Storytelling in video games has been around since the advent of the medium. From the earliest text adventures such as Zork to the early Final Fantasy games, Storytelling, when done well, can bring the player into an interesting world and can serve as the motivation to see the game through. Unfortunately, more often than not, storytelling in video games can be stilted, rote, and flat out poorly presented. And even worse, can make the gameplay suffer as a result.
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Personally, I find the games that can tell a compelling story with interesting characters, to be few and far between. It pains me to say that SquareEnix and Luminous Productions drops the ball in this area, which wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t take so long to get going and didn’t have weird presentational issues that make progressing through it and getting to the “good stuff” even more of a chore.
Upon starting the game we’re introduced to Frey Holland, a street-wise orphan in New York City who is being arraigned for what would be her “third strike.” We’re given some back and forth between the judge and Frey about some crime which can’t be all that serious considering the judge sentences her to 200 hours community service, but heavy-handedly advises Frey that she turns 21 soon and if she gets in trouble again she’ll be sent to prison.
We’re given control of Frey on the streets of New York, but are only presented with a linear path to proceed. Then the game stops again less than a few minutes later to give us another cutscene where Frey runs into the miscreants she has been doing some nebulous crimes with. They threaten Frey, Frey escapes and runs away down a linear path, then finally finds her way back to her barren apartment where she lives with her cat, Homer, and also has a duffle bag filled with cash. We’re given some lip service about how she is finally ready to leave and muses about wishing she could be like Alice in Alice in Wonderland – whisked away into a fantasy world. Hmmm. I wonder where this is going?
A series of events prevent Frey from leaving but she stumbles upon a mysterious set of bangles. Almost at once, she is sucked through a portal into Athia. A fantasy world besieged by video game plight which Frey names “the Break.” It turns human and monster alike into monsters that all want to kill Frey. Once again, Frey finds herself in another set of cutscenes where she’s treated as a demon by the local bureaucracy and the “chosen one” but a local girl.
I’m using this to illustrate just how much the game gets in your way in the opening hours to tell its story, which isn’t even one bit original. Renaming the standard impending “Video Game Apocalypse” something else doesn’t make it any less rote and generic. A lot of time is spent on this wholly unremarkable story when the game should be focused and getting me to the best aspects of the game which is combat and traversal. It’s compounded by these odd fade ins and fade outs, and moments where you can’t move at all before the game settles into a state where it releases the shackles. I can’t even count how many games give back control the moment a cut-scene ends because it’s standard. Not so here.
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And I haven’t even touched on the dialogue. When interacting with other characters it’s not as bad, but the banter between Frey and Cuff is repetitive and banal. Frey’s confrontational personality makes her unlikable and Cuff sounds like a pretentious goof. Their relationship spends an awfully long time being antagonistic instead of supportive and since a lot of the dialogue repeats I started tuning it out completely.
Eventually you are set free in the world with very little guidance beyond a general direction you can head in to advance the story. In between, the world is pretty but barren with some standard video game tasks to do and interact with the open world. Eventually I lost motivation to seek these locations out because they didn’t do all that much to keep me alive in combat.
The best aspects of Forspoken are the traversal and combat. As you progress through the game/story, Frey gets access to more and more magic by killing the game’s big bad, the Tantas. These women have abilities tied to elements such as fire, water and light. Frey’s default magic is earth-based. Elemental based abilities are nothing new but I found them all fun to use and mix and match in combat depending on what type of enemy I was facing. All enemies are vulnerable or resistant to different types of magic, so switching between the two is key. The attack and support magics all complement each other really well. One thing I did appreciate is that while using support magic triggers a cooldown, each respective support magic has their own cooldown meter so when I used one, I could switch to another that was fully charged.
The world of Athia does give you several chances to explore however, since magic and abilities are tied to unlocking trees from beating Tantas, the open world is left for gear, stat upgrades, buffs in the form of nail polish and crafting materials used to change or imbue cloaks and necklaces with buffs and effects. Unfortunately I never felt like I was missing anything without doing these after a while, so I opted to beeline through the rest of the game.
There’s also a lack of polish in Forspoken that is perplexing. Textures will pop in during cutscenes, and in the world, it never looks as beautiful as it could or should. We have open worlds already taking advantage of the PS5 so Forspoken not looking as good, being built for PS5 and PC, is a real bummer. It does have nigh instant load-times during fast travel so that’s a plus. Especially since I found myself exploring less and less. Particle affects during combat and traversal do look good, Reminding me of a lesser inFamous Second Son (which still looks better than most games even on current gen consoles).
Without a compelling story or likable protagonist, or a compelling world to explore, Forspoken only has its combat to rely on and while I always found that fun and engaging, it’s not enough to justify an open world for a decidedly linear game. It tries a lot of things and comes up short in most of them. There’s a really good game in Forspoken. It just needed to be refined, polished and edited.
- Combat and traversal are fluid and fun
- Particle effects, mmm particle effects
- The story is rote and the presentation is poor
- Lack of compelling reason to explore the open world once you’ve done at least one of every activity
Forspken review code provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.