In a console generation that’s been dominated by exclusives, acquisitions and subscription services, Square Enix has been somewhat of an anomaly. It’s capable of such beautiful dreams (see: Final Fantasy 7 Remake) and such horrible nightmares (like Marvel’s Avengers).
Despite its short-term offerings being a little wanting (which is putting it real nicely), its future is looking very good. Final Fantasy 16 looks amazing, and is bolstered all the more by having Naoki Yoshida on board as producer. Then there’s Forspoken, Luminous Productions’ next big title that takes place in the world of Athia. Lest you think this is another magical fantasy about crystals, the focus is on Frey who steps into a mysterious portal and finds herself in less-than-inviting circumstances.
Athia was prosperous once upon a time and led by matriarchs known as the Tantas. However, a blight called the Break arrived and on top of completely warping the landscape, turned people into monsters. The world was split up into different realms and the Tantas went mad, ruling with an iron fist. It’s almost like the set-up of a Dark Souls title but in the middle of the world collapsing instead of the aftermath.
With the help of a sentient bracelet called Cuff, Frey journeys across the land to do something and maybe find a way home. Why is she so skilled at magic? Why isn’t she affected by the Break like everyone else? What happened to the Tantas? Is the fact that there are four realms, each likely ruled by a Tanta, a coincidence given Square Enix’s history with the Four Warriors of Light? These are but a few questions that must be answered.
On top of an intriguing premise that’s essentially dark fantasy isekai, the antagonistic Tantas also present some interesting themes. Take Tanta Prave aka the Tanta of Justice who once believed in the highest ideals of justice but has since come to think of herself as judge, jury and executioner. Tanta Sila, or the Tanta of Power, was once a revered warrior who protected Athia from invading threats but now believes only in power. There’s some potentially interesting connection between the Tantas and Frey’s circumstances. Could their circumstances mirror her own and is understanding them the key to going home? Does she even want to go home?
Handling such heavy material can be tough but the writing team on Forspoken already looks fairly capable. It includes Gary Whitta, who worked on Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 and The Final Season, and Amy Hennig. While the former is creating the world concept, the latter is in charge of the narrative and how it fits into the game’s design (which is something Hennig is very good at).
The other thing that makes Forspoken so interesting is that it’s set in a big open world. Along with magic, Frey is also capable of high-speed movement and mobility, whether it’s scaling walls or jumping across huge expanses. These play a big role in combat and despite Final Fantasy 15 having its share of mixed reactions from fans, Luminous Productions has shown itself capable of creating a compelling open world.
Some hands-off previews have called out the environments in Forspoken for empty but it could end up being akin to titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where exploration and discovery are key. As such, there’s a lot we don’t know about the game’s various environments, including the environments which have been corrupted by the Break and the darkness that seemingly resides within. Its large expanses look appropriately enticing – providing compelling stories (or fun combat) for those who go out of their way to explore them is key.
Speaking of combat, it’s perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the game. Based on the footage seen thus far, Frey is capable of wielding tons of different spells, from simply shooting projectiles to throwing javelins that explode outwards and locking on to multiple targets to fire seeking shots. Being able to lift a bunch of foes up in a watery sphere with a spell and then detonating it with another spell is just one of the combinations that looks great. Combined with the mobility, there is a lot of potential for combat.
Thus far, Forspoken seems to have a lot going for it, from a unique premise and art design to some strong combat. Many things are still up in the air regarding world design, especially with the open world activities, but moving through these incredible vistas looks to be fun. The only real concern is that it may all be too ambitious relative to the Luminous Engine’s capabilities.
The Luminous Engine helped facilitate a fairly large open world with Final Fantasy 15 but faced its share of performance issues at launch. While things did improve and the game had a chance to shine on PC along with current-gen platforms, Forspoken’s scale appears to be larger and works with a much faster sense of speed. This may be the reason why the four minute gameplay trailer from December showcased such an inconsistent frame rate.
Of course, that could be for any number of other reasons. Perhaps the 4K/30 FPS mode isn’t properly optimized while the 1440p/60 FPS mode runs great. Maybe it was an older build that was simply used for demonstrative purposes while the current build is more stable. Regardless, the performance wasn’t the best. Subsequent gameplay trailers have looked better though and hopefully, the game’s delay will ensure it receives the proper amount of polish before launch.
Forspoken is coming to PS5 and PC on October 11th, and it will be a timed exclusive on the console for 24 months. One could chalk this up to the strong relationship between Sony and Square Enix but there’s definitely a unique charm to the game. It looks epic but not by the typical standards of blockbusters. The story is more personal and seemingly focused on a singular character (banter with Cuff aside) unlike many of Square Enix’s previous RPGs but still embodies an adventurous vibe.
Despite the overall lack of information, Forspoken comes across a big deal. It may not stand toe to toe with something like Horizon Forbidden West or even Final Fantasy 16 but it looks to carve its own identity and tell its own story for a unique experience. With so many games releasing this year, that’s all you can really ask for…and given how Square Enix is pricing it, there’s plenty of onus to ensure it delivers on that promise. If a delay will make that happen, then so be it.
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