Forspoken interview with Takeshi Aramaki, Takefumi Terada, and Raio Mitsuno – concept, creation, magic-driven gameplay, and more

Last week, Gematsu had the opportunity to sit down with Forspoken director Takeshi Aramaki, co-director Takefumi Terada, and creative producer Raio Mitsuno to discuss the open-world action RPG’s concept and creation, magic-driven gameplay, and more.

Get the full interview below.

Forspoken is your next major project following Final Fantasy XV. What has the process been like, shifting from a mainline Final Fantasy game to a new IP?

Takeshi Aramaki, Luminous Productions Head of Studio and Co-Director: “Coming out of Final Fantasy XV, we really wanted to develop a new game—a new IP essentially. With Final Fantasy XV, we felt like we were able to do a lot of world building, and we felt like we did a pretty swell job in the sense of developing an RPG. But alternatively, there were still some challenges that remained on the scenario front. And so with our latest title, pairing up with western scenario writers like Gary Witta and Amy Hennig, and garnering their helping hands, so to speak, we felt like we would be able to create quite an amazing game that we really, truly love. So that’s where it all kind of started.”

Why did you decide to go that route rather than develop the story in-house?

Raio Mitsuno, Creative Producer: “It’s not every day we get an opportunity to create a new IP at this scale, so we wanted to really take advantage of that and deliver a game experience to as many players worldwide—as much as possible. We wanted to make sure that we maximize our efforts in every aspect. So instead of just limiting to our own idea and kind of creating a story within ourselves, we thought we would reach out to some amazing creative minds to help put something together that is bigger than the sum of its part, so to speak. So we have our development expertise and experience paired with amazing storytelling from the west and trying to come up with something that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own. And that’s kind of really the thinking behind wanting to do this kind of collaborative effort.”

To that end, can you talk about why you decided to incorporate the likenesses of real actors rather than custom character designs?

Mitsuno: “Part of the reason why we want to base our characters off of real actors and models is to really just bring an authentic experience to each character. I know for a lot of our other games, we just designed the original characters, and it’s kind of always acting alongside of it, but we really wanted to bring each character to life in the most authentic way possible. And the way we started with that—for example, for Frey, when we designed her, when we came up with her, we started from the inside out. We started with thinking about her personality, what is her character like? Does she like dogs or is she a cat person? Like, you know, just thinking of every single trait that defines Frey. And then we went to the casting process, and we came across Ella Balinska, who just was a perfect match in terms of conveying the dynamic character that Frey is—with how strong her determination is, the sense of humor that we want a Frey to have. But also a soft, kind of vulnerable side to her as well. So she’s a very multidimensional character, and we found an actor that can portray that. And then we said, hey, let’s model the character after Ella as well, just so we can really bring that experience as authentically as possible. So that was the process that started everything, and for every other character we thought the same way as well.”

Can you talk more about how the concept of Forspoken cam about? Before the game’s announcement, I recall hearing whispers of the game being built off the Agni’s Philosophy tech demo Square Enix showcased some years back. Is there any truth to that?

Aramaki:Agni’s Philosophy was actually revealed as a tech demo for Final Fantasy. So in that sense it’s unrelated to Forspoken. It is true that we wanted to create an experience that was based on magic, where magic was actually the concept. And so there are likenesses or similarities on that front. However, Agni’s Philosophy as a world stands on its own, and for Forspoken we really built the world and lore off of our discussions with Gary and Amy. So it is a completely different undertaking.”

Magic is the life and soul of Forspoken. Frey comes to an unknown world where she is gifted with supernatural abilities. One thing you’re really emphasizing here is magic through parkour. What made parkour of all things into such a key element?

Takefumi Terada, Co-Director: “Magic parkour is definitely a key element. As far as how we arrived at magic parkour, we initially started off with the plain old parkour that you see in our world—essentially something that’s humanly possible. And so we researched and built out parkour action based on what’s humanly possible first and foremost. And then by adding a magic element to it, we really felt like it would help expand and enhance what could potentially be possible, namely the high-speed fast-paced traversal, as well as being able to jump higher and so forth. It really allows for that range. And so that’s where we really strove to develop—that’s the flow in which we arrived at magic parkour.”

Other than parkour and fast travel, are there any other methods of traversal in Forspoken?

Terada: “As you mentioned, fast travel will be a method of travel in the game. But as far as other methods of travel, everything we have is focused around the parkour action. So basically when you start off in the game, initially you start off with, for lack of a better term, low level parkour skills that are humanly possible. But as you progress through the game, you will start to get additional parkour action of the magic-enhanced variety. And so step by step, you’ll be able to utilize even greater parkour skills throughout the game. And so it is really an experience to fully enjoy the parkour action.”

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While we’re on the subject of magic, can we talk about combat? In a recent PlayStation Blog post, you mentioned really wanting to get the visual representation of magic down just right. What was the process behind defining and developing Frey’s magic?

