Forspoken went viral in August. But probably not for the reason the developers and publishers at Square Enix would have wanted. A video was released on the game’s social media account that immediately caught the ire of the internet’s biggest meme-lords. Pastiches riffing on the game’s dialogue ran the gamut – there was God of War, Yakuza, Doom, Devil May Cry, and some people even said it came off like a Joss Whedon joint (ouch).
But, stay with me here, the game isn’t actually that bad in your hands. Really. I had over an hour to preview the title at Square Enix’s offices recently, and whilst the dialogue is a little try-hard, it’s not that bad. It’s one of those things; a trailer cannot accurately convey how a game will play out in your hands – the timing is off, the editing is wrong, there’s no context.
“I'm so happy you mentioned the word ‘context’ here,” says Forspoken creative producer, Raio Mitsuno, in a follow-up interview after our preview. “That’s been the the key thing for us in terms of how we're trying to show fun things about this game without spoiling the story. [The trailers and social media posts] obviously come without the context that's necessary to really understand it, and really get a feel for it.”
In-game, even from the brief time I spent with Forspoken, it’s evident that Frey and Cuff’s relationship is something that evolves over time, and their relationship warms and cools as different things happen. Cuff’s role is “to sometimes mentor Frey, to sometimes be a friend to her, and to sometimes really just be a pain in the ass that just wants to banter back and forth”, Mitsuno tells us. Similarly to the High on Life trailer we saw at Gamescom, or the New Tales from the Borderlands trailer that didn’t quite land for some, Forspoken is funnier in action than it is in trailers. But did it deserve to be ribbed quite so hard?
“Yeah, it’s a little unfortunate, but admittedly some of the memes were really funny,” laughs Mitsuno. “So, you know, the internet got a nice little kick out of it for a while – at the cost of us! – but we’re confident in the game. We still have a couple of months to go until launch, and we can hopefully show a side of the game that’s a little more understandable, without revealing too much about the story – this is a story-driven game, after all. We see what’s happening, we see what people are reacting to, and we figure out what we’re going to show next.”
That’s why, Mitsuno tells us, the follow-up to that controversial trailer was a pure 10-minute gameplay video – showing off the more granular elements of Forspoken’s gameplay. And that’s why, for the next marketing beat, we’re probably not going to see something quickly cobbled together from pre-existing assets, but rather something a little more… curated.
“It’s fun being able to talk about this,” Mitsuno continues, “and be honest and open about it. It’s been a challenge, for sure: we want to show what the story’s about, and what the game’s about, without ruining any of it. And so much of the game and the dialogue comes down to context, right? That video that we put up on our social media channels… that was just repurposed footage and dialogue from older trailers that we put together in a different way. And I think it just brought more attention to the dialogue, and people took the wrong things away from it.”
Mitsuno tells us that Frey and Cuff’s relationship is something that “maybe hasn't come across the way [Square Enix] was hoping it would come across” in its campaign, but the developer doesn’t seem cowed, at all.
“Rest assured – when the game comes out, you’ll see how their stories are key to the whole thing,” Mitsuno says. “And we think it’s something that players will enjoy when they finally get their hands on the game.”