After a handful of delays, Forspoken has finally arrived, but players may find quite a bit lacking in Square Enix’s latest endeavor.
Predictable Story with Unlikable Characters
The story of Forspoken follows a woman named Frey who was orphaned in New York City and has since turned to a life of crime to survive. Between a run-in with the law and a local gang breathing down her neck, Frey desires a fresh start away from the Big Apple. She gets just that when she finds a mysterious cuff/vambrace, which, after putting it on, thrusts her into the terrifying, vibrant world of Athia.
Developed By: Luminous Productions, Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PC
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Frey soon discovers this new world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The land is covered with corruption and mutated enemies. Plus, it’s ruled by the tyrannical Tantas; four powerful women who each control a different element. It’s up to Frey to liberate the people of Athia and save the land.
The premise of this game sounds pretty cool and interesting, but the execution of it doesn’t meet those expectations at all. The story itself is predictable with poorly written dialogue. The writing is so comedically bad relying on cuss words like “fuck” and “shit” heavily for reactions and responses that are often completely out of tone. To be clear, I’ve no problem with cursing in games and I’m not clutching my pearls everytime I hear it. It often felt out of place or worse, like the Frey’s voice actress, Ella Balinska, wasn’t even convinced while reading the lines. Characters also have weird or lame responses that are supposed to come off as empowering, but feels cringy instead. For instance, Frey is rather horrible to all of the citizens of Cipal and then as destruction is looming she stands up in front of everyone to give a rousing speech that comes off as disingenuous instead, yet the audience eats it up. That’s another aspect in which the characters are poorly written, few characters have any backbone, opting to forgive and rely on Frey way too much, rather than take up arms when she’s unwilling or against helping the people who literally do everything for her.
Meanwhile, the story revolves around reaching these big plot twists that are supposed to have a ton of shock value and confusion. The problem is they are not set up very well. In fact, they are ridiculously easy to see coming. When the two major twists happened, I just said “Yeah, that’s about right.” There was never any WOW moment for me when it came to the story.
In addition to the poor execution and the writing, one of the main reasons the story isn’t enjoyable has to do with the characters. Almost all of them are unlikable.
The main character Frey is just this angry person who wishes for a new beginning. When she gets it, however, she hates being there. Like I get it. It’s terrifying, but there’s dialogue in which she basically asks for it and she isn’t happy about it. In fact, many times she acts like a petulant child in the face of duty. You can make the argument she doesn’t want to be a hero and that she’s looking for her purpose and that’s all well and good…but even throughout her “redemption” arc, it’s still hard to like or connect to her.
The rest of the Athians aren’t much better. There’s Cuff who is witty and plays a good straight man, but even his banter gets a bit old. The Athian girl Auden is pushed on us as someone we should like, but she’s very much an annoying goody two-shoes type. You have Auden’s father who’s okay, but his arc gets pretty old quickly.
There’s this one apprentice who is annoyingly thirsty for Frey, but thankfully, his part is cut midway through. Finally, there’s an archivist who is very much over Frey’s crap. This had the potential to make her the best character, but we don’t learn much about her, outside of the fact she worked with Tanta Sila.
The most interesting characters were actually the villainous Tantas. They were all very unique in their motivations and their abilities. Knowing more about them became the driving force of this game, moreso than the journey of Frey.
As Forspoken is very much a narrative-driven game, I went in thinking the story would be better than it was. There’s a reason why there weren’t many story trailers for this game, and it’s not because they wanted to avoid spoilers. The story just isn’t very good.
Vast, Seemingly-Endless World, Without Much Incentive to Explore
When Forspoken was announced, one of the things most people looked forward to was exploring the boundless world of Athia. If you’re all about exploration, you definitely have plenty of that in Forspoken.
