Square Enix will be publishing new IP Forspoken, an open world narrative driven JRPG that’s just been delayed for a second time to January next year, and they’ll be acting as publishers for the long-awaited Final Fantasy XVI before following with the release of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, both games slated to come out mere months after Forspoken next Summer and Winter respectively.
To say there’s heaps of pressure weighing down their marketing department is an understatement; not only will their workload be immense, but the developer, are crying out for a commercial smash hit. Marvel’s Avengers was met with lukewarm reception, with critics citing its technical hitches and repetitive gameplay as overwhelming lowlights in an otherwise disappointing title. 2021’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, whilst its characters, dialogue, and narrative deserve praise, failed to meet the developer’s sales targets.
Perhaps players struggled to reconcile a Chris Pratt-less Guardians of the Galaxy, or maybe this decent game was simply unlucky. It was released in October 2021, a month jam-packed with AAA releases –like Back 4 Blood and others also saw the light of day within a matter of days, undoubtably syphoning player’s cold hard cash off each other in the process.
Final Fantasy VII Remake fared much better it must be said, becoming one of the fastest selling PlayStation 4 games despite releasing in the same window as Doom Eternal and Resident Evil 3 Remake, and just a couple of months before hotly anticipated games Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us 2. Its perhaps owing to Final Fantasy VII’s legacy as one of the most-loved iconic video games of all time that the remake’s sales figures propelled to over 5 million by August 2020. All the same, releasing a major title alongside such stiff competition presents obvious risks to sales figures, and if this feature is focusing a little too much on sales thus far it’s only because Forspoken developers Luminous Productions cite a ‘strategic decision’ as primary reason for Forspoken’s latest delay.
Let’s not forget, the title was previously scheduled for a May 2022 release before a delay until October 11th. With Luminous Productions also claiming in an official statement that Forspoken’s ‘game elements are now complete, and development is in its final polishing phase,’ we can at least assume the game is nearly ready. There’s only one glaring reason that explains why they’d shift its release into the following year, and that reason, in case you hadn’t realised, is God of War Ragnarök. Yep, with Santa Monica Studio finally announcing a release date of November 9th for their latest landmark title, it’s likely deemed as flying a too close to Forspoken for the developer to take the risk.
Luminous Productions’ statement also cites ‘ongoing discussions with key partners’ as the precursor for their strategic decision to delay Forspoken, so from this we can conject Sony might’ve had a hand in the latest pushback too. After all, of the developer’s upcoming titles that’re announced they are all PlayStation exclusives (apart from Forspoken which will also be playable on PC). God of War Ragnarök is also a PlayStation exclusive, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for Sony to want to space out their exclusives. Anything releasing in the same window as God of War Ragnarök is bound to have some shine rubbed off it anyway, and with Forspoken’s largely ambivalent reception it needs all the help it can get.
It’s worth stressing that this last point is conjecture. For all we know, Luminous Productions want a few more months to finish off Forspoken. Although, it must be said, from what we’ve seen from the latest gameplay trailers the game looks to be in a good state after an initially rocky reveal. If you haven’t come across Forspoken yet, or want a refresh, then the gist is that it’s a sprawling Horizon Forbidden West type odyssey where you’ll control young New Yorker Frey after she’s mysteriously transported into the beautiful brutal land of Athia. She’ll utilise her newfound magical abilities during battle against a raft of fantastical monstrosities, venturing onward in search of a way home. Accompanying her on this treacherous journey is a quippy sentient gold bangle which spirals up her arm.
Whilst a technical marvel, the game doesn’t seem to reinvent the wheel in terms of narrative. A problem with any form of media designed by large-scale committee is there’re always aspects which end up feeling generic or expected. Forspoken’s story looks to fall into this category; it feels like a story already told. Its central premise of a world broken by corruption sounds eerily familiar to Horizon Zero Dawn, too. However, there are two gameplay aspects which shine insanely bright, and those are Frey’s newfound magical capabilities, and the ways in which she can utilise these powers in combat and in the game’s traversal.
What’s especially intriguing about these magical powers is they’re inspired by the surrounding elements and environments of Athia with which Frey finds herself in. For instance, the move ‘Eagre’ allows Frey to command barriers of water. These abilities are pivotal for fast and agile manoeuvres too, allowing Frey to rapidly dodge oncoming attacks, or repeatedly hop higher into the air, coming face to face with the game’s monolithic dragons.
Her magic isn’t just for combat though. Zipping through the misty climbs of the oftentimes stunning Athia looks a breeze; sling-shotting over mountains, surfing atop mirrorlike lakes, getting from point A to point B in Forspoken looks like it’ll always be fun. Traversal is an incredibly important aspect of any open world game, of course, but too many in the genre are reliant on some form of transport, be it horseback or motor vehicle. Forspoken looks to bring a spot of freewheeling spontaneity to open world travel, and it’ll be fantastic if this is implemented as well as it looks in the game’s trailers. There is a niggling doubt that the landscape itself will be disinteresting or unimportant if it can be skipped over in a heartbeat though.
There’s something distinctly modern in Forspoken’s presentation; it’s a melting pot of cultures akin to Frey’s New York home. Its land of feudal architecture roaming with dragons and other fantasy creatures clash in perfect harmony with the gameplay trailer’s symphonic hop-hop soundtrack. Admittedly, these aspects of the game have largely underwhelmed; despite the developer sourcing outside consultants to oversee the Westernisation of the game’s characters, something feels a little off for many who’ve watched the story trailer. It’s like Japanese production and Western sensibilities are struggling to exist in harmony. However, it’s likely this jarring of culture is exactly what the creators intend. Whether this translates into an enjoyable gaming experience, with genuine considerations for the player to adhere to foreign customs without resorting to cliché, we’ll have to wait and see.
Another point of contention met with little fanfare is the protagonist’s personality. In short: the young, angsty, orphaned main character has become a bit of a trope in recent years. So much so, in fact, that it falls into negative stereotype. Some of the stereotypical language used by Forspoken’s principal performance director Tom Keegan to describe person of colour Frey has been met with a degree of contempt too. It’s beyond the scope of this feature to analyse the words of Forspoken’s performance capture director, but it is worth dropping in actress Ella Balinska’s thoughts on acting as Frey Holland: “as a character she’s real, she’s raw, she’s a girl who’s lost her way… and is a character I immediately connected with.”
Combat, magic, traversal, missions, et cetera, are all well and good in RPGs or narrative driven action-adventures, but they don’t make or break the experience. Central to RPGs or action-adventure games’ success is the strength of their characters. In both Horizon titles, God of War, or innumerable Final Fantasy games, the strength of the characters and their relationships with each other elevate the experience. An artist who’s passionate in portraying these characters with depth and realism goes a long way; whilst there are grumblings floating around the net surrounding Frey’s persona it’s of course too early to tell if she’ll be remembered come the end of 2023. It’s doubtful she’ll be as strongly a recognisable character as Aloy, Kratos, or Cloud, but as things stand Frey is the linchpin on which Forspoken’s success will hinge.
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.