I knew SquareEnix back when it was just "Square", and even "Squaresoft". They are responsible for my introduction into role playing games like Final Fantasy VI (III) VII, IX, and X, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. From an early age, I was hooked. And then, they gave us all Final Fantasy Remake, and I lost my collective. I also want everyone to know that I am one of those rare outliers who genuinely loved Final Fantasy XIII, and my love for Final Fantasy XV knows no bounds. I just loved the fact that it was an open world RPG action adventure for all Final Fantasy fans. So the excitement was palpable when I found out that the people who created that game started a gaming studio under SquareEnix called Luminous Productions. Their very first foray is the highly anticipated "Project Athia", which is now known as Forspoken.
Allow me to preface this review with some insights from my own recent gaming experience. I did not play the new God of War(s), nor any of the Soulsborne games, nor did I play any of the Horizon games. If you came here looking for comparisons to those games, this ain't the review for you. Even if I did, I couldn't possibly compare Forspoken to those games. Everything here feels so different from what I do know of those games. Sure it's open world, and yes, it's an action RPG, surrounding one character, and supported by an array of characters, but I feel like the comparisons stop there. There is so much I need to say about this game, but the first and most important thing is this: if you let the internet's early projections shy you away from this title, you are doing yourself a disservice. Forget your impressions of the demo. Forget your favorite popular streamer's opinion on a game they played for an hour. Forspoken is absolutely fantastic. It is a roller coaster of a video game that makes a very slow ascend to the top, but then shoots you down through it's loops, and twists, all while standing up backwards, screaming your lungs out. It's really that good, and I'm going to make this review as vague as possible, because I want you to experience it for yourself.
Storytime. You take the role of Frey, an orphaned twenty one year old, who is unwillingly involved with the wrong crowd in New York City. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her cat Homer, and her "kicks", which seems like the only other things she looks forward to. Done with court dates, running around doing petty crime, and answering to a boss who takes a cut of her pie, Frey finds herself trying to collect enough money to buy the first plane ticket out of NYC, and to start a new life. Her plan literally goes up in smoke, when her apartment - with the stash of money - goes up in flames. She is forced to be homeless, and gives her cat away to someone more capable. Looking to start over, she finds a gold bracelet that seems to be calling to her. Thinking she can get some money for it, she picks it up, and is immediately whisked away through a dimensional portal to a far away place called Athia. By the time she gets her wits about her, the portal closes, and the vambrace she found starts speaking to her.
Hardly bothered by this turn of events, she nicknames the bracelet "Cuff", and immediately starts asking questions, because, yes. As she is making her way through a strange castle, a dragon (yes, a full dragon) confronts her. Cuff immediately springs into action, saying he can help her if she follows her instructions. She abides, and they fend off the dragon together using what seems to be elemental magic. She is then transported to Cipal. Cipal is the town where the last leg of humanity resides. And that is because of an terrible plague nicknamed "The Break". This wave of corruption has wiped out the majority of this world, and turned all the living creatures it comes into contact with into beasts, monsters, mutants and zombies. There are four women who rule over this kingdom, called Tantas. They usually protect the people of the world, but they have sent gone mad with corruption. When the people of Cipal meet Frey, they call her a demon, because The Break doesn't affect her at all. The council subsequently calls for her execution. She is asked to be shown mercy by a townswoman named Auden.
Frey is then taken to a holding cell in a tower. Not long afterward, Auden breaks Frey out, and makes a deal with her. Frey just wants to get home, and she wants Cuff to shut up. Auden has an idea, and of course, strikes a deal with Frey. If Frey can go look for, and find Athia's most brilliant scholar, Robian, he can possibly open the portal, and send Frey back home so she can be with the one thing that means anything to her, which is the cat. She makes it widely known she cares for little else, and hesitantly, goes on her first quest. A quest that she initially thinks will be the only one. She doesn't foresee the many more to come. And that's it. The setup is all the story you get for this review. Sorry not sorry.
Athia is absolutely stunning. Even though most of it is ruined by the break, the landscape is amazing. You can see pretty much everything. I didn't notice any draw distance, meaning no matter what I saw in the distance, it didn't just pop out of nowhere. Anyplace I saw, I could go. If there was a mountainside to scale, I could do most of it in the early stages of Frey's journey. Blades of grass, and full trees. Blue, or even sometimes red skies. Enemies flying or walking around in the distance, waiting on you to approach them. They are all seen here. Beautifully. There is no guess work. What ever the wizards at Luminous did to make the world and cities look they way they do, ravaged or not, is a work of art that should be praised. You'll have to see it for yourself, but Forspoken is indeed a beautiful game.
