FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

This article contains spoilers for not only Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, but also potentially the entire Final Fantasy franchise. It won’t get too nuts, but if you don’t want to know a certain location exists in a certain game, and if that location has any plot relevance, I wouldn’t keep reading. You have been warned!

This is not a placeStranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has one very important thing going for it: it is an enormous love letter to the Final Fantasy franchise. With the exception of a few “plot” stages, every level in SoP:FFO is based on a different locale from a different Final Fantasy game. And that is amazing! You’re looking at 35 years of videogame locations! From castles to caves to whateverthehell was happening in Final Fantasy 15! It’s neat!

But, as a tremendous nerd and 35-year-old critic of the Final Fantasy franchise (uh, to be clear, I am not 35, but I have been a critic of Final Fantasy as long as it has existed) I, naturally, have opinions about the various locations chosen to represent various Final Fantasy titles. Were these good picks to be representative of their attendant games? Are these good choices independent of nostalgia? Does anything in this game make a lick of sense? Let’s answer these questions on a game by game, level by level basis.

Note that this list will be going in order of Final Fantasy game featured. Actual level order is an entirely other thing. Please be as confused as possible.

Stage 1: Illusion at Journey’s End
Location: Chaos Shrine
Origin: Final Fantasy (1)

It is chaos out thereConcept: Stranger of Paradise is a kinda sorta remake of Final Fantasy, so it is only natural the game starts with Final Fantasy’s first ever dungeon: the Temple of Fiends. Oh! And the final boss of the area is Garland (after a fashion)! That is as Final Fantasy as it gets!

Does it work for SoP? This is absolutely a ruined temple (of Fiends!) filled with monsters, which is all you really need from a Strangers of Paradise stage. There are enough decomposing balconies and collapsing turrets to justify something more complex than a straight line, but the layout is still recognizable enough that you won’t easily get lost. And there is at least one cactuar running around, so there’s everything a stranger could want.

Does it represent its parent game? Going to give this one a “yes”, too. The defining characteristic of Final Fantasy’s Temple of Fiends is that it was clearly the crappiest temple in the world (but looked pretty alright a solid 2,000 years back), and we’ve got a similar architectural flare going on here. The Temple of Fiends is meant to be the trojan horse of adventure for the Final Fantasy franchise, and it serves the exact same “more to it than it seems” function in 2022. Good job, Level One!

Stage 3: Audience with the Dark Elf
Location: Castle Palamecia
Origin: Final Fantasy 2

Not very darkConcept: The Dark Prince Astos has always lived in his own castle. In Final Fantasy 1, it is a decaying fortress crawling with monsters. In SoP, Astos has been granted the grand Castle Palamecia that was ruled by the Dark Emperor of Final Fantasy 2. Hey! Dark Emperor! Dark Elf! It all makes sense!

Does it work for SoP? Partial credit. On one hand, trawling across a monster castle is always fun, and working your way up from the entry/banquet hall, through some rooftops, and across to the main hall of the emperor is pretty good stuff. On the other hand, this is a fairly generic castle, and it is hard to see anything distinctive about the area. This “Western Keep” could be a spruced up version of the original, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Does it represent its parent game? Unfortunately, yes. Final Fantasy 2 has maybe two memorable dungeons, and only one of them sneaks in there because it included an excess of beavers. The fact that this dungeon is generic and could slot immediately into Final Fantasy 1 is arguably a feature, not a bug. Final Fantasy 2 had an innovative plot about intrigue and comradery, and a “leveling system” that launched an entire franchise unto itself. But it did not have any decent dungeons. Give or take including a “monster closet”, this dungeon is representative of the mundanity of FF2 dungeons that do not occur in monster stomachs.

