The Forspoken Debacle Is More Embarrassing For Us Than It Is For The Game
Distancing myself from the discourse is not only the name of a potentially sick debut album, it’s also one of the best things I’ve done for my mental wellbeing in recent years. Forspoken has been dominating industry circles and the gaming conversation for a while now. We all had a blast ripping its awkward trailers and cringe-inducing dialogue to pieces as hands-on previews and developer insight did little alleviate our concerns about its quality.
I don’t tend to scroll through social media timelines that aren’t deliberately curated, so a lot of the mud-slinging and dire attempts at relevant jokes have passed me by, but the discussion around Forspoken has become so rotten that I can’t help but take notice. In-fighting about which outlets deserve reviews and which ones don’t, fans digging through out of context footage and writing the game off before they’ve even had time to play it, and Square Enix doing everything it can to salvage a flawed yet expensive project.
When you break it all down though, I’m not sure what any of us expected. Perhaps gamers are just desperate for a new punching bag on a regular basis, or are so torn up about failed expectations that they need to vent their frustration through oversaturated memes. From the outset, I saw Forspoken’s potential, but I also saw its woefully transparent corporate meddling and how its design philosophy that combined Western and Eastern elements was misguided and foolish. Mediocre writing talent and a dev team coupled together from the dregs of Final Fantasy 15 was never going to impress, let alone set the world on fire. We always knew that.
Forspoken began as a vague tech demo for the PlayStation 5 with the codename ‘Project Athia’ and hasn’t been able to move on from that vague descriptor ever since. It is what Square Enix believes a global blockbuster to be, one with the intention of appealing to all, and in the process catches the attention of none. It is bland, lifeless, predictable, and oddly spiteful in its executions. Yet we have done its creators the honour of tearing it to pieces in all the wrong ways. Do we want this medium to get better and stop producing soulless hits like this, or does the appeal come from tearing art down with no basis or critical merit?
Square Enix and Luminous Productions deserve to be dragged when it comes to Forspoken and everything it gets wrong, and this should be approached through thoughtful critique and voting with our wallets instead of purchasing it out of curiosity purely to dunk on it. We saw the same unfold with HBO’s Velma, which is a hit for the network because it honed in on the ego of perpetually online nerds who wanted nothing more than to tear it apart. The discourse wasn’t concerned with raising up better alternatives or thinking about how the show could be improved, instead dunking on it from all sides, so we can stop hating ourselves for a little bit.
Forspoken isn’t a good game. Its parkour and combat are held back by obnoxious characters and awful storytelling. But the debate has already shifted so far in a single direction that addressing any of its positives is almost pointless. Modern gamers tend to praise a few specific blockbusters to high heaven while sticking to a service game or two, and write everything else off as the worst thing ever created. To see any middle ground is rare, and the same criticism can be levelled at the media – often we are incapable of detaching ourselves from the hype and viewing games as malleable pieces of art that deserve to be seen as more than amazing or horrendous.
Square Enix had shown its hand from the very start, Forspoken a clear mixture of lazy tropes and predictable ideas that felt cobbled together in a focus-tested boardroom, so it appeals to the most people possible. It has MCU-esque dialogue, a generic yet gorgeous fantasy world, lots of swearing, and the genre trimmings we’ve all grown used to. Trying to tick all of these boxes without ever thinking about your own identity always results in failure, and Forspoken is no exception. In the run-up to release we all tried to bargain with it, hoping all the middling qualities were merely a symptom of unfinished builds or weirdly presented showcases.
Nope – that’s the game we have in our hands today, and it was staring us in the face all this time. We could have taken it to task instead of resorting to petty memes and discourse, yet here we are, and I won’t be surprised when the same cycle rears its head once again. Who knows if Square Enix and Luminous Productions will learn the right lessons from this, yet part of me wouldn’t blame them if they don’t.
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