Terada: “Let me start by explaining how we went about with the game design for magic and how that was all crafted. So given the fact that this is an action-based game, and we have 100 types of cells at the player’s disposal, we started off by really placing importance on the distance between the player and enemy. And so earlier on in the game, you will start off with more mid-ranged spells. And then as you progress to the game, you start to gain different types of spells—notably near-range, close-range, fire-based spells, as well as shorter boosts, like distance dashes. And then as you progress even further into the game, you’ll get a hold of more long-ranged magic. For example, you may be able to attack as you hide or otherwise. And so there is quite a variety of magic incorporated within this game, and we really want to cater to the player’s own play style so that they have the right to choose how they play.

“And so we really wanted to, again, cater to various different play styles. So after we had that overarching idea, we went in and looked at each and every magic spell available and decided on what kind of qualities that each magic will have. So, for example, there may be certain ones where you would set traps in order to defeat enemies, or there might be mine-like magic that you set that would automatically defeat enemies, or so forth. And so those individual characteristics of each magic were locked up by the planners, and thereafter the artists went in to design how that would visually look, as far as the visual effects go.”

Being a new IP, were there ever times during development that you looked at certain magic abilities and thought, “No, that’s too Final Fantasy,” or, “No, that’s too similar to DragonQuest“?

Terada: “Yeah, so as you mentioned, given the fact that Forspoken is a new IP, we originally set out with the concept of creating a new IP that is neither Final Fantasy gold DragonQuest, and so it true that we were conscious of not being too comparable to other Square Enix games. So we really strove for originality and intuitiveness, and we hope that comes through in the magic we’re presenting in the game.”

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I had the opportunity to play the Tokyo Game Show 2022 demo of Forspoken a couple of months back and Frey had an impressive number of skills at her disposal. How many different skills and variations can players expect in the full game?

Terada: “We really wanted the main focus of this game to be magic and magic-based enjoyment throughout its gameplay and battles. And so as far as physical weapons go, you will not encounter any in this game. You’ll basically utilize magic to your heart’s content in order to really enjoy the battles and the defeat monsters and so forth. That’s really the crux of this experience.”

I think one of the biggest concerns when it comes to open-world games is that it will be riddled with cumbersome fetch quests or errands. How is this being handled for Forspoken?

Terada: “When looking at side quests specifically, within the world of Athia, there is a last bastion of humanity essentially called Cipal, where the survivors of humanity have gathered. So for side quests, it’s really about the human interactions with these NPCs, learning about their struggles and so forth. This is what most of the side quests are focused around—really getting an understanding for the people—the survivors.

“As far as detours or side content that is available throughout the open world, there are aspects where you can explore and enhance your magic, and there will be various bosses and dungeons that you’ll be able to take on and challenge. There’s also an aspect where you’ll be able to engage with these cute creatures. And then also there are archives where you’ll find remnants and records of life that once was in the open world, which will help you gain further understanding and depth into the history of Athia. And so those are the types of side content available outside of Cipal in the open world.”

Mitsuno: “Just for some additional context, you said you played the Tokyo Game Show demo in October. So that was a specially crafted gameplay demo just to give a feel for the mechanics of parkour and magic. So that was specifically kind of fetch quest-like in terms of the makeup, like, do these five objectives and then you get to fight a boss. So the full game isn’t actually designed like that, that was just specifically created for that demo experience.”

Forspoken

Sony Interactive Entertainment has been a very open supporter of Forspoken, even locking down a minimum of two years of console exclusivity. Can you talk a bit about how that partnership came about?

Aramaki: “In developing and creating a new IP, we really set out to create a gaming experience that was catered to PlayStation, kind of drawing on their high speed SSD as well as haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. We built our game design to cater to those features. And so Sony has been kindly supporting us on the promotion front in those terms.”

Looks like our time is about up. Is there anything else you would like to say to fans before we sign off?

Terada:Forspoken is the debut title from Luminous Productions. We’re sure and confident we will be able to deliver to everyone’s expectations. So we hope that you will look forward to it and enjoy the game. Personally speaking, I put a lot of energy and a lot of effort into the open world’s magic parkour and combat. So we really hope that you’ll be able to enjoy traversing the vast and sprawling lands of Athia.”

Mitsuno: “And just to add to that a little bit. To go alongside the awesome gameplay that we have in Forspoken, is an incredible narrative that follows Frey’s journey through Athia, so that is something that we are very proud of as well, especially the tech that we’ve created. It’s something that we know players enjoy. Obviously, because the story is so important, we haven’t revealed too much about it. But rest assured, along with the gameplay, there’s going to be a very captivating story for players.”

Thank you so much for your time today everyone!

Forspoken is due out for PlayStation 5 and PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, and Microsoft Store on January 24, 2023. A demo is available now for PlayStation 5.

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