode” actually being the default, and more casual options available.
As someone who enjoys spending many painful times in the dangerous and unforgiving world of Elden Ring, and believes that overcoming them is an integral part of its design, I have to admit that the Stranger of Paradise campaign could have been chosen easily , which is refreshing. A fraction of the time of a typical Soulslike – which would otherwise be spent on a slow and brutal journey of death and mastery. Less Dark Souls, more God of War, you might say, is an apt comparison when you’re executing enemies with super-powered Terminators. I’m also Jack’s boiling, crystallized anger.
The Break system that allows these fantastic glory kills isn’t just a repurposing of Nioh’s Ki scale. It’s also used in an enchanting Soul Shield mechanic, where you can sacrifice your damage gauge by parrying with precise timing and maintaining a more generous window. A successful parry not only replenishes the magic meter used for special attacks (replacing typical power attacks, and maps to the correct triggers by default), but also allows you to instantly rush to counterattacks. This tactical rhythm of parrying, counterattacking and special attacks is easily nerfed when played in story mode, which is just a shame when you can recklessly slash and slash instead.
Other concessions also mitigate Soulslike’s common brick wall, regardless of the difficulty setting. Similar to Final Fantasy VII Remake, enemies’ special attacks are telegraphed, so you can predict them without scrutinizing their animations. These are also color-coded, with red text indicating unstoppable attacks like grabs, while purple can be absorbed by Soul Shield and used as a limited instant ability.
Meanwhile, character development is an interesting mix of Monster Hunter, where your power is determined by the gear you equip rather than level, and Final Fantasy’s job system, with a deep skill tree that unlocks more jobs, while you can switch at any time between two jobs. The former means you can get into missions well below the recommended levels, but also have a chance of getting enough gear dropped by the first few enemies you encounter. While the latter does require an upgrade, you don’t have to worry about losing souls or runes when you die, and you can even speed things up with the anima crystals you get from completing quests.
I almost have to admire how ignorant Square Enix is about its own history and wonder how much Stranger in Heaven is for comedy. Is it disrespectful or just lax?
Comparisons with Capcom’s games make more sense when considering the benefits of multiplayer. While the single player game already gives you two capable AI companions, the party also gives you the bonus of sharing three phoenix drop pools, allowing you to automatically revive (teammates can revive each other with alternate potions), allowing encounters Be more forgiving.
However, Stranger in Heaven also shares Nioh’s downside, which is the plethora of loot you’ll be regularly swapping and demolishing between missions. Once you start seeing the same armor types being recycled, just in higher quantities or colors, nothing lasts, even stupid outfits lose their freshness.
Likewise, mission-based levels follow a predictable structure, and you can always see doors or ladders that will open later as shortcuts, which is hardly a patch for FromSoftware’s world-building. While this is a reimagining of Final Fantasy 1 and shares some of the game’s beats, from the trek to the four crystals guarded by four demons, to the re-enactment of the iconic title screen, the silhouette of the Warrior of Light looks back Cornelia Castle distance (unfortunately, your stay in the city is less inspirational), each dungeon is actually based on the environment of the entire series. It’s good fan service because you recognize a dungeon that shares Final Fantasy 7’s Mako Reactor theme, or a catacomb with similar traps to Final Fantasy 12’s Tomb of Raithwall, although it also makes the world more Now even more incoherent.
I almost have to admire how ignorant Square Enix is about its own history and wonder how much Stranger in Heaven is for comedy. Is it disrespectful or just lax? If you think Final Fantasy VII Remake is random with its source material, at least it appears to have a purpose and intent behind it. Meanwhile, Stranger in Heaven feels like a poorly thought-out fanfiction, free to flip through the back catalogue.
However, for those who are only interested in combat, there is still a gorgeous and useless period of time, especially if you think of it as a Final Fantasy theme park ride where you can defeat familiar animals – bombs! Currel! Marlborough! – For fancy loot. At the very least, it might make a case for more approachable, less demanding Soulslikes (Soulslites?). Or, like Jack, you might just think, “Bullshit,” and walk away.