Release Date : January 24, 2023
Developer(s) : Luminous Productions
Publisher(s) : Square Enix
Platforms : PS5, PC
Finally, after many delays, Forspoken is now available exclusively on PS5 and PC. Six years after the release of Final Fantasy XV, Luminous Studios’ teams offer an ambitious open world based entirely on magic. A must-play title for early 2023?
Forspoken is a major project for Square Enix. Unveiled at a PS5 event in June 2020 under the name Project Athia, it’s a brand-new license designed to make the most of the PS5’s capabilities. At the head of this production is Luminous Studios, a company founded to handle the development of Final Fantasy XV, to the point of creating a dedicated game engine, the Luminous Engine.
After revealing in March 2021 that the title would be named Forspoken, the latter was postponed several times, being originally scheduled for May 24, 2022, then for October 11, before finally landing in early 2023. So, were these multiple postponements worth it?
A Feeling of Déjà VU
If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest news on the game, Forspoken’s story takes the form of an Alice in Wonderland-style tale. It follows the adventures of Frey, a 21-year-old orphan from New York who tries to survive by petty theft, which gets her into trouble with the law. When her apartment is burned down by a local gang, our heroine finds herself homeless with her cat Homer.
In desperation, her gaze is suddenly drawn to a glowing bracelet. After getting her hands on it, Frey is transported to a fantasy world unknown to her, highlighted by the presence of a menacing dragon. She understands that she is in Athia, a land plagued by the Mist, a phenomenon that corrupts everything in its path, prompting Mankind to take refuge in the city of Cipal.
Our heroine learns all this thanks to Cuff, her talking bracelet that gives her magical powers to defend herself against the local monsters. After a less-than-warm welcome to Cipal, Frey realizes that to bring peace back to Athia and return home, she’ll have to defeat the Tantas, ancient protectors of the region who now seem to be behind the Mist.
Overall, Forspoken’s plot is not very original, and its twists and turns are fairly predictable. It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going to happen and what role each character is going to play in the plot. What’s more, Athia’s world seems rather limited and lacking in scope, a criticism that could already be leveled at Final Fantasy XV in its day. As for inspirations, Forspoken stages a fairly classic medieval fantasy universe, with monsters and elements found in all works of the genre. But where Forspoken offers something original is in its cast, which is made up almost entirely of female characters, and is varied in both its protagonists and antagonists, which is quite rare in AAA videogames.
It’s a breath of fresh air in an industry that has been accustomed to white-brown protagonists with unkempt beards for many years. On top of this, it has to be said that Frey is a truly endearing heroine, especially when we discover her past and her daily life right from the start of the adventure, which makes a sharp contrast with elements of the game’s communication that may have caused some players to tense up.
Impressive as Ffxv in Its Day?
For this new adventure, Luminous Studio is once again using its in-house engine, the Luminous Engine, originally created for Final Fantasy XV. Six years on, the Luminous Engine has obviously been enhanced to deliver impressive rendering. As we’ll explain in a moment, Forspoken is an experience based on the magical powers of its heroine. And just like FFXV in its time, the visual effects that accompany every spell are always impressive. Whether it’s the liquids of water spells, the flames of fire magic, or the elements of earth, all these spells benefit from meticulous graphics that make them impressive.
The most amazing thing about Forspoken is that, with all of Frey’s spinning moves and the visual effects of her spells, the experience manages to remain fluid despite the deluge of action on screen. This is especially the case in performance mode, which lets you enjoy the adventure at 60 frames per second, but with a less smooth and crisp rendering than in the other display types available, which are quality and ray-tracing. This is particularly apparent with the hair, which is more pixelated, but since this is an action game, we’d advise you to play it as smoothly as possible. To conclude with the technical side of things, let’s also note that the title makes effective use of the PS5’s SSD, since fast travel is instant to get from one end of Athia to the other. A truly comfortable feature of this ninth-generation console.
Spider-Man and Infamous Style Parkour
Now that we’ve talked about Forspoken’s narrative and graphics, it’s time to get to the heart of the game. Among the two main elements that define the gameplay, the first is the magical parkour that Frey is capable of thanks to the powers granted by Cuff. At the touch of a button, our heroine dashes across the open spaces of Athia, leaping over obstacles easily and scaling low surfaces. While parkour is highly enjoyable from the start, it becomes increasingly complex as you progress through the adventure, unlocking new magics and therefore brand-new abilities.
A grappling hook for hanging onto walls or launching yourself in the air, a speed boost that can be activated with the right timing, slowing your fall thanks to water… All these elements combine to make Athia’s exploration more enjoyable than ever, and make you want to discover what’s in store in this open world. However, on this side of things, we’re looking at something more classic, with challenges of all kinds, interesting sites, and even dungeons of sorts to collect equipment and improve our heroine’s stats. Deja vu, but since it’s so much fun to move around thanks to the magic of parkour, we’re happy to go along for the ride. However, don’t expect to come across any characters outside Cipal, since only Frey is able to resist the Mist. This explains Athia’s lack of human life, which is offset by the various activities available and the monsters lurking around.
Dynamic Magical Battles
Forspoken is an action game, so most of the time is spent fighting enemies encountered along the way. To defend herself, Frey uses the powers granted by Cuff, her bracelet. At the end of the adventure, four types of magic are available, all working in the same way: the right-hand side of the controller is dedicated to offensive spells, while the left-hand side is used for support spells. The triggers are used to activate spells, while the slices reveal a wheel for selecting abilities. Each element offers three different offensive spells, which are Frey’s main source of damage since she can use them constantly.
On the other hand, there are just under a dozen support spells that can only be activated once their cooldown time is up. On top of all this, each magic has an ultimate ability that refills during confrontations and is often devastating. Overall, Frey has around fifty spells in her arsenal, which means she can constantly vary her attacks to avoid a feeling of repetition, while exploiting enemies’ weak points to the maximum. What’s more, each magic has a different approach, fire being more for hand-to-hand combat, while earth is for striking from a distance. In a nutshell, Forspoken’s battles are truly impressive, thanks to Frey’s agility.
However, it must be said that Forspoken’s controls take some time to get used to. In addition, it takes quite a while for the game to reveal its true potential, giving access to more than one magic to varying battles that would otherwise become repetitive. And while the battles are impressive, they’re often muddled by the deluge of on-screen action and all the effects that go with Frey’s spells.
Well aware of all this, the developers have made the defensive part of combat more accessible. Still using the magic parkour button, Frey automatically avoids enemy attacks, as long as her stamina gauge is sufficiently full and you’re heading in the right direction. Moreover, if Frey is hit, there’s a short action window in which you can counter the attacks to send them back and recover lost hit points. All these elements combine to compensate for the lack of legibility of certain battles, giving players a number of defensive tools.
Accessibility and Comfort Are Key Words
Before giving our final word on Forspoken, we’d like to address an important aspect of the game that you may have missed if you played the demo. In the settings, Luminous Studio’s project offers a large number of options to make the experience as comfortable and accessible as possible. If you’re having trouble with the action gameplay, you’ll find things to make combat easier, like making enemies stay on the ground longer, or making your stamina gauge rise faster. But alongside this, we’re pleasantly surprised to discover comfort options that can change the game’s experience completely.
Tired of flipping through the menu wheel to select an available support spell? Don’t worry, a setting allows you to have the game automatically select abilities whose cooldown is over. Tired of pressing the triangle to pick up items from the ground? No problem, you can pick them up just by passing over them. Then again, if you’ve played the demo, you may have been bored by the numerous interactions between Frey and Cuff, her bracelet. If that’s the case, the title allows you to keep these little conversations to a minimum, for a less chatty adventure with fewer hints as to which direction to take. All this makes Forspoken highly flexible, so that everyone can enjoy the experience in the way that suits them best.
With Forpsoken, Square Enix offers the PS5 an open world that shines more in its gameplay than in its narrative. Beyond its classic story and universe, Luminous Studio’s title stands out for its varied female cast, unfortunately, is all too rare in AAA video games. But it is above all with the controller in hand that Forspoken reveals its full potential. Thanks to its highly effective magic parkour and wide range of spells, the action is fast-paced, whether in exploration or combat. All this is made possible with the help of the Luminous Engine, which manages to display many impressive effects on screen without flinching, despite the occasional confusion generated. Forspoken is therefore an experience that takes time to reveal its potential, but once you’ve mastered the controls, you’ll discover a pleasant open-world thanks to Frey’s magical powers.