Magic is the essence of Forspoken. Athena is another world filled with wonders, mysticism, and evil witches, while protagonist Fry is granted superhuman elemental powers. There is also a surprising dollop of comedy among the mysterious greatness.
However, after playing the game on PlayStation 5 at a recent preview event, I still had misgivings about both its acting and its combat, despite its magical potential.
I suspect Forspoken will be at its best when it’s freer. The freedom to explore the wide open plains and crumbling ruins of Athens and complete its myriad side activities. Freedom to fully customize Fry’s abilities. Freedom to cycle through its wide range of spells to deal elemental damage and exploit weaknesses.
(Having played the newly released demo over the weekend, I can confirm that’s the case. The demo is a take on the open world that makes more room for Frey’s abilities than the linear preview build I played.)
There’s certainly promise of depth in the game’s combat, but the first chapters I played were a bit scripted. Tutorials and stories happen every few steps as the layers of gameplay and plot unravel; The funny sneak section practically played itself out; And I didn’t have enough time to really get a feel for the range of magic that would be available.
Luminous Productions promises that Frey will eventually have access to a hundred spells. These are divided between offensive (right trigger) and support (left trigger). Whether the sheer amount of options provides a welcome complication or just frivolity remains unclear, but there’s a vague joy in cranking out spells and dishing out damage in a hail of particles.
However, the flow is the main game mechanic. This is Frey’s magical parkour that allows her to dash at great speed, jump wide gaps, and go around enemies. It’s all handled with a single button that makes Frey perform all sorts of acrobatics.
“When we thought about approaching a new IP, we thought about what would happen if we really focused on this magic element and achieved it at full capacity,” Co-Director Takefumi Terada told me.
“We started with normal parkour and thought what would happen if we added magic to it? Whether it was super fast or whether he would be able to jump high heights, or if we took something normal and then added magic to it, what might happen?
“In the same way, we’ve also created spells where, say, we’ve had a sword or a spear or some sort of regular weapon, what if we made that magic? What if we really poured magic into it? I think we’ve been able to create things that are unlike any Something players haven’t seen before, a whole new approach to the elements.”
Between magical chain shots and high-speed parkour, the result feels like a fusion of Control and Sonic. Aiming and firing Frey’s early spells are similar to magic pistols, machine guns, and shotguns. And just as Sega struggled with blue 3D camouflage, Frey’s speed couldn’t be contained.
And while it mostly takes off as intended, it will occasionally tumble into buildings or jump off cliffs into the empty abyss below. When she’s cornered by enemies and using parkour to dodge their attacks, the camera swings at times spectacularly. Put it all in a little enclosed area and throw in a fireworks show for the effects and it all gets a little confusing, although the developers are aiming for clarity.
Frey is set free in wide open spaces as you move around and race. Athens is an attractive world to explore, without an abundance of map locators. Combat Challenges provide an opportunity to permanently increase stats. Mana pools act like platform collectibles to guide you across the land. Locked labyrinths transport Frey underground to dungeons crawling with enemies and bosses. Relics unlock improvements, while Founts of Blessing unlock new spells.
It’s typical open-world stuff, sure, but it gives Frye’s story a sense of adventure and exploration. Athena is also beautiful, from its medieval city to its decrepit wasteland corrupted by the pervasive corruption called Brick, despite some harsh NPC animation. A later region with scorched earth, glowing sapphire crystals, and an ominous crimson sky.
The safe houses serve as waypoints for rest and customization of Fry’s payload. Potions can be made and additional materials used on her clothes. Again, typical open world stuff. Best of all is the ability to paint her nails with protection magic. This ancient practice, by the way, was originally done with the sacred blood of the Tantas, which really added to the mystical tone.
Who are tantas? They are the corrupt Mother who act as the main antagonists of the Freys. I won’t spoil any story details here but…it’s totally uncool.
It’s at least refreshing, though, to have a cast of characters that are mostly women.
“The only thing we set out to do was make a game about magic in a fantasy world,” said creative producer Ryo Mitsuno.
“And one of the ideas that came up was what if we had these witches who took over the world? What if we changed things up a little bit? I know there are matriarchal societies in the world. But in games, we don’t see that often. powerful witches.
“Then, naturally, we wanted to create a character from our world, as a force who would deal with these witches. We wanted a female character who would really drive the story. It became one of those things where the story I wanted to say became a game where a lot of the main characters are women.”
