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This Christmas, Forspoken deserves a bit of your holiday good will

Each year, the holidays are a time for reflection. I’ve been looking back at all of the articles I’ve written and the games I played the most as a result. When looking at my PlayStation Wrap-Up 2023 results, I was surprised that Luminous Productions and Square Enix’s controversial magic RPG Forspoken was among my most played PS5 games. Fittingly enough, Forspoken takes place during Christmastime, as that’s when Ella Balinska’s Frey is whisked away to the world of Athia in an Alice in Wonderland-like manner.

The revelation has me reflecting on my time spent playing Forspoken and the frustrating discourse surrounding its release earlier this year. It was initially derided and heralded as one of the year’s worst games by many Scrooges, an opinion I never fully agreed with.

Now that we’re at a time of year more fitting for experience Forspoken, it’s time for all of us to embrace the magic of Christmas and show some goodwill toward a game that didn’t deserve the humbug it received.

Forspoken is good, actually

Christmas-themed video games are a surprising rarity, and admittedly, much of Forspoken doesn’t call back to the holiday much after its real-world intro. Setting the game at a time of year that emphasizes family plays into Frey’s insecurities about not knowing her parents and not feeling like she belongs or deserves to be loved and appreciated. Coming around on that is a core part of Frey’s journey through Forspoken, and at times, the character drama can be surprisingly compelling.

Frey in Square Enix's Forspoken.
Square Enix.

Unfortunately, only a few initial reviews highlighted those aspects at release. Instead, emphasis was put on its corny, quippy dialogue and pacing problems. Those are issues that I called out in my review, but I believe the critiques are a bit overblown. Players can turn the banter frequency down in the Settings menu, and Forspoken‘s humor isn’t all that different than what we see in popular games like God of War: Ragnarok and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.

Unfortunately, Forspoken‘s characters, narrative, and writing were put under much greater scrutiny than other titles with similar weak points. A common theory posits that the adventure gained an extra harsh backlash from a certain strain of gamers due to it having a Black female lead. Regardless of why it became a laughing stock, the shortcomings dominated the discourse surrounding the game. Now that we’re 11 months removed from launch and in a much nicer, more reflective time of year, Forspoken deserves a reassessment, especially by those who didn’t engage with the game outside of poking fun at some out of context clips on social media.

Even with my qualms against the game, there’s a lot I can look back on and see that the game does well. Moving around Forspoken’s world is a joy once every elemental power and traversal ability is unlocked. While the UI is messy, combat is flashy and intense, making Forspoken one of the best-looking games on the PS5. It’s the game that most closely resembles an Avatar: The Last Airbender game.

Frey uses fire magic in Forspoken.
Square Enix

In many ways, Forspoken has been treated like The Grinch this year, being outcast and ignored by gamers. It has underperformed sales-wise, and developer Luminous Productions was even folded back into Square Enix following its release. Even if it’s far from perfect, Forspoken isn’t bad enough to earn the legacy it’s marching toward. It always saddens me to see new, creative IPs like Forspoken, Immortals of Aveum, and even films like The Creator underperform while safer franchise sequels are celebrated.

Forspoken may appear on some Worst Games of 2023 lists, but it doesn’t deserve that dishonor. This year showed us what truly terrible games can look like, from The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to Skull Island: Rise of Kong. But there’s something to be learned from those experiences, too. For the maligned Skull Island, it’s the fact the developers of these games deserve better working conditions. Get past Forspoken‘s flaws, and you’ll find some best-in-class traversal and open-world design packed into a secret Christmas game. That accomplishment deserves a little holiday cheer.

Forspoken is available now for PC and PS5.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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