Over the past decade, publisher Square Enix’s catalog of games has felt of two worlds: From its Japan-based internal studios, the company makes games in the ever-growing RPG universes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Nier/Drakengard, and Kingdom Hearts; and elsewhere in the world, Square Enix publishes the adventures of Lara Croft, JC Denton, Rico Rodriguez, and Marvel superheroes.
The global publisher’s next big AAA game, the all-new world of Forspoken, feels like the two sides of Square Enix coming together. Developed by Luminous Productions, a team composed of primarily former Final Fantasy 15 developers, and written by a quartet of Western creators, Forspoken stars a young woman from New York City who has been transported to a desolate fantasy world, where magical spells and a sentient bracelet help her battle an evil force known as the Break.
Forspoken is a classic fish-out-of-water story — or if you know the term, an isekai tale. Heroine Frey Holland is magically whisked away from New York to the strange fantasy world of Athia, where she’s not only capable, she’s incredibly powerful. But she’s also in over her head. Frey will use magical spells to battle Break-mutated creatures and traverse a vast, deadly, but bland-looking open world using “magic parkour.”
During a hands-off preview of Forspoken, the game’s creators say that players will be able to explore Athia “as freely and as stylishly as they please.” Frey’s magic parkour moves let her scale cliffs, leap over tall buildings, and break falls that would mean instant death to a normal person. Controlling Frey “is a whole lot of fun,” its creators promise.
But Frey is not a superhero, according to lead write Todd Stashwick, who calls her “a vulnerable human underneath it all.” Stashwick said Frey has a “tough exterior,” thanks to a rough upbringing in a foster care environment, and she uses humor as a defense mechanism in her interactions with allies and enemies. “It’s what most people do when things are hard or absurd,” explained writer Allison Rymer. “You meet it with humor.”
In practice, that humor didn’t seem to land. Frey is constantly quipping in battle, and at a cadence that seems more aggravating than endearing. Comedic timing is notoriously hard to get right in an interactive game that could be dozens of hours long, but hopefully, her better zingers are being saved for Forspoken’s release in March.
Still, Frey doesn’t seem like the typical Final Fantasy protagonist, dressed up in grungy jeans, flannel, and slip-on sneakers. Her casual streetwear will be complemented by magical cloaks, necklaces, and nail decals infused with spell shards as Forspoken progresses. Frey will become increasingly powerful, learning and leveling up spells — her solitary means of combat in the game — on her journey to cleanse Athia of the Break and dispel the corrupted matriarchs who rule it, the Tantas.
The residents of Athia view Frey with awe and fear, as superhumans often are in stories like this. That’s what seems most intriguing about Forspoken: Frey’s outsider perspective and role in a big Square Enix-developed fantasy world. Watching her navigate the environment, politics, and conflicts of Athia — all while saving it — is the game’s most compelling premise.
The combat looks good too, but that will, of course, require some hands-on time. When Forspoken comes to PlayStation 5 and Windows PC on May 24, 2022, we’ll see if the former Final Fantasy 15 team pulled it off.