Forspoken – Review

Forspoken - key art

Forspoken is an open-world, third-person action-adventure game set primarily in Athia, a realm plagued with a magical pestilence called The Break. You play as Frey Holland, a young New Yorkian in trouble with the law who slips through a portal into a medieval-adjacent fantasy world of castles, dragons, and evil sorceresses.

Forspoken is (technically) the debut title from Luminous Productions, a subsidiary of Square Enix. I say technically because so many employees from Luminous were once part of Square’s thrillingly named Business Division 2, responsible for the hot mess that was Final Fantasy XV, that they are in essence the same studio.

With FFXV being the only game under Luminous’ belt, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Forspoken is more than a little rough around the edges. The memeification of pre-release clips of the game’s dialogue meant the game had already been fighting an uphill battle, but I remained curious: was the game as bad as all that, or was the internet just being the internet?

Forspoken - Frey

Let’s start with what Forspoken manages to get right, namely the way it handles magic and traversal. There are an impressive amount of spells at Frey’s disposal, which are unlocked as you progress through the story as well as through exploration. These are roughly organised by the elements, with spell sets that utilise fire, water, and so on, with the variety being quite impressive.

Frey can conjure flaming swords, watery daggers, explosive traps, vines that heal as you attack, and a wall of water that can defend you against ranged attacks, just to name a few. The game is very liberal with how it lets you utilise said spells, allowing you to switch sets at any time in combat.

Forspoken - Magic

The issue is the element of strategy here never really goes deeper than certain enemies having elemental strengths/weaknesses. So while it may be fun to fling rocks, explode the ground with fire, then set a trap before darting out of the way to heal only to do a flame dash forward again… there’s no real need to. Just blast away with whatever the enemy is weak to and you’ll be set.

Another highlight is the way Frey is able to move through the environment. While she may start off just being able to sprint and climb at a rapid pace, eventually she can grapple onto certain surfaces, skate along bodies of water on a magical sheet of ice, and more.

It’s fun in a way that almost feels like you’ve activated cheats, zooming through this huge open space, completely sidestepping any physical obstacle that would normally impede your progress in a game like this. Forspoken’s sense of freedom is refreshing for the genre, it’s just a shame that there’s nothing in this world that incentivises exploration.

Forspoken - Zoom

As is standard for the genre, there are different activities spread out across the map. These include mini-dungeons, combat challenges, new spells to unlock, and photo opportunities, it’s all painfully uninspired and nothing really made me want to do anything other than beeline the main story.

As I saw people dunking on clips of Frey talking to her magical bracelet I couldn’t help but scratch my head. Sure the writing wasn’t great but there are a huge amount of games with scripts just as mediocre and exhaustingly self-referential as this. Final Fantasy Origin and even more recently High on Life come to mind. I can think of a few reasons why clips of Forspoken went viral while other games get a pass, but that’s probably a conversation best had by another writer.

Having now played the game I can confirm that the dialogue is… fine. It’s no more mediocre than any other game with a mediocre script. Far worse than any concerns of ‘cringe’ dialogue however is the underlying issues with the characters.

Forspoken - Tanta

The key relationship in the game is between Frey and her magical bracelet Cuff. Cuff has been cursed and needs Frey to help him regain his body, Frey needs Cuff’s magical powers in order to survive and get back to New York. This dynamic wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself if it wasn’t for the fact that the vast majority of their communication consists of sardonic bickering.

Frey is negative, frustrated, or outright cruel most of the time, which does not make for an endearing or relatable protagonist. Her reactions to being thrust into a fantasy world are occasionally funny, refreshing even, but far more often the writers’ misguided attempts at making Frey reflective of a modern 21-year-old get in the way of a fun time.

The graphics are sort of good and bad at the same time, which I think comes down to art design. Individual elements are impressive: the textures, particle effects, and character models, but they don’t always come together to present a believable, visually interesting world.

Forspoken - Cipal

In this way, it’s quite reminiscent of a JRPG from the PS3 era, with lots of brown, grey, and subdued greens that make locations like Cipal, Athia’s capital, and the games only city, an utterly dull place visually. The open world is similar, with wide open deserts or plains dotted with cookie-cutter castles, towers, statues, churches, ruins, and so on. Nothing about Athia feels like an actual land that people live in.

Upon learning about the connective tissue between Forspoken and Final Fantasy XV, a lot of the game’s eccentricities begin to make a lot more sense. The lack of polish, the general sluggishness that’s hard to put a finger on, the floaty but spectacular combat, the pantomime feel of main narrative beats, the robotic characters, and intermittently bizarre dialogue.

Ultimately it’s hard to recommend Forspoken to anyone. It’s clunky, and drab, with a familiar narrative and mean-spirited characters. The best thing I can say about Forspoken is that it makes for a good podcast game. A simple experience that doesn’t require your full attention but is fun enough to just jump in, zoom around, and blast things for a while. If you come at it with any higher expectations you’re likely to be disappointed.

Rating: 5/10

Forspoken was reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.