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'Final Fantasy Origin' preview: Square Enix fixed the first demo's worst problems

“He’s not your typical Warrior of Light.”

- Game Director Daisuke Inoue

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin needed a bit of lightening up.

Now, sunbeams shine through the once dark and disgusting Chaos Shrine’s windows from the first Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin demo. Ahead of Tokyo Game Show 2021, Square Enix has given the game a shocking overhaul, with a new demo that transforms the once dreary castle into a well-lit dungeon.

The daunting structure retains the same level design, but the visuals are more stimulating when you can actually see them. Some new narrative revelations also make the whole experience far more intriguing. Not is the boss of the Chaos Shrine a new party member, but there’s also a wild revelation here about the game’s main character.

“The protagonist is essentially the villain as well,” Director Daisuke Inoue tells Inverse. “He’s not your typical Warrior of Light.”

This isn’t your typical Final Fantasy game either. These demos allow developer Team Ninja and publisher Square Enix to chart new ground within the franchise. Final Fantasy Origin already looks much better after just a few more months of development.

Note: Developers have chosen to reveal some key plot details ahead of the game’s release, but if you’d prefer to experience the story cold, be warned there are spoilers ahead.

To Kill Chaos

The team behind Final Fantasy Origin is candid about some major plot twists, including that the protagonist Jack is Garland, one of the main antagonists of the original Final Fantasy. Meanwhile, the boss of the Chaos Shrine is a girl named Neon, your fourth party member.

Neon is the fourth (but not final) party member in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy OriginSquare Enix

Upon learning the true identity of Jack and the Chaos Shrine’s boss, the darker tone becomes much more understandable. Yes, it can get comically aggressive at times as Jack bodyslams an enemy or says “Bullshit!” after an emotional speech from another character, but Garland’s presence drastically raises the stakes and importance of this story.

“We wanted to depict the story of how he was a good knight but decided to go into that evil realm,” Square Enix Producer Jin Fujiwara tells Inverse. “That is the foundation of this game.”

Garland is a one-note villain in the original Final Fantasy. He kidnaps Princess Sarah and is defeated but then transforms into the game’s Big Bad: a primordial being of destruction called Chaos. It’s exciting to see him fleshed out as the protagonist of his own story. We’ll also see this anti-hero gain allies like Neon, a spunky woman who previously tried and failed to defeat Chaos.

The confrontation left her corrupted, which transformed her into the heavily armored Chaos Shrine boss that players fought in the last demo. After she’s freed, she joins Jack and company to pursue their mutual enemy once again. While the developers wouldn’t reveal more about Neon’s larger role in the story outside of the fact that she’s “very important,” Fujiwara hints that there won’t just be four Warriors of Light in Final Fantasy Origin.

“Yes, there will be more party members coming along,” he says. But will they be nearly as surprising as Garland and Neon?

A Delightful Demo

Even if the first trial didn’t impress you, the second will. Square Enix and Team Ninja made many noticeable improvements, and there’s even s a whole new area to explore. After completing the Chaos Shrine for the second time and meeting Neon, players explore a new level set in the Refrin Wetlands.

Jack and his allies take on the boss of the Refrin WetlandsSquare Enix

This damp and forested area is full of aggressive wildlife, but players can change the weather when interacting with certain magical objects. You might need to make it rain so some branches move and open up a path or bring out the sun to dry up the waterfall blocking your progress.

The Wetlands are a lot more complex than the relatively simple Chaos Shrine with various environmental interactions. While it’s cumbersome to cast a spell in Final Fantasy Origin, it’s still satisfying to hurl lightning into a pond and electrocute all of the enemies in it.

From a gameplay perspective, not much has changed since the first demo, though you can now command your allies to be more aggressive. But the nuanced differences between the Chaos Shrine and Refrin Wetlands are a good indication that we’ll see more variety and unique environments in the final product.

If every area in Final Fantasy Origin is as interesting to look at and interact with as the Refrin Wetlands, that will be a good thing.

The newly introduced Pugilist and Monk classes are also a highlight of the new demo, letting Jack fight with fists instead of swords or magic. It feels very novel to rush up and punch enemies in an action-oriented Soulslike, and these classes are great for staggering and healing.

This second demo strikes a better balance between tone, difficulty, and gameplay. And ultimately, that’s why demos like this are released in the first place: so developers can collect feedback and refine systems and designs.

“We wanted to make sure to incorporate Final Fantasy-esque elements into the game as well as making it a sound action game,” Team Ninja Producer Fumihiko Yasuda tells Inverse. “We need to have both of these pillars align well, so we were definitely hoping to get player feedback in terms of the balance of those elements overall.”

Neon joins the team. Square Enix

As Final Fantasy games continue to experiment with new genres and defy the series’ norms, they might alienate the core fan base. The lukewarm response to Final Fantasy Origin’s announcement proves that. But while the potential for risk is high, so too are the possible rewards.

“We wanted to see how challenging we could make the game while still making something that would be embraced by Final Fantasy fans,” Yasuda says.

Demos will be crucial to Final Fantasy Origin’s success as a way to prove to Final Fantasy fans and newcomers alike that this formula mashup is worth exploring. And as the demos refine the game from a gameplay and visual perspective, the story details we’ve learned excite us as Square Enix is finally expanding upon the story that started it all.

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin Trial 2 is available on PS5 and Xbox Series X until October 11, 2021.

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