Like many others right now, I had an absolute blast getting stuck deep into it elden ring and the many challenges that it brings. If you thought Margit was tough, hooray boyYou won’t believe what FromSoftware has invented elsewhere in the game.
I know it’s very easy to address the difficulty of Souls games (and the discourse that inevitably follows) rather than other equally more interesting things like the game’s lore or the intriguingly enigmatic characters. But those punishing moments that feel so hopeless, and the almost divine joy when you overcome them, are an integral part of what makes playing titles like these so special.
Of course, that’s also Hidetaka Miyazaki’s intention. As he recently explained in The New Yorker; “I just want as many players as possible to experience the joy that comes from overcoming difficulties.”
So why am I planning to take a more relaxed approach to the next Soulslike on the gaming calendar, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin? Partly because I can.
A first for the genre, the Final Fantasy spin-off will have difficulty options. In fact, these were made available during the game’s second public demo last year, although the settings in the final version are Story (for those less interested in hard gameplay), Action (for the default intended challenge), and Hard (which holds what it promises).
But difficulty settings in a Soulslike? What kind of sacrilege is this? Yes, it’s something critics have been screaming for. It’s something that hardcore fans have resisted – although I have to keep reminding people that FromSoft’s games have organically baked-in difficulty options; Being able to summon or choose not to summon other players lets you at least curate the difficulty a bit. Elden Ring has even expanded on these options, giving you the ability to summon a variety of AI-controlled spirits, giving you a horse to escape tough fights, and giving you greater control over the encounters you initiate.
However, I warmed to the idea of having the right difficulty settings in Stranger of Paradise when I opted for “Easy Mode” during the previous demo. Part of that was expediency to avoid repetition. After all, I’d already played the first demo that went live at E3 shortly after that meme-filled announcement trailer, so I wasn’t really keen on going through the Castle Battle Chaos again to see what else happened was on offer.
After seeing a clip on Twitter of the totally shitty moment where Jack said “bullshit” before whipping out his phone to play Limp Bizkit (or whatever either the music or the device was supposed to be), I was impatient. I needed to see this with my own eyes and maybe see if there was a bigger context to it.
The answer was, well, not much more in terms of narrative. On the other hand, playing in “Easy Mode” felt transformative in that I wasn’t really playing a Soulslike anymore, but a bit closer to what was still considered a pretty fun Devil May-style hack-and-slash action game applies to Cry (frankly, Jack’s angry noughties buzzcut and the rest of this first level’s dark, moody atmosphere really help sell that idea).
And if that doesn’t make this soulslike really soulslike then it gets away with it because if you look at what else we’ve seen from Stranger of Paradise, one of the big takeaways is disrespect. The game is a hot mess, which I honestly mean the best possible way. Not only is it a zany reimagining of the original Final Fantasy dreamed up by Tetsuya Nomura, but if RPG Site’s theories are correct, it’ll be a theme park ride through other classic Final Fantasy worlds. I can’t wait to see how this game rips and shreds the history of the franchise as loyal fans watch with jaws on the ground, having only just picked them up again since Final Fantasy 7 Remake ended.
So I can see why Square Enix wouldn’t want the fan wild ride to stall just because a tough boss fight has to have them ‘git gud’ first. It’s also important to make a distinction because this is – I think – largely a decision by Square Enix (the publisher) and not Team Ninja (the developer). The latter is well-known, as is FromSoft, for its hardcore games – see: Nioh, the only soulslike that can really keep up with the efforts of Miyazaki and Co. Judging from demo impressions, the team has clearly done a great job translating some of Nioh’s mechanics into Stranger of Paradise – like the Soul Shield or the Fracture Gauge – and I don’t want to belittle any of their work.
But ultimately, Team Ninja is the wage earner in this relationship. There is no Hidetaka Miyazaki known for exercising total creative control over his vision. Instead, these board decisions rest with Square Enix, and we know the publisher wants its games to be played by the widest possible audience (especially in light of recent events). And Square Enix is committed to continuing to appeal to Final Fantasy fans — an intense breed of gamer who cares more about the characters, the art, and the wacky lore than anything else — especially. And while, yes, I too spent my youth grinding hours and hours with fiendish JRPG bosses, there’s a reason re-releases of classic Final Fantasy games have options to turn off random battles or deal 9999 damage from level 1.
Sure, we can easily make the same argument that there are people who just want to soak up the rich worldmaking of Miyazaki’s games without the suffering that comes with it, but here’s a creator whose methods do justice to Frank Sinatra’s song (or at least Limp Bizkit) . It’s also about setting expectations, because those who play a FromSoft game have mentally braced themselves for a rough ride – a different mindset than a Final Fantasy game, I suspect. Ultimately, Stranger of Paradise gives you a choice of playing a Soulslike or a Final Fantasy game. And that’s good.
I suspect this is more of an anomaly than a trend that other Soulslikes will adopt. But offering different settings in its game is a choice that fits the Final Fantasy franchise very well. And honestly, I’m happy to accept the offer of the story mode in Stranger of Paradise – because as much as I love the colossal challenges of the Elden Ring, you can have too much of a good thing. Especially so soon after you’ve stomped your way through the endless realms of the Lands Between.
https://www.vg247.com/stranger-of-paradise-final-fantasy-origin-difficulty Stranger of Paradise will be better than Elden Ring… at least in terms of difficulty options