When Forspoken was initially revealed, originally as Project Athia, I was quite excited to see what the game would eventually be. Especially with it coming from a team made up of many of the staff that created Final Fantasy XV, a game that while not everyone’s cup of tea, I greatly enjoyed mostly because of the design of it’s world and the changes it made to the typical Final Fantasy framework. The initial trailers presented a grand fantasy open world that can be traversed with fluid parkour, so based on that I was invested and was quite excited to find out more about the game’s story. Now that Forspoken is here, it’s delivered on it’s promise of a grand open world that can be leapt through in fast paced, flashy fashion and it’s interesting take on the isekai genre but unfortunately falls short when it comes to it’s main story and the writing of many of the characters involved in telling it.
In Forspoken you play as Frey Holland, a down on her luck New Yorker who’s clearly been on the wrong side of the law a number of times before this story kicks off. When some early events in the game lead Frey to rock bottom, she plans to move from New York and turn her life around. Though in the process of doing so, she finds herself magically whisked away to the fantastical world of Athia where she now faces the threats of supernatural beasts, the laws that govern this unfamiliar land and the matriarchs that overlook the divided sections of Athia that call themselves the Tantas. Frey also learns that she’s now able to unleash magical spells and can combine new abilities with her existing street smarts from New York to be able to smoothly traverse the lands of Athia as well as defend herself. She’s also caught the attention of those that reside within Athia as she appears to be resistant to The Break, a spreading curse that is plaguing Athia and it’s inhabitants.
Thankfully for Frey, she’s not alone though. Along for the journey is a mysterious bracelet named Cuff that’s bound to Frey’s arm and has the ability to communicate with her. Providing a lot of added context for what’s going on in Athia, as well as it’s history to help bring both Frey, and the player up to speed. Even if it’s more often than not unnecessary and would have granted better pacing to the story if it knew when to chime in and when not to.
Forspoken’s high points for me are the worldbuilding, lore and the magic system of the land of Athia. There are some genuinely great ideas here, and a world that is begging to be the backdrop of a great story. The unfortunate thing though, is that the main story, the way it’s presented and the characters used to tell it are some of the things I ended up liking least in the game. The pacing of the main story is very slow in it’s opening hours especially, holding your hand for quite some time before just letting you roam free in the awesome world that eventually opens up to Frey. And when the main narrative portion of the game being only around 12 hours, it ends up being a considerable portion of the main experience. Starting out with cutscene after cutscene and lengthy portions of exposition every few minutes. As the story starts to ramp up, all I wanted to do was get in that world and play, but the game takes that away every few minutes in the opening hours.
For some reason Frey is unable to walk and talk, so when having deeper conversations with Cuff, the player is left just standing in place, selecting dialogue options from the conversations list and then listening in to have Cuff go on a deep dive about Athia and it’s history while all agency is taken away from the player. There are some seeds of greatness in the story and it’s world, I just wish Forspoken was brave enough to let me find these things for myself or trusted that I could piece together bits of the lore without it having to be over explained often at inappropriate times.
While the main story aspect is a little thin, where Forspoken gets far better is within it’s actual gameplay. Exploring the world of Athia is really fun, and the fast paced flow of the parkour is smooth, free flowing and let’s you cover wide spaces in little time. I had more fun traversing the world, discovering new areas and defeating optional combat encounters and bosses as well as completing side quests than I did playing through a good portion of the main story. Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit to do within the world of Athia. While a good portion of these things are standard fare for open world game side objectives such as clearing enemies from areas and various item collectathons, I really enjoyed just being set free to go where I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted and putting Frey’s parkour and magic skills through their paces without being pulled to complete things at particular times. This portion of the game also makes up majority of the playtime of Forspoken if you’re someone who wants to see and do everything. As mentioned before, the main story is quite short, but you can spend twice that time again in the world completing everything else if you wanted to see and do everything.
And exploring the world is rewarded too. As you find more materials, these can be spent to upgrade Frey’s gear, such as her necklace and cloak. These grant the ability to activate passive abilities that Frey can utilise, with more slots being added the more you progress providing a further reason to explore the world and a clear goal of what can be obtained for doing so. Defeating enemies also grants experience points, Forspoken features a skill tree that can be upgraded the more you earn and spend XP allowing you to level up Frey’s spell, combat and parkour abilities.
The more I played, I came to appreciate how much of the game’s different systems were designed around the progression of Frey, her items and her abilities rather than being a game focussing primarily on a large scale story with a scattering of side objectives to go back and do. Even though I was underwhelmed with most of the main story, I would have been completely disappointed if the game had thrown all of it’s efforts into the narrative side of things as that’s where I feel it’s underdelivered.
Forspoken’s magic system allows Frey the ability to harness multiple different elements. I liked that each element had multiple ways that it could be harnessed or unleashed on enemies through a varying number of spells that can be learned and levelled up. The system provides room for experimentation, and this trial and error approach can also let you learn the types of spells that are best against certain types of enemies so that you’re better informed to take them down more swiftly next time you may find yourself facing off against that enemy type as well as learn their resistances and weaknesses and adjust strategy accordingly.
Visually, Forspoken is quite beautiful. The design of Athia contains contrast between mostly barren lands where the Break has had more of an impact all the way through to denser cities and lush areas filled with vibrantly coloured flora and fauna. I also found the overall art direction of the game to be appealing, especially when it came to the boss and creature designs. Some of the humanoid characters didn’t fare as well with some looking quite flat when it came to both facial detail and animation and it was strangely inconsistent as some character models looked fantastically rendered.
One big highlight of the game is Forspoken’s soundtrack. Together, Bear McCreary and Garry Schyman have created a score that fits the world, the characters and conveys emotion really well. There’s a wide range of tracks and instruments used to help lend additional power and weight to the game’s scenes. Enhancing everything from the game’s softer emotional moments, to chase sequences and especially the boss fights which often take place over multiple phases. There are some aspects to Forspoken that did underwhelm, but the music was not one of them.
Forspoken is a good open world action adventure game overall. While I would have loved if the team at Luminous had nailed every aspect of the game, it seems this time around at least it fell a little short when it comes to the main story, character writing and some design decisions. It does take place in a world I would love to see more from if the series is given the chance as there are seeds of greatness here. While i probably can’t recommend it to people looking to jump into a new fantastical JRPG game with a story you’ll remember for years to come, if you’re looking for a new fantasy world to explore, cool creatures to fight, with a diverse magic system and awesome soundtrack, then Forspoken may be just what you’re looking for.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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