Forspoken has a thing about cats. It’s established within the first few minutes that Frey is a huge cat-lover, being the owner of an adorable fluffy white cat named Homer. While this feline friend doesn’t make it to Athia with her, Frey does get to encounter plenty of other cats on her journey. There are lots of generic, normal cats found throughout the main city of Cipal, acting as side quest markers that add some variety and realism. Beyond the city walls though, the cats are a bit more fantastical.

Each of the four Tantas who once ruled Athia had a collection of familiars at their beck and call, each more adorable than the next. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the Tanta’s familiars are just cats. Sure, some of them have wings, some of them have horns, and they can all float, but they’re cats. If it meows like a cat and walks like a cat, it’s a bloody cat. That said, their technicoloured coats and magical abilities make them a very attractive feature of Forspoken’s world building. In terms of gameplay, they’re reduced to collectables - Frey can encounter them at monuments scattered throughout the land, and with a single pet, befriend them.

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After buddying up to a familiar, it will start appearing whenever you enter a refuge, Forspoken’s answer to rest stops and fast travel points. It’s cute - once you’ve collected a bunch of them, trips to these refuges feel extremely lively. The familiars moon around, scratching the furniture, sleeping lazily in midair, and watching you walk past to take a nap or peruse the bookcase. The problem is, that’s all they ever do. My cabal of kitties are more than happy to while away the rest of the game serving as set dressing and photo mode fodder, and this highlights the biggest problem with familiars.

Forspoken - A familiar

In turning one of the game’s collectables into decorations you don’t even get to interact with, Forspoken severely misunderstands the point of scouring a huge open world. When you spend time and effort acquiring something in this genre, you expect it to help you out in some way. Magic boosts improve your damage, new equipment expands your build options, and monuments give you better defensive options. Acquiring familiars, which is sometimes a frustrating task, considering how flighty these cats can get, does absolutely nothing for Frey. They provide no tangible benefits to your gameplay.

This is a massive shame when a huge amount of effort has been allocated to these familiars. Each one is unique, with its own coat patterns, accoutrements, and even entire lore entries in the archive. These blurbs, which tell us about each familiar’s role under the rule of their respective Tantas, make their existence as simple aesthetic additions even more egregious. These kitties are fully-intelligent beings - they used to be schoolteachers, spies, judges, and doctors! Why the fuck do they spend the entire game sleeping and looking cute? The archive makes it plainly obvious that the cats can speak, yet we never hear them utter a single syllable. The more you learn about them, the more obnoxious this oversight seems.

Forspoken Familiars at a refuge

Adding some sort of benefit to familiars would have been so simple. They could have acquired random items for Frey between her visits to rest stops. They could have improved her stats according to the Tanta they used to belong to. There’s a secret little Easter egg in the game that has Homer’s face pop up with a resounding ‘meow’ when Frey uses her highest-level surge magic spell sometimes - this could easily have been expanded to include the familiars you collect. But nope. Nada. These cats are as lazy as real-life cats.

Perhaps that’s the point. Maybe, without the Tantas to give them orders, the familiars are happy being utterly superfluous. Some of the archive entries for the familiars imply as much, making a joke out of professionals being impeded by their catlike tendencies. These are, by and large, very funny. That doesn’t stop the familiars themselves from being frustrating collectables in a game that’s already on the very large side. After scouring the world of Athia and amassing a small army of what are apparently incredibly skilled cats, all I have to show for it is a Playstation trophy and some cute screenshots.

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