Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin isn’t just a meme
At this point, I couldn’t tell you the defining characteristics of a Final Fantasy game. At the start of the franchise’s long history, I would have said it was a high-fantasy RPG filled with wizards and warring nations. This descriptor began to bend with each entry, as games like Final Fantasy VII completely changed the tone and setting of the series. For a time, the only thing that really united them was their commitment to turn-based combat, but that has also faded in recent years. What does the Final Fantasy brand really mean in 2022?
It’s fitting that Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, the latest spin-off in the series, is a game about an identity crisis. It stars Jack Garland, an angry hero who doesn’t remember anything from his past. All he knows is that he must kill Chaos. This motivation turned the game into an instant meme when it debuted at E3 2021 with a bizarre trailer showcasing Jack’s one-track mind. Since then, gamers have been laughing with what has been widely described as a “video game shitpost”.
As stupid as the game seems – and believe me, it is very stupid – it’s not just an ironic game. Stranger from Heaven: Final Fantasy Origin is a deliberate deconstruction of the series it hailed from, satirizing its wilder instincts and reclaiming a franchise that strays further and further from its past with each entry.
By now you’ve probably seen a few clips of Origin of Final Fantasy be shared around. May be most infamous is one where a character gives an exposition speech, to which Jack replies “bullshit” before throwing on headphones and blasting Limp Bizkit-esque nu metal. For fans looking for more bizarre moments like this, the final game delivers. I laughed so hard I almost cried the first time I died and Jack wailed, “That sucks!”
The game’s humor isn’t an accident, though – or I don’t think it is, at least. Jack’s lack of social skills makes him a perfect foil for the Final Fantasy series as a whole. He’s a stand-in for the kind of gamer who might find the series, and RPGs like it, boring. When the characters try to explain their story in a long monologue, Jack cuts them off without caring. A boss launches into a classic villainous monologue that is cut short when Jack yells “shut the fuck up!” and jumped up. At one point, a party member starts thinking out loud about the current goal while walking, and is laughed at. Who the hell talks like that?
Jack is not just a “stranger” to the gambling world; he’s a stranger to Final Fantasy as a whole. He’s like an impatient gamer who’s bored to tears from long lore dumps and just wants to get in on the action (I could understand that, because that’s exactly how I felt recently while playing the Final Fantasy Tactics-esque Triangle Strategy).
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to see the absurdity of the things we love.
Origin of Final Fantasy isn’t just an act of self-parody, though. The deeper the story gets, the more its meta commentary begins to reveal itself. Chaos isn’t just a big monster to hit; it’s the franchise itself. From level to level, the reality of the game always seems to change. What begins as a typical high fantasy game set in a kingdom blends into other genres, both in terms of story and art design. One minute, Jack is fighting in a lush forest filled with creatures. The next day he is in a Final Fantasy 7-reminiscent dimension filled with high-tech machinery.
This is even reflected in the in-game armor. Jack is constantly acquiring gear in-game, with seemingly no consistency between the clothes. At the start of the game, he is simply dressed in a black t-shirt and pants, as if he had just Final Fantasy XV. I earn more gear and press “Optimize” to automatically assign my best pieces. Suddenly I’m wearing metal knight armor with a fedora. It’s as if gear sets from every disparate series entry are placed in a single game, adding to that sense of identity crisis.
Really, what does a Final Fantasy game still look like?
This is the kind of question the series has tackled recently. Final Fantasy VII Remake is secretly a meta commentary on its creators feeling bound by fate due to the legacy of the original game. Even the recent CU of chocobos constantly breaks the fourth wall, happily poking fun at the show’s past.
Final Fantasy has reached its postmodern phase. Like Jack, Square Enix is desperate for clarity and purpose, but constantly tries to distance itself from the past. What else does the name of the series mean? Where does this fit in a now crowded sea of RPGs? What does a modern Final Fantasy game look like? This last question could explain why the game is a Dark Souls-inspired action game instead of a traditional RPG. It’s secretly a pseudo-remake of the first Final Fantasy game, but one that’s been steeped in modern design tropes like punishing combat and headache-inducing loot drops. Is this what Final Fantasy should look like in 2022? It’s almost a design joke.
Without going too far into the story (which is much more thoughtful than you’d expect), Final Fantasy Origin is explicitly a game about picking up a disorganized series. There’s an air of self-awareness surrounding Jack’s meandering pursuit. Digital Trends writer Tomas Franzese reads the game as producer Tetsuya Nomura (who helmed the equally meta Final Fantasy VII Remake) literally trying to grab the series from Square Enix, and I’m buying this take. After all, it seems symbolic that he’s going to the series’ long-ignored source to piece together the very first Final Fantasy game.
If you come to the game for laughs, you will find plenty of them during your adventure. But prepare for a surprisingly severe existential crisis battling with creative chaos.
Stranger from Heaven: Final Fantasy Origin is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5 and PC.