What if you took the gameplay of modern-day “Final Fantasy” and combined it with the exploration of “Horizon Zero Dawn?” You’d get something like “Forspoken.” The game follows a young woman named Frey from New York as she suddenly gets whisked away into a new world called Athia, filled with magic and dragons. What comes after is a journey of self-discovery, finding her place in the world, and lots of parkour.
“Forspoken” feels fluid to play and has gorgeous visuals to support its open-world structure. However, there remains some room for improvement in its supporting cast and pacing.
When Frey steps into Athia, she meets Cuff, a magical bracelet that imbues her with elemental powers to defend herself. Athia is under threat by something called the Break, which turns people into violent monsters — and Frey is the only one seemingly unaffected by its exposure. The Break is being spread by the four Tantas, once benevolent rulers who’ve gone mad from it. From there, the game’s story unfolds like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” in which Frey must take the Tantas down to collect their remaining elemental powers, while also finding a way back home to New York.
Frey’s east coast origins also provide a really interesting contrast between her and the aristocratic locals in the city of Cipal, Athia’s final stronghold. Early in the game, Frey stands trial for being a suspected demon. When asked where she’s from, she mentions Hell’s Kitchen, which prompts the council to reinforce their claims simply because of the word “hell.” Many of these kinds of interactions are sprinkled throughout the game, which always makes for entertaining and funny misunderstandings.
“Forspoken’s” pacing can be a bit lopsided as some chapters last much longer than others. Some chapters don’t conclude until Frey beats a story boss, while others can be over in just a few cutscenes. It sometimes feels like the plot is moving too fast, especially in the beginning when Athia hasn’t fully opened up yet for Frey to explore. When it eventually does open up, however, the pacing feels much smoother as the exploration helps balance out the fast-paced narrative.
The game’s side quests, called Detours, are welcome distractions that help make Cipal feel like a thriving city and flesh out the personalities of the game’s supporting cast. A memorable one involves Bellette, a council member. Following a tragedy in Cipal, Frey calls out her “one sacrifice to save the many” mentality, noting that Bellette would never put herself in a position to be sacrificed while ordinary citizens carried the greatest risk. However, my main issue is that I wish the supporting cast had more direct involvement in the main story. Without the Detours, they’re not nearly as interesting as Frey and Cuff.
The combat is one of the most fun parts of “Forspoken.” The real-time system from “Final Fantasy XV” puts a bigger emphasis on magic here. Frey can shoot rocks at flying enemies, cut them down with a flaming sword, and mow them down with a flurry of water arrows. There’s an incredible variety of different attacks for Frey to switch between at any moment, so fighting never feels stale. Not to mention, the spells look breathtaking as lightning rains down and illuminates the battlefield. “Forspoken’s” action feels like a glimpse of what players could expect from the upcoming “Final Fantasy XVI.”
What makes Forspoken stand out amongst its other AAA open-world peers, however, is its excellent traversal mechanics. Frey can maneuver her way through Athia’s rocky terrain like a flowing river and it feels absolutely exhilarating. Athia’s vast and gorgeous-looking landscapes are easier to take in because of Frey’s speed boost when parkouring. As she takes down each Tanta, she gains access to new traversal abilities, including being able to slide across bodies of water — exploring Athia is just simply fun.
One aspect to note about Forspoken is Frey herself. One of the game’s opening scenes depicts Frey in a courtroom with a judge reading aloud her criminal record. While it feels unintentional, the situation comes off a bit tone-deaf considering Frey is a black woman in the United States. It’s also odd that Forspoken’s writing team didn’t consist of any black writers. This was a missed opportunity to provide another layer of authenticity to Frey that someone from a similar background could have provided. Still, Frey’s voice actor, Ella Balinska, did a great job of portraying her.
Despite its pacing flaws, “Forspoken” is a fun adventure, and the developers nailed the minute-to-minute gameplay with Frey’s parkour abilities and magic spells. The dialogue between her and Cuff is witty and memorable, and there’s incredible attention to detail in Athia’s world and history through the game’s many collectibles. There’s a lot of potential in both Frey’s character and Athia’s lore that could make for more exciting stories.
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