F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is a Metroidvania action game featuring exploration, intense combat and challenging platforming.
Publisher: bilibili Game
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available for: PS4, Steam (release date TBD)
Cast: Arthur Vogel, Anairis Quinones, Brandon Hearnsberger, Roger Rose, Chris Tergliafera, Jason Marnocha, Howard Wang, Austin Lee Mathews, Edward Bosco, Patrick Seitz, Alejandro Saab, Daman Mills, Mike Haimoto, Marissa Lenti
Producer: Isaac Zhang
Lead Programmer: Jerry Yuan
Lead Designer: Xuedong Song
Lead Artist: Sam Wu
Like many Sony fans, I first laid eyes on F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch during a PlayStation China event in Beijing, and the game has been hot on my radar ever since. F.I.S.T was showcased alongside six others like ANNO: Mutationem, RAN: Lost Islands and AI-Limi to be funded and published by The China Hero Project to bring eyes to China’s local game development scene. To put in perspective for how long we’ve been covering and talking about this game: on episode 101 of our PlayStation podcast, Platinum Explosion, I stated that F.I.S.T. would be the game of the year for 2019. And I’m happy to report that after all my excitement, F.I.S.T has lived up to my hopes, even if there are a few things that hold it back from being GOTY 2021.
F.I.S.T: Forged in Shadow Torch is a Metroidvania in which you play as an anthropomorphic rabbit wielding a giant fist and attempt to save the planet. It sounds super-outlandish, but it’s this exact premise that grabbed my attention years ago.
Rayton, or Ray for short, lives in seclusion in Torch City following a great war against ‘The Legion’, a group of robots who invaded and waged war against the furtizens (furry citizens — what a good pun team) who occupied the city. Ray was one of the decorated soldiers who fought back against the machine invasion, but after they lost the battle, he’s sunk into a quiet life and carries the weight of his failure daily. It’s after The Legion kidnaps his best friend that he picks up his Fist again and heads into battle.
The story itself engages with ecological themes, among other interesting ideas, but the voice acting holds everything back — well, at least the English voice-acting. Ray’s voice actor is very hit-or-miss on delivery. It’s obvious the actors recorded separately from one another without proper voice direction to align the performances tonally and with consistency.
Torch City’s design has a stunning dieselpunk aesthetic; if there’s one area of F.I.S.T you couldn’t fault, it’s the art teams work. The city and surrounding areas are super intuitive as each new area you visit interconnects to another, with plenty of secrets to be found. You’ll visit dark subways, ancient caves, and glistening snowy mountain tops in your adventure — all of them featuring attention-grabbing design choices. You’ll often be spotting things in the distance, and the active backgrounds bring the world to life. With the slums area, the city feels like Final Fantasy 7’s Midgar inspired it, and I felt right at home wandering around.
Ray will be sent from one area to another to track down a villain or gather an item that’ll help him traverse another. In this fashion, it’s typical Metroidvania design as you unlock more abilities and weapons as the game continues. Ray starts with a primary light and heavy attack for his Fist, but as the game continues, you’ll be able to unlock new moves, as well as two other weapons in the form of a Drill and a Whip.
Combat can take some getting used to as it’s not the most straightforward kind of combat you’d expect in a Metroidvania. Instead, F.I.S.T‘s combat is designed around combos, fast and response inputs from the player, and you’re undivided attention to the screen. The three weapons play between close range, medium and AOE targetting, giving you plenty of room to pick what works for you best or adapt to a situation. With its AOE propelled sweeps, the Drill can clean up multiple enemies and drag them in for decent damage. The Fist itself seemed to be the best targeted, close-quarter weapon in the game, and the Whip allows you to leave a little bit of room between you and your opponent. Whatever weapon you’re primarily utilising, you’ll need to learn at least a couple of its combo moves to succeed. Fortunately, a training area is available to you in the Resistance’s remaining section of town in Torch City.
You have access to a flask that can replenish your health a couple of times between checkpoints, but otherwise, most of the enemies in the game are damaging enough that any one of them can wipe Ray out and send you back to the last checkpoint. This flask uses the same resource that you’ll need to perform a parry with a baton-stick you unlock early in the game, but given this resource doesn’t recharge until you find a checkpoint, you’ll never want to parry in the game. If I could change one thing about the combat, it would be working a parry system back into the game’s core combat system. Thankfully, the checkpoints are plentiful enough that the game doesn’t become a colossal slog, even if you are dying a bunch.
Breaking up the combat and exploration are platforming or puzzle sections. Once you’ve unlocked the Whip later in the game, it allows you to fling yourself towards enemies and use it to traverse dangerous areas combining wall-jumps and dashes. One section in the latter half of the game has you escaping an enemy using these abilities as it chases Ray down, it’s obvious Ori and the Blind Forest inspired it, but under pressure, it’s here where F.I.S.T’s platforming abilities showed they’re not quite precise enough to make such an exciting sequence work, and instead, it was somewhat frustrating.