With that said, you could even make the game more beautiful within depending on your settings preferences. (I'm going to talk about these a lot, so buckle in.) The game has three different Image quality settings. "Quality focused" gives you a stable frame rate in gorgeous 4k resolution, while performance focus concentrates on a lower resolution but a higher frame rate. Oh, and look, our good buddy with "graphically enhanced visuals", ray tracing is also an option, albeit not the option I ever played this game in. I also have a 240Hz OLED tv, so playing this in 4k at an in-game 120 frames per second, is great, but 120hz in performance mode was the bees knees for me. There are also brightness, gamma, Motion Blur (ew), and color filter options. I didn't touch most of these except that motion blur. (ew), but not because the game can't pull it off. It totally does. I just hate me some motion blur. (ew)
So, you're out in Athia, and you don't know where to go. Luckily, your new companion vambrace "Cuff" can lead the way. If you tap the 'up' on the cross pad, Cuff will scan the area, and send out sort of a GPS, with markers and indicators on your screen. The indicators even show you the distance to said destination or even destinations. Cuff will be able to tell you where to go, and will tell you about points of interest. There are cottages you can stay in, enemies that you can scan, treasures you can find, and a whole plethora of other things. Cuff is definitely the best damn "Navi" I've ever had in a game. I thought it was a little linear at first, but I soon found out that was not the case.
Now, within this world, there are cottages you can stop at. You can rest here, grab storyline items, craft, and upgrade your gear (more on that later). There are also places in the world called belfries. These will let you scan an entire area at 360 degrees, and show you what points of interest are next. You can mark up to 5 of these with a purple circle, resulting in the distance to each. Please note that at first, you may not be able to access these areas. If you can't, don't worry. As the game progresses, and your powers grow, there will be PLENTY of time to fast travel back and clean stuff up. Every belfrey or cottage will allow you to fast travel back to it in literally no time flat once you visit them. I say no time, because there seems to be VERY little loading, which is a phenomenal feat by the development team when traveling from one side of the world all the way to the other. Speaking of which...
Frey is fast. Very very fast. Once you unlock her parkour techniques, Frey can travel over terrains like no one's business using stamina. If you hold the button to make her run (not the slow trot she uses in town), she takes off. She automatically hurdles over rocks, and other obstacles. She can even use her parkour skills to scale mountain sides, as long as she has the stamina to do so. This refills once you stop moving. If you see a treasure, and you're running, Frey will run up to it, and flip kick it open. It's so convenient, and stops the game from dragging along, which it rarely does. She can also parkour within battle, and parkour away from battle if she's taking some hits from a mutant that Cuff is warning her about. There is no shame in running. It will keep you alive. Just don't go crazy and think you can just fly off a cliff. If you run out of stamina and hit the ground, the fall damage becomes fatal.
The map is top notch here. You can see the map completely zoomed out, with all the cottages, belfrys and fast travel locations. With a click of the left control stick, you can even see a list of all the ones you've unlocked. With a click of the middle pad, you can get a closer look at the map. From here, you can see EVERY treasure scattered through out the land. You can see EVERYTHING. And if you're trying to figure out how to get around something to go somewhere else, you can zoom in even further to see the terrain. And I feel like the terrain is just a zoomed out version of the world you're in. If it's sticking off the side of a mountain in game, it's definitely on the map. Use this to your advantage.
Rounding out the world are different tasks you can complete and towns you can visit. There's no one in these towns, but if you defeat the enemies there, you could get a nice treasure. Some actually have to be unlocked using a slide puzzle game. And most of those are easy. You will know them when you see them. You can visit different monuments that will give you status boosts, or even gear. Locked Labyrinths take you in to small dungeons (Think Breath of the Wild), where you have to overcome some enemies, and a boss. Look out for locked labyrinths for the good gear. It is crucial. Frey can camp anywhere to rest, craft, and upgrade gear, but only if she has firewood. There's also a small dice game called "Partha". You can find these anywhere, and when you roll the die, it will always mean a status ailment of some sort. If you see one, it only takes but a second. There are also monuments. Some give you a stat increase to your health, and magic, and some whisk you away to a timed challenge, usually resulting in mana and prizes for high scores. Visit as much of this stuff as you can.
