Crazy Cat Aunts
Do you remember when Sony announced the PlayStation 5? One of the first glimpses of the prowess of Sony’s new console came via Forspoken – untitled at the time, of course. A female protagonist amongst the beautiful but barren scenery of a mountainous terrain. She explored the insides of a massive cave, relaying the potential of higher refresh rates, raytracing, and all the bells and whistles a next gen console should maintain.The PS5 did not fail to deliver on those expectations (if you could secure one, that is). Forspoken, however, can not say the same.
Forspoken sees Alfre (Frey), an orphan abandoned as a baby, who grew up in the tough streets of New York. She’s obviously lived a rough life and has been in and out of the justice system in her young life – so much so, in fact, that the judge has grown to take a liking to young Frey. On the fateful night during the opening of Forspoken, Frey finds herself on the wrong side of a gang and on the run – eventually finding her way through to the land of Athia.
Once in Athia, Frey and her newly acquired vambrace she calls Cuff, attempt to survive what is known as the break while battling various break creatures and searching for survivors. Frey learns that Athia was once a thriving place ruled by the kind and fair Tantas – women of immense power. Over time, these Tantas lost their minds, and the corruption of the break spread. Thanks to Cuff, Frey is gifted magical ability to fight the break creatures, and her curious ability to survive the corruption leads the survivors – a city known as Cipal full of the last remaining humans – to herald her as their hero. Soon, she’s put to work battling the Tantas while seeking a way back home.
All of this, while a little cliche, is a fine setup for what could be a solid adventure. Visually, much of Forspoken is great. Gameplay allows for the quick cycling of magical warfare and high speed parkour. It’s a system that works extremely well, though if you’re a completionist like I am, it’s a system that takes 10 hours to unlock the next set of spells. Still, once you open up each set of spells, the gameplay really starts to freshen up. My one honest recommendation for this game is to withhold gameplay judgment until you unlock the second set of magic.
With all of that said, Forspoken really suffers in far too many categories. Voice acting is mediocre at best, with Frey and Cuff headlining the talent. And they do a decent job, except the developers felt a need to make them interject random conversations into their travels and after battles… which would be fine, but it definitely felt like there were only five pre-recorded interjections for the whole game. Needless to say, I was fed up with Frey and Cuff’s antics before reaching the first Tanta’s castle.
While we’re on the subject of the Tantas, I just really needed to ask the developers: Why? Why name the great leaders of Athia Tantas, which is most commonly used as a term for a paternal aunt. My wife’s father is a first generation American whose family immigrated from Germany (and I have living relatives in Germany, as well) – and all of her aunts were simply called Tanta. Imagine my amusement when I am supposed to be in awe of these Tantas – these immensely powerful magic wielding women – but all I can think about is my wife’s late 90 year old great aunt who was a super sweet and welcoming woman. What’s next – the battle between Opa and Oma?
My biggest takeaway from Forspoken is that it was a noble venture littered with too many gaffes due to, I believe, being much too ambitious a project for a new studio’s first game. The combat can be enjoyable, but the pace of the game and, therefore, the time with which it takes to unlock additional magic trees, is about 10 hours between each set (if you try to do a majority of the map events like I did). The second set of skills, as previously mentioned, definitely open up combat, and each additional tree adds an enjoyable addition to Frey’s arsenal. Magic chaining and the tremendous magical parkour experience keep this otherwise forgettable game afloat. The narrative is cliche (which isn’t necessarily a problem, but every step of the game was easily predictable and somewhat cringe worthy). Developers had a chance to create an inspiring minority female protagonist but instead created a character in Frey that is almost entirely unlikeable (though her reasons for being selfish and spiteful are, at least, understandable). At the end of the game and even in the post game content, I never really felt like Frey evolved in a believable way. The only impactful moment of the game is when a certain character dies, but Frey’s relationship with the character is hard to believe, at best. Instead of building on that foundation, Frey further descends into unlikability before the game abruptly ends.
WIth all of that said, there is, however, enough in the experience to make a rental worthwhile, if only just to run around the expansive but empty open world of Athia. It is definitely exhilarating scaling mountainous terrain, leaping from one floating island to the next, surfing on bodies of water with a magical surfboard apparition (or whatever it is). I hope that Luminous will have an opportunity to develop another game because I can certainly see the promise of their work.