Stage 5: A Familiar Place
Location: Crystal Tower
Origin: Final Fantasy 3

Don't look downConcept: The Mirage Tower of Final Fantasy was always the mundane way to reach the fantastic Flying Fortress hovering high above the Earth (or whatever planet Final Fantasy features). However, even though it was always a banal tower, Mirage Tower did contain its share of robots, teleporters, and at least one enchanted set of windchimes. Suppose it was only a matter of time before the Mirage Tower became the much more advanced Crystal Tower…

Does it work for SoP? Give or take some weather manipulation, this tower of crystal mirages feels like the first truly mystical area in Stranger of Paradise. Not only are there scientific marvels like elevators and teleporters about, but you also must deal with laser prisms and invisible(ish) floors. It is fun! And it is a significant shift into the more “magical” levels that will appear more and more as the game progresses.

Does it represent its parent game? If we are not including dungeons that require game specific gimmicks (shrinking, splitting, other things that start with “s”), the Crystal Tower is probably one of the most memorable dungeons in Final Fantasy 3. Unfortunately, while that technically qualifies it for its place in Stranger of Paradise, it also means this is the only dungeon from Final Fantasy 3 that is ever referenced. I get it! If pressed, I cannot remember the name of a single other Final Fantasy 3 dungeon (Temple of Water? Isn’t that in the first one?), but that doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t try. Also, we got three “final boss bases” in a row here? Could we try something different?

Stage 6: Memories of Wind
Location: Lunar Whale
Origin: Final Fantasy 4

Happy moon placeConcept: Welcome to something different. The Flying Fortress that houses Tiamat and the Crystal of Wind is also a repurposed Lunar Whale, the flagship of Cecil and friends of Final Fantasy 4. And that ship got Cecil all the way to the moon (well, one of the moons)! No wonder you can see the whole planet from up here!

Does it work for SoP? Crystal Tower was an escalation in “this world is magic”, and the Lunar Whale is a similar escalation in “this world is technologically advanced”. Laser grids, motion-tracking guns, and pleasant little touchscreen interfaces all reinforce that this area is dramatically beyond the world our strangers know and love and swing axes around at. Jack and company are way out of their depth on this quest, and they have to acquire a new party member just to cope with the sheer number of lasers that are now invading their lives.

Does it represent its parent game? Final Fantasy 4 had the Tower of Zot, Giant of Bab-Il, and everything on the moon to tie its universe into hi-tech dungeons that contrasted well with the swords and sorcery of Cecil’s start. That said, this ignores the basic fact that the Lunar Whale was not a dungeon. Hell, it was barely even a place you could “enter”, save for one or two screens. And, to say the least, there are a lot of memorable airships and air-bases in the Final Fantasy franchise, so it is a wonder that FF4 was picked for its space ship. Nobody wants to see the Sealed Cave again, but Mt. Ordeals may have been nice here…

Stage 11: To Remember
Location: Catapult / Ancient Base
Origin: Final Fantasy 5

Look outConcept: Each of the shrines get a “prelude area”, whether that area was a town or a minor cave or whatever in the original Final Fantasy. So this is Onrac? Or maybe a metaphorical submarine? Whatever! The area leading to the Sunken Shrine is based on Catapult from Final Fantasy 5. Or maybe the Ronka Ruins? No, it is definitely Catapult, as a modern version of Cray Claw caps off the stage. Final Fantasy 5’s most popular hanger-on!

Does it work for SoP? This is another excuse to have a quasi-techno dungeon, so you have more switches and missile launchers than you can shake a chef’s knife at. The moderately technological levels work well for Stranger of Paradise, as it is a fine excuse to include some light puzzles that basically consist of “now you’re going to have to figure out how to get over there”. SoP is designed for that.

Does it represent its parent game? This seems like another case where going with the future-ancient tech dungeon is a weird choice for a game that was predominantly based in fantasy/medieval trappings. Something that exploits the “sewn together” nature of the FF5 third world would be interesting/plot relevant, and the insanity of the Void seems like another easy (if obvious) pick. Still, at least this wasn’t another excuse to claim the only remarkable thing to come out of FF5 was Gilgamesh…

Stage 15: The Suffering of Fools
Location: The Floating Continent
Origin: Final Fantasy 6

I know that guy!Concept: The final original level is an epic battle across a “facility” known as the Floating Continent. Like Celes and friends before them, Jack and company must venture across an entire flying landmass in pursuit of felling a fairly ultimate weapon.