Of course, you can't be Dora the Explorer without running into your share of enemies. You do not, I repeat, do not have to fight anything. You can run as much as your heart desires, but you definitely need the experience points to get mana and level up Frey's magic. All enemies can be scanned by Cuff, revealing a brief description and revealing their weakness. There's not a wide variety of enemies in the game, but there are variations, and larger than life bosses. There are hordes of monsters and enemies in parts of the world, where you may take down 50 zombies in a town, and they are coming from all sides. Some enemies come in different shades of color, indicating their difficulty level. Red usually means they will take patience, timing, and a variety of your magic skill set. Sometimes, you'll have to strike from behind. Sometimes, you'll have to clip wings. Sometimes, you'll have to smack enemies from the sky. But most of the time, it's parkour, baby.
Parkour in battle not only allows you to dodge flawlessly, but if you use magic while dodging, it comes out a little more powerful than your basic magic. You can dodge most things. Most of the time the enemy will indicate they are attacking with a purple or red X. A purple X is avoidable or stopped with attacks. If you see a red X, a devastating, unblockable attack is coming, and you should take cover, or just move out of the way. Cuff will also glow with gold to tell you where attacks are coming from. He'll even scream "watch out". Cuff acts as a shield, so while you're taking hits, Cuff will absorb the blow. If you take too many blows and your energy depletes, Cuff breaks, and starts to revive himself. Then you're on a 1-2 hit kill status. And when you lose, you either start over from the last checkpoint or save, or you start over from the top of a boss. I'll explain more, but you also have a healing process that can be initiated by pushing down on the cross pad. You have a limited amount of these healing pods, but you'll most likely find them laying around in a deserted town. You also gain a counter at some point, which is really responsive, perfect counter or not. A click of the triangle button will get you out of a jam quick right after a hit, and you anticipate a hit, you get a perfect counter, which is obviously more powerful. Honestly, use that parkour and stay on your toes. Be patient at first. And again, if you don't have the means, avoid mutants at all costs.
Mutants are monsters usually minding their own business, and not bothering anyone, but they're also guarding a treasure of sorts. They are powerful; their attacks are sometimes one hitter quitters, and they will sometimes be so tough that you'll have to eat a big piece of humble pie, and admit that you're just not good at the game. These mutants are no joke, but as you progress through the game, you can fast travel back, and try your best to take them down. They won't sneak up on you or anything. They're just sitting there. Ready to embarrass you. You could have full stamina, a good cloak, the most powerful necklace, and the best nails, and still get smacked around. Avoid at first, power up, and go back. You owe it to yourself.
With that said, your magic is the main offense of the game. You start off with Frey's magic, or Purple Magic. You have two sides for each magic set. Attack magic, and support magic. You can use these with the right and left triggers, and the adaptive triggers from the PS5 controller really shine here. If you're throwing a rock to set up another attack, you can tap the trigger and it will react. You can also push a little harder to charge up certain attacks, then release to throw. The support magic is much easier. All of these magic attacks have a cool down, but you can switch your attacks with L1 and R1 to bring up the sub menu. This will show all your magic that you can use, and the battle slows down as you switch, ala FFVII remake. You can throw a rock, finish with a charged rock, bind someone with vines, and then switch, and use a completely different spell, as long as it's ready. This allows you to take multiple monsters and bosses down, and you can build yourself some strategic techniques.
The magic tree is where you unlock more spells. You will need mana to unlock certain spells. You can get mana from leveling up, or running over mana pools out in the wild. These mana pools are everywhere, and all you have to do is walk, or run over them. The game will let you know when you have enough mana to unlock a spell, and how many spells you can unlock. It is totally your choice what spells to unlock. You can unlock a level 2 and 3 version of your offensive spells, which then needs a little extra holding of the trigger. You can also unlock a super attack. As you use attacks and support spells, your magic HUD charges up, and when it reaches the top, you can cast that super with the right and left triggers. This also gets you out of harms way. There are also parkour attributes to unlock, and depending on the magic tree, attributes to Frey's fighting skill set as well. This process is completely reversible too, if you want to "sell back" some of your spells for mana, to unlock more powerful spells.
Early in the game, Frey will gain access to Spellcraft, which lets you complete in-battle challenges while using specific spells. You can upgrade each spell once, and you can abandon any Spellcraft challenge at any time, with no loss of progress. You can only select these challenges, however, in cottages. You can also select what form of magic you want to use either while pushing left and right on the cross pad, or while holding L1, and R1 at the same time. You'll eventually have four in total, and even the controller will turn the color your magic is representing. Once again, all these setups can be changed in the settings menu, on the accessibility tab. Lastly, Frey can unlock spells by visiting Great Fountains, which are scattered throughout the land, but give you pretty helpful and powerful spells.
