Square Enix just released an extensive Forspoken gameplay trailer, and it looks pretty great. The combat has flashes of Devil May Cry and Nier Automata, while its open world traversal that prioritises parkour manages to feel like a strange mixture of Sunset Overdrive and Final Fantasy 15. The potential is there, but it’s sorely lacking a sense of personality to its setting and characters. Without this vital ingredient, I fear the entire experience will fall apart.
The upcoming JRPG hasn’t had a good time since its initial reveal. I wasn’t kind to its underwhelming world and bland lead character in my original preview, while haphazard marketing and multiple delays have resulted in it becoming a half-baked meme of sorts across the internet. A brief clip on social media was lambasted for its Whedonesque dialogue and delivery so corny that it made the entire game feel like an expensive joke.
Unfortunately for Square Enix, Forspoken hasn’t quite managed to usurp its polarising reputation, largely because it hasn’t provided us with a good enough reason to leave it behind. Continued delays and a lack of communication has meant that the memes have been able to drive the conversation, and not nearly enough has been explored within the game itself to ignite passion or prove it’s doing something we’ve never seen before. The new gameplay trailer seeks to challenge that perspective, but it doesn’t do quite enough.
Protagonist Frey Holland is seen exploring the massive open world of Athia, with a narrator taking us through a variety of locations filled with regular citizens and corrupt monsters for us to encounter. It’s fairly predictable stuff, with viewers already taking issue with so-so voice acting and supporting characters that can’t help but feel stiff and awkward. One part of the gameplay presentation has Frey gathering resources for a seamstress, and the exchange between them is painful to watch unfold. If Forspoken is filled with interactions like this I fear for the finished product, and will likely do my best to completely avoid quests like this.
This lacking personality extends to the environments themselves. Of course they look gorgeous – what triple-A game from Square Enix doesn’t these days – but it’s all a familiar mixture of decaying ruins and fantastical towns in a variety of different colours. Character designs manage to shine through at times, but we don’t know enough about the story and haven’t heard them speak to an extent where we can judge them accordingly. Yet even from a distance without the appropriate knowledge, goodness me a lot of this is by-the-numbers.
Dialogue we all made fun of in that infamous trailer remains, as does its monotone delivery. Frey reacts to threats like a student on spring break, while her talking jewellery possesses a cliched British accent that is going to make him a machine for tutorials and exposition. In spite of its fresh ideas, the overarching structure stinks of a game we’ve played before. Frey can find treasure chests scattered about the place, and climbing to a high point on the map can be done to mark points of interest worth checking out. The parkour and combat might be infested with great ideas, but if the situations were tasked with using them don't inspire us, then it all falls apart. There needs to be meaningful consequence to it all, or a narrative stringing us along and driving the pursuit of exploration that might otherwise feel dull.
Forspoken doesn’t have that secret ingredient, and the closer we get to release the more I fear that this distinct lack of personality will be its fatal flaw. Square Enix is putting a lot of faith in this game. It’s a JRPG developed from a Western perspective, with a world, characters, and themes that it hopes will resonate with a global audience. Yet all of this is forced, robbing Forspoken of all natural charm and chemistry as its focus-tested into an adventure that, according to a fanciful spreadsheet, should be perfect, but without a human foundation holding up its vision, I struggle to see how it will light a fire in potential fans.
Maybe I’m wrong, and to be honest there is no concrete way of affirming my doubts until I sit down with the game and have a chance to play it. The ingredients are there for a perfectly solid open world adventure with solid exploration and combat, but if the characters and storytelling underpinning those successes don’t deliver, then I’m not sure if I’ll even bother.
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