After a long road full of anticipation and delays, Forspoken has finally graced players’ screens. However, from the moment the story trailers started coming out, gamers online couldn’t help but notice that something seemed off when it came to the dialogue featured throughout the trailers. One in particular dubbed the “Let Me Get This Straight” trailer, drew widespread attention for how cringy it was and has been lampooned by those across the community in the months since.
All the same, a lot of people were hopeful that it was just poor writing for the trailers and that the actual game would be better. Well, unfortunately, Forspoken’s dialogue is still pretty dreadful.
I do want to make it clear right off the bat, though, that this is a first impression look at the first six hours of playing Forspoken. So, of course, these impressions are not from someone who has played the whole game, but it is worth making it clear that this isn’t a look at all of Forspoken’s dialogue. All of this being said, first impressions mean a lot, and the dialogue found throughout the first six hours of Forspoken certainly makes a negative one.
As most people following the game know, the story follows the character of Frey, a young woman living in New York City who mysteriously gets brought to the fantastical world of Athia and meets a magic Cuff, who becomes her companion for the game. Frey finds that Athia is under the rule of the villainous Tantas, and whether she likes it or not, she needs to take on the tyrants and help the oppressed people while simultaneously looking for a way to get herself home.
That summary hints at one of the things that makes the dialogue of Forspoken pretty dreadful: Frey is an outsider. The game’s protagonist constantly lets the audience know how absurd she finds everything. Frey and her companion, Cuff, frequently have sarcastic banter as they come across new landmarks across Athia, digging at each other and the world around them.
Given that Frey is in a life-threatening situation, it makes perfect sense that she would be cynical about the situation, so the fact that she is voicing these concerns is not necessarily the problem. What is the problem is how many times Frey feels the need to express her frustrations.
She chimes in with quips all the time throughout the game’s exploration. Not only is it almost always not fun to hear, but the constant nature of her voicing it makes cynicism feel like Frey’s only character trait. This is someone who is supposed to save this fantastical world, but the game’s dialogue makes it feel like she has such contempt for it that you can’t help but wonder why exactly she is the protagonist.
It is, of course, very possible that Frey will go through a major character arc, and the game could totally be setting up a storyline where Frey and Cuff go on to boost each other up instead of tearing one another down as well.
Nevertheless, to have the characters be cynical and bicker back and forth constantly can still majorly turn players off, as first impressions are everything. I certainly didn’t want my introduction to a game to be characters continually complaining. It could easily result in people deciding against diving into what the rest of the game has to offer.
Something important to get out of the way before this next part is that I am fully aware that there is an option to reduce Cuff’s chatter. Yet this actually only serves to prove to me that the developers of the game know how poorly written the dialogue is and that they wanted an option available in order to reduce blowback to the game’s poor writing.
For me, though, I like to play games how the creators intended. I almost always play on Normal difficulty with as many settings as closely aligned to how they are defaulted as possible. So, to have someone like me constantly be tempted to turn down the banter is a sign of a major problem.
There would be moments when playing Forspoken where I would come across a beautiful clearing with magnificent structures in the distance. It would become easy to just want to take in the environment and see what the world offers. These moments were sadly almost always interrupted by Frey and Cuff discussing the area, with Frey saying something cynical and Cuff chiming in with his signature sarcasm.
It made me not want to explore anymore, as one couldn’t help but wonder why they were attempting to engage with the world if one of my rewards was some snarky dialogue that broke my immersion.
The point of the fantasy genre is that the world the audience is exploring is just that: a fantasy. Despite having plenty of dangers, fantasy worlds are meant to be an escape, and there are people who would love to have the opportunity to get away from their real-world troubles.
To take control of a character who constantly reminds players how much she finds everything to be absurd can totally break the immersion and prevents that from ever happening. Again, the traits that are given to Frey and Cuff aren’t bad, but the fact that the player repeatedly gets to hear from them makes these character traits feel way too negative and overwhelming.
One example of the game’s dialogue repeating something over and over again is how Frey will say something that only someone from Earth would understand, with Cuff and the residents of Athia not able to comprehend what Frey is saying.
This may be a cliche joke, but it did make me chuckle at first until I realized that they would go on to make the same joke again and again and again. It got to be ridiculous when it happened for the sixth and seventh time, in only the first part of the game, no less.
