2023 promises to be as promising as it is uncertain for Square Enix. Final Fantasy XVI and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth in particular are highly anticipated titles, but which bear a heavy responsibility towards the saga on their shoulders. To open the dances of this particular year for the Japanese software house there will be forspoken, with no real title created by its in-house team Luminous Productions.
After the very first test last September, the game was made playable at the last Milan Games Week, however before then I was invited to London by Square Enix and Plaion to try an unprecedented extended build, thanks to which I tested the first few hours of the adventure.
A corrupt world
Compared to the other demos, I was gradually introduced to the game world and especially its elaborate combat system. The first steps of Frey in the world of Athia they are far from peaceful, given that a mysterious destructive plague called "Ruin” has struck its lands and corrupted any living being that lives there freely, transforming men and animals into ferocious enemies ready to attack anyone who approaches.
Once the first obstacles have been overcome, the protagonist finally arrives at the city of Chipal, which also serves as the hub of the game. This outpost is presented as the last bastion of humanity still standing against the Ruin, but it is unclear if it will actually be the only one, considering that Athia is described as a world divided into four realms.
Anyway, without slipping into spoilers, it is here that Frey finally begins to get the hang of the situation of this troubled world and its people, and how the Ruin seems to be connected in some way to the four Tantas, the powerful matriarchs of Athia who govern their respective kingdoms. Or rather: they governed, since for some time now they seem to have either gone mad or disappeared.
I have to admit that the premise of the story didn't seem exactly to shine with originality, especially in the context of the isekai genre, but some elements genuinely intrigued me. What triggered the change in the Tantas? Is the Ruin the cause or the consequence? So many questions that I look forward to revealing once I have the full game at hand.
From the plot I obviously also expect answers on Frey's arrival in that dark and fascinating world and on why she finds herself connected to the Cuff, the sentient bracelet that gives her the immeasurable magical powers that we will be able to control and increase during the adventure.
Don’t stop me now
Young Frey can use her new magical abilities not only in combat, but also for the so-called magical parkour, or to move with extreme agility between the lands of Athia. With the push of a button it is possible to run at very high speed, climb over obstacles and climb very high ledges in a fluid and facilitated way. In general it is an ideal method for traversing the game's extensive locations and capable of conveying a pleasant sensation of superhuman speed. In the few hours of testing, however, I felt a rather loose sense of control over Frey, whose movements always seemed imprecise compared to what I wanted to do.
The world of Athia, for its part, gave me mixed feelings. The progress of the Luminous Engine compared to the times of Final Fantasy XV is certainly evident: biomes are more extensive, with a greater sense of verticality which accentuates the sensation of entering wild and inhospitable environments. Although the open world of Forspoken does not cry out for a miracle in terms of technical virtuosity, the artistic glance is truly remarkable.
The vastness of the environments also brings with it a certain impression of emptiness, but looking at the map I saw several chests or other points of interest to reach and investigate, some of which put me to the test with optional challenges and dungeons. Initially I wanted to indulge my (inconstant) completionist spirit and tried to advance by "cleaning up" the map, but the feat took too long for the limited times of the test. So I tried the opposite approach, which was to skip all the unnecessary fights and parkour dash straight to the story's goal.
I must say that the game has lent itself well to both approaches, but I wonder if this extreme freedom doesn't also hide a weak point, i.e. an excessive dilution of exploration or, conversely, a lack of ability to motivate the player to explore the world. It will certainly be one of the main knots to be solved during the review.
The Sorceress' Apprentice
Also with regard to the combat system, the feeling I had is that of a great potential not managed well. Frey will have a wide range of spells at his disposal, divided and organized into different elemental branches, both attack and support.
The feeling of power that the spells return is certainly electrifying, however their organization and the key combinations to switch from one power to another seemed quite difficult to master, especially during fights against several enemies at the same time. During the boss fights, on the other hand, I felt the flow of the fight much more solid and I enjoyed it considerably more.
With more time on my hands, I hope these perplexities will resolve themselves into a mere matter of habit, because the system is very promising.
Testing Forspoken left me as intrigued to try the full game as it was perplexed about the effectiveness of its dynamics. The solidity of its open world and the management of the combat system controls are certainly the most crucial aspects, which will have the difficult task of supporting the title in the long run. It will also be important to observe how the story will evolve, which fortunately has been entrusted to western screenwriters, which gives me hope for the narrative rhythm, given the bad habit of Japanese authors to concentrate all developments in the last hours of the adventure.
We just have to wait for the complete and definitive version of Forspoken and to strongly advise you to download the demo to try it calmly, in order to get a first idea of what to expect when it comes out on January 24th for PlayStation 5 and PC.