Does it work for SoP? Life don’t get much better than this. A massive, daunting zone of traps and beasts seems custom built for Stranger of Paradise. This venue allows for all sorts of enchanting twists and turns, and the very nature of the place signals you will find no respite or safety amongst the monsters. And destroying three statues representing the three statues allows for that fun, Zelda-like rule of three that applies to so many other dungeons in less elegant ways.

Does it represent its parent game? The Floating Continent is the indisputable turning point of Final Fantasy 6, and is consequently one of its most memorable locations. It is also one of the first times you have access to (nearly) your whole party, and are no longer simply being railroaded into including Locke for plot beats. The Floating Continent might be the most prime piece of real estate in Final Fantasy 6, so excellent pick here.

Stage 12: Memories of Water
Location: Mako Reactor
Origin: Final Fantasy 7

Release that dudeConcept: The home of the Water Crystal and its accompanying Kraken is now a Mako Reactor straight out of Final Fantasy 7. Everyone is familiar with Final Fantasy 7, right? Don’t need to explain this one? It’s where that kid with the spiky hair hangs out and fights robot scorpions. But not the robot scorpion from the FF5 level!

Does it work for SoP? Final Fantasy 7 Remake already made more than one Mako Reactor into a few action game arenas, so this one ports over with very little effort. You’ve got your catwalks, keycards, and many green glowy bits to keep your team interested. Oh! And there’s a submarine in the basement! That’s relevant to Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 1! Sweet double reference!

Does it represent its parent game? The Final Fantasy 7 Mako Reactor is about as iconic as it gets in the franchise, so it was likely impossible literally anything else would be chosen. It would be nice if someone acknowledged that there was a whole lot of Final Fantasy 7 outside of Midgar, but given the success and freshness of FF7R, you’ll be forgiven for assuming Cloud never rides that motorcycle anywhere without paved roads.

Stage 10: Memories of Fire
Location: Fire Cavern
Origin: Final Fantasy 8

So hotConcept: Kary… sorry… Marilith and her Fire Crystal used to just chill at the local volcano, and wait for a troop of losers to barbecue themselves on paths full of lava. Now that volcano has been retrofitted to match the Fire Cavern of Final Fantasy 8. There is… about 80% less magma now? Just spit balling here, but it sure looks like adventurers could get through without toasting off their shoes this time.

Does it work for SoP? This is your typical action game fire dungeon. There are a series of lava “traps” that have to be disarmed, so you snake your way around the place, break some statues, and, by the end of it all, the path forward is a super simple straight line that is now dramatically less hot. At least this visit to a volcano confirms that everything is a lot less warm than it would be otherwise since the Fire Crystal is dark. There is still no explanation for why Mario can survive the interior of a volcano without becoming a puddle…

Does it represent its parent game? They did not understand the assignment. Yes, this is a fire dungeon that previously housed a fire boss. They got that right. But Final Fantasy 8 goes out of its way to not contain caves. In a franchise that was always rotten with cave dungeons, this is the one cave dungeon in Final Fantasy 8. Final Fantasy 8 made a concentrated effort to have one forest, one generic cave, and one ruined temple. Past that? Whole lot of creativity in FF8 is wasted on what appears to be someone searching the FF8 locations list for “fire” and going with the first result.