Thankfully, one area where the dialogue isn’t totally dreadful is, in fact, the dialogue that happens during Forspoken’s story cutscenes. Many of these scenes were clearly much more important to the development team, and it shows.
Now, that is not to say that the story didn’t have plenty of cringe moments, and the dialogue is undoubtedly helped by having an intriguing story with good emotional beats. Still, it is worth noting that the dialogue is certainly more entertaining than annoying in cutscenes, especially when compared to the rest of Forspoken’s dialogue.
Some, like me, may also find Frey to be a refreshing protagonist, especially for this style of game, as she isn’t some stoic main character. Even though she says plenty of cringe things in the story, like what was shown in the aforementioned trailer, some of her reactions during the story did make her feel a bit more endearing than expected.
Her reaction when she first gets her powers is pretty akin to how a lot of people would respond, so the criticism that her response is unrealistic isn’t totally valid. What is accurate, though, is that the dialogue in some of these scenes has a level of cringe, so if writers could’ve tightened up on the dialogue, there could’ve been something great here.
All of this being said, I haven’t even touched upon the dialogue that happens during the game’s combat, which is pretty much just as bad as the exploration dialogue. Frey and Cuff will constantly bicker and exchange words not only during the player’s traversal of the open world but also during Frey’s battles, getting to the point of absurdity.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be talking every two seconds if I was fighting something as terrifying as a dragon; it’s pretty safe to say that one would be more focused on trying to survive especially seeing as how these powers were just obtained mere hours ago.
Filling the downtime of players roaming the open world with dialogue makes perfect sense, yet to feel the need to have the characters speak during combat doesn’t, as players should be wholly focused on how to survive a battle, not what Frey and Cuff have to say. Even if the dialogue was always compelling, this isn’t a great strategy as it can break the immersion of what it would feel like to actually participate in the game’s battles. When in combat, the player shouldn’t constantly be forced to listen to two characters bicker, with one calling the other’s performance “middling.”
In my experience, Forspoken could really benefit from a less is more approach to the dialogue, which would likely help to make the moment-to-moment conversations more impactful.
Some may think that the poor dialogue in Forspoken comes down to the voice acting, and in particular, Frey’s voice acting done by Resident Evil (2022)’s Ella Balinska. However, I do not believe this to be the case. Sure, there are lines that do come across as more on the stilted side, but it feels as though the game’s dialogue problem mainly falls on the game’s writing and not the actors involved.
The easiest way to have fixed the game’s dialogue would’ve been to cut out some of the unnecessary lines that Frey’s character says as she explores the world. If she spoke less throughout the open world, it would give players the opportunity to form their own opinions about Athia. In turn, this would allow you to decide how you feel about the environment and not have the protagonist’s opinion shoved down your throat on a consistent basis.
As many players expect their games to get bigger and bigger, developers are clearly having a problem figuring out how to meet this expectation without cutting down on certain features. It is a noticeable trend that in these bigger games, the writing has become less important to the developers. Since these games are ginormous, they require much more dialogue than the writers obviously can’t keep up with.
Whether or not Forspoken’s dialogue is enough to turn a player away from playing altogether is up to the individual’s tolerance level. The game does, in fact, have some things going for it, like the impressive visuals and the game’s interesting traversal mechanics, which, while it does take a moment to get used to, can be quite fun. I would often find myself getting lost in gameplay, seeking out enemy encounters and trying to find monuments and locations of note, not because of the story but because of how much fun the gameplay is.
Traversing throughout the open world using Frey’s parkour is extremely satisfying, with the added challenge early on of not having every ability at your disposal making the gameplay somewhat difficult, enjoyably so. Learning the game’s mechanics, especially all of the spells, can be really overwhelming at first, but once the player explores Athia, it becomes glorious.
Also, just because the game’s dialogue isn’t great doesn’t mean that Forspoken’s overall story is god-awful. It’s important to distinguish between dialogue and story, as these are two separate entities that demand different writing skill sets. That being said, the game’s poor dialogue certainly doesn’t give the overall story the boost it deserves in parts.
So, yes, even though Forspoken’s actual dialogue is pretty cringe, that likely won’t be a total deal-breaker for everyone. Regardless, if you find yourself on the fence about buying Forspoken, check out the demo before purchasing the full-on game, both of which are currently available to play on the PS5.
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