Year in Review

The Most Overlooked Game of 2023 Deserves a Second Chance

Give it time.

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Square Enix
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2023 has been an incredible year for video games, from massive sequels like Tears of the Kingdom and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 to surprise smash-hits like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hi-Fi Rush. It’s easy for things to get lost in a sea of 10/10 games — especially if they don’t make a massive splash right away — and perhaps the best example of the year is Forspoken.

Exclusive to the PS5, Forspoken stumbled out the gate at launch. It was criticized for its cringe-worthy dialogue and ham-fisted storytelling. But almost a full year after its January 2023 debut, it’s worth reflecting on what the game got right. Forspoken has heart and ambition, with an incredible combat system that falls victim to misguided storytelling. Despite all that, it’s still one of the games I’d personally recommend the most from this year, simply because there’s not anything else quite like it.

Forspoken makes a poor first impression with its opening hours, but its story does become more focused, and meaningful, in the latter half.

Square Enix

Forspoken falls neatly into a category that Square Enix dominated during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era: games with unchecked ambition that weren’t afraid to try new things — to both their benefit and detriment. Games like The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, and NieR all fall into this group. That same spirit — or vibe, if you will — is alive and well in Forspoken, and the further I get from the game’s release in January, the more I start to appreciate that.

Forspoken tells the story of Frey Holland, a young woman living in New York who’s fallen on exceptionally hard times. Through a twist of fate, Frey finds herself in a magical world called Athia, equipped with a sentient wrist cuff that incessantly talks to you at every opportunity. Essentially, Forspoken is a twist on an “Isekai,” a genre often used in Japanese anime where a normal person suddenly finds themselves transported to another world.

The real problem that plagues Forspoken is its rough first few hours. Admittedly the opening does not make a great impression. It’s atrociously slow, taking too much time to set up the story and stakes, and yes, mixing all that with some cringy dialogue. At the same time, the combat system doesn’t really take off until you unlock a second set of magic, which coincidentally is where the story starts to click.

Forspoken’s combat is flashy and visually satisfying, but also feels intuative and mechanically sound.

Square Enix

Forspoken is the textbook example of a game that gives more with the more you’re willing to put into it. The trite and tropey opening yields to a story that has serious personal growth for Frey, and an emotional core that makes for a poignant, albeit rushed, ending. There’s a good story and a ton of lore that simply isn’t supported by the presentation and cutscene direction, but is worth seeing nonetheless.

That fact is especially true when you factor in what Forspoken does best: its phenomenal combat and traversal. Combat uses an elemental magic system, with Frey gaining access to four “colors” of magic, all of which have wildly different uses during battle. A lot of games try to have magic systems that feel exciting and dynamic, but few manage to hit that high mark like Forspoken.

Frey’s staring Purple (Earth) magic is a balanced moveset that can be used both offensively and defensively. As you progress, you’ll unlock Red magic that focuses on high damage and explosive moves, Blue magic that’s all about crowd control, and Green magic for applying statuses to enemies and boosts to Frey.

While each magic set can be used entirely on its own, the brilliance of Forspoken’s combat starts to show when you start swapping between everything on the fly, bouncing back and forth between spells to unleash absolute havoc on both enemies and the environment.

Forspoken simply feels good to play, its controls are tight and responsive, and the flashy magic makes you feel like a masterful mage. Traversal only helps strengthen this idea by letting you effortlessly flow over the expansive world of Athia, bounding up cliffs and over buildings with ease.

The magical parkour of Forspoken feels great, and the game layers in new abilities to enhance your options across the experience.

Square Enix

The foundation that Forspoken is built on is strong. There are great gameplay ideas that are developed across the experience, made even more engaging with the more time you put in. There’s also a lot of interesting story and lore that gets buried under loads of exposition and awkward presentation.

The core of Forspoken has a lot of heart, but it’s easy to see all the fluff around turned players off. Still, after all the fantastic games I’ve played this year, I can’t help but think about how much unadulterated fun I had with Forspoken The magic system feels empowering, I never got tired of speeding over hills, and Frey’s story ends up being surprisingly compelling in its the final act.

Yes, the implementation of all that is often rough around the edges, but it’s still a unique game with lots of personality. I sincerely hope that the ideas present in Forspoken can be iterated on in the future, as a little extra work and care could turn it into something truly special. At the very least it’s an experience worth seeing through to the very end.

Forspoken is available on PS5 and PC.

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