Forspoken, releasing January 2023, is Square Enix’s next greatly anticipated RPG. Featuring an open world, magic parkour mechanics, and a bleakly corrupted high-fantasy setting, it’s already shaping up to be an interesting ride. Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with three members of Luminous Productions, the developer for Forspoken - Head of Luminous Productions Takeshi Aramaki, Co-Director Takefumi Terada, and Creative Producer Raio Mitsuno - to talk about the game’s protagonist Frey, the land of Athia, and traversal through magical parkour.
I first had an opportunity to play through a demo of the game for several hours, of three of the first five chapters, giving me a sneak peek into the story and the world. One of the things that made me laugh, right off the bat, is protagonist Frey being a New Yorker to the absolute core. Being thrown into a fantasy world like Athia against her will, her first instinct is to, understandably, start swearing like a sailor.
“We were inspired by classic fish-out-of-water stories, like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland. And we said hey, let’s make a modern version of that, let’s take a character from our world, our modern times, and throw her in this brand new fantasy world where she doesn’t know left from right,” Mitsuno explained.
Frey, along with her companion bracelet Cuff, have their lives turned upside down in almost an instant. But Frey’s determination and headstrong nature help both of them survive, carrying on with the single goal in mind of getting back home to NYC.
Her brashness and sarcasm clash with the more reserved world of Athia, and it’s clear that characters like her guide Auden don’t quite know how to handle her at first. Cuff, meanwhile, is just as sarcastic as Frey is to him, and the two of them spend most of their dialogue snarking back and forth in a mostly loving way.
“The most important thing was to create a character that felt real, that felt believable, and that we could all relate to in a sense,” said Mitsuno. “Like everything that she goes through, we want players to say, ‘Oh that’s exactly what I would say if I was put in that situation or if I was put in her shoes,’ and that’s really the driving factor and what really informed what Frey really goes through.” As a fellow New Yorker, Frey did come across as genuine, the sort of person you could absolutely meet while out in the city just going about your day.
One thing that struck me as I was playing through the game was Frey herself being a woman of color as the lead protagonist in a fantasy setting. It’s already rare enough to have women as protagonists in video games, and there are even fewer women of color protagonists. Recent media has certainly shined a spotlight on the lack of people of color in fantasy media as a whole, with shows like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power facing backlash from a small, loud minority for bringing diversity to the table. And Frey herself is not the extent of the diversity, with Athia featuring women and people of color in positions of power and as ordinary citizens.
It really hit me when we first met Olevia, a street urchin who reminds Frey of herself and is the first person to really bring out Frey’s softer side. Olevia is cute and plays the typical role of the orphan waif, garnering the player’s sympathy and making you care about the people in the world – and she's also Black.
Olevia absolutely kills it and grabs Frey’s sympathy as well as the player’s, fitting in perfectly in Athia’s fantasy world and aesthetic, just as Frey fits in perfectly with her place in the story. Of course, I had to ask the developers about this - why Frey? Was this a deliberate attempt at diversifying the genre and gaming in general, or did it just happen that way? As it turns out, it happened because Ella Balinska, Frey’s actress, knocked it out of the park at her audition.
“We came across Ella Balinska, she just checked all those boxes of what we wanted for Frey to be,” said Mitsuno. “That strong determination that Frey has, that unique sense of humor that Frey has, but also at times you see like the soft and more vulnerable aspects of Frey,” in short, everything that makes her a well-rounded, interesting and relatable character and protagonist.
“Ella resonated with the character and was just able to really encapsulate all those complex sides of that character, so we knew she was the right person or the only person really that could bring that character to life,” Mitsuno explained. “Then we said hey, to make this character as authentic and real as possible, let’s design the character on her, too.”
The creation of the magic parkour system came about in a similar way, said Terada. “Where the idea initially came about is the fact that Frey is from our modern-day world, and so we wanted to kind of draw inspiration from action that existed within our real world. So we’ve done a lot of research and analysis on the various kinds of speed and action that you would find in real-life parkour and then really thought through how that would evolve if you add on the magic element to it.”
One of the most fun and unique elements of the game, magic parkour is a traversal mechanic as well as a battle one, functioning as a defense system for Frey as she both runs around Athia and encounters various monsters. While parkour as a game-design element is present in several other games, Forspoken’s system distinguishes itself by amping up the speed and fluidity of the mechanics, both of which are thanks to technological advancements with the PS5.
“We’ve really drawn on the powers of the SSD with regards to loading assets and so forth, and making that magic parkour possible,” said Aramaki.
What also factors into the magic parkour is Athia’s open world and design. From working on Final Fantasy XV, the team explained they “were able to introduce new RPG elements, the open-world aspect,” and found an audience that responded well to that, which is something they became interested in further exploring.
“We did intend on drawing on those aspects that we excelled at from a Japanese development standpoint and utilize and capitalize on that with Forspoken,” Aramaki explained.
“We built out the environment with magic parkour in mind,” Terada said. “Factoring in the speed that you’ll gain through magic parkour, we looked at what the appropriate size and expansiveness of that world would be. And then also as far as the terrain and elevations and so forth that you find across the world, we really did consider the height that you would be able to jump with magic-enhanced parkour.”
Between loving the dynamics of Frey as a fresh and relatable protagonist who’s shaking up the genre as well as the amazingly fun magic parkour mechanics, I’m excited to get my hands on Forspoken. For more details on Forspoken, check out our hands-on preview as well as our video discussion about the game.
TechRaptor previewed Forspoken during a Square Enix press event in New York City on Dec. 6. The game is set to release on Jan. 24, 2023 on PlayStation 5 and PC.