Reviews are finally available for Forspoken, and while we scored it a 7 – not the worst, but not the best – overall impressions have been mixed. On Metacritic, it has an average Metascore of 68 from 61 critical reviews. There are several 8+ ratings, but the vast majority range from a 6 to a 7.3, with the lowest being a 4.
It may not seem like the worst thing for a new IP, especially from Square Enix. The publisher has come off a year full of underwhelming releases. Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, Valkyrie Elysium, The DioField Chronicle, Harvestella – the list goes on, not counting the live-service games which shut down.
However, Forspoken occupies a higher pedestal. Luminous Productions is composed of several developers who worked on Final Fantasy 15. It was formed in 2018 to develop new IPs and shifted focus later in the year to work on “large-scale, high-quality AAA game titles”, which would leverage the Luminous Engine’s strengths. The decision resulted in a $33 million loss, arguably before development began.
Assuming production had started in 2019, followed by the teaser for Project Athia in 2020 and its release this month, Forspoken has been in the works for less than four years. With the sheer amount of money going into the visuals, talent (both actors and writing crew), and marketing, it’s not a budget title. The fact that Sony paid for two-year exclusivity showcases the high expectations it had.
Even if Forspoken performs well based on hype alone, it’s not enough for games in this day and age, especially those with a $70 price tag. For every Sonic Frontiers that does well despite a middling Metascore, there are games like Saints Row, Need for Speed Unbound or The Callisto Protocol, which fall below expectations.
The game’s quality probably isn’t surprising for many people, especially after trying the demo. But where did the final product go wrong?
It’s first worth noting why Luminous Productions may have chosen the direction that it did. When Final Fantasy 15 launched, many enjoyed the more open aspects of the game and building memories with their party. The overall story being full of plot holes and the linear nature of the latter part reinforced that. Perhaps the development team felt that going with a more open structure, where the player could have the freedom to roam about and do what they want at their own pace, was the way to go.
Then there’s the combat which, even after several improvements over the years, didn’t quite hit that fast-paced flow that the development team was looking for. It probably wanted to deliver on that with Forspoken. The creative heads have spoken a lot about magic and its importance. It’s hard to look at the parkour and sheer spectacle and not see some resemblance to Noctis’s antics.
Unfortunately, as much as Luminous may have wanted to get these aspects right in Forspoken, the lack of vision and coherent structure are noticeable. Some reviews have praised the game for its combat, especially as more mechanics are introduced, but others have pointed out how repetitive it can be in certain instances, like boss fights. Some have noted how it’s more suited to open spaces and that fighting in enclosed areas bogs it down. Lackluster variety for regular enemies and recycled boss-like foes also don’t help.
As for the world, it feels like Forspoken started with Athia as the focus, as if it was a character in its own right. It seems obvious given the initial Project Athia name. However, unlike The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, God of War Ragnarok, Elden Ring or any standout gaming world in the past few years, it forgot to give Athia any real character. The sights and sounds aren’t memorable. It doesn’t feel like an actual lived-in space shaped by its history.
As nice as it may be to parkour around – which also gets repetitive over time due to its simplicity – the wide-open spaces are just that. Chalk this up to a lack of engaging side activities, few memorable quests, or a general lack of imagination. Even if Athia isn’t offensively bad as a world, it’s overtly rote. Boring, even.
The dialogue, particularly the interactions between Frey and Cuff, has caught the attention of many. It can get pretty bad, but the general characterization also feels off. Without going into spoilers, Forspoken took a different route with some of its ideas, the story could have been better. As cliche as they may be, there would be some happy ending to Frey’s search for a sense of belonging.
Unfortunately, the final result suffers from even worse cliches, too much exposition – as opposed to actually having the story play out – and a lack of anything endearing. You can hire some of the best actors in the world, but they can only do so much with poor material. The same applies to the gameplay when the general plot and lore are lacking.
Also, for as much attention as the visuals received – and the whole point of the studio was to work on titles that best leverage its engine’s strengths – Forspoken is a very uneven-looking game. The particle and spell effects are amazing, but there can also be too much visual clutter. Some cutscenes and facial animations look off, to say nothing of a good number of NPCs. The environments are impressively rendered but also pretty lifeless and bog-standard.
Forget that this is a PS5 exclusive, one that demands an RTX 4080 and 32 GB of RAM to run at 4K/60 FPS on PC. Even if the world had numerous enemies or the animations were better, it wouldn’t change just how uninspired everything feels.
This brings us to perhaps the most underwhelming part of Forspoken – how painfully average it truly is. It draws you in but offers little depth in return. How much worse would the reviews be if it didn’t even have that?
What happened to the final product is clear. But the main question then becomes: What happened at the very start? Was the departure of Hajime Tabata, Final Fantasy 15’s director who played a large part in ensuring the game was released, that big of a blow to the company? Did Luminous lack any real vision for Forspoken? Could it not translate its initial ideas into a game with a great story and characters? How much did it change from the initial inception to the release? Is its engine truly not capable of delivering on its triple-A ambitions? We may never really know.
If you enjoy Forspoken, absolutely nothing is wrong with that. Plenty of games haven’t received universal praise and are still incredibly fun. Luminous Productions will doubtless take the criticisms to heart and do everything possible to improve the game. Even Final Fantasy 15 received entire new story sections to make it better. I don’t see a rewrite for the script anytime soon, but maybe those who enjoyed Forspoken’s combat and running around in Athia will have it better later.
As for the rest who couldn’t get into the demo and for whom the reviews confirmed their worst fears, maybe Square Enix will deliver with Final Fantasy 16 and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.