Forspoken looks graphically impressive, but it’s leaving me cold

I’m one of those people who, for all its flaws, rather liked Final Fantasy 15. Sure, time has already been less kind to Square Enix’s attempt to make a Witcher or Elder Scrolls style open world FF than even to FF13 (which is aging surprisingly gracefully), but FF15 was bursting with good ideas. The team behind the game, which would largely go on to become Luminous Productions, showed great promise as a new production powerhouse within Square Enix. But the studio’s newest game, Forspoken, isn’t doing it for me so far.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I haven’t actually played Forspoken. I’ve seen what you have - glimpses delivered to the internet in PlayStation broadcasts, abstract showcases of the game’s visuals with little snippets of story and gameplay. I’ve also heard a little about the nature of the game on the grapevine, behind-the-scenes - but I still don’t feel particularly informed.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Square Enix definitely needs to get out in front of this game and talk about what it actually is. We’re six months or so from the start of its projected release window, but we still have little idea of what the game is really about. A girl gets transported from New York City to a fantasy world. You apparently have to kill someone called Sila, who appears to be a threat to the world. None of this is earth-shattering, but it’s fine. Cool. 

So… what does the player actually do? We see protagonist Frey engaging in dynamic traversal, jumping and flipping around a bunch of cliffs. We also see her fighting monsters with dynamic-looking magic that appears to be at least superficially similar to FF15’s magic. Traversal and spell-slinging is a start, and a firm foundation. Good traversal can really make a good game great - just ask Spider-Man. But I still feel in the dark about the true nature of this game.

At this stage of a game’s development, you primarily want to give the benefit of the doubt. So I hope when Luminous Productions offers an in-depth showing of what you’ll actually be doing in-game moment-to-moment, I’m blown away by it. But honestly - and this is hard to explain - I’m just getting a weird feeling off this game? Or, to get really into it - I’m getting a weird feeling about the lack of a feeling.

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What I mean by this is what I feel, in my gut, when I look at Forspoken. I’m impressed with it visually. It’s clearly a lavish and expensive technical accomplishment. And yet… I don’t actually feel anything special, you know? There’s no excitement, no energy. If you get that off the game, I’m glad. But it isn’t doing it for me, and I consider myself squarely in the game’s target audience. I look at it and think it’s technically rad. I see some gorgeous world design from an artistic perspective. As a Brit of mixed-race background, I look at its mixed protagonist - a woman, too - and am thrilled to see that in a Japanese game.

But, despite getting a first glimpse of the story in the recent trailer, it’s not kindling any desire in me to really get to know this world or these characters. The try-hard dialogue in this latest trailer doesn’t help, but I don’t lay the blame at that - because I got this vibe off Forspoken before any character opened their mouth.

The concept of how a game feels is nebulous and nigh impossible to define, but I do trust my gut to some degree: the last time I felt similar feelings about a game was the first time I saw Square Enix’s Avengers. I could see the expense. I could see the vision. But little of it did anything for me. When you look at what the finished Avengers ended up being, that certainly gives me pause for thought when it comes to Forspoken. So too does its connection to FF15, a game with oodles of heart but somehow lacking in soul

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Indeed, my reaction to Forspoken might be appropriate, as it feels like how I often react to tech demos. I’m interested in the technical details, not the characters, world, or game. Forspoken gives off the same energy as that PS5 Unreal Engine demo from last year - and I guess that’s not a coincidence.

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We have to remember, of course, that Forspoken basically began life as a tech demo. It’s clearly related to Agni’s Philosophy, the real-time then next-generation tech demo Square Enix made in 2013. Those doubting the connection only need to look at a YouTube upload of the first Forspoken trailer where the description, presumably not updated, refers to the game as ‘Project WITCH’. Several later Agni follow-up demos were all subtitled WITCH, after that demo’s protagonist. Square Enix removed that text, but it confirms an already obvious connection.

What’s funny is that the Agni’s Philosophy demo presented a world that set my brain ablaze with its possibilities. In an RPG Site interview at the time, the key staff behind it - few of whom remain at Square Enix today - effused about the idea of their demo concept becoming a real game. The company held surveys to get a read on what fans made of its presented concept and universe. The demo’s lead character adorned Square Enix’s corporate Christmas card. It always seemed like that demo was going somewhere, and it was the rare demo where I was excited to see where it would go. I wanted to play the game that demo presented. 

As they say, be careful what you wish for - as we now have the resultant game... and it isn’t exciting me anywhere near as much as the demo did. 

Partly, this is clearly a PR and Marketing failure. The game has been shown three or four times now and there’s still no real defined answer as to what it actually is. To a degree, however, I just wonder if this game is missing something. It's a game about magic, but so far, I'm missing that spark of magic. 

I hope Luminous Productions and Square Enix can prove me wrong. 

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