Forspoken has come to show how the life of a Square Enix fan can be both wonderful and hard. I’m talking about the fans who love this Japanese manufacturer and are always attentive to their games; not the paratroopers who only remember their console war games. These deserve no attention or respect. I’m talking about those who saw Valkyrie Elysium, Dragon Quest Treasures, Diofield Chronicle, Star Ocean: The Divine Force and Various Daylife arrive within 5 months without any visibility and remained with heart in hand, clinging to the remake of Crisis Core and hoping in a spectacular Forspoken.
After Final Fantasy 15 in 2016, Forspoken is only the second game from Luminous Productions. I confess that I never imagined that this Square Enix studio would make some of the same mistakes in this project. You have the same approach that mixes quirky Japanese gameplay with western aesthetics, something that really works. But overall, Forspoken is a series of good decisions plagued by bad choices in equal measure. Playing Forspoken was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, but with the constant feeling that something was missing – a feeling reinforced by the occasional bursts of brilliance the game brings.
There’s a lot that works in Forspoken and a lot that doesn’t. It’s just competent, when it could be glorious. One of the best examples of how Luminous has failed to realize his good ideas is in the storytelling. As a result, it’s something that also applies to experience design in an open world. In this experience of parkour and magic to acrobatically and thrillingly navigate through an open space, in the form of a desolate medieval fantasy world on the brink of apocalypse, Forspoken achieves a gameplay that is rare to see and highly entertaining. However, the first half of the campaign tests your patience and you may once again find yourself committing a lack of consistency in narrative design.
Only in the second half do you start having good moments, good footage, revelations that elevate the narrative beyond the meme status that social networks want to impose on it. There is a great charm in Forspoken’s narrative that makes it interesting, if we invest attention and time. To get there you have to endure 6 hours (playing straight) of game restrictions and few acrobatic moves and spells. However, I feel Forspoken shows an amazing respect for your time. You can choose to follow the campaign in a straight line and finish in less than 14 hours, like me, with little optional done. But you can also indulge in the many activities scattered across the open map.
Since you only get all the parkour moves and spells before the last boss battle, it seems that the real fun only begins when the credits roll. However, most players will already be fed up with Forspoken and what they went through to get there. It’s a bizarre decision, to have this fantasy virtual playground and this potentially thrilling gameplay that binds you to most of your playing time.
Forspoken is positioned in a fragile balance between what works and what doesn’t. Still, this open-world action RPG is a decidedly quirky Japanese experience that does good. Especially since the mix between parkour and magic results in something really fun to play. Frey, the protagonist who is transported from New York to Athia (this medieval fantasy kingdom on the verge of its destruction at the hands of its former protectors) manages to travel quickly through the 4 realms of the game where the Rupture has spread. Here dwell fearsome creatures, which he can face acrobatically, whether they are humans or corrupted beasts. From Cipal, the only city where humans can still survive, you will set out for each kingdom to face Theias and try to save humanity.
The gameplay is super fun and running through the scenarios, climbing mountains or fighting, using spells or parkour is very easy and intuitive. Thanks to the feedback gathered from the demo, Luminous has refined the combat gameplay and there are several ways to customize these mechanics. Attaching and switching spells is fast and convenient, which helps keep the action flowing. Enemies have their own element which makes them susceptible to different spells and this creates some depth to the action gameplay. However, what could be brilliant gameplay becomes tiresome in the early hours due to campaign restrictions, as mentioned above. Few spells and parkour moves, which makes traversing the first two realms a bit boring.
Also, don’t forget that for every good thing, Forspoken has another bad thing, and that’s the camera. The lock-on system leaves a lot to be desired, but I’d say the camera leaves a lot more. The camera system is bad and seems to hate the player, which in a game like this becomes highly detrimental. The flow of action is constantly interrupted, the fun fragmented and what should be moments of pure adrenaline become challenges of patience while correcting the camera. Couple that with the poor graphical quality (there are the occasional moments that impress, but more often than not they leave something to be desired) and Forspoken has a lot that works against itself.
I’d argue that Forspoken’s overall poor graphics quality is also one of the more disappointing elements. Compared to Final Fantasy 15, Forspoken feels like a lifeless game, with little use of light, shadow and texture issues. In 4K Quality and Ray Tracing modes, the image looks prettier, but the magical gameplay of open-world parkour blends very well with the 60fps. On PS5, where we play it, Forspoken has very weak, fuzzy image quality that is hard to tolerate. Couple this with the repeated Cipal NPCs and some animation issues with the citizens, and you have elements that detract from the overall experience. It reveals a lack of attention to small details, which takes you away from great experiences.
Forspoken can be summed up as an open world Action RPG with unexpectedly poor graphics quality, but which stands out for its parkour and magical gameplay. The fantasy of this medieval world has a lot of appeal, especially when the narrative gets right and the good cutscenes appear, able to highlight its high-quality soundtrack, with a progression design that raises some questions. Leaving the gameplay exponent for after the campaign is an eyebrow-raising decision. Not everyone will stick around or feel like they have to finish the campaign quickly first and then tackle optional tasks with all their powers. Likewise, Frey matures along the journey and conquest, but the path to get there is plagued with problems that shouldn’t exist.
With Forspoken’s titles playing across the screen, there’s a clear sense that Luminous Productions’ good ideas deserved much better execution and less clutter. Many of Final Fantasy 15’s mistakes are made again in Forspoken, with many more on top serving as an overweight for what good it gets. The fast-paced parkour gameplay with magic and storytelling deserved better design and execution, not to mention the graphics component, performance and key elements like the camera. Forspoken has its charms, but it makes serious mistakes.
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