Interview: Building Forspoken’s character and world for the PS5 generation

Forspoken Cover Art Header

Forspoken is an intriguing game from Square Enix. While developer Luminous Productions has a rich pedigree, with much of the team having moved over to the newly formed studio after finishing their work on Final Fantasy XV and its various DLC and different releases, their first game as Luminous lives outside of the Final Fantasy franchise.

So Forspoken comes with a different tone to it, from the protagonist Frey Holland’s New York upbringing, to the fantasy world, and the pace of the action and combat. As a big PS5 exclusive, it’s also looking to take advantage of all the major technology that the new generation console has enabled.

Having gone hands on with two sections from early on in Forspoken, we were then able to sit down and speak to Luminous Productions Head Of Studio & Forspoken Director Akeshi Aramaki, Forspoken Co-Director Takefumi Terada, and Forspoken Creative Producer Raio Mitsuno.

TSA – Frey Holland’s character has an interesting tone and attitude for the fantasy adventure she finds herself on. How did you go about establishing her character and casting the role?

Raio Mitsuno – So, Frey was the first character that we created, obviously, and when we thought about what we wanted this character to be, we started from the inside out. We started to think about what is she like? What is her personality? Her quirks? Her preferences? How does she talk?

Once we established all of those elements we went to the casting process and Ella Balinska just ticked all those boxes. She had that determination that we wanted Frey to have, she has that sarcastic sense of humour, she has that soft vulnerable side of Frey that we don’t really see, but it’s actually there. Ella really connected with all of those parts and really understood what we wanted to achieve with Frey.

We then wanted to take that next step, so we decided, you know what? Why don’t we just model Frey after her as well. We did 3D scanning of her to make her actually Frey.

Forspoken Frey Holland Ella Balinska

About the character development – whether it’s from the writers, our Performance Capture Director Tom Keegan, Ella herself – we all contributed to creating this character. On set there would be moments where Ella’s like, “Hey, for Frey I think she’d say this rather than this,” or “Can I try this instead?” We got a lot of authentic, natural, organic development of Frey over the course of development.

We obviously had the story, but once we got the actors in place, they took us to the next level in terms of the authenticity and the realism.

TSA – Frey also has an interesting relationship with Cuff, who she’s basically forced to be friends, you could say.

Mitsuno-san – Yeah, I think there’s a line where Frey describes their relationship as an unholy alliance. That was the design from the get-go. We wanted this clash of personalities, but there’s also this great chemistry, and when their interactions play off each other, everything just feels right and it’s funny and fun to be with those characters.

Cuff is obviously a bracelet that doesn’t have a face or body, so once we decided on Ella to portray Frey, we needed a voice that could be the contrast to her and carry its own presence even if there isn’t a physical body there. When we found Jonathan Cake, we said that’s the voice, that’s the humour and delivery that’s going to play off so well with Ella’s natural ability with Frey.

On set, even though he doesn’t have a character to mo cap, Jonathan Cake was there alongside every single scene to make sure every interaction was organic and felt right. There’s so much live chemistry between the two that it really comes across between the characters.

TSA – I imagine Jonathan got to sit down in a chair, though!

Mitsuno-san – Absolutely not! We actually had him standing just to be a part of the energy.

Forspoken Magical Parkour

TSA – Forspoken obviously makes a lot of use of the PS5 SSD for moving around the world so quickly, but what other parts of the current generation of consoles are you focussing on?

Takefumi Terada – As far as we’re concerned, we believe that we’ve ticked all of the boxes and made use of all the PS5’s capabilities and features. That’s what the game design was really aiming for.

So, for example, we make use of the adaptive triggers and all the haptic feedback that you get through the rumble, and things like that. You were playing with headphones today, so it maybe didn’t come through, but Cuff’s voice also comes through the controller.

In terms of online connectivity and network features, it’s obviously got trophies, but also the hint cards that are a new PS5 feature.

So really it’s got all of the elements.

TSA – Given the speed that Frey can move around, you will have had to create a very large open world. How have you balanced that large size of the world with needing smaller areas with things that you need to do and see?

Akeshi Aramaki – One of the real defining characteristics of Forspoken is the magic parkour, as you point out, so in the open world what we really wanted to do was create somewhere that allows players to enjoy this to its fullest extent.

We established the specifications for the magic parkour, for example her speed and the height that Frey can jump, and then we adjusted things, such as the distances and the elevations to allow the player to really enjoy that to the fullest. That was the point that we really wanted to focus on.

Forspoken World Magic

TSA – How would you say the open world compares in size and density to other open world games?

Aramaki-san – I can’t compare to any specific titles, but we did carry out a lot of research on other open world titles that are available, for example Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima or Grand Theft Auto, and I really think the world of Forspoken can really hold its own and live up to those kinds of standards.

Again, we did use the magic parkour as the basis for constructing this world, so that’s what you’ve got at your finger tips to really explore the vast lands, fight these battles, find the items and discover som unexpected points as well. I really hope people enjoy that!

TSA – Especially once I jumped ahead to Chapter 5 in our hands on, I was surprised by the challenge in the combat, which felt faster and more technical than I’d expected it to be. Was this a key aim for the game?

Aramaki-san – The combat system in the game, the main thing we really tried to draw out was the use of magic. In particular we’ve tried to fuse the two different elements – one is having a hundred different spells at your disposal, and the other is the fast-paced parkour motions. We’ve fused them together for players to get to grips with.

Terada-san – Having said that, we do have difficulty settings, of course, and inside the options, you can even add and change different features like auto-evasion. For players who maybe aren’t so happy or proficient with action games, there are different options to engage with it on their own terms.

Forspoken Giant Apple

TSA – Finally, I wanted to ask you about the apples in Athia, which look huge! Was this a joke because Frey is from New York, and New York is nicknamed the Big Apple?

Aramaki-san – [laughs] It’s a great question. I actually, around the middle of development, pointed this out to the team myself and I said, “Do you know, I think this apple looks a bit big?” But nope, apparently, based on actual measurements of an apple in Japan. So the Luminous Production art team’s answer is “Nope, that is the real size of an apple.”

The town of Cipol has a lot of these incidental items and props that the designers really poured a lot of effort and love into creating, with a lot of inspiration from reality and the fidelity there, so there will be lots of other things for you to discover on your adventure.

Thanks to Akeshi Aramaki, Takefumi Terada and Raio Mitsuno for taking the time to speak with us. Forspoken is out for PS5 and PC on 24th January 2023. Make sure to check out our hands on Forspoken preview, while you can also try the game yourself with the recently released PS5 demo.

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1 Comment

  1. What a great interview! I love these types of articles! What a privilege to interview these devs!

    There are parts of Forspoken that I question, but overall I’m just pleased a big studio is making a big, original game with no talk of blockchain, NFTs, microtransactions, and all the other bile that’s plagued the industry over the past decade.

    I’ve always found it a minor shame that the use of magic in Final Fantasy is somewhat tempered by limiters such as mana. Wouldn’t it be fun if you could just unleash powerful spells the whole time? Forspoken seems to be trying out that very concept.

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