Approximately one thousand years ago, Square Enix announced a PS5-exclusive game at the showcase event, which also revealed the design of the console itself. This title, Project Athia, had been rumored for months beforehand, though when we heard that the company had trademarked the word “Forspoken” most fans seemed to conclude that it was the title of the forthcoming Final Fantasy XIV expansion.
As it turned out, Project Athia and Forspoken were one and the same, and Square was debuting a brand-new IP that would bring in Greg Whitta (writer of Rogue One) and Amy Hennig (of Soul Reaver) to create a new universe featuring a protagonist pulled into it from ours. And the first trailer immediately polarized a lot of fans.
The main character, Frey, is a young woman from New York who ends up in the dangerous, fantastical world of Athia and gains a sentient bracelet named Cuff. It helps her tap into powerful magical spells to fight, maneuver, and protect herself, and their dynamic helps Frey get accustomed to her new surroundings. Frey herself is foul-mouthed and sarcastic, a far cry from the typical JRPG protagonist formula.
Of course, this kind of character can easily grind people’s gears if written even slightly poorly, and her first impression received a lot of backlash from fans. A few trailers and a Game Awards later, though, and we finally have an opportunity to test drive Frey around this expansive world for ourselves in a free demo. So, what do I think of Forspoken so far after this much buildup? It’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Opinions are divisive so far, but I had a lot of fun with the demo despite its several glaring flaws. Starting with the positives, I do like Frey and Cuff – while the protagonist-and-inanimate-friend relationship is a little tired in 2022, Frey is unique enough to breathe life into it. I don’t have the best idea of how far into the story this slice of the game is or how long they’ve known each other, but given the pedigree of the original writers, I have a lot of faith in the plot side of Forspoken.
However, the gameplay is where issues sprout. First off, despite being a PS5 exclusive, Forspoken is capped at 30FPS. By today’s standards, it just doesn’t feel like enough for an action title, and the entire experience feels slowed down. It even lessens my enjoyment of the Sonic-speed world traversal – magic-dashing around a stunning landscape is just less effective when the game’s performance sabotages the speed.
Combat is also hit-and-miss. First, and this is important, I heavily recommend going into the control settings and turning the trigger effect entirely off. Your attack button is R2, and you will have to press it rapidly, so having any resistance on the trigger will literally tire your finger out in just a few fights.
I ended up really enjoying the unique approach to combat, which felt like Kingdom Hearts III without the regular attack button. Every fight will see you changing magical styles mid-combat, parkouring between enemies to land massive hits, and unleashing powerful ultimate spells to decimate large groups of foes. While R2 isn’t the best choice of attack button, it makes more sense in the ranged combat style, where you hold it down to aim your shots.
The world and plot are indecipherable from this snippet of the game, unfortunately, as the player is presented with five objectives to complete without any story between them. All we have to go on is the dialogue between the two lead characters, and for the most part, we just get casual banter here. The way this demo is constructed is rather confusing in general. Evidently, Square wanted to show off the magic-infused world traversal, but the map itself is far larger than it needs to be and is totally void of content outside of enemy encounters and objectives. A 30 GB install size for a demo is excessive and indulgent on a console as tight on space as the PlayStation 5.
Another issue is that this demo explains little to nothing about character progression. While the functionality is all there if you go digging for it, it’s difficult to parse and feels like an unnecessary inclusion in a demo with no progress to transfer to the full game. There’s also a counter that pops up onscreen when you pick up certain objects in the world map, and at no point is the player told what this means. It truly does feel like a chunk of the game was sectioned out, the tutorial was shoved at the beginning, and not much other consideration was made for the player here.
Forspoken’s demo leaves me with both hope and a lot of questions. I’m enjoying the gameplay and lead characters, but I don’t have any idea what they’re in service of yet without knowing more about the expanded story. In addition, I don’t understand why compromises weren’t made to get the game to what would be considered an acceptable performance by today’s standards.
Most of all, I don’t know who this game is for yet. I love the aesthetic and music, I love the representation, and I’m incredibly excited about whatever the two original writers cooked up for the plot. But right now, I’m feeling alone in that hope and unsure what could happen in the next two months to make Forspoken as broadly appealing as it needs to be.
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