Stranger of Paradise is looking crazier by the minute, and in my book, that’s a thing of beauty. While the bizarre nature of this Final Fantasy re-telling isn’t going to appeal to everyone, it caught my eye immediately following its debut and hasn’t let up: not a week goes by where I haven’t pondered the possibilities of this Team Ninja and Square Enix joint venture. We got a chance to sit down with Jin Fujiwara (producer), Daisuke Inoue (director), and Fumihiko Yasuda (producer, head of Team Ninja at Koei Tecmo) to see how the team is handling the final stretch, and the reactions to the two major demos so far. Read on for our Stranger of Paradise interview.
Destructoid: A lot of people felt like the second demo did a better job of showcasing the raw potential of the game. What went into deciding what content to show in each demo build?
Inoue: We simply selected areas within the realm of what we could share during those timeframes. With the second demo, when trying to decide which area would be best to showcase in addition to the Chaos Shrine, we decided the Refrin Wetlands would be a good counterpart. The two areas contrast each other in that the former is mainly indoors with a humanoid boss, and the latter is an outdoor dungeon with a non-humanoid boss.
I really felt like the mechanical potential of Stranger of Paradise really came together during the second demo as well. What types of job combinations are you finding popular with players, or the team internally?
Yasuda: The popular job combinations vary within the Team Ninja development team. While team members with a knack for action prefer melee or close-range jobs, those who aren’t particularly good with action gravitate towards jobs that can cast magic. Personally, I like the combination of Samurai and Monk or Ninja. It would be great if players can try a variety of combinations in both single and online multiplayer modes to discover their favorite job combinations.
As you know, fans guessed the identity of Jack early on. How has that revelation impacted both development and the various reveals for the game?
Fujiwara: The initial plan was to make it look like Jack was a warrior of light, then reveal his identity as a surprise, so we did indeed have to make some changes. However, because his identity was revealed, we were then able to streamline the reveals toward a pursuit of the truth and story behind why he became a villain. Ultimately, I’m glad it turned out this way as we were able to better highlight the strengths of this title.
Can you speak a bit more about working with the PS5 and Xbox Series X? What enhancements will be present in the final build, if there are any new ones since the demo periods?
Inoue: Basically we enhanced the areas based on the feedback from the second demo, such as ease of matchmaking in multiplayer mode, improvement of friendly AI, and frame rate stabilization. We implemented a wide range of enhancements ranging from UI to battle balance improvements.
Beyond the first Final Fantasy game, are there other direct inspirations for Stranger of Paradise? Or perhaps some indirect ones in the action genre at large? At this point Koei Tecmo and Square Enix have lengthy histories with action RPGs.
Yasuda: Games made by Team Ninja, such as Nioh and Ninja Gaiden, were a huge influence, and the titles that these games were in turn influenced by, such as Dark Souls, Onimusha, and Devil May Cry, provided indirect inspiration as well. With that said, the biggest influence comes of course from the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy Origin drew inspiration from the entire series, not just the first Final Fantasy. We put a lot of thought and effort into how things like the particulars of the popular boss battles, or the job system from Final Fantasy V, could be interpreted and defined within an action game framework.
How is the teammate AI and teammate system progressing? It already underwent a few changes based on feedback and I know people are interested in seeing how it turns out.
Yasuda: We received a lot of feedback on this point from both demos, so it was high on our priority list. Our main dilemma was that if the AI takes too many hits from the enemy, it would look silly and wouldn’t appeal to players. But, if a teammate AI is invincible or too strong, it would take away from the player’s action game experience. It was a challenging aspect to balance, so we continued to make adjustments. Ultimately, we decided to bring the AI teammate’s behavior closer to the player’s actions by implementing a system called “Resonance.” In addition, we’ve gone as far as making adjustments so that the AI take actions that utilize the characteristics or job traits of the character they’re accompanying.
The more stages/environments I play, the more classic Final Fantasy nostalgia and surprises I encounter. Do you have any “break the internet” homages in store for the full game?
Fujiwara: There are tons of surprises we’ve prepared for Final Fantasy fans, like various locations, BGM, and monsters inspired by other series installments, and of course jobs that are unique to the series. So, I personally hope these things will be enough cause for a celebration that “breaks the internet.” Also, this isn’t an homage per se, but the character Astos should be extremely memorable, so please be on the lookout.
I have to ask: after Chaos is defeated, Jack pulls out his phone to play music. How much “real world” influence do you intend to shine through in the fantasy world?
Inoue: It’s hard to explain, but there are dungeons in this game which are based on ones in other Final Fantasy series titles, so in that sense, there are some locations that feature elements that feel more “real world.” That can be attributed to the fact that there are previous Final Fantasy titles that were loosely based on the real world.