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Forspoken | Critical Consensus

Critics split on Square Enix's new RPG; some enjoyed the narrative but others voiced concern over the writing of its lead heroine

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The Luminous Productions-developed Forspoken is not only a new IP and but a rarity. Its star Frey Holland, portrayed by Ella Balinska, a Black woman, is the lead actress of a AAA JRPG.

Frey is going through some hard times in life, and then she finds herself spirited away to the world of Athia. There she and the magic arm bracelet Cuff set off to help the people of the land.

The RPG received largely mixed reviews and has a Metacritic score of 68 for the PlayStation 5 version as of this writing. Despite the middling average, critics used a wide swatch of the review scale with Forspoken.

"I cannot express strongly enough how much this game grows at it goes along"

Joseph Moorer, Gaming Nexus

In Gaming Nexus' 9.5/10 review, Joseph Moorer said that the new RPG was fantastic.

"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,” he said.

"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?'"

Izzy Parsons of RPGFan highlighted that Frey's movement during combat was quite enjoyable.

"I mentioned maneuverability-enhancing spells earlier, and the sheer directional mobility of Frey is where the game truly shines. One of the first abilities you obtain in Forspoken is Magic Parkour. Whenever you hold down the circle button, Frey begins to sprint incredibly fast, leaping over gaps, running up walls, and leap-frogging enemies," Parsons said in their 80/100 review.

Alongside the heroine's maneuverability, they add that it presents interesting locales to traverse through.

Parsons notes, "Athia is undeniably gorgeous, and its vistas may be unmatched in gaming. There is also an impressive array of locales: deserts, canyons, mountains, lakes, rivers, and meadows of flowers."

Parsons also highlighted the game's narrative as something they were glad to have experienced.

"The actual overarching structure of the game and its pacing are a pleasant surprise, so I am not going to complain… The conclusions it reaches and the arcs the characters and the world takes are satisfying and rewarding," they said.

"Overall, there are a few ups and downs regarding the activities to do outside of the main storyline"

Quinn, ButWhyTho

Meanwhile, ButWhyTho's editor Quinn expressed in their assessment that the JRPG is a mixed bag but still worth playing.

"Overall, there are a few ups and downs regarding the activities to do outside of the main storyline. While the puzzles are fairly easy, and I didn't care much for some of the side quests, the Labyrinths are fun, the cats are adorable, and the exploration is exciting, especially with the parkour," they said in their 7/10 review.

"But, despite the expanse of Athia, the same activities repeat themselves with just a few differences to be found in between due to the location. The first few [hours] of activity were fun, but I became indifferent after the nth time."

Quinn did note that the title had some gameplay and development choices that felt out of place as they played through the experience.

"There are a few sneaking or walking portions that feel unneeded. I won't spoil anything, but there's a part where Frey is following another character as she sneaks around. This isn't a game mechanic—you can't move until the other character moves, and there's no chance of getting spotted," they said.

Parsons' reviews also highlighted that Forspoken offers players a variety of sidequests and content outside the main story to enjoy.

"The world is flooded with points of interest, from treasure chests to mutants to monuments that permanently increase your stats or allow you to make friends with the various cat familiars of the Tantas," they add.

"If you enjoy clearing out points of interest, Forspoken is definitely for you, and there is much to occupy your time."

Reviews praised Frey's mobility via magic pakour

Regardless of the critical appraisal, Forspoken did not lack for well-regarded writing talent on staff, with a narrative team including Amy Hennig, Gary Whitta, Allison Rymer, and Todd Stashwick.

One aspect of Forspoken that critics found themselves divided on was the characterization of its heroine, Frey. In addition, reviews questioned the writing and highlighted that Luminous Productions didn't have a full-time Black writer on its senior staff.

While The Verge's Ash Parrish highlighted those concerns, she was optimistic about its lead actress.

"But Frey had this cadence and tone to her voice that made her sound authentic, like a real person speaking and not an actor punching up lines to an audience," Parrish explains in her unscored review.

"She also dropped a lot of F-bombs, which you don't really see in games, not even the M-rated ones, and certainly not as frequently as Frey does. She's a straight-talking, no-bullshit character, and I loved her immediately."

Parrish said she could relate to the young hero's trials and tribulations.

She adds, "I became invested in Frey and her story, and I was curious as to how Forspoken would lay it all out."

Quinn also enjoyed Frey's characterization throughout the game.

"Sure, the history of Athia is fascinating, but the connections between people make the plot's twists really hit. And that's especially true for our two main characters. Frey and Cuff never cease to entertain; the snark is real with these two," they said in their review.

However, the positive sentiment about the star was shared among only some critics. Other reviews expressed that the writing of Frey and its handling could have landed better.

"Forspoken is a disappointing outing from a developer that touts 'key members' of the Final Fantasy XV team, one which feels at best uninterested in its Black protagonist, and at worst resentful of her"

Danny Lore, NPR

Danny Lore of NPR said "Forspoken is a disappointing outing from a developer that touts 'key members' of the Final Fantasy XV team, one which feels at best uninterested in its Black protagonist, and at worst resentful of her."

Their review highlighted the point that the narrative begins with its Black lead in court for a crime.

Lore expounds further in their unscored review, "If the sloppy opening — presenting Frey's entire backstory through documents on a table, with a judge handing down a community service sentence — doesn't turn you off immediately, the lack of consideration only gets worse from there."

GameSpot's Jordan Ramée echoed similar unimpressed feelings for Forspoken's leading actress.

He explains in his 5/10 review of the JRPG, "As a character, Frey feels flat."

Ramée said in his assessment of the game that Frey's identity isn't really acknowledged.

"Forspoken doesn't do anything to celebrate Frey as someone who is Black or a woman or anything else about her. The game posits that the only perspective worth noting from Frey is that of an orphan and that restriction not only stunts the character growth she can achieve, it also just gets stale after a few hours."

Ramée's review also expressed that her growth into a magical hero through the narrative isn't believable. He explains that she felt unlikeable for most of the game's narrative.

"I didn't buy into her heroic shift in the final moments of the game -- it felt like the storyline was going through the motions without taking the necessary steps to ensure Frey's emotional and mental development made sense," he said.

His review offers what may be a good summation of the Forspoken experience, going by the disparity in reviews.

"The lore of its world is interesting but delivered in a stilted expository manner, and the freeing sensation of taking off across the landscape in a magically-propelled sprint is sullied by the knowledge that there's nowhere to go or anything fun to do."

"Combat is visually impressive but not all that engaging, and the excellent sound design and the catchy musical score are regularly undermined by unfunny quips from an unlikable protagonist."

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Jeffrey Rousseau avatar

Jeffrey Rousseau

Staff Writer

Jeffrey Rousseau joined GamesIndustry.biz in March 2021. Based in Florida, his work focused on the intersectionality of games and media. He enjoys reading, podcasts, staying informed, and learning how people are tackling issues.