Making Chaos (Shrines) in STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGINDirector Daisuke Inoue takes you deep into the first level of the game to reveal the secrets (and Tonberries!) of the Chaos Shrine.
Hello everyone - my name is Daisuke Inoue, and I’m the Director for STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN.
This new action RPG is full of beautiful locations, that take inspiration from all across the FINAL FANTASY series - but what goes into making these levels? I thought it would be interesting to reveal a little about the many considerations that go into building an area in the game.
And what better place to focus on than the Chaos Shrine? Not only is this the first level in the game, it was also included in the two TRIAL VERSIONS released during development. In other words, a lot of players have experienced it first-hand.
Here’s the story of how we made it.
A FINAL FANTASY origin
When we started work on STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN, we always knew we wanted the Chaos Shrine to be the first level in the game. It’s one of the first locations you visit in the original FINAL FANTASY, and since our game takes place in that world, it made sense to have it be the first step here, too.
This decision did present us with a challenge though: what should it look like?
In the original FINAL FANTASY, there are two versions of the Chaos Shrine - one in the past, and one in the present. The version in the present, the one visited first, is a very small dungeon - only a single floor. As a result, it was difficult to use that as a visual motif for our dungeon: there simply wasn’t enough to draw from.
Yet we knew the area was important: this location makes a strong impression in the original FINAL FANTASY - it’s where players meet Garland, and where he’s taken Princess Sarah. Our version needed to have that same kind impact, and it had to feel connected to the original.
We looked beyond the game itself for reference material, and we found one in the original NES-era artwork of FINAL FANTASY artist Yoshitaka Amano.
Mr Amano had drawn an illustration of Chaos, sitting on a throne. We looked at the design of the throne itself and used that to inform our look for the Chaos Shrine. That way, we were able have that link to Chaos and Garland, and make sure any additions we made fit the threatening atmosphere of the area!
One thing that adds to the sense of threat in the Chaos Shrine is the monsters. As it was based on the first dungeon of FINAL FANTASY, we knew it had to have goblins, but we thought extremely carefully about how to use them - and which other creatures to include.
STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN is an action game - something quite new for the FINAL FANTASY series! As a result, we wanted the Chaos Shrine to act as a tutorial that would introduce players to the basic controls and teach them how to fight.
We needed to start with some relatively straightforward enemies that would let the players learn how to attack and defend effectively - a role that the goblins were perfect for!
The next enemy we introduce were Bombs - a classic FINAL FANTASY foe that casts fire at players. We added these to introduce the idea of concept of instant abilities - players quickly learn that they can ‘steal’ fire and cast it back at them to cause the enemy to self-destruct.
The third major enemy type we added was wolves - aggressive beasts that attack in groups. We intentionally made it so that there are too many enemies for players to easily push through with the attacks and strategies used up to that point, so they’re encouraged to use the Lightbringer mechanic.
This makes it easier for the player to take on mobs of foes, as it makes it far easier to break and Soul Burst them - an important lesson for new players to learn!
Giving up control
As you can tell, everything was placed very carefully with the player in mind - but we didn’t want to be too controlling and force them to do things in a particular way. We tried to balance things so players could find different ways to approach each challenge.
For example, in the area where we introduce the wolves, there are some Bombs on a higher level, which you can knock down onto some of the wolves to thin the pack. Alternatively, the player can simply take them on head on - it’s a much more difficult challenge without Lightbringer, but it is achievable!
Sometimes it’s good to vent
Another element we introduce early on in the Chaos Shrine is the Dark Vents. These growths of corruption block a player’s path and spawn dangerous enemies for them to battle. Jack has to break and shatter them to progress.
We wanted to have parts of each level which players could cause a dramatic change in - either by opening up new paths or destroying part of the scenery. To do this, there had to be a sign for players to know that’s something they can do.
In addition, we wanted to create a cycle of gameplay where players defeat monsters and, while they’re feeling that sense of achievement, get an additional thrill by opening up the next area of the map.
We were able to bring all these ideas together by typing the mechanic into the lore. This world is covered in darkness, so it made sense that something connected to the land would be spewing out this darkness and creating monsters. It’s an example of how gameplay and story can come together in harmony!