The land is broken up into four major parts with Cipal standing in the center as the last city of mankind. The areas surrounding Cipal are all ruled by a different Tanta. As such, those realms take on the personality of their respective Tanta. For the War Tanta the landscape is very rigid, wartorn, and red. Meanwhile, for the Tanta of Law, the landscape is very manicured, orderly, and beautiful. However, for the Tanta of Wisdom, you could tell where they cut some corners. It’s not as developed as the others. It’s mostly fields until it gets to the actual city, which is mainly just a tower. Meanwhile there isn’t much time spent in the Tanta of Love’s area, Junoon. It’s mostly just a forest and manor tucked away in the back. Really not a ton going on with it until you get to a certain part of the story.
There are quite a few side-activities you can approach to unlock new gear, which makes exploration fairly enjoyable. For instance, there are labyrinths where you take on enemies and a mini-boss, there are broken down towns where you take on hordes of enemies, and there are even chests that can’t be unlocked until you defeat all the enemies. There are also some puzzle chests that require you to solve a slide puzzle to unlock (those are all generally easy, despite them rating them as “Hard”).
On top of that, a big part of what makes exploration fun, is the verticality of it. When you attain certain abilities, you gain the power to explore high up places and reach new areas to explore. You can even learn to surf along water! It’s very cool and feels surprisingly fluid once you get things unlocked.
These abilities are rarely needed throughout the game, however, and there’s never really an incentive to explore outside of your own desire to look around. Most chests you find don’t give anything worthwhile, so much so that I stopped trying to look for them. The best things you can search for and work towards are cloaks and necklaces. Anything else is just not worth searching.
The open-world design is one of the highlights of this game. The map doesn’t hide where things are, so you can find what you want rather easily. So much of it comes during the endgame, however, and by then you’ll be looking for something else to play.
For the most part, Forspoken is a letdown in terms of what we hoped the game would be, yet, there are some cool features worth pointing out. For instance, once you attain most of the magic in this game, the gameplay gets pretty fun. Sure, there are some meaningless abilities and the damage they deliver feels very low at times, but it’s still unique and fast-paced.
The parkour dodges and movement are some of the coolest gameplay elements I’ve seen. The feeling of twisting around in the air to avoid hits is thrilling and enemies attack relentlessly. Hordes of enemies are especially thrilling, when everything is attacking all at once and you have to mash the ‘O’ button to dodge.
Outside the aforementioned meaningless abilities and light damage, the magic is very cool. When you’re in a fight and you’re trapping enemies in a giant water orb or blasting them with a giant ring of fire, there is a certain rush. It’s unfortunate that fights tend to go on too long, because the damage output is so low (even after upgrading spells to the max).
Also, some of the enemies are so frustratingly difficult that they might as well be the final boss. There is one beast that has extremely high health that regenerates over time, extremely strong defense, and massive damage output. It took 3 times and 30 minutes in each fight trying to defeat it. I was not having fun. There was another that just flew around and you had to chase it down on top of rooftops. It’s cool at first, but gets old VERY fast. Especially when your spells don’t reach that far.
I’m off track here as this part is supposed to be about the cool stuff. Another cool feature are the Tanta boss battles, because those are so unique and fun. Outside of the Wisdom Tanta that went on a tad too long, all of the Tanta boss fights are unique and enjoyable. The Tanta of Law’s fight is especially cool, as you fight within a giant water orb and take on a Tanta that uses both water and ice. Honestly, that’s probably the part I look back on the most fondly.
Finally, I loved how Forspoken uses the DualSense controller. When you switch powers, the lights on the controller change to match it. Plus, Cuff will talk through both the controller and the TV to give it an ethereal aesthetic. It’s really quite cool. I’m not saying that’s a reason to pick up the game, but it’s a neat aspect nonetheless.
Should You Play It?
I know there is a lot of hype around Forspoken, but I can’t in good conscience recommend this game. I usually love Square Enix games, but this one is a disappointment. The acting, the dialogue, and story concept is all rough. I went in with relatively high hopes, but was ultimately let down by what this game is.
Forspoken has its bright spots in terms of exploration and some of the gameplay elements, but it’s mired by a ton of issues that make the game not worth playing. The soundtrack of the game is great, and when you find out Bear McCreary collaborated to make it, it’s a neat factoid. But that’s like finding out Hans Zimmer made the Burger King jingle (which he did). It’s cool but definitely not his best work.