Stranger of Paradise's Jack Garland is more than an angry man - he's one of the series' best protagonists
When I first played Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin with its limited-time E3 2021 demo, I knew I was going to like it for its gameplay – but what I wasn’t prepared to love was the characters.
I can’t say I was sold by creative lead Tetsuya Nomura’s elevator pitch of “a story of an angry man” - and nothing leading up to release gave me a reason for me to think otherwise. Which makes my love of Jack all the stranger, now that I’ve finished the game.
It’s difficult to explain my feelings for Jack, and why I ultimately ended up finding him to be a compelling protagonist. Watching how violently he executes enemies in the game along with snippets of his dialogue in the trailers, it was hard for me to expect anything other than an edgelord, never giving a damn about anyone around him.
By his own admission, and as has been endlessly memed, he’s focused on one thing only - killing Chaos. Every story scene shown leading up to release only served to reinforce that impression, saving the relationship he’d end up sharing with Princess Sarah after fans figured out his connection with Garland early into the marketing push. I’d expected Jack to be a selfish, single-minded man, with very little consideration for those around him.
That perspective and expectation on my part, which was set up by trailers and other pre-release materials, is key to understanding my surprise upon playing the final game. The truth is, Jack isn’t like that at all - and beyond being a pleasant surprise, it’s made him one of my favorite FF protagonists.
The moment my feelings began to shift was early on. Specifically, an interaction between Jed and Jack in the lead-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’d hurt his feelings – acknowledging that he didn’t mean to be rude, it’s just how he is. Even if he can be abrasive, he wanted Jed to know that he appreciates his company. Jack is self-aware.
It wasn’t a long, drawn-out cutscene; but rather a short conversation between your party members, a blink and you miss it moment. Stranger of Paradise is full of little character-defining moments like these, to great effect. There are other, more grandiose moments where Jack’s genuine compassion – his surprisingly bleeding heart – is conveyed, but it’s striking just how much that one throwaway conversation was able to grip my attention for the rest of the game.
Come to think about it, it's always been the more down-to-earth moments that continue to enamor me with characters in RPGs, and it’s no different when it comes to Final Fantasy. For all the melodrama the series is known for, it’s moments like this between Jack and his crew that truly stick with me past when the credits roll. It’s these moments that actually make the more overt melodrama work when it eventually hits its stride, too. Jack seems like the kind of dude you could strike up a conversation with at the bar – and not the angry drunk you’d try to avoid sitting anywhere near to.
Stranger of Paradise doesn’t paint Jack as the same sort of melodramatic protagonist that players are accustomed to with JRPGs, nor does it make an effort to craft an elaborate backstory for the man. Yet it’s striking just how likable Jack ultimately ends up becoming over the course of the game. So much is conveyed about the quality of his character, with very little actively said. What’s clear is that Jack is a man of action, and his actions spoke louder than words ever could.