Enter the Tonberry!
There is a particular enemy in the Chaos Shrine that’s not intended to teach players a particular lesson but give them a challenge: the Tonberry!
This foe wasn’t there in early builds - originally, we had a Griffin placed in the same location. However, that is a flying enemy - something that’s very valuable in stages where space may be limited - so they appeared in quite a lot of other areas.
In addition, the two TRIAL VERSIONS that we launched had featured the Griffin, and we wanted to make sure the final game had something to surprise players who had already explored the Chaos Shrine.
With all this in mind, we thought: let’s put something in that will make FINAL FANTASY fans very happy… and what better foe than a Tonberry?
Tonberry fear factor
I say we wanted to make fans happy… but we also wanted to make them scared. After all, the original concept for Tonberries is that they instill fear in players as they slowly walk up to them, and then stab them with a knife.
But that slow, step-by-step approach is difficult to replicate in an action game, where there’s a much greater sense of speed. If they simply walked towards players, you could simply run away. Not very scary.
To recreate that sense of dread, we explored lots of different options. For example, we experimented with letting Tonberry suddenly warp up close to the player, and even creating areas where the player couldn’t run away - blocking the exit with fire or something similar.
Of course, there have been other iterations of Tonberries in the FINAL FANTASY series that have had similar experiments, and we looked at these for inspiration. It took a lot of experimentation and iteration to get the enemy right, but I do think we were able to achieve a proper ‘Tonberry-level’ of fear!
The battle for a brilliant boss
Another enemy that players should feel trepidation about is the boss of the area: Chaos Advent.
This was a tricky fight to design - even though it’s the first boss in the game, we didn’t want to just give it away to players. STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN is intended to be a challenging game, so we had to make sure the boss delivered an appropriate level of difficulty.
At the same time, we didn’t want it to be too punishing or feel unfair - if it was, many players would just put the game down and give up.
In the first build of the game, Chaos Advent was far stronger than they are now - but after listening to feedback from across the team, we decided that certain attacks were more than players should be expected to cope with when they’ve just started playing and looked at making them a little more forgiving.
Getting the balance right was extremely difficult and we went back and forth, making them stronger and weaker over and over again until we found the ideal balance. One thing that really helped was the improvements to party AI of over the course of development - once Ash and Jed started pulling their weight more, the battle became much more manageable!
Trials and tribulations
It wasn’t just our own feelings we relied on when working on the Chaos Shrine, of course. This area featured in TRIAL VERSION 1 and 2, and the feedback we received from players was invaluable in making it a successful stage.
For example, after TRIAL VERSION 1, a lot of people criticized the Chaos Shrine for being too dark. It was hard to see where to go, and enemies were obscured by shadows, leading to unfair damage. We put a lot of effort into improving the lighting of this area to make for a more positive experience - while not diminishing the oppressive atmosphere we were aiming for.
Other improvements came about from watching people interact with the game in those trials. For example, the level features a very dangerous corridor that’s full of bombs. Our original intention, from a level design standpoint, was that players would go out on the terrace, and go around this hotspot rather than through it.
But when we watched streamers playing the game, it was clear that this wasn’t adequately communicated - many players missed the exit to the terrace. What’s more, we saw that some streamers were enjoying the challenge of making it through the bomb corridor and taking on all these bombs.
As a result, we slightly rebalanced the section for the final game so that taking the direct approach was a more viable option.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of the Chaos Shrine in STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN. The level, and the throne room in particular, represents the beginning and end points for our journey in many ways, and I’m proud of what the team has achieved.
If you want to explore it further… you can do so in the game! STRANGER OF PARADISE FINAL FANTASY ORIGIN is out now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC via the Epic Games Store!
You can also try the free demo - out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One:
And if you’re already playing the game, many thanks from everyone on the team - I hope you enjoy Jack’s action-packed journey to defeat the darkness. We’re not done with the game yet, and we’re working on some very exciting things, including DLC, so please look forward to that!
To stay up to date with news about the game, make sure you follow the team on social media!