Forspoken Interview: How Luminous Productions Is Learning Lessons From Final Fantasy 15

“There was a lot of learning and reflection on what we did with Final Fantasy 15 which really did influence development,” Forspoken co-director Takefumi Terada tells me, reflecting on the project that would usher in the formation of Luminous Productions and its first major project – an RPG that aims to be a unique combination of Eastern and Western talent.

I recently had a chance to catch up with co-director Takefumi Terada and creative producer Raio Mitsuno to talk about the project, and how it aims to boast a level of global appeal that competes with genre giants like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It’s no small feat, but the team at Luminous seem eager to take on such a challenge.

“We went back and we reviewed Final Fantasy 15 as a project and what areas we had issues with, where there was pressure, where we had the most bugs and how we can avoid doing that this time around,” Terada explains. “Also in terms of overall game design and the story as well, we talked about what things we weren’t doing well or should have done in Final Fantasy 15. There was a lot of learning and evolution from that game that went into this title.”

You can see this connection in every frame of Forspoken, which uses the same engine alongside similar movement and combat options to its spiritual predecessor. Final Fantasy 15 is a perfectly fine game, but one that remains haunted by a troubled development process and detachment from the series’ identity that is hard to ignore. So it almost makes sense for the studio to venture out and establish a new IP, something that isn’t defined by expectations that would be impossible to escape from. This project also teams up with a team of established writers like Rogue One’s Gary Whitta and Uncharted’s Amy Hennig.

“We had a lot of learnings from Final Fantasy 15, and one of those criticisms was the story design and how we did the narrative,” Mitsuno says. “So we looked at our team, we looked at our strengths and weaknesses and thought that for our next project we wanted to have this mass global appeal, we wanted to appeal to all users across the world, every player out there, and the best way to do that was to work with creative minds like Amy [Hennig] to craft this world and craft this story. From there we passed the baton onto Allison [Rymer] and Todd [Stashwick] who really kind of masterminded the story together.”

Mitsuno says that working alongside these creators allowed them to piece together a story and world that was more imaginative than anything Square Enix could come up with on its own, and it welcomed the opportunity to work with creators who had cut their teeth on the likes of Star Wars, Uncharted, and other massive franchises to shape an original world. I love the enthusiasm, but I hope all of these disparate elements don’t result in a tone or atmosphere that feels inconsistent, since it’s an awfully delicate balance to strike.

“When we first started coming up with the concept of Forspoken we had this idea of wanting to portray duality, to display this modern element and this fantasy element and thinking about how we bring those two together,” Mitsuno says. “Starting with the fantasy element, we took our deep RPG roots and the kind of games our company is known for and we wanted to create a brand new fantasy world filled with magic and matriarchs who rule over it, but we also wanted to put a fresh modern perspective on things. That’s how we ended up with the idea of, ‘Let’s make the protagonist from our world, let’s make her a reflection of us.’ and everything that she goes through is exactly how we would react or exactly how we would feel in that situation.”

Frey Holland is the heroine who leads the way in Forspoken, a young troubled woman from New York City who finds herself transported to the mythical realm of Athia. “We didn’t want to create that typical perfect protagonist who’s always doing the right thing, who's always clean and doesn’t make the wrong choices,” Mitsuno continues. “We have a character that’s very flawed, very raw, doesn’t always say the right things, doesn’t always do the right things, and she’s had a lot of trouble in her life. But that’s part of what makes her so special, it’s that human aspect and all of those imperfections.”

I also asked the team about Frey being a strong female character and a woman of colour in a genre that has seldom seen such diversity. It’s a fresh approach, and arguably a deliberate one given Forspoken’s desire to reach an international audience. “We’re seeing more and more female-led games and we have characters that aren’t drawn from the perspective of the male lens,” Mitsuno explains. “Traditionally they’ve been that token character in your party or they’re there just for sex appeal, but that’s not the approach we wanted to take. We wanted to create a character that was very real, someone that you might know in real life or being similar to a friend of yours is a concept we really wanted to keep intact. We have a really diverse development team, but having Amy and Allison on the writing aspect of it, making sure we know exactly how we’re portraying this character and how we’re treating this story was really important to us.”

Forspoken’s fish out of water narrative is something we’ve seen in anime and manga constantly in recent years, yet it feels fresh here because of the perspective it’s coming from – and it seems Luminous Productions had a lot of fun fleshing this out. “One of the best things about the writing process was thinking that Frey isn’t from this world, so everything she sees is new to her, everything should be shocking. Nobody comes across dragons in their typical everyday life, but in Athia you have dragons, you have monsters, you have all sorts of things you’ve never seen before. The way [Frey] reacts to it, each of those moments is an exact reflection of how we would act in such situations. We wanted to keep it grounded to make sure Frey is always a reflection of the modern world.”

Forspoken is coming to PS5 and PC on May 24, 2022.

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