A prodigy of bad design.

Sometimes a game comes along that sounds good on paper, displays well in trailers, and seems to tick all the boxes that would make it a sleeper hit. The Forbidden Arts is the definition of that game. Having checked out media beforehand it sounded unique with a touch of nostalgia. The end result however ends up being a slog that falters in almost every area. The performance is bad, the combat is mindless, and there is nothing exceptional about any part of the game in its execution. The Forbidden Arts should have stayed asleep.

Players take on the role of a boy named Phoenix (yes there will be plenty of fire puns here) who can create and manipulate fire. As his name implies he can either dispose of enemies with flames or traditional weapons. Fire is the game’s hook. Phoenix relies on it as his sole power. There is plenty of dialogue and most of it is fine, but the lack of voice acting really sets in after a while. I like deep story as much as the next person, but after a while I got tired of reading all the characters and trying to envelop myself into the world. It never really worked.

MSRP: $14.99
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Price I’d Pay: $4.99

The breakdown is fairly familiar. Phoenix traverses the world, entering dungeons and fighting monsters. There is an overworld, and each dungeon does a decent job of spicing up the look of the game. Levels consist of mixes of combat with a slight puzzle element and the occasional fire entrapments. There just isn’t much variety, which would be fine if all the pieces worked together. Sadly they do not.

Combat is the biggest culprit. Hand-to-hand is simple and enemies often get trapped into animation loops making it less than difficult. When they do get their hands on you, though, it is a bad time. Phoenix is very squishy and will fall to only a few strikes. There are also insta-death environmental hazards that make clearing levels more of a pain than an enjoyment. The fire mechanic is once again the definition of good on paper. Phoenix must recharge it when near blazes, but it rarely is effective and using it is rarely better than just mashing away with melee attacks. Combat just fizzles out before it gets interesting.

Each dungeon brings spice, but the overworld suffers from some truly uninspired design. It feels flat and lifeless. The frame rate also feels off. It isn’t exactly chugging, but the timing just doesn’t feel right. Enemy variety is lacking and the animations are just not that impressive. Overall the game feels as cheap as it sounds. The music is a bright spot with some interesting and pleasing tunes. I actually really like the music here.

The Forbidden Arts is a game that feels like a relic from the past. If someone had told me this was a budget title on Gamecube and somehow got the HD treatment, I would believe them. It just lacks polish and interesting content to keep players interested. I doubt many people have heard of this title and even fewer will remember it. It is just a plain adventure title that never steps outside the boundaries of mediocrity.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Interesting art design
  • Combat
  • Animation loops
  • Useless fire mechanics
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.