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11 things I wish I knew before playing Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

It may not be a Souls game, but Stranger of Paradise sure is inspired by them – so here's what you need to know if you plan to take on Chaos yourself.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has difficulty modes. So, if you're just playing through the game to experience the (admittedly awful) story, you can just hit Casual mode and then dilute it even further with Story mode. But if you're hungry for a real challenge, there's Hard and Chaos modes to sink your teeth into, too.

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Now, I'd argue that this is how the game is supposed to be played – this way, you'll get to see the various systems, engage with the loot more, and dive deeper into the classes. It's all very compelling at that point (better than the brainless trudge Story mode affords you, at any rate).

But the game is not kind. It's not even sadistic in a fun way like FromSoft's stuff is – it's just sick. Some fights, if you're underleveled, are absolute pigs. Bosses will one-shot you. Your camera will jank out and make you die for no reason. You'll eat wall as much as you eat sword. Grin and bear it, buddy – that's a Soulslike for ya.

If you're still on the fence about picking up Team Ninja's latest, you can read my review of the game – calling it one of the best 3/5s I've played in years – or check out why Alex wants more from Final Fantasy in a landmark year for the esteemed series.

In the meantime, though, to mitigate some of that rage and give you a fighting chance against Chaos and its myriad fiends, I've thrown together a simple guide for you that should hopefully set you off on the right foot. That is, y'know, if you want to do things my way.

Do the tutorials

Tab over a location in the world map after you've completed the intro, and you’ll see side missions. In the first area you can choose, you will be able to select these for different weapons, so you can learn more about how they handle and what sorts of enemies they’re good against. The game doesn’t do too good a job of telling you otherwise, so it’s best to learn here – you'll need to know your timings, windows and cooldowns later on. Sure; you don't get any levels or equipment, for finising these off, but the real experience is more important.

Do every side mission

If you’ve played the Nioh games, this will be familiar to you – simply going from Story mission to Story mission is going to leave you very underpowered very quickly. Go back to levels you’ve cleared and hit the shoulder buttons to browse ‘remixes’ of those areas with different enemies or bosses and – usually – higher level gear. If you waltz into a new mission and find Jack and his buddies are swiftly getting their asses handed to them, back out into the world map and sniff around a bit. It’s worth the time, and the side missions are usually quite short.

Remember to unleash your allies’ powers

During the game you wil recruit a number of allies, and their MP bars typically refill pretty quickly if you're playing aggressively. Your mates can really help weaken enemies, or pull aggro when you’re facing a particularly aggressive boss (especially once you unlock their later class abilities). They’re also handy at making themselves feel like targets for mobs – allowing you to rush in with a flurry of area attacks and thin out the herd. Even on Hard, they can take a battering – use that to your advantage.

Get to know your colours

Enemy attacks are colour-coded, and being able to read them on-the-fly is essential – it’ll stop you trying to guard against unblockable attacks, and will give you more knowledge about how to counter tough enemies. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Red attacks: These are unblockable and tend to have a longer wind-up period. Dodge, or get to know attacks that let you hop over the more perilous sweeping ones (the Dragoon Jump saved my ass multiple times).
  • Purple attacks: These can be absorbed and digested with Soul Shield. See a purple attack, get ready to hit Circle/B and drink in enemy magic. Typically, in boss fights, this will prevent the battlefield from becoming dangerous and give you super-effective moves to turn the tables. Just don’t lose all your gauge anticipating one for too long or you’ll get hit with a Critical.
  • Yellow attacks: More standard moves that can be interrupted if you deal enough damage beforehand. These can be absorbed with Soul Shield, and halted with regular block (at the cost of stamina).

You can get away with liberal Potion use

Checkpointing is a bit friendlier than in your standard Souls games (and Team Ninja’s own Nioh games, too) ao don’t be afraid to crush a Potion in your hand against even trivial mob enemies – better to heal and keep all your MP than die thanks to a stupid error and lose your utility for an upcoming boss fight.

And even in boss fights, if you use your flasks ‘early’ and then you find that you happen to get into a rhythm, it’s worth it – playing on Hard means that a lot of enemies will floor you in one hit. You may as well use potions to soak up the chaff and really go toe-to-toe when it matters, rather than die just before that ‘dance’ towards the end of a lifebar when you know a potion wouldn’t matter in the final stretches anyway. Staggering a boss and going all-in with your allies to clear their break gauge (read: stamina) is a tactic you'll use often. You just need to keep yourself alive until you can do that.

