Everything about the leadup to the release of Forspoken, Square Enix’s big new open-world action RPG, has been a lowkey mess. But you wouldn’t know that from the launch trailer which stays upbeat on the modern-day magical adventure by taking a bunch of words out of context and spinning them into deceitful accolades.
“This Forspoken launch trailer is kind of telling us that the game might not actually be that good and here’s how I know,” trailer editing aficionado Derek Lieu said in a TikTok video that blew up over the weekend. “The biggest red flag are these quotes which are either one word long or two words long.”
He proceeded to go through each phrase flashed on screen during it, found the original source it was from, and read the larger context aloud. In almost every instance the meaning was very different from the way the words were presented in the trailer, and not intended to be taken as unambiguous praise.
In one example, Square Enix lifted the word “Beautiful” from a December preview published over at Distractify. In context, however, the quote wasn’t saying that Forspoken was beautiful but that it had the “potential” to be a “beautiful story-driven game that will pull at your heartstrings with each new chapter.” It was, after all, a preview and not a review of the final game, though the site’s editor said she didn’t take issue with how the word was used.
“Square Enix did ask for permission to use the quote, and we did approve,” Distractify gaming editor, Sara Belcher, told Kotaku in an email. “In our actual review, I do refer to the game as ‘beautiful’ (that was my opinion of the game’s world since the preview, which is why I didn’t personally feel the quote felt out of context). We do not charge for the use of quotes in promotional materials.”
In another example, the Final Fantasy maker quotes the word “impressive” from Game Informer. The only problem is that the word in question doesn’t even come from a hands-on preview, but from a news write-up of a gameplay trailer from a Sony State of Play. “Frey’s traversal abilities are impressive, allowing for fast movement in and out of combat, both in aerial and aquatic situations,” it reads.
To recap then, Forspoken’s newest trailer included a truncated quote of someone describing one of its older trailers. Game Informer’s actual review gave the game a 7.5 out of 10. It did not include the word impressive, instead describing main protagonist Frey’s overall adventure as “[not] without its highlights.”
Game Informer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lieu told Kotaku that the intent of the video wasn’t to claim that he thinks the game is or will be bad, but rather that the misleading framing heavily implies that Square Enix wasn’t confident enough in the game to let it stand on its own without the bogus accolades.
“They could be entirely wrong taking this approach and the game is actually good, or has merits they could be focusing on instead of looking for quotes,” he said. “So I think it says more about the people in charge of marketing the game than it does the game itself.”
Companies relying on misleading quotes from critics and review outlets is nothing new. Sometimes they remove the original context. Sometimes they just search for any source, whether it’s reputable or not, that says your game is awesome. Almost always the accolades themselves are in giant fonts while the publications they’re pulled from are too small to read unless you’re taking time to analyze them in a TikTok video like Lieu.
As a point of comparison, he also shared two Forpsoken trailers that make the game look appealing without resorting to lies. The first was a trailer for the demo released last month. The second was a recut of an existing social media trailer that was repeatedly roasted online for its Joss Whedon-style fourth-wall-breaking dialogue.
“The real problem isn’t the narration at all, it’s that they don’t lean hard enough into the tone the narration should be selling and i know that because i proved it just now to be sure,” wrote Twitter user spellbang who took the same ingredients but remixed them in a way that looked much cooler while retaining the sensibility of the original.
The artistry behind making a good video game trailer aside, lying is bad and companies shouldn’t do that. It’s bad enough when a trailer full of pre-baked footage masks, say, how poorly a game actually runs. It’s even worse, though, when companies go out of their way to try and rope independent media outlets into their deceit. Publishers are supposed to get permission before using other people’s quotes in their marketing, and to be transparent about how they will be used.
Square Enix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.