Say what you’re saying…..

As the first AAA game title set for release in 2023, Square Enix title Forspoken was making a bold statement game.  However, given the commercial and critical reception of the game maybe there was a breakdown in communication.  But that’s been the trouble with this title from the start.  

The first glimpses of the game now known as Forspoken took place during the Playstation 5 showcase in June 2020.  Prior to the release of the Sony Playstation 5, this showcase gave gamers a look at the titles they would (eventually) experience.   

Along with established titles offering familiar faces such as Spiderman: Miles Morales and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, audiences got a glimpse of a trailer for a game called Project Athia.  This title was merely a “working” title for Forspoken, the debut release from developer Luminous Productions.  

The trailer shown that day featured an opening with cut-scenes introducing the game’s protagonist, a young woman named Alfre “Frey” Holland from New York City.  In the brief scenes a bit of Frey’s personality is on display – she‘s a cat lover, a bit of a loner with an attitude.  A portal appears during one scene which transports Frey to another world, Athia, where an artifact with an accent (and just as much attitude) becomes bound to her wrist.  Flashes of cinematics follow attempting to summarize the game’s story.  Alongside narration and dialogue from Frey and her companion there are scenes of Frey’s powers on display, of her traversing Athia and battling its now corrupted inhabitants.      

I’m not sure what anyone else took away from the PS5 showcase, but Forspoken, with its trailer hinting at a magical somewhat medieval version of Sucker Punch’s PS3/4 franchise Infamous, was a game I was interested in purchasing.  

But looks can be deceiving.  

As with any new title, gamers, including myself, were going to be equal parts excited and anxious for this fledgling franchise.  These emotions were obviously at an all-time high with the company involved in its creation as well.  On July 6, 2022, having already moved from a March to an October release, Square Enix announced Forspoken would be delayed further.  The new date of January 24th, 2023 gave the company time to further polish the game.  

Maybe they just wanted to avoid Ragnarok?  

Or perhaps, unlike Kratos’ recent meals in Midgard, Square Enix chose not to serve their dish cold or undercooked.  However, the delay and explanation didn’t have the anticipated result.  Instead of assuring those anticipating Forspoken’s release, this news was concerning to some gamers.  

Square Enix saw an opportunity and gave gamers demo access to Frey and Forspoken beginning on December 20, 2022.  With my taste in games and consumer consciousness, I personally was grateful, thank you.   

Similar to an entree on a menu, in order to truly appreciate (or evaluate) a video game, you need at least a sample or appetizer.  And while PC gamers often get a chance to play demos on sites like STEAM, for a console owner getting to play a game demo is rare; especially for a AAA title.  

The demo to end all demos for me was Arkham Asylum.  This title surpassed even the success of the Playstation 2 hit Spider-Man 2 in terms of what to expect from a superhero video game.  And yet, had Sony not released a demo of that game, I can say I would not have purchased that title.  Especially not a pre-order.  So, any company willingly offering a demo has my ear.   

Often, especially given their somewhat incomplete state, developers include disclaimers with their demos.  This script from the team is a way of calming any fears that what you’re playing today is NOT the final cut.  However, with such a small window before its release, even Square Enix must have known any apparent flaw with Forspoken would not sit well with gamers. 

And unfortunately it seems the initial reactions from some gamers for Forspoken (demo and full game) are not positive. Most of the negative comments focus on the game’s main character and the dialogue; lip synchronization with the voice acting a major concern. Some gamers also found the game’s runtime was too short and its open world and story were not big enough. And there were complaints about the game’s overall performance speed.

Let’s examine the complaint that Forspoken isn’t a true open world game.  From the demo that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Eventually I hit areas that were limited to the demo but that is understandable.  However, other AAA titles have areas that are unavailable, backdrops to give the game depth.  You may recall there were some mountains even Alloy couldn’t reach.  Can Spider-Man travel to Jersey?   

Whether its world is open or not, the area that the Forspoken demo showcases looks spectacular.  One thing I haven’t noticed is many complaints about the graphics, lighting and colors or even the atmosphere the soundtrack creates.  The demo contains a large, playable area full of grassy fields, mountainous ranges and a river basin/swamp in the middle. Each geographical section was rich in texture with realistic dimensions and depth.  The grass responds to Frey’s movements as she walks or runs through the fields, and you will notice it swaying with the breeze.  Stop for a moment as Frey runs on the water and you will see the bedrock below the river’s surface.  

Still, while I don’t have the complaints of other gamers, there is one thing that stands out with the Forspoken demo.  Whatever awaits a player in Forspoken is only hinted upon in the packaged demo.  Forspoken isn’t self-explanatory.  In a way it keeps the first agreement.  

Let me explain.  

It’s not unheard of for a demo to drop a player deep into a game, past the prologue.  This is advantageous since early areas can drag due to dialogue or even just a diminished powerset.  It’s similar to test driving a car, you want to take it on the highway and see what it can really do.   

