Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins shot into this world on fire. Square Enix’s chaos-filled E3 trailer instantly became a meme, and the accompanying demo started in an unplayable state. Worse, the gameplay just looked boring.
But after actually playing the Stranger of Paradise demo, I turned my mind around. In fact, it only took one new idea to elevate this Final Fantasy punchline to one of my most anticipated releases for 2022: the Soul Shield.
What is the soul shield?
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins plays like a Soulsborne game that developer Team Ninja has a lot of experience with in Nioh. As Jack, you fight enemies in punitive, deliberate fights and can barely get from securing point to securing point. Its parrying mechanic, the soul shield, has some unique properties.
When an enemy scores a hit, I can tap the circle button to raise my soul shield. Unlike Jack’s traditional block movement, the Soul Shield drains its graduation bar while active, but it can intercept almost any attack. It’s mainly a defensive move that allows me to absorb damage and recharge my magic bar, which in turn allows me to cast powerful abilities. But Soul Shield is unique in its interaction with my enemies’ special moves.
On the surface, it’s a nifty risk-versus-reward option. I am especially vulnerable to my enemies if I abuse the shield, but if I don’t use the shield, I can be harmed.
When I played the Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins demo for PlayStation 5, I saw Soul Shield take this system a step further. Certain enemy movements have a purple hue during their casting time, meaning that my soul shield can do more than distract; Soul Shield can steal the attack.
Why does Soul Shield make such a big difference?
If the purple stone, fireball, or sound wave from an enemy hits my soul shield, I will not take any damage. Instead, I reproduce the attack and turn a defensive maneuver into an attack.
For example, bomb enemies spit fire and explode if I move too close to them. But if I absorb their fire with soul shield, I can shoot lightning bolts at them to detonate them from a distance.
In the last fight of the demo against “Chaos?”, An armored knight, I have to use my soul shield to repel sword attacks, generate my mana and fire balls of fire at him. The fight has a rhythm built around this one mechanic that gives a tough fighting feel when done right, more like a choreography.
Between stealing skills and surviving almost every attack, wearing the Soul Shield makes Stranger of Paradise feel like solving an efficiency puzzle. If I use it well, I can blow a boss fight without getting hit or take out an entire room full of enemies by catching a single fireball.
Trailers often promise the features of their game – think No Man’s Sky or Cyberpunk 2077 – but they can also undercut a game that plays well. You can’t show how satisfying it is to dance with the devil in Stranger of Paradises’ final battle. You have to play a game before you can judge it, and Stranger of Paradise demo is a great reminder of why.