How Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin takes Final Fantasy back to its beginnings

by Barbara Hadden

Happy anniversary to the original Final Fantasy! The very first game in the long-running (and in hindsight somewhat misnamed) series launched December 18, 1987. That very first adventure really shook up the industry – its innovative battle system, expansive world and incredible music continue to inspire developers today.

It was, quite literally, a game-changer.

Now, 34 years later, its spirit lives on in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin. This brutal new action-RPG by the combat maestros from Team Ninja at Koei Tecmo Games (Nioh, Ninja Gaiden) is directly linked to Final Fantasy, with a story, characters, locations and more that directly call back to that original game.

To show you what we mean, we asked key developers from Square Enix and Team Ninja to explain some of these connections, and the secrets behind them…

Garland

Well, the cat’s out of the bag by now – protagonist Jack is destined to become the sinister figure known as Garland. 

In the original Final Fantasy, Garland was the main antagonist – a powerful dark knight who threatened to plunge the land of Cornelia into chaos. He’s a beloved (and iconic!) villain, but outside of some brief dialogue we’re never told all that much about him.

Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin will directly address that and reveal how this once brave hero was brought so low. But why focus on the villain?

Many villains appear in the early Final Fantasy titles, but their backstories weren’t depicted that often.

I believe a good antagonist should have a clear reason as to why they became a villain in the first place, so I felt digging deeper into that aspect of Garland would be interesting. 

In Final Fantasy I, you see him from the start of the game as a knight who has embraced the darkness, but the story never elaborates on why he went down that path. We thought we could expand upon the lore of the original game through Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Originby portraying one possibility as to why Garland ended up as he does.

We see the story of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Originas an “alternate retelling” of Final Fantasy I. It’s probably easiest to think of it as taking place in a parallel universe that sits alongside that original game.

– Jin Fujiwara, Producer, Square Enix

Even though Team Ninjahad handled action gameplay for Garland before in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, this game felt different. We had a greater sense of responsibility because we were handling Garland as a protagonist, and also delving into his true nature in the story.

– Fumihiko Yasuda, Producer, Team Ninja at Koei Tecmo Games

Since Jack’s path to becoming Garland serves as the foundation to the story, we decided to take his destructive impulse – which we don’t see in other Final Fantasy protagonists – as a core concept and translated it into various action elements. 

The first that we laid out as a concept was “Soul Burst.” We originally considered a more gory presentation, but we ended up going with a crystallization visual, to combine that exhilarating presentation with Final Fantasy-esque beauty.  

Additionally, Garland in the Dissidia series has an ability called “Soul of Chaos”, which makes him stronger as he keeps on fighting. 

– Nobumichi Kumabe, Director, Koei Tecmo Games

Crossing the Northern Bridge

Early in the original Final Fantasy, the Warriors of Light cross the northern bridge of Cornelia. It’s a cutscene that fans remember dearly – it marks the first steps towards adventure… and in many ways signals the beginning of the series as a whole.

Stranger of Paradise recreates this iconic opening – as Jack and his companions cross the bridge and their epic journey begins.  

This scene is very important, as it signaled the start of the adventure in Final Fantasy I. We definitely wanted to incorporate it into Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin as well. 

Hearing the Final Fantasy theme gets me excited and makes me feel like something great is about to begin – I felt exactly the same way when I heard the theme being played during the Olympics earlier this year! I wanted to instil that same feeling in those playing Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin as well.

– Daisuke Inoue, Director, Square Enix

The original northern bridge scene left a lasting impression, so for this recreation, we synced closely with Square Enix on the creation process – from storyboards to sharing references from work-in-progress stages, as well as the lighting and final visuals. 

The modelling of the northern bridge was quite the challenge since it was not fully depicted in the original. The overall scene composition for the final cut also took quite a bit of effort.

Since no one had created a model of the bridge before, the Square Enix team provided us with a rough idea of what the castle and Cornelia should look like in this title. We translated that into a model design sketch and then proceeded with the bridge design too.

In order to make the composition closer to the original 2D version, we actually positioned some models in a way that wouldn’t be realistic in 3D. However, given the camera would actually move in the final version, we did take a few creative liberties and moved things around so things wouldn’t seem off, even with those 3D movements.

I hope we’ve successfully made this seem like a modern-day version of Final Fantasy I!

– Hiroya Usuda, Director, Koei Tecmo Games

The world of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin is built as science-fiction. We worked under the premise that what’s happening may seem impossible at first glance, but under special circumstances it could happen, even in the real world. 

The northern bridge and Cornelia Castle are very much the heart of the original, so we aimed to bring out an evolved and hybrid feel, combining their fantasy-like silhouettes with the addition of some modern details.

– Nobuhiro Goto, Art Director, Square Enix

Pravoka and Pirates

After crossing the northern bridge, the Warriors of Light reach the town of Pravoka. In the original Final Fantasy, this town has a bit of a pirate problem – and these are more “crunch your bones and take your booty” pirates than your “yo-ho-ho” types. They’re led by Captain Bikke, and it’s up to the heroes to teach him the errors of his ways.

Left: Bikke as he appears in Final Fantasy I, and Right: as he appears in Strange of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

Both Pravoka and Bikke make a return in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, though you may see a few changes from the original…

The battle with Bikke and his gang of pirates, as it appears in Final Fantasy I.

Whenever I play Final Fantasy I, I can’t help but feel the urge to head to Pravoka as soon as I cross the northern bridge. 