Stage 9: Memories of Poison
Location: Evil Forest
Origin: Final Fantasy 9

At least the water is goodConcept: The area leading up to the hottest place around is… a generic forest. Oh…kay? We already did one of those (see Stage 4 below, because I am terrible at organizing lists properly), and this forest should be a lot more… singed if it is supposed to be so close to a volcano. One would assume this is meant to represent the canoe trip from Final Fantasy? Or the Ice Cave? No… neither of those really fit…

Does it work for SoP? There is not much to this area that seems distinct. There are a few plants you need to clear out of the way, and that’s about all she wrote. Maybe this all exists to justify that giant Marlboro boss? And the frequent Marlboro encounters? But that stinky breath appears in other levels, too…

Does it represent its parent game? The Evil Forest of Final Fantasy 9 is at least memorable, as it does contain the earliest tragedy in a game chock full of reasons to make a monkeyboy sad. That said, there are so many more… appealing locations in Final Fantasy 9, particularly with “the mist” being a malevolent force in both FF9 and SoP. And, come on, you could have thrown the game all about airships a bone on making that one of the flying levels. C’est la vie. At least the death flowers are pretty.

Stage 7: Phantoms of the Past
Location: Mt. Gagazet
Origin: Final Fantasy 10

Eat it, wallConcept: The leadup to the Earth Fiend’s lair is a snowy, mountainous region mobbed with undead skeletons (is that redundant? The skeletons are more animated than usual fleshless skeletons). And where did we get this ice cap zone? Final Fantasy 10’s sacred home of talking kitties, of course. Mt. Gagazet and its attendant caves/Fayth is here for your exploring pleasure. Look out for avalanches!

Does it work for SoP? Alternating between outside, snowy areas full of collapsing ridges and safe-but-filled-with-monsters/puzzles caves is a pretty tidy concept for a level. While this humble author has never been a fan of areas that limit the player’s view, the blizzards are a proper way to add combat variety, and they do make the caves feel more… sheltery. Is that a word? Regardless! Good stuff!

Does it represent its parent game? There are two recurring motifs in Final Fantasy 10: water and death. Given the Water Crystal was already taken, slapping Final Fantasy 10 on the trail of the most undead of fiends was inspired. And combining “Earth” with “Famous Mountain Range” works well, too. And we’ve even got the creepy ol’ dreaming Fayth welded into the walls for good measure! And a tremendously annoying boss! This is Mt. Gagazet to a T!

Stage 13: Schemes of the Past
Location: Delkfutt’s Tower
Origin: Final Fantasy 11

Going up?Concept: After the “original” Final Fantasy quest is done, somebody has to go gather Astos and get some answers, but the Prince of Dark Elves ain’t home. Where did he go? Well, over to a mysterious tower that is crawling with monsters (and crystals!). Given our strangers are experienced in monster slaying/crystal nabbing at this point, seems like pinching the most talkative (and possibly only) elf in the land should be a breeze.

Does it work for SoP? Thubbing monsters in a mysterious tower is par for the course here. This tower comes along at the point in the plot that you might start seeing “final challenges”, so scaling the thing and having to face every monster you ever met along the way seems appropriate to the festivities of the plot entering its endgame.

Does it represent its parent game? In a delightfully parallel manner, yes. This is not a plot-based dungeon… technically. The concept behind Delkfutt’s Tower and other similar locations in Final Fantasy 11 is that they were all constructed by the same advanced civilization of magical jerks, and then abandoned for future generations to fight imps and giants around the place. And what exactly is the source of all these “misplaced” Final Fantasy locations in Stranger of Paradise? Why, that a technologically/magically advanced group of ancient jerks spread these locations around the globe, and have now effectively abandoned the place. So if you know Final Fantasy 11, the parallel here is immediate and obvious. Or I’m just making up stuff, as I never played Final Fantasy 11, and I had to ask TheSL for advice on this one. I trust his opinion on these matters!

Stage 8: Memories of Earth
Location: Tomb of Raithwall
Origin: Final Fantasy 12

Is this legally binding?Concept: The Cavern of Earth was always simultaneously memorable and forgettable. The Hall of Giants! Earth Elementals! A Vampire! Lich! … All hanging out in a nondescript, generally deep cave. Quite a far cry from an active volcano or castle in the sky. But now Lich gets a grand tomb to lord over, and all is well. Our friend the vampire may have been forsaken, but Final Fantasy 12 grants us a proper “Indiana Jones” style tomb with traps, tricks, and more than a few highly mobile walls. Crypts are great for skeleton lords!

