OPINION | GAME ON: ‘Forspoken’ price and annoyance factor high, replayability low

A young New Yorker is transported to the magical land of Athia to fight for its inhabitants using newly found magic combat and parkour skills in the role-playing video game "Forspoken." 
(Photo courtesy of Square Enix)
A young New Yorker is transported to the magical land of Athia to fight for its inhabitants using newly found magic combat and parkour skills in the role-playing video game "Forspoken." (Photo courtesy of Square Enix)


Platform: Windows, PlayStation 5

Cost: $69.99

Rating: Mature for strong language, violence

Score: 6.5 out of 10

Who hasn't dreamed, at some point, of being whisked away to a fantasy world to discover magical powers? There's certainly no shortage of such tales in movies, television, books and manga.

Square Enix's "Forspoken" is another such tale.

Our protagonist is New Yorker Alfre "Frey" Holland, a 21-year-old felon who likes to read "Alice in Wonderland" and has an attitude the size of Long Island, and we're introduced to her in a courtroom where she's being given one last chance to turn her life around after her third felony arrest for theft.

But then she's on the run from a gang she's trying to quit, and she sees a glowing gold bracelet through a window of an abandoned building, and (I guess old habits die hard) breaks in and steals it, somehow becoming magically transported to a fantasy world. Down the rabbit hole, Lewis Carroll might say.

The looping gold bracelet, magically sentient, has become permanently attached to her forearm, and it talks. A lot. It sounds almost exactly like Paul Bettany's JARVIS from "Iron Man," especially if JARVIS had a TikTok reaction account.

Early on, Frey yells, "Stop! Stop talking to me! This is completely insane!" and I couldn't agree more. Both Frey and her sassy bangle are very chatty. Thankfully, there's a setting to reduce that chattiness (or increase it, for whatever person that might appeal to).

Frey's pretty much the typical anti-hero. She's adamant that she's not a hero, and that her priorities are herself and returning to New York.

I'm not sure why she'd want to return to a life of running from violent gangs when she's nearly invulnerable and wields godlike magic powers in this fantasy world, though. I mean, sure, on one hand, the world is ending and there are dragons, but on the other hand, no social media.

The settings menu is, perhaps oddly, one of the highlights of the game. In fact, there are a number of settings players will want to immediately adjust, such as a spell-switching ability and the ability to slow down or pause time when in the magic-selection menu; and a lot of time will be saved by turning on the auto-gathering of materials. Normally, you'd have to stop and pick up each item individually, but change this accessibility setting and you'll auto-collect any flower, fungus, rock or feather nearby.

Also, by default the voice of Cuff comes through the speaker on the PS5 controller, but this can be changed. You'll also probably want to run the game on its fastest settings, trading scenic beauty for better game-play.

One of my bigger complaints with the game is the ubiquity of Joss Whedonesque dialogue that feels ripped from the Marvel Cinematic Universe playbook — mixed with an overabundance of four-letter words. In other words, it's one of those games definitely made for modern audiences who absolutely love whatever the current thing is. However, if you think snarky comedic dialogue at every opportunity is yesterday's thing, well, there's the aforementioned ability to reduce Cuff chatter.

The world Frey finds herself in, Athia, somehow seems to have even bigger problems than New York or Earth in general. Entire cities are abandoned, and the world is almost devoid of people, as a catastrophic event known as "The Break" has mutated beasts into dangerous, corrupted versions of themselves.

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Luckily, Frey is immune to this contagion, and with Cuff providing magical abilities, she will (eventually, sort of, begrudgingly) embrace a hero's role in Athia, alternating between dropping fire bombs and f-bombs.

Combat can be pretty sweet. Frey can learn more than 100 elemental (earth, fire, water and air) magic spells that will power both her combat abilities and magically enhance her already pretty decent parkour skills. While many fantasy games focus on melee combat and sturdiness, Frey's fighting style is a dodging speedster that pummels with mostly ranged magical attacks.

The battles are the highlight of the game, leaving a trail of glowing particles behind as you dodge, dash, dip and duck enemy attacks while summoning fiery minions, causing enemies to go berserk and attack each other, dropping damage-over-time poison attacks and throwing mini-nukes at the big bosses.

At its worst, "Forspoken" is a decent jaunt worth an eventual play-through for its combat system alone, even if it has some noticeable flaws in its writing and some pretty stilted animation of dialogue. There also are a fair number of game-crashing bugs, although with a major developer those ought to be patched up fairly quickly.

Much of the world is beautifully realized, but also mostly empty. You can sprint through it with faster-than-a-horse magical parkour, but it's sort of like looking out the window of a train. You're just passing through. The one major populated city (humanity's last bastion, Cipal) is somehow the least interesting, and none of your magical parkour abilities work there, for some reason.

The main game-play loop is a fairly short 12 to 15 hours, but most players will probably do quite a few side-quests, which will unlock more spells and strengthen Frey's magic abilities. On average, perhaps 25 to 30 hours of play, and 50-plus for the completionist. But is the juice worth the squeeze? Square Enix's "Forspoken" has a whopping $70 price tag, which is a lot for a fair-to-middling single-player game with no replayability.

"Forspoken" has its moments, and comedy is always subjective — maybe you're a big fan of Whedonspeak, and if so, this game is right up your alley. If you're unsure, there's a demo to try out, so you can see for yourself if "Forspoken" is worth a plunge down the rabbit hole.


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