When it comes to the beginning of the story for Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, I consciously tried to follow the flow of the original game and decided to incorporate the key theme of pirates for this area. For example, when thinking about how the characters would move from Cornelia to the next major location, we decided we should use a pirate ship, just like the original.

We weren’t necessarily trying to faithfully recreate Final Fantasy I completely though. For example, in Final Fantasy I, the protagonists take on Bikke and his pirates in the city, but for some odd reason, it seems the pirates in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin have their hideout in a cave…

– Daisuke Inoue, Director, Square Enix

The Royal Family

Captain Bikke’s not the only Final Fantasy I character to make an appearance in the new game. The King of Cornelia and Princess Sarah also return – much more detailed and fleshed-out than in the original.

Left: King of Cornelia, as he appears in Final Fantasy I, and Right: as he appears in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin

Left: Princess Sarah, as she appears in Final Fantasy I, and Right: as she appears in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin

That’s not all – there are also new members of the Royal Family for fans to meet, including Queen Jayne and Princess Mia. 

Queen Jayne (left) and Princess Mia (right) as they appear in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

As you might expect, designing the Royal Family was difficult as we had to create 3D versions of these characters from scratch. After gathering what information we could, we’d inject our own Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin lore into it, but it was definitely a challenge to flesh out the overall concept. 

As we were aiming for a mature Final Fantasy game, we didn’t feel we could go full-on fantasy. Furthermore, I personally wanted to ensure that I had a justification and explanation for every element of these characters. Even as an alternate retelling, we need the characters to be designed in such a way as nothing seems strange or unbelievable. 

For example, Sarah is more like her mother, while Mia takes after her father in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin. In addition, we also faced a challenge in how much we could diminish the fantasy tones – as we envisioned this story taking place in the real world, in a future not so far from now, we tried to make the characters’ head-to-body ratio closer to modern humans, and also made other elements such as skin texture and wrinkles very detailed for a more realistic finish.

As well as photo-realistic details, we wanted to bring out the “super-technology” feel and dark gothic tones, so we took inspiration from such design styles as gothic Lolita and punk. Additionally, since white is the base color for Cornelia Castle, we told designer Roberto Ferrari that we wanted to incorporate it into the Royal Family’s costumes too. 

– Nobuhiro Goto, Art Director, Square Enix

Tiamat – The Fiend of Wind

The multi-headed Tiamat is one of the Four Fiends in the original Final Fantasy and acts as a terrifying foe for the Warriors of Light. The Fiend of Wind also appears in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin… and trust us when we say it’s even more imposing.

Left: Tiamat as he appears in Final Fantasy I, and Right: as he appears in Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

The designs for the Four Fiends were particularly important for Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, so we asked Takayuki Takeya to handle their creation. He has a great reputation for his creature design, even by Tetsuya Nomura! 

Of course, if we just translated the Four Fiends from the original game in a standard way, they’d lack something special. So, while we maintained certain important elements of Tiamat’s design (for example, the number of heads on Tiamat), we also incorporated our own ‘Final Fantasy Origin’ elements in the designs – for example, the beast-like fiends are in a somewhat humanoid form as well!

I can’t go into detail about the person trapped in Timat’s chest (spoilers!)  but this depiction of the embedded body was the result of us considering how we could depict the effect most realistically. Mr Takeya also works as a sculptor, and his designs were very precise – they translated very well into CG graphics.

– Nobuhiro Goto, Art Director, Square Enix

Since the nature of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origindiffers from the original Final Fantasy, the experience of facing off against Tiamat is different as well.

However, since Tiamat in the original game is known for its various elemental attacks, we’ve incorporated these as breath attacks. From that concept, we then constructed a battle in which players would aim to defeat Tiamat as they cut off its heads!

– Nobumichi Kumabe, Director, Koei Tecmo Games

A Life-long Love Affair

As you can tell, the developers have an enormous amount of love for the original Final Fantasy, and that passion comes through in all the details of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

As we celebrate the 34th anniversary of the genre-defining Final Fantasy I (and series… coming up on 35 years – wow!), let’s share some final words from the developers:

The first game in the series that I played was Final Fantasy IV – I didn’t play Final Fantasy I when it first came out. I later played the PlayStation version of that game and I remember being moved, not only by the iconic main theme, but also the fact that the RPG elements Final Fantasy is known for were so firmly established in that game. 

I ended up playing all the games in the series, and certain things happened because of that. With Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, I forgot to go to school, and with Final Fantasy XIV Online, I almost forgot to go to work! 

On a more serious note, I think it’s quite astounding that Final Fantasy has remained a series which has never feared change over 35 years. I’m proud to have been able to work on Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin and show an alternate retelling of the original game.

– Fumihiko Yasuda, Producer, Team Ninja

What does Final Fantasy I mean to me? It is both the Origin and the goal. 

Final Fantasy is a series that has continued for 35 years after the release of the first game. I hope the same will happen with Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin as well – for it to become a title that’ll be talked about even for years to come, and even become the starting point for its own series to continue into the future.

– Jin Fujiwara, Producer, Square Enix

Many thanks to all the developers who joined us to celebrate two very special games. Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin will release on March 18, 2022 and is available to pre-order now. 

Anyone who pre-orders the Digital Standard or Digital Deluxe Editions of Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Originvia the PlayStation Store will receive 72-hour early access to the full game, an original PS4™ theme, the Braveheart weapon and Lustrous Shield and, as an early-purchase bonus, the Rebellion weapon.