Does it work for SoP? This feels like a proper exploration of an ancient, booby-trapped ruin. We had more than a few ancient ruins already in this game (or maybe coming up… again with the order thing…), but this is a straight up “puts the ancient in ancient ruins” temple. Like spike traps? Being pushed into a waiting pit? Such classic ways to join the skeleton army!

Does it represent its parent game? Final Fantasy 12 might not be as big into death as Final Fantasy 10 (it only has its main character grapple with the concepts of using super weapons, not actually originating from an undead legion), but the Tomb of Raithwall is one of the most death-based locations in the franchise. Give or take the Necrohol of Nabudis, it is rare to see this many skeletons in any one location, and the trapped walls are a great reference to one of FF12’s most memorable (and sometimes optional) battles. And Final Fantasy 12’s main color was brown from toe to tip, so that’s appropriate for a particularly earthy area, too.

Stage 4: Natural Distortion
Location: The Sunleth Waterscape
Origin: Final Fantasy 13

Scenic vistasConcept: Seemingly subbing in for the infamous Marsh Cave, the Sunleth Waterscape is an excuse to prove that the “overworld” of this planet is just as annoying as any of its many dungeons. This area features adjustable weather that will change monster configurations and modify the foliage paths appropriately. Unfortunately, while this is one of the more pleasant locations in the game, the best song in Final Fantasy 13 does not accompany this journey. Boo.

Does it work for SoP? Stranger of Paradise is a brutal action game where you are continually reminded that you should be grinding your opponents into a crystal-based paste. As a result, it is strange to contrast that gameplay with an area that is so pleasant. But the weather-switching mechanic does work for an interesting “trick” this early in the game, so it does not feel completely out of place. Also, for a Final Fantasy fan that maybe didn’t hit the MMORPGs or the Famicom games, this might be the first area that really screams how these levels are meant to evoke earlier FF titles.

Does it represent its parent game? In Final Fantasy 13, Sunleth Waterscape is a false reprieve for Sazh and Vanille. It is gorgeous, the music is delightful, and… the place is crawling with extremely deadly monsters. It is a “nature reserve” that requires some Metal Gear-esque sneaking and weather manipulation if you want your party consisting of two of your least adept combatants to survive. So, while your party in SoP might never be as vulnerable as those two, the basic concept of puttering around a lethal monster home is represented here. Also, it is easily one of the most beautiful locations in the franchise, so it can be reused irrespective of theming consistency.

Stage 2: The Journey Begins
Location: Sastasha
Origin: Final Fantasy 14

ShinyConcept: Bikke the Pirate ruled Pravoka with an iron fist in Final Fantasy, but he never had his own dungeon. Maybe just getting there was the real dungeon all along? No, that’s stupid! And to prove that, Bikke now moved into a grotto with all his pirate buddies, and you’re going to have to fight all the way through it. There is really pretty coral, too, if you survive long enough to enjoy the place.

Does it work for SoP? This is literally the second level, so there does not have to be that much “there” there. The game is still in full-on tutorial mode here, and anything that didn’t get a nod during the Temple of Fiends gets representation. You kill a coeurl to fish a key out of its gut, and you can find a tonberry down a secret path. Not much to do, but it is something to do.

Does it represent its parent game? I only played a few hours of Final Fantasy 14, but FF14 fanatic Raccoon Sensei informs me that the Satasha is one of the very first dungeons, is lousy with pirates, and is otherwise a generally forgettable area. Which works! Oh, and there are sahagin, too! So it all ties together! Maybe “mostly forgettable area” is not the best way to represent the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV that at least once had an expanded free trial that you could play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for free with no restrictions on playtime, but what do I know? I’m not into that kind of stuff.

Stage 14: Remembering Home
Location: Insomnia Citadel
Origin: Final Fantasy 15

Welcome homeConcept: Much like Stage 13 that precedes it, Stage 14 does not seem to have any distinct parallel in the original Final Fantasy quest, nor does it have much plot relevance beyond Astos literally saying, “Go over there and beat some monsters, thank you.” That said, this is one of the more fun areas, as it is a wholly modern building with appropriate architecture and elevators that are not operated by thousand-year-old pullies and switches. This area is a departure from everything that has come before… even though it still features the exact same monsters. But sometimes it is just fun to fight giant spiders and a harpy in an indoor botanical garden.

Does it work for SoP? Fighting floor by floor through an ancient tower, and then the next level being fighting floor by floor through a modern skyscraper is either repetitive or brilliant. This is very much a subjective decision, but the parallel here does make things more interesting, and the incongruent monsters running around does add something remarkable. Yes, fighting skeleton warriors on the ground floor could happen in any epoch, but detonating flammable canisters to trap an ogre set against a city’s skyline is pretty alright.

Does it represent its parent game? This is the one dungeon that technically is not explored at all in its parent title. The Insomnia Citadel is seen all over in Final Fantasy 15 materials, but, when it comes to the final product, it is mostly a cutscene and an elevator ride before you are back to fighting outside. That said, the city of Insomnia is the proper final dungeon of FF15, and also the main character’s hometown. And, given the whole quest starts in Insomnia, this draws a distinct parallel to Final Fantasy: you start at The Temple of Fiends/Insomnia, and then you end at The Temple of Fiends/Insomnia. Except now it is reversed: The Temple of Fiends goes from ruins to grand palace over the course of Final Fantasy, while Insomnia… has less of a healthy urban renewal program. So, yes, there is a clear line from Final Fantasy 1 to Final Fantasy 15, even if it took nearly thirty years. And now, another six years later, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin makes the parallel more explicit than ever. Is this proof the producers of SoP:FFO put a lot of thought into what outwardly appears to be a very stupid game? Maybe…

… But I’m still not going to forgive that nonsense with Final Fantasy 8…

FGC #627.2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

  • This place exists, tooSystem: Hey, guess who successfully ordered a Playstation 5 while playing this game. I can see the difference! Not that I am taking new screenshots or anything!
  • Number of players: Still not going to try online mode, though. I do not play well with others.
  • Favorite Boss: I absolutely hate the Dragon Zombie, a previously no-name monster that conquered Mt. Gagazet and was an unstoppable roadblock during my playthrough. I guess the solution was to just poke him from a little more of a distance with spears, but it took forever to learn that one simple trick. That said, having digested the entirety of the game, I appreciate how that fight is so different from other action game battles where the solution is to get up close and stab away. So good job, Zombie Dragon, you got promoted from guarding rat tails.
  • Favorite Plot Beat: Jack and friends restore the crystals of the four elements, return to the kingdom expecting to be hailed as heroes… and the townsfolk are up in arms because now that the crystals are restored and the elements are fully charged again, fire is too fiery, and wind is too windy. I wish I could say I would expect something different from reality…
  • For the Sequel: The apparent sequel hook is that the Lufenians are a race of jerks that were manipulating dimensions and the “world” of Final Fantasy for their own selfish ends… but they didn’t actually invent said technology. They learned about the multiverse from some mysterious benefactor, and said benefactor is not interested in any payment save harvesting energy from different universes. And, oh yeah, this Jerk Prime is identified by name in a data log, but that name is blanked out. If only someone could be arsed to care!
  • Did you know? The original lore for Final Fantasy claimed the Lufenians lived in the Sky Fortress before Tiamat forced them out, and sent them down to the Earth to establish a town in the middle of some forest. I… guess this makes sense with the SoP canon that Lufenians literally live in another world. Like… maybe they are just some dudes that got cut off 2,000 years ago now? It could work.
  • Would I play again: I know I am going to try the DLC as it is released. Will it be more interesting than a monster rush? Will Bahamut finally show up? Who knows! But at least the base game inspired nearly 7,000 words on the Final Fantasy franchise. That has to be worth something.

What’s Next? Okay, back to Wild Arms 3 on Monday. We will see what other random games get FGC articles as these things come along. It is kind of random. Please look forward to it!

The start of an era

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