Regardless of how you felt about it, Final Fantasy 15 was certainly an eccentric take on the classic JRPG series when it combined hallmarks of the fantasy genre with an American road trip. The developers behind FF15 are now working under the banner Luminous Productions, and are taking a similar, genre-bending approach to their next game, Forspoken.
Luminous Productions was founded in 2018 and is primarily staffed by the developers of Final Fantasy 15. A rare internal studio within Square Enix’s many development teams, it was formed to create games that push the boundaries of the Luminous Engine. Enter Forspoken.
In a hands-off presentation, IGN was able to get a better sense of what Forspoken is. And, to be perfectly frank, it looks more like an open-world RPG in the vein of Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher than anything I’ve previously seen from Square Enix.
Forspoken Gameplay and Story Gallery
Speaking with IGN, Forspoken director Takefumi Terada explains that the open-world gameplay will reflect one of Luminous’ themes as a studio. “When you look back to Luminous Productions and kind of a core concept or theