Initially teased as Project Athia at the PS5 reveal event, Forspoken is the debut title for Luminous Productions after their work on Final Fantasy XV. It’s a game that’s been shrouded in mystery for some time, but thanks to a preview opportunity, things are becoming much clearer now. Forspoken looks like a wonderfully unique experience with sharp visuals, fluent traversal, and a fantasy world deeply rooted in magic and matriarchal ideologies. We spoke with co-director, Takeshi Terada, and creative director, Raio Mitsuno, about its world, characters, gameplay systems, and most importantly, what sets Forspoken apart from other titles of its ilk. Here’s what they had to say.
The theme of self-discovery alongside having a strong focus on Frey seems to be a big part of Forspoken’s narrative. There was mention of the idea of tribe and family being important as well. Is there a wider cast of characters that get involved with the plot or did you try to keep it small to emphasize Frey’s journey?
Raio Mitsuno – The story does revolve around Frey, but part of her journey to self-discovery and discovering this feeling of tribe and family has to do with her relationships that evolves with the various people that she meets in Athia. We haven’t introduced a lot of characters yet, but in Supal she’s going to meet a lot of people, get to know them, get to know their backstory, what they’re about, what their lives used to be, why the world is in the state that it’s in and over the course of those interactions, those relationships and the stuff that Frey goes through over her journey is what’s going to all contribute to this topic and theme of self-discovery.
Takeshi Terada – It’s not just the main character Frey who’s fleshed out. There’s a lot of her family, you do get to see that the story behind them and a lot of the other characters. All the other characters are full, fleshed out characters that contribute to the story.
Early on in development Forspoken had a lot of writing talent associated with it. Namely Gary Whitta and Amy Hennig. How much of their early contributions are still there or are having an impact on the way that you guys took the world, the story, and the characters?
R.M – We worked with Gary as the first step to creating this world building exercise so to say. We had a concept, an idea that we wanted to create this brand-new fantasy world, this matriarchal society, a world filled with magic that we haven’t seen before. All the ideas that he brought to the table along with the writers that we had for a focused workshop; a lot of those ideas are still intact today. We took all those ideas and when we worked with Amy Hennig, we focused it and narrowed it down to what we want to show in our game in terms of what we’re able to really portray and bring out the best of the story. From there, we went into pre-production. We started working with Alison Rhymer and Todd Stashwick who were each brought on by Gary and Amy themselves to help the story and flesh out the actual ups and downs and twists and turns of the narrative. In terms of the fundamental aspects and the core ideas, a lot of those are still intact from day one. Obviously once we get to development things evolve in terms of the way that we’re actually implementing it in the game, of course, but fundamentally, they’re all still there from the very get go.
Speaking of the world concept and building, I think it’s very it’s a very unique open world. It’s a bit of a mix between medieval with Supal, but also ancient tribal architecture with the villages and ruins scattering the landscape. What was your main inspiration for the world concept and design in terms of aesthetics?
R.M – Like you said, we wanted to create a unique, brand-new world that we haven’t really seen before. There’s typical fantasy, medieval fantasy, but we wanted to take it a step further and really show diversity within this world. We’ll probably introduce more of the specific parts of Athia later on but there are areas that are very distinct in feel. It’s one big continent on its own and our team did location hunting. I think they went to Croatia and did a lot of location hunting in various parts of the world that actually have a lot of those buildings that have architecture that’s still intact from ages ago. We could draw on the actual feeling in the air of that city, what it’s like and really make sure that we present them in our game well, so that when you’re in there, it feels like an authentic fantasy world that is new but at the same time still drawing a lot of inspiration from real world architecture, also paying homage to civilizations that have come to pass in the process.
There was a brief mention of the Tantas and the Break in the preview yesterday. Can you talk more about the Tantas and where they fit into the world of Athia and also why the Break is such a threat.
T.T – The Break is essentially this very unique phenomenon in the world of Athia which takes the form of this malicious mist like substance. When that mist comes down on an area and it comes into contact with humans, they die off very quickly and other creatures which are affected by this will be corrupted into new and disturbing forms. Then there’s Break Storms which is when the break energy comes together like a real-world storm. They hit suddenly and powerfully and it’s a really violent, very dangerous phenomenon in the world. In terms of exactly what the Break is, where it comes from, and what its significance is, that’s obviously all part of the story, and players will find out by playing through the game.
R.M – We want to create a brand-new original world, this fantasy world with so much magic, and we want decided to create this matriarchal society, these powerful forces that are ruling the world. The Tantas were the rulers of Athia. They were benevolent rulers who each represented virtues, but something happens before the events of the game where they are now these former shells of themselves and have become corrupted. Like with the Break, part of the discovery of why the Tantas are how they are now is part of the story reveal so we don’t we can’t really get into that quite yet.
