When I first played Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin with its time-limited E3 2021 demo, I knew I would like it for its gameplay – but what I was not prepared to love was the characters.
I can not say that I was sold by the creative lead role in Tetsuya Nomura’s elevator pitch about “a story about an angry man” – and nothing before the release gave me a reason to think differently. Which makes my love for Jack even more foreign now that I’m done with the game.
It’s hard to explain my feelings for Jack and why I ended up finding him as a compelling protagonist. When I saw how violently he executes enemies in the game along with excerpts from his dialogue in the trailers, it was hard for me to expect anything other than an edgelord that never bestowed anyone around him.
After his own admission, and as it has been memed indefinitely, he has focused on only one thing – killing Chaos. Every story scene shown before the release only served to reinforce this impression and saved the relationship that he would end up sharing with Princess Sarah after fans found out about his relationship with Garland early in the marketing. I had expected Jack to be a selfish, determined man, with very little consideration for those around him.
The perspective and expectation on my part that was set up by trailers and other pre-release material is the key to understanding my surprise at playing the last game. The truth is, Jack is not like that at all – and besides being a pleasant surprise, it has made him one of my favorite FF protagonists.
The moment my feelings started to change was early. Specifically, an interaction between Jed and Jack in the run-up to the fight against Tiamat caught my attention. Jed tries to lighten the mood while Jack snaps back before apologizing to Jed after it’s clear he had hurt his feelings – he admits he did not mean to be rude, that’s just the way he is. Though he may be abrasive, he would like Jed to know that he appreciates his company. Jack is self-conscious.
It was not a long, extensive cut scene; but rather a brief conversation between your party members, a wink and you miss that moment. Stranger of Paradise is full of small character-defining moments like these, with great effect. There are other, more grandiose moments where Jack’s genuine compassion – his surprisingly bleeding heart – is conveyed, but it’s striking how much that one – time conversation was able to capture my attention for the rest of the game.
When I think about it, it’s always been the more down-to-earth moments that continue to fall in love with characters in RPGs, and it’s no different when it comes to Final Fantasy. Despite all the melodrama the series is known for, there are moments like this between Jack and his crew that really hold on to me when the credits roll. It is these moments that actually make the more obvious melodrama work when it eventually hits its stride as well. Jack seems like the kind of guy you could have a chat with at the bar – and not the angry drunk you would try to avoid sitting near.
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Stranger of Paradise does not paint Jack as the same kind of melodramatic protagonist that players are used to with JRPGs, nor does it make an effort to create a detailed background story for the man. Still, it’s striking how sympathetic Jack ultimately ends up being during the course of the game. So much is conveyed about the quality of his character, with very little actively said. What is clear is that Jack is a man of action, and his actions spoke louder than words ever could.