Though it takes inspiration from isekai–stories in which people from Earth are transported to and become trapped in a fantastical world (think Alice in Wonderland but Japanese)–Forspoken ultimately doesn’t understand what makes that genre so popular. Instead, it tells a largely forgettable story that sets up major stakes but fails to offer a compelling reason for why the player should care. Luminous Productions’ action-RPG feels great when it allows you to really stretch your legs and magically parkour across its fantasy landscape, but combat is clunky and regular exposition too often stalls the action.
In Forspoken, protagonist Frey finds herself trapped in the magic-filled world of Athia after stumbling through a portal. There, she bonds with a sentient brace she nicknames Cuff and then encounters a group of survivors living in the last city that’s free from the effects of a dangerous miasma. This blight, which Frey calls the Break, covers the land and transforms living creatures into mutated monsters. Frey is the only exception, making her an ideal candidate for exploring the Break, finding its source, and destroying it. The whole situation is an intriguing narrative setup but boring or unlikable characters let it down. It’s difficult to like the standoffish and stubborn Frey, the incessantly sarcastic Cuff (who regularly quips in Frey’s ear like a discount JARVIS), or any of the survivors who are all too eager to completely rely on Frey’s protection from the Break while also asking her to complete boring optional tasks like going on a tour of a lifeless hub or petting a bunch of sheep.
Forspoken’s story is one about belonging–finding a place you want to stay and a people you wish to protect. Like any isekai protagonist worth their salt, Frey is initially resistant to her new surroundings before discovering that she’s actually ideally suited to the world she’s found herself trapped in. However, it’s not a world that the game is able to adequately convince the player of wanting to stay in and protect. The emotional connection Forspoken tries to establish to incentivize the player to take action–to help the people that need Frey’s help–is deeply uninteresting and oftentimes head-scratching and odd. The characters don’t take the threat of Athia’s imminent destruction very seriously and any tension that comes from their perilous existence is repeatedly undermined by meaningless busywork they want you to do. The characters themselves are also incredibly plain with two-dimensional personalities. They have no real convictions or anything interesting to say.
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