From the magic parkour to the combat and light RPG systems, there’s a lot going on in Forspoken. What genre would you say Forspoken falls into? Is there a particular feel and type of play you guys are trying to achieve?
T.T – If were to sum up the game I’d say it’s an action RPG based on the idea of using magic and if you’re going to add a little clarification to that it’s also a game where you can explore a massive fantasy open world.
The magic parkour looks incredible, and I think having strong traversal in an open world setting is paramount to making exploration enjoyable. How big would you say the open world is if you can talk about it? And was the size of the open world informed by the concept of magic parkour or is it the inverse?
T.T – The magical parkour was what came first in the design ideas there. When we were looking at the game and thinking about the core concepts and what we wanted the big pillars of this game to be, the idea of having something like magical parkour came up and we experimented and looked at it and worked out whether we could go ahead with that. When we realized that it was a really good idea. When we pushed ahead with that we go okay, now we need to design a world which makes it worthwhile to use these kinds of abilities. The terrain that features in the levels and the level design itself was based on the idea that you had those powers.
During one of the one of the combat sections, a wheel was pulled up with all these spells on it. There are quite a few types of magic to use there, offensive, and defensive in combat. Are you wanting players to adopt a particular playstyle and sort of build into it? Or are you more pushing them into using everything at their disposal to gain an advantage?
T.T – When we were putting together the battle system, what we felt was most important was that it allowed different players to use different play styles and to use the magic in the way that they wanted to. We’ve got a huge selection of different spells and different capabilities, and you can really choose how you want to use them. For example, one player might prefer to go up close and use the close combat spells as their main artillery, whereas another player might think no, I prefer to hang back and shoot from a distance. There are other options too, for example, if you prefer to lay down traps and ambush enemies, you can do that as well.
I noticed briefly that when certain enemies were hit by certain spells it said they were vulnerable. Is that just an elemental weakness thing or can spells combo off each other and provide unique effects when used in tandem?
T.T – We can’t reveal too many fine details about the actual mechanics of the battles at the moment, but to give you an idea on that, with having the massive amounts of magic to choose from, we wanted to give players ways to think about them and how they use them in the game. So, there are elements and elemental affinities alongside an elemental weaknesses system in the game.
Frey can equip cloaks, necklaces and there was a brief mention of nail patterns that boost her stats and give her bonuses. How deeply do these affect playstyles and are there any other similar customization elements?
T.T – As a team at Square Enix we’re very experienced in developing RPGs and RPG style character development systems and battle systems. So, these nails, the cloaks and all those kinds of elements really do play into that and they help you customize and adapt to your chosen battle style, your play style. It’s a solid kind of RPG system that you would expect from Square Enix in general. In terms of what other customizable elements there are in addition to the cloaks and the nails, we’re going to be releasing more information on that going forwards, but rest assured there are several other accessories and things you can equip to change your abilities.
When the game was first shown off as Project Athia everyone was really blown away by the visuals especially the particle effects. Was this level of detail only made possible by the current generation of hardware being the PlayStation 5?
T.T – The PlayStation 5’s technical capacity really did allow for the kind of visuals that we created here. I think it was it was something that really could only do with that level of hardware. When we were putting together that video and we finally saw it after we finished it, we were surprised at how good it looked as well. Yeah, it was a surprise for us to think wow, we really can get this far with this hardware.
Loads of PS5 games have been using the DualSense’s features to bring their games to life and immerse players even further into their experiences. Does Forspoken take advantage of the controller’s features like the adaptive triggers or the haptic feedback at all?
T.T- I think those controller features, the haptics especially is really a defining feature of the PlayStation 5 and how it provides gaming experiences. We really wanted to use those as much as we could. Obviously, using magic is not something that real world people can do. So, we felt it had to have that really unique feel, like nothing else that you’ve ever experienced before. To achieve that, you’ve got the haptic triggers that provide different levels of feedback for each of the different magical spells. There’s a lot of spells in the game, so we wanted to go through each one individually, and work out the kind of tactile feedback that you get from each one. There’s also your companion, Cuff, as he talks to Frey throughout the adventure his voice comes through the controller. We feel it gives another quite unique kind of gaming experience just having the voice coming from something close to you really adds to the character interaction.
Are there any plans to include ray tracing on the PS5 version?
R.M – We’ll disclose more information, more technical details in the coming days but yes, ray tracing is supported.
Keep an eye out for Forspoken when it launches for PlayStation 5 and PC on May 24th, 2022.