Forspoken’s story and dialogue have no chill

From Frey’s very first steps in the medieval fantasy land of Athia, Forspoken’sIn full force, influences.

With a huge dragon following her, she runs and ducks beneath broken walls of an abandoned castle. Cuff is her annoying chatty companion. He’s literally a talking bracelet of gold. Then, after narrowly avoiding danger, we get a dramatic bird’s-eye view of the landscape, dominated by a massive stone landmark arching up into the sky.

You can hear the JRPG in this game! It’s an isekai. This is an anime bullshit! Even smaller details, like the stone landmark, reminded me of Xenoblade Chronicles’ Gaur Plain. However, despite its initial promise, much of Frey’s time in Athia unfolds without much whimsy or the requisite amount of levity. Luminous Productions and Square Enix’s new game strikes a distinctively serious tone that makes it difficult to persevere throughout the long journey.

Frey, Forspoken’s protagonist, looks to the right of the camera in a dimly lit environment

Image: Luminous Productions/Square Enix

Athia is imbued by Luminous Productions with a sense of deep sadness. This mainly stems from the “bubonic plague vibe” it has going. There isn’t actually a plague, but there are dark and stormy clouds that envelop entire towns and kill all the living things within. The Forspoken also relies on a photorealistic graphics style that, despite some of the vibrant magic in the combat, isn’t all that colorful — even its flowers look a little sad and colorless.

Then we layer on Frey’s story, which is also very sad! She’s an orphan abandoned by her parents at birth. Her home is destroyed by a gang after she saves enough money to make it a better place. Athia gives her new confidence, though she still leads a lonely life. In her journey, she isn’t joined by any band of companions, who fill the cutscenes with romantic monologues about the power of friendship.

Without spoiling any details, she is an outsider in the Athia world and gets hurt when she opens her heart a little.

Frey’s magical parkour abilities allow her to bound across the world untethered. But, it’s not just about its mechanics. The Forspoken lacks the moments of levity that allow players to endure the long, sad, and sometimes difficult journeys of so many other “serious” games. You won’t find silly Cactuars to laugh at you; you don’t have cocky friends to cheer you on; and there aren’t any moments of humor that will allow you to relax after a long, difficult journey. Perhaps the closest you get is a cute little side quest where you feed sheep, but even then, that ends up being slightly tedious because you don’t actually get to see Frey feed the sheep since text on a black screen just says you fed them.

An image of Frey kneeling down to feed a sheep in Forspoken. The world looks sort of drab — the grass looks sort of dry and dead, but the sheep are cute!

Photo: Luminous Productions/Square Enix via Polygon

There’s a reason comic relief is so common in blockbuster movies and video games — it gives the audience a breather before the next exciting, yet stressful set piece. The Forspoken is so decidedly serious in its overarching narrative that it becomes too much weight for the dialogue to bear — thus, the cringe emerges. Many AAA AAA games have a reputation for making bad jokes and rehashing their own stories. The Forspoken when they miss, they seem to fall even harder, because it’s not a world where silly things happen or people speak in strange, unbelievable ways. Self-deprecation is more common than comic relief.

Frey should have some fun, I think. At points, she clearly has fun. The first time she uses her magical parkour abilities she says, “Okay, this is awesome! I am catching some serious air!” Her life and story don’t need to be completely goofy, but all the sad medieval stuff could use some pushback. And it doesn’t get any. For me, it’s exhausting enough to push me away.

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