You have more healing capabilities than just Potions

Early on, the Marauder class will be able to unlock War Cry – a one-bar special move that will slowly refill your health as you fight. If you work your way towards Dark Knight, you'll unlock Drain; a two-bar move that steals enemy health and gives it back to you. I had this equipped nearly all the way through the game; it damages bosses' health, stamina, and gives you more life. With a good magic built, it can nearly refill your life bar.

Hunt down other ways of updating your health, use Drain liberally, and even set your allies to classes with healing spells (Sage is a godsend in later fights) if you're having problems with health.

Prioritise Dark Vents

Certain levels in the game will have little plant-like sphincters pulsing awkwardly over doors or other obstacles. These gross portals pump out enemies. You're supposed to clear out an area and then eliminate these, but you can cheese it (even on Chaos mode). Be quick, efficient and make your pals help you, and you can break these pulsating Dark Vents before even three enemies have spawned. Remove the portal, and the enemies all die – giving you experience and items, too. Bonus!

Play it like a rhythm game

It probably sounds trite at this point, I know. But think of Stranger of Paradise where you’re never four or five button presses away from pressing any face button at once; you’ll need to Soul Shield (O), you’ll need to Guard (L1), you’ll need to Dodge (X), you’ll need to attack (R1), you’ll need to use your modified attacks (R2), and you’ll need to switch between weapon sets like it’s Devil May Cry 3 (Triangle) in order to even make a dent on the game’s hardest difficulty – that bastard Chaos mode. Parrying, attacking, dodging, using commands, introducing allies – to nail the last few bosses, you need to know how to do all of this, and in good time.

Don’t fret; it’s much easier on lower modes (and you’ll probably be able to shimmy past some of the bosses with half of those tools). But keep your fingers all over the pad; don’t play it like a Dynasty Warriors game and just hammer R1 and hope for the best. Because you’ll die. Over and over again. And you won’t get your teeth into the sublime rhythm this game works on when all the gears are moving in unison… and when it feels like a better action game and RPG than Final Fantasy 7 Remake all at once.

Play it like an MMO

If you don’t play MMOs, this sounds like hell. But don’t worry, there are some offsets that make it more bearable. First up, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to pay attention to all the complicated stat stuff that’s going on: yes, you’ll have a better time if your armor matches your class. And yes, you’ll have a better time if you learn your ability cooldowns and input strings.

But you can just as easily play this game like a bastard version of Devil May Cry, tapping away with some vague idea of which face button does what and learning to read enemy tells. Simply hit the touchpad in the menus to make sure you’re auto-equipped with the most pertinent items, read the tutorial pop-ups as they invade you, and you’ll be set.

But play it like an MMO – learning your timings, class attributes, cooldowns, cycles, and Job traits – and you’ll breeze through Stranger of Paradise, even on the hardest setting. Don't overlook the boons a 400% match on class armor will confer; it can often be game-changing.

Look for hidden paths

Once you’re into the game proper, it’ll start to feel like a cross between Nioh and classic Final Fantasy games. There will be no proper map or compass, but you’ll get a gut feeling of where you need to go (you'll meet no dead ends, new enemy variants appear, and so on). Explore! Go where you feel like you shouldn’t. Generally speaking, destructible props (boxes, pots, crates, shoddily-built walls, et al) denote places you can break through to find a chest and another random encounter.

Sure, these excursions might only be worth an item you’ll only break down or an enemy you’ve already killed tens of times before… but the materials or Job XP you’re harvesting is always going to be useful. Waste not, want not, right? You’ll also want to look out for stained glass windows and similar barriers with cracks in – break down these walls with the relevant weapon and you tend to find some good gear, usually a touch above other items in the area, too.

Dismantle gear often

You’re going to want to dismantle items; you can store up to 4500 pieces of gear (!) and take it from us, you’ll want to thin all these items out before you hit that limit. From the world map, you can tab over to the Smithy page and break all your gear down there. You’ll be able to use the various ingredients you receive to improve the stuff you do like, too – handy when you need to upgrade a particularly good build and stick with it for a bit.

To speed things up, you can lock the most noteworthy stuff in your collection then go into the menu to select all and dismantle them that way. Alternatively, if you want to get rid of all lower-level items, order your inventory by level, scroll to the bottom, and then hold Triangle/Y and scroll up. Holding that button selects everything you scroll past, so you can just scroll up and highlight tens of items in seconds.

You get items and weapons so often that even if you do delete something important, it’s not really that much of an issue in the long-term. As long as you’ve got some gear around the level of the missions you’re playing, you’ll be OK. If not, jump into the highest level you've unlocked, kill some mobs, and you'll be alright soon enough.

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