The gear in this game is simple, yet very effective. Your gear comes in three forms. Cloaks, Necklaces, and Nails. Cloaks, are usually your health and defense boons. They will vary depending on each cloak, and usually found by completing Detours (side quests), progressing in the game, or by liberating towns of monsters. You can receive a cloak via random rewards too. Same thing with necklaces and nails. These items can be found in Labyrinths, or even after you defeat a mutant or boss. This is it though. This is your offense, defense, magic, and different attributes that you can attach to the gear of your choice. And you unlock a different attribute with each piece of gear that you get. You unlock and attach these attributes by crafting and upgrading.
When you start in Cipra, you are taught that you can craft items from items you find in the wild. Different ore, flowers, grass, and things will help you craft items and upgrade your gear. This is pretty straight forward. If you go to a craft table in a cottage, you can turn items in for more healing pods and storage capacity, plus craft more healing pods with the push or hold of a button. You can also add attributes to all your gear, and even upgrade your necklaces by category, but only if you have the materials to do so. The game makes this process easy. If you have the materials, congrats. You're on your way to an upgrade. You can either combine two items to make one item, or go back out into the wild, collect the necessary materials, and fast travel back. You need some of these materials to also change your nails. Nails will give you an extra boost or boon, sometimes at the cost of another. The coolest mechanic in the game, is that you can also camp the majority of the time. You hold the down button, and if you have firewood, Frey can craft, upgrade, and rest right there on the spot. So if you find yourself running low on healing pods, start a fire, and craft some new ones. Simple. Efficient. Frey.
Cuff can scan, and indicate all mana pools, treasures, and items available in the immediate area. If you go into your accessibility settings, make sure you turn auto pick up on. That way you're not pushing a button to pick up all the things. If your inventory is full, you won't pick it up. Again, simple. You won't use everything. I guarantee it. There are tradeable items you can find during certain events or detours in Cipra, or in treasure chests in the open world and trade for attributes and gear at the intown trading posts. Make sure you check those out. There are three total. I discovered the third one very late in the game, so clearly I didn't need it.
There's so much more that I want to spew about the absolute brilliance of this game, but of course, there are some nitpicky things. Photo mode is very mid. You have to unlock certain filters by taking pictures throughout the game. Some of the dialogue is jarring, since Frey is from New York, and Athia feels like medieval times. So one character would say "Care for a pint?", and Frey would respond "I need a F***** drink." You get used to it if you have empathy. I'd probably be cursing to everyone that could hear me if I was taken from my home to a far away land with a impending corruption. You can skip through some of the dialogue though, and you don't have to talk to ANYONE.
95% of the cutscenes are in-game engine, which is ambitious. Again, it's a great looking game, but some of the dialogue between characters doesn't need to fade to black, fade back in to say a couple of sentences, and fade back to black, and continue with the action. This is the only time the game seems to slog down. You cannot talk to someone unless you're standing DIRECTLY in front of them, which is very weird. Frey is very VERY frustrated, and some of the back and forths between her and Cuff are a little much. You can reduce this by turning it to minimal in the settings. Other than that, I'm sure that anything I wanted to complain about was smashed by the absolute mind blowing moments completing this game.
Forspoken took me about 25 hours to complete, and that's with a good chunk of fighting, upgrading, grinding, and exploring. I completed a ton of events, and detours, just so I could keep Frey ready for whatever challenges she faced. You can change the difficulty to the game at anytime, but normal is a very good balance, and I wouldn't change that for anything. There are after game events, AKA New Game Plus, but this is better than any New Game Plus I've ever played. So I'd imagine there's another 20 hours to find all the the "things" you didn't find.
I've deliberately focused on the mechanics of Forspoken, and not the story, because I want everyone to be able to experience this game for themselves. I cannot express strongly enough how much this game grows at it goes along - the story accelerates, the boss fights become more intense, and the entire experience had me on the edge of my seat. Forspoken is the answer to the question "What if a regular human were plucked out of their every day life and thrown in a fantasy world?" Do NOT let your internet buddies "Cyberpunk" you into not getting this game. You'll be letting them talk you out of a new classic.
Forspoken is absolutely fantastic. With all the spells you can unlock, the gear you can upgrade, the fights, the bosses, and a storyline that rivals the best video game stories, this isn't a return to form for SquareEnix, it's a testament that they still got it, and will have it for a very, very long time.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming!View Profile