Recently, a particular video on Twitter drew criticism of the game’s poor and overly repetitive dialogue. There were also concerns about Cuff’s side character and the amount of chatter between him and Fry. In this preview, though, that wasn’t an issue. Furthermore, there is an option to adjust the frequency in the accessibility options, which also has a lot of visual and control flexibility.
A beautiful and cruel new land? Twisted monsters? A set of magical abilities? Conscious Jewels!?
– Forspoken (@Forspoken) August 8, 2022
“At least Fry is a character who is not of this world. So she will interact with things more than the people who actually live in Athena. So that was the key feature that Fry identified at the beginning. And in terms of the amount of talking, or banter back and forth, between Fry and Cove Some of it was fine-tuned while we were developing,” Mitsuno said.
“Not just the volume or frequency of dialogue, but a lot of features were added as part of a larger concept of accessibility and making each experience unique to the player and more friendly to them. It was part of an overall idea of making the game more accessible and appropriate for every type of player.”
Cuff actually adds some welcome comedy. Athena and its inhabitants look a little bleak due to Break’s encroachment, but Cuff and his banter with Frey bring some levity.
“[Comedy is] One of the things I’m really excited for gamers to see when they actually play the game. “They’re not things that really appear in the materials we show for promotional uses,” said Mitsuno.
“It’s very bleak. A lot of places are dark, the rest takes up most of the land, there’s only one city left standing where people live. So it’s pretty bleak in that sense. But then you have a character from our world who sees things the way we see things and when they are There, she brings a little bit of her personality with her, and then there’s also Cuff who has that dry natural sarcasm as well.
“We want to make sure there are moments where it’s light-hearted, and it’s fun to just be around the characters. But there’s something bigger going on in the world. So it’s a good balance.”
Really the concern should not be on Kaf, but on Fry herself. The development team previously raised eyebrows when Fry was described as having a “kind of hobbit walk”. It should be noted that the writing staff is entirely white, which calls into question the authenticity of Fry’s Black lead.
“Fry was the first character we designed and we started from the inside out,” said Mitsuno. “We said this is the kind of character we want, this is Fry’s personality, these are her personality traits, this is her core, this is the way she talks.
“As we created those elements and things that make up Fry, we went through the casting process and Ella Balinska just ticked all those boxes: She has a sense of humor, she has grit, and she also has that soft, vulnerable side that we weren’t afraid to get. So it’s all The intricate details we wanted Frey to convey, Ella was able to pull it all off.
And she herself was really drawn to the character and connected to the themes and what Fry stood for. That’s when we decided to model the character after her as well to create that authentic character that she would portray. Which I would think of if I were Fry.”
“In that sense, we created the character that is animated and portrayed by Balinska and was also modeled after her. In that sense, we created this real-life character that everyone can relate to.”
But in practice, there are some awkward decisions. The first time Fry meets another human in Athena, she is handcuffed and accused of being a monster by a horde of predominantly white NPCs, who are particularly shocked. Her criminal record was also included as a legible document in the game’s magazine.
Her dialogue also lacks originality. She refers to her trainers as her kickers; She swears constantly and is quick to anger. It all plays into the outwardly outdated quality of the character and Palinska’s performance is likable, but the script’s stereotypes crave to be cool and brooding. Cuff’s squishy British accent is a definite chip.
Really, the lack of originality seems symptomatic of the game’s evolution. Luminous Productions, many of whom previously worked on Final Fantasy 15, is based in Japan, but the decision was made to develop Forspoken with an English-first approach. This proved to be one of the biggest challenges.
“Because we worked with story writers in the West… naturally we decided for this game to have English as the first language we made,” said Mitsuno. “And a lot of games we’ve done in the past start in Japanese and then get translated into other languages, these The time, we said that English is the primary language, which is then translated into other languages, so everything was backwards in that sense.
“We cast the English actors first, we did [performance capture] overseas. Unfortunately with the pandemic, we couldn’t get it going, so we had to watch our p-cap sessions via Zoom. So it was a bit unfortunate.
“I think that was generally a challenge from a studio perspective to try and make a game with English as the main language. But I think that was something that was needed to give authenticity to the story that was told through the minds of Gary, Amy, Todd, and Allison.”
As a result, Forspoken feels like a collision between East and West. And it takes a certain kind of magic to make this work.
Forspoken will be released on PlayStation 5 and PC on January 24, 2023.
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