Sling magic spells and traverse the world with magic-enhanced parkour, all the while saving a far-flung world. That’s what Forspoken has to offer with its fun gameplay, Alice in Wonderland-like setup, and two main characters you’ll grow to love even with its few hiccups.
Forspoken is an open-world action JRPG developed by Luminous Productions and published by Square Enix. The story centers on Frey, a young New Yorker with an extensive rap sheet. Her latest stunt gets her in trouble with a local gang, and her world falls apart. But an unexpected discovery of a mysterious gold cuff suddenly transports her to another world, Athia. The bracelet turns out to be sentient, and is just as disgruntled about being on Frey’s arm as she is about him. As Frey calls him, Cuff gives Frey the ability to cast spells and use magic to traverse Athia. With these abilities, Frey and Cuff set out to learn more about Athia and figure out how to get Frey home.
Forspoken’s initial setup is efficient if just a bit dull. In the beginning, we get a feeling that Frey is a brash, emotional character, all raw edges and venomous words with just a few glimpses of altruism beneath it all. She’s an orphan with a chip on her shoulder, in trouble with both the law and criminals. Because of this, Frey’s background feels a bit cliché.
In addition, the beginning of the game is one ample tutorial that is very thorough, if just too exhaustive for anyone familiar with gaming mechanics. However, while all these qualities produce a start that drags its feet, once players get to Athia, the world opens up splendidly and adds excellent depth to Frey and her companion.
Athia is an unwelcoming place filled with gnarled, transformed beasts and rugged terrain. The Break, as Frey calls it, devastated the land and its inhabitants, causing the people of this land to seclude themselves in the last living city lest they become monsters themselves. As Frey travels the land and talks to its dwindling inhabitants, she learns of what Athia used to be and the Tantas that now rule as mad, evil sorceresses. Exploration is vital to understanding the past, and a big part of the exploration involves magic parkour.
Yes, you read that right. Magic parkour. It sounds ridiculous, but in action, it’s amazingly fun. Run up the side of buildings in seconds, leap over large gaps, flip over obstacles. But movement is also essential in battle, and Forspoken’s magical combat mechanics are mapped well to complement the parkour.
Spells can be used with R2 and L2 and can be chosen from a wheel of options with R1 and L1, leaving the controller buttons for parkour. This layout makes it easy to handle both offensive and defensive maneuvers simultaneously. While Frey only has a few spells at the start, Mana can be used to unlock new ones. Since Mana can be found throughout Athia or earned from battles, it’s easy to pad out Frey’s arsenal. With some really grandiose animations and cool parkour and magic combos, the action is very satisfying.
Additionally, I appreciate the complexity of the selection of magic sets. Frey starts with one magic set but later gains more. Each set has a basic type, for example, fire, water, or poison. Therefore, enemies have weaknesses and resistances players must account for, which is a nice way to up the complexity. However, complexity doesn’t necessarily equate to challenge. So, if it’s a challenge you’re looking for, you’ll undoubtedly have to play on the hardest difficulty to find it.
The main quest will have Frey venturing far and wide, and this is where worldbuilding occurs. Athia is a pretty big place with very distinctive sections whose differences are apparent in the terrain and enemies you’ll encounter. And, beyond the main storyline, there’s plenty to do. The map is obscured, so players will either have to explore every nook and cranny or find a tower that pings nearby points of interest. Players will have the options of descending into Labyrinths (similar to dungeons), solving puzzles to open chests, clearing out enemies from towers and towns, and befriending familiars—mythical cats that will hang out with you at safe houses where you can upgrade your equipment and craft items. In fact, there is a lot of cat content in Forspoken. And yes, you can pet the cats.
Additionally, there are plenty of side quests (known cutely as detours) to take on; interestingly, they’re time-dependent. Only certain side quests are available during particular portions of Frey’s main journey, which is a nice way to slow players down and get them to spend more time outside the main story. The side quests add some much-needed depth to the lore and inhabitants of Athia that players won’t get in the main plotline. However, I found very few of them interesting outside of the lore some offered; many were very one-note, and the objectives were often simplistic.
Overall, there are a few ups and downs regarding the activities to do outside of the main storyline. While the puzzles are fairly easy, and I didn’t care much for some of the side quests, the Labyrinths are fun, the cats are adorable, and the exploration is exciting, especially with the parkour. But, despite the expanse of Athia, the same activities repeat themselves with just a few differences to be found in between due to the location. The first few goes of activity were fun, but I became indifferent after the nth time. Thankfully, if they’re not your cup of tea, these activities are optional for completing the main game.
Much like other JRPGs, the story’s highlight is the characters’ relationships. Sure, the history of Athia is fascinating, but the connections between people make the plot’s twists really hit. And that’s especially true for our two main characters. Frey and Cuff never cease to entertain; the snark is real with these two. They chat all the time, commenting on situations, enemies, battles, people, how long the player remains idle and much more. Their personalities clash, and they make fun of each other, but they also come together during tough moments. And the excellent voice acting and cut scenes bring these two characters to life skillfully. The score is similarly lively and adds impressive depth to just about every situation. It’s really a treat.
But while there are some wonderful aspects to Forspoken, there are also plenty of odd choices. When a step of a quest objective completes, there’s a long pause where you’re left awkwardly standing in place for a few seconds before the game wipes the screen to black. There are a few sneaking or walking portions that feel unneeded. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a part where Frey is following another character as she sneaks around. This isn’t a game mechanic—you can’t move until the other character moves, and there’s no chance of getting spotted. I could be cajoled into thinking this was just a chance for the developers to drop information onto the players, but not much is said between Frey and this other character. Some scenes feel stiff, and others go on for too long. As I said, there are some excellent scenes in Forspoken, making it feel even odder when there’s a scene that doesn’t feel quite right.
Forspoken isn’t without its hiccups—hit-or-miss side quests, odd technical choices, unimaginative scenes, and repetitive activities. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time with Forspoken’s focal storyline. The graphics, voice acting, and musical score are phenomenal, and the cat content is a lovely addition. The relationship between the two main characters never ceases to entertain, and the gameplay is enjoyable.
Forspoken is available on January 24 for PC and PS 5.
Forspoken isn’t without its hiccups…Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time with Forspoken’s focal storyline…The relationship between the two main characters never ceases to entertain, and the gameplay is enjoyable.