This is the case with the Forspoken demo.  You begin well past any early introductions of Frey as well as her arrival or the explanation of Athia.  Perhaps gaining the game’s opening will help some people relate to Frey’s character and behaviors better.  Or maybe she’ll have to wait for HBO.      

Without a formal opening the demo leaves it to your bracelet assistant, Cuff, to lead you through the game’s tutorial.  I found the arrogant accessory somewhat humorous.  My only concern was if that’s his name or is this like the furniture and cookware in Beauty and the Beast.  Acting as the instructor, Cuff gives players a brief rundown of how to play as Frey.  Accessing Frey’s magick and how to parkour are quickly explained during a fight with some citizens turned corrupted by the Tantas.  

After this initial battle, a few icons appear indicating what areas and objectives Frey “should” explore and complete during the demo.  You can battle a few additional adversaries as you fight to cross a bridge, gain access to a vantage point to take a picture for some friends back home (that is if you succeed in Athia) before concluding the demo with a boss fight.  

What I found surprising is that unlike other demos, after the initial demo playthrough limit is reached – and the customary commercial for the title concludes – players can jump back into the game.  It was during this period that I was able to discover what was left unsaid in the demo.  

Let’s start with some basic controls.  Did you discover during the demo that there were two sides of magic to use?  A side for Frey and a side for Sila, whoever that is?  It took discovering I was no longer blasting the corrupted with the burst shot that reminded me of Piper from Charmed that I made this discovery.  Somehow during a battle I must have managed to hit the right D pad trigger, which switches to Sila’s magic.  I don’t recall Cuff telling me about that when mentioning my abilities.  

What about Frey’s finisher?  As you’re battling an elk or an alligator, the word VULNERABLE flashes in red over an enemy.  If you hit the triangle button, you’ll easily finish your foe and also gain some extra skill points.  Cuff often will shout “now’s your chance” at this moment too but you’re probably already tuning him out. 

Notice those yellow spikes jutting from the side of the mountains?  Did you try hitting them with some magickal firepower?  Nothing.  What about looking at it and pressing the square button.  More parkour.  Frey not only has her sprint/burst but she can teleport to these rocks. This gives you access to even greater heights, seems like someone should have mentioned it.  

It wasn’t until I stopped paying attention to the beacons or Cuff’s berating long enough to see what I could do.  It took opening my eyes, and the menu, to discover this demo section of Athia has a lot of ground to cover.  During this time, I fought several large groups of enemies, including what seems like a never ending gator stampede, which gave me a chance to complete spell challenges – which power up your spells.  

I also went to several small villages, now abandoned, which had various treasures such as necklaces, cloaks and nail designs.  

Once you begin to pay attention to the unspoken, the Forspoken demo becomes an enjoyable adventure. There is a thrill and rush that comes with successfully executing attacks and evasions. All while Frey nimbly executes gymnastic feats while cracking quips like Haley from Stick It.

Once you get into the flow of dashing and twisting as you unleash a multi scatter shot before finishing your foe with a Sila stake, Cuff and Frey’s conversation gets kinda quiet. I guess it is also during these moments – in the midst of so many foes that I was more focused on Frey’s survival – that some performance lag may have occurred. For those still not satisfied, yes there is an option to quiet the idle conversation – would you do that to Mimir? Or Clank?

So, what’s left to say about Forspoken? While I have spent hours just exploring the demo, is the remainder of the game’s runtime that short? In addition to fighting to restore Athia, Forspoken is about Frey figuring out what has happened. Square Enix states Forspoken offers 30+ hours with scenes and a story arc similar to their famous Final Fantasy. Explorers probably will add a few more minutes to their runtime. Various collectibles (flora and materials) aid Frey in her journey as she uses these discoverables to craft items and potions; not a professor in sight, or would you prefer that?

The one thing I cannot speak to are Forspoken’s cutscenes and the complete story. If Frey’s adventure falls apart, is it from the start, or does it wait for the 3rd act to bring in the djinn and wendigo? Does the voiceover work weaken the game, well there are always subtitles. Or maybe Forspoken could have created a completely incomprehensible, even unpronounceable language for their characters to speak – then the mouths could move anyway they wanted.

Maybe the critics will finally speak freely. Typically, when a new release receives the scores Forspoken has, it is due to two reasons. The first is there are major gameplay glitches. While there were some problems with the system the major bugs were being addressed during the demo. Not to mention the new video game distribution cycle factors in some eventual update or patch. The other universal complaint comes when critics see a game as nothing but a poor imitator. Some made this comparison between Breath of the Wild and Immortals Fenyx Rising or Astergios: Curse of the Stars. However, Forspoken, Athia and its inhabitants offer a much different story than Empire City. Its protagonist, and her personality and background are different, not like other stars that video game players have seen and played. For gamers, it’s usually about avoiding the “been there, done that” scenario when choosing what to play. So, to hear all this noise without even a note about what has never been done – the new, non-traditional video game hero – well, it speaks volume.

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