At the time of writing this review, a handful of hours before the official release of Forspoken, I had not had a chance to play the final game. Review embargo for the title lifted at the moment the game was made available for purchase in Australia, but mere hours away from that moment, the most experience I had had with the game was a demo on PS5, and the ability to watch some leaked footage online.
My suspicion had been that I would receive finalised code for the game during the time I spent writing and recording the first draft of this video script but, sitting down three hours before embargo lifted, I was in a tricky position. This game had some really interesting accessibility settings I dearly wanted to discuss, but I could vouch for the rest of the game these settings were contained within.
This is not a review of Forspoken as an overall game. While I have since had a few hours to start playing the finished retail version of the game, I am much more interested personally in discussing the game’s accessibility settings, something I have been able to confirm do not differ between the demo and the finished release of the game.
I’ll have a review of Forspoken as a game in the coming days, but for now, I want to make sure you have a sense of the accessibility settings available if you decide to pick up the game at launch.
Forspoken is a Square Enix Action JRPG, following the story of Frey Holland, a young woman from our real modern day world who, at a desperate low point in her life, is transported to Athia, a fantasy realm in search of a hero to save its citizens. Adorned with a magical but talkative golden “cuff”, Frey runs around the world completing quests, fighting monsters, and aiming to restore peace to the land.
Forspoken follows a gameplay template similar to Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake, swapping out turn-based battles for a more action focused combat system. Players magically parkour sprint around an open world, unlocking support and attack magic spells to use in combat against enemies, while manually dodging and dashing around encounters.
While I cannot give an in depth account of how the finalised game feels to play for any great length of time, based on the demo and a few hours with the final release I can say that while the game’s traversal parkour mechanics are incredibly satisfying, and the game is visually impressive, the combat suffers from feeling stilted, largely due to the inability to switch attacks mid combo without interrupting the flow of the fight, and the dialogue in the game’s opening hours feels stilted and somewhat awkward in places, while charming and amusing in others. Also, while the game is marketted as an open world adventure, the opening 2-3 hours of the game are linear corridors and cutscenes, so don’y expect a Breath of the Wild style jump straight into the action. There are things to enjoy in Forspoken, but it takes a little time to get used to its deliberately clashing fish out of water elements.
While the dialogue is at times awkward, it also at times has charm. The bigger issue is that conversations often lock the player in a location, unable to walk and talk at the same time as being fed dialogue. Conversations with Cuff would feel less awkward if you could walk while talking to your bracelet.
However, diving into the game’s menus, Forspoken does feature a surprisingly deep suite of accessibility settings offerings, in particular some neat inclusions in the Gameplay Balance and Accessibility focused menus.
Starting with Gameplay Balance settings, players can switch on aim assist when aiming spells to cast at enemies, set time to slow down or even stop completely while spell switching radial menu wheels are open, set the game to deal significantly more or less damage to the player when attacked, set stamina recovery speed to be “very fast”, set healing items to be automatically used at set health thresholds, extend the length of enemy knockdowns, automatically swap out which support spell is equipped if the current spell is on a cooldown, and perhaps most interestingly set your character to magically auto evade incoming attacks.
It’s this final gameplay balance option, Auto Evade, that is most ambitious in my opinion, in that from my testing in the demo, it seems to make the player literally invulnerable to almost all incoming damage, save for a small handful of unevadable boss moves, completely unable to be injured by enemy attacks. Players can during combat manually time dodges to magically evade incoming attacks, but to my understanding there is no downside applied to the player for using this automated setting to dodge every oncoming attack without fail.
That said, unfortunately, at least one early boss fight in the game is glitched. Reducing the damage the boss does to the player will also reduce the damage Frey does to the boss, in an encounter where losing the fight will still progress the narrative, and player defeat is somewhat expected. this can lead to an issue where a fight goes on far longer than expected, as the player and boss deal vastly reduced damage to each other, coming across like a poorly paced war of attrition, until you work out the boss is taking less damage than it is supposed to.
In the controls menu, players can tweak certain elements of control, such as whether the camera auto adjusts during parkour, always, or never, as well as reducing camera shake visual effects, and controller functions like vibration and haptic trigger intensity.
In the display settings menu, players can choose between resolution, ray tracing, and framerate graphics modes, turn off motion blur, and apply colour filters designed to help support colourblind players. The sound settings menu, similarly, allows for basic customisation of several sound source volume sliders.
Forspoken does allow for controller customisation, but certain options cannot be customised. If, for example, your support magic is mapped to L2, and attack magic is mapped to R2, surge magic will always be mapped to those two buttons pressed at the same time, and cannot be remapped to its own dedicated button unfortunately.
Lastly, we get to the accessibility settings menu, where some of the more specific settings options can be found.
Players can set items to be automatically gathered while playing, lockpicking minigames to be automatically completed, items to be made more easily visible for players, nearby characters to be highlighted, and the game’s map icon size can be increased.
Many of the game’s button holds, such as the radial menu for switching spells or activation of magical parkour can be switched instead to toggles, as well as the inputs to leap and soar being able to be partially automated. While sprint as default is activated using L3, you can require an additional button to be pressed to activate sprint, to reduce accidental inputs from misclicking the analogue stick.
You can activate a “cuff compass”, a line that leads you through the world toward progression, as well as make that line more visible in the world. You can also change the frequency of Cuff’s slightly forced dialogue, meaning that if you find him frustrating you can minimise his dialogue down to only plot critical information.
Forspoken’s HUD size and location can be customised, with the game also allowing subtitles to be made larger, placed on more opaque backgrounds, with speaker names included, and units of measurements able to be changed to your region’s best understood unit of measurement. Unfortunately, Cuff’s subtitles feature a distracting “golden butterfly reveal” effect, which cannot be turned off, and makes his dialogue unnecessarily difficult to read in real time.
Lastly, you can switch off letter grade rankings for fights, switch off progression popups for partially completed magical challenges, and increase the visibility of visual tells for incoming heavy attacks.
While there are certainly elements of Forspoken that feel inconsistent, I must say the accessibility options suite available to players is pretty impressive.
Speaking candidly, we’ve talked on this show before about the fact that, as a rule of thumb, Square Enix has sometimes been a little behind the curve on offering accessibility settings options, comparable with the wider industry in its big budget titles. While I have my concerns about Forspoken as an overall video game, I am really happy to see the game offer the accessibility settings it does.
This feels like a step forward for Square Enix in terms of trying to invite disabled players to the table for one of the studio’s big budget releases, and I am always excited any time a major publisher creates a game that feels like it sets a new accessibility baseline they should aim to meet going forward.
Forspoken isn’t without its issues, but in terms of accessibility, I feel pretty excited to see this kind of effort, from a publisher I have not come to expect this from.