Forspoken might be Square Enix’s most “western” influenced game they have ever produced. There is some good that comes with western design; like an emphasis on responsive action gameplay and an enormous open-world sandbox to explore. On the other hand, western game design also comes with a ton of baggage.
Forspoken was first announced as one of the earliest PlayStation 5 exclusives, as far back as 2020. The staff is mostly made of developers who made Final Fantasy XV and a lot of the DNA from it has made its way into Forspoken. You could see a lot of XV‘s signature in the visuals and how Forspoken renders its large environment and effects.
After several delays, Forspoken is finally here. With the big boom of open-world adventures seemingly over, is Square Enix’s latest opus past due? Could it be that Square Enix has a secret masterpiece, or maybe it is a hopelessly late imitator from the last gen? Find out in this Forspoken review!
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:
Developer: Luminous Productions
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Price: $69.99 USD
Forspoken wants to be a crowd-pleasing, epic open-world action RPG. Every aspect of it is intended to be as inoffensive and safe as possible to appeal to the masses. It has a lot in common with seventh-gen open-world action games like inFamous and [Prototype], right down to the elemental powers and parkour abilities.
The story is simplistic and downright predictable. Combining elements of a generic isekai and boilerplate “hero’s journey” formula, Frey’s quest to find a way back to New York after being transported to Athia couldn’t be less interesting.
Forspoken‘s story itself isn’t the issue; a large reason that would’ve made the story engaging is Frey, the protagonist. She is an all-you-can-eat buffet of negative traits. From her intense stupidity to her girl boss, standoffish rudeness, she is intensely unlikable and the player is stuck with her.
Before Frey’s trip to Athia, she manages to prove how much of an idiot she is by losing all her savings by refusing to pick it up. From the start, she is established as a petty car thief and it is implied all the money she has acquired was from being a criminal.
Her abrasive nature is further compounded by her incessant rudeness to the sentient, magical bracelet. The moment Frey acquires the bracelet, all it has done is save her life and endow her with unbelievable magical abilities.
She also acts incredibly inconsistent; one moment she is about to kill herself in New York after losing everything and then she misses the dreadful democrat-run city. She whines about the Break that zombifies people and the weird fantasy monsters, but back at home, she was on the run from gangs that she ripped off.
The more Forspoken develops its story, the more you’ll feel yourself feel checked out and disinterested. Most of the story involves Frey seeking out the Tantas, an all female group of magical warriors, and defeating them. Naturally, Frey also gains their powers when she throws down with them- once again proving New Yorkers are the most violent people in all dimensions.
The plot does not have a lot of material to give it substance. There is an attempt at a plot-twist, but it is so predictable and the scene direction makes it very obvious. Any player with a working brain cell will be able to figure it out long before the game reveals it and it feels like waiting for a long joke to end.
Forspoken‘s story would have been more tolerable if Frey was a likeable character who was smart and cool. She is endlessly snarky and quippy, to an exhausting degree. The actress did the best she could with the material given, but there is just no saving the character with how she is written.
The world-building is also suspect. Athia has only one kingdom left and it’s one of the most generic fantasy settings ever. Other human characters look like they’re at a Renaissance fair rather than some distant dimension. The city is also almost completely sexless and every woman dresses down or is a soldier. It does not ever feel believable.
The poor attention to world-building extends into Frey too. She is written like she is a rich person’s idea of a poor person. Frey is played by an attractive woman and her character has no boyfriend, is broke, and somehow manages to have an apartment. None of this makes any sense at all. Frey’s entire concept is less believable than the fire-breathing dragons.
Forspoken‘s scenario and characters are not going to impress anyone. What does manage to impress is the game’s engine and technical attributes. The time that went into this game did not go into its story- it went into making it into a technological marvel.
Athia is massive. The draw distance is as far away as a feminist is close to a gym. The various and procedural rock formations prevent any repetition and make the world look very natural. Frey’s animation systems are also complex. She reacts and shifts her weight as she steps and runs. Her footwork also has inverse kinematics as she moves up and down varying geometry.
The different materials that make up the environment make it feel like it was made from millions of years of erosion. The smoke and fog effects are also convincing and go a long way in establishing the atmosphere. A special mention should be given to the cloth and hair physics which sway and bounce realistically.
When Frey dashes at top speeds, the convincing flutter of her cape and the way her hair whooshes back add to the sensation of speed. When doing parkour or dodging enemy missiles, Frey’s dangling bits and accessories fling around and make the sensation feel palpable.
Particle effects and debris from Frey’s magic are a highlight. The boys at Luminous Productions have come a long way since Final Fantasy XV and are so much more ambitious. Some of the magic is massive in scale and you get a sense of Frey’s terrible power and how devastating she is in battle.
The animation system is also quick to react to the player’s inputs so that Frey’s poses and gestures snap into position naturally and responsively. There is no doubt that Square Enix poured a ton of time and money into the technology that powers Forspoken. You can see that money burning on the screen whenever a big battle happens.
The visuals give an expensive impression, but they aren’t perfect. As advanced as the lighting system is, Forspoken has surprisingly very flat lighting. There is no style or drama to how sequences are lit. Maybe Luminous Productions had lowly interns on lighting duty. It is apparent the game is capable of beautiful imagery but this was wasted by technicians who are amateurs.
It is too bad that all that flash won’t save Forspoken from being a typical super-power open-world action game. While the combat has a solid foundation and there is some room for a skill ceiling; the core experience is the same kind of Ubisoftian big map with a checklist of things to do to pad out the experience.
Collecting every single check, collectible or side activity on the map will add dozens of hours to the playtime. The drawback is that the map will quickly lose all purpose the more you go around picking up all that litter. By the time Frey reaches the endgame, Athia will feel more desolate than the designers intended.
Almost all the activities in Athia’s massive landscape are in service of seeking purpose to justify all the level-up and crafting systems. The environment is also so big that most of it is empty, with only a few pockets of points of interest. All the abandoned towns are made up of copy-pasted buildings and lack personality.
There are a few roaming super monsters that are like mini-bosses, but their HP is so high that fighting them becomes tedious. Frey is very mobile and agile- she can dodge anything, so long bouts with these creatures become a war of attrition and patience, demanding players become good with the combat.
Most of the issues with Forspoken‘s gameplay are products of its genre and can be applied to any similar game like Ghost Of Tsushima or Horizon Forbidden West. If you like those games, you will like Forspoken. If you don’t like them or feel exhausted thinking about them, then Forspoken won’t change your mind.
What drags Forspoken down is it’s utterly repugnant protagonist who is written by out of touch and cynical Hollywood hacks. The story is inoffensive and takes no risks and relies on very obvious and heavy handed symbolism.
The engineers who worked on Forspoken should be commended for refining the game engine, as well as the combat system programmers. The tech that makes the game possible is the showstopper- not the game itself. Aside from the game’s engine, Forspoken has dated open-world gameplay, a lame story, embarrassing dialogue, and the lighting sucks.
Forspoken was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Forspoken is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), and PlayStation 5.