Stranger of Paradise throws loot around like a Diablo game

Enemies that explode with loot and an emphasis on inventory management put Final Fantasy Origin closer to a dungeon crawler than a challenging Soulslike

A hydra in Diablo-like Stranger of Paradise

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has received wildly mixed review scores, with some awarding verdicts that are full of praise and others slamming its messy delivery. It’s a classic seven out of ten Metacritic game – totally unhinged, but unique and memorable in enough places that it’s stolen some hearts.

The combat’s furiously fast, the writing is as strange as the game’s title, and every character is dripping with more early ’00s edge than an episode of Bleach. The opening cutscene shows the three central characters who make up your party meeting for the first time, and after a minute they conclude that they’re all trying to kill Chaos. They do a three-way fist bump to commence their journey – upon meeting the fourth party member, they do a four-way fist bump. There’s even a cutscene in which Jack storms off, pulling his phone out to play some nu metal music so everyone knows how grumpy he is.

Despite the absurdity of it all, which will doubtless be highlighted across social media in the coming days, Stranger of Paradise does have plenty going for it in terms of gameplay. But while early comparisons from critics, as well as acknowledgements from its dev team, have pitched it as being like Dark Souls, it’s actually got far more in common with Diablo than FromSoftware’s epic trilogy.

By the end of the first proper mission, I find my inventory bursting at the seams with no fewer than 120 items, spanning weapons, pieces of armour, hats, edgy masks, and a myriad of consumables and trinkets. That’s a staggering amount of stuff to sift through, and it’s compounded by the fact that you need to manage each party member’s loadouts individually; it’s a lot to deal with between fights.

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Nearly every chest you open and monster you kill spits out a handful of items, with twice as many glowing goodies spilling forth from bosses when you beat them. If, like me, you like to make sure you’re as powerful and well-protected as you can be before taking on a new battle, there’s a certain amount of anxiety that creeps in when you’ve got over a hundred different things to pick between.

Battling a mechanical horse in Stranger of Paradise

Thankfully, there’s a magical button that fully optimises not just one loadout, but all of them across every character. So, if you’re worried about the item management, know that it’s not too harrowing if you’re not interested in creating your own builds.

You’ll need to get involved if you really want to maximise the effect of your gear though, because optimisation doesn’t always take your job affinity into account. You should care about those too, because the higher your job affinity is, the more passive buffs you’ll have active at all times, and lord knows we all love a good passive buff. While sorting out your build is important in Dark Souls, it usually hinges on pairing a few good pieces of equipment together rather than poring over stacks of items. Instead, this level of inventory management makes Stranger of Paradise feel a lot more like Diablo, albeit with an over-the-shoulder camera perspective and much, much more hair gel.

Alongside its loot obsession, Stranger of Paradise’s approach to dying is nothing like that of a Soulslike, which tend to treat death as a learning tool. With each demise, you figure out how to beat different enemies and solve puzzles, and sometimes you’ll unlock a new shortcut to make subsequent boss runs easier. Death carries weight, there are consequences for it like losing currency or having key stats debuffed – you’re supposed to worry about it. There are no such repercussions in Stranger of Paradise. You don’t lose anything upon dying apart from a few minutes worth of progress.

Executing a melee combo in Stranger of Paradise

Sure, the world is filled with little bonfire-like checkpoints that reset nearby enemies, and yes, you can stagger monsters and land critical hits, but the loot is the real highlight here. Sifting through dozens of pieces of armour for even a miniscule 0.6% stat buff is Diablo through and through.

Of course no comparison really does Final Fantasy Origin’s tone justice. Stranger of Paradise is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be a game about finding a new legendary T-shirt that boosts your damage as a Monk; it’s not about dying dozens of times to the same boss in the name of incremental progress. There are only flickers of humour in Diablo, and while Elden Ring might be pushing the envelope for how funny a FromSoft game can be, we’re a long way from seeing the Tarnished traipse through a fog gate while wearing a biker jacket and blasting title music off their phone.

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