Forspoken’s Dialog Debate Exposes a Bigger Pop Culture Divide

Is the debate over Forspoken's "cringey" dialog really about Forspoken at all?

Photo: Square Enix

Square Enix’s Forspoken was released to the public just one day ago, but you’d think it has been out for a lifetime given how much people have been arguing about the game’s dialog.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend enough time with the retail version of Forspoken in order to offer anything close to a full review of the game. However, in my preview of the game, I mentioned how I found its dialog to be a bit…odd. Specifically, I noted that the game utilized a kind of “meta” dialog style that usually involved its protagonist (Frey) making some kind of joke about the absurdity of her situation. For instance, Frey might see a giant armored knight and say “Whoa, slow down there Medieval Times.” That’s not an actual bit of dialog (it’s not that bad), but you get the point.

At that time, I worried about both the quality and quantity of the game’s dialog. Some of the jokes didn’t necessarily land on their own, but my bigger concern was over whether or not that style of dialog delivered that often would prove to be especially grating over the course of an entire game. The same went for the game’s somewhat strange fondness for using as many curse words as possible whenever possible (regardless of context). Based on some of the reactions to Forspoken so far, it seems those worries were not unfounded.

Over the last few days, various social media sites have been filling up with numerous examples of Forspoken‘s dialog. I’ll post a few of those examples below for some context, though you should be warned that many of them feature quite a bit of NSFW language due to the game’s aforementioned fondness for four-letter words.

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Depending on which social media bubble you’ve popped into recently, you may be under the impression that Forspoken‘s dialog is almost universally being ridiculed. However, that’s not true. There are many out there who genuinely enjoy the game’s writing and dialog style. Perhaps more importantly, there are seemingly many more people out there who are not necessarily defending Forspoken‘s dialog outright so much as they’re pointing out that it’s odd people are singling the game out for utilizing a dialog style featured in many other recent (and popular) works.

As the internet continues to argue about Forspoken‘s dialog (try to be surprised), it’s becoming clear that this debate is really only partially about the game itself. Yes, there are those who simply think that Forspoken’s writing just isn’t that good, but the evolving debate around the game really exposes a greater divide over the popularity of that snarky kind of meta dialog that really has come to dominate many forms of entertainment.

You’ve probably heard some form of this debate before. In recent years, Marvel fans and detractors have certainly been caught arguing over the MCU’s prolific use of quippy comedy dialog that often tries to make its characters seem cooler than the fantastical situations they find themselves in. It’s disingenuous to suggest that the MCU became more popular (or strictly better) through its use of such dialog, though that style has certainly become more popular since Joss Whedon and James Gunn heavily featured it in their respective MCU mega-hits: The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Whedon is actually often credited (or targeted) for inventing and popularizing that style of dialog, which isn’t actually true. Besides, there are more important things that people should be blaming Joss Whedon for.

No, the truth is that variations on this style of dialog have existed in some form or another for longer than any of us could accurately say. What’s most interesting about Forspoken is that it seems to have become a lightning rod for the growing fatigue and frustration with how overwhelmingly popular that style of dialog has become in recent years.

Some argue that’s due to the quality of the game’s writing, and some even suggest some of that animosity can be attributed to underlying malicious feelings regarding the race and gender of Forspoken’s protagonist. There is almost certainly some truth to those assertions in specific cases, though given the widespread reactions to other recent examples of that style of dialog, it felt like some piece of entertainment was inevitably going to become a lightning rod for this debate. If it wasn’t Forspoken, it might very well have been the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

The truth of the matter is that there is always going to be some level of backlash against anything that’s popular. That backlash will only intensify as said popular thing becomes the new standard for a prolonged period of time. In this case, though, there is something to be said for how odd it feels that that quippy, disinterested style of dialog has become the standard given that it has historically been used to challenge and mock other standards.

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When Han Solo pokes fun at the beliefs and ambitions of his companion in Star Wars, it works because he’s playing off of genuine heroes and villains presented via a more classical style of storytelling. When Sidney Prescott and her friends call out (and rise above) horror movie tropes in Scream, it works because they’re dragging some previously accepted genre tropes into the light in ways that few had seen before. Those characters’ “whatever-isms” are utilized in response to some kind of previously established, often unchallenged standard. They need something established and genuine to bounce off of for that style to work.

When that same style of quippy, disinterested dialog becomes the most popular way of doing things (such as it has in Forspoken and some recent MCU movies), it generally doesn’t work as well because it’s become the very thing that such dialog was once intended to mock. At this point, it would be more subversive to see genuine characters in a genre situation spouting adult dialog than it would be to hear a cast tee off on how bored they are by demons, dragons, and slashers.

Forspoken‘s style of dialog is likely not going away anytime soon. Honestly, there’s no reason it should disappear. That style became popular for a reason, and you can likely find some examples of it that you genuinely enjoy. For the sake of that style, and the sake of creative diversity in entertainment, though, it’s imperative that more creators not default to it quite so often as they have been in recent years. After all, if Forspoken isn’t the breaking point for that particular writing style, I’m sure no creator wants to find themselves responsible for the last bit of “whatever” dialog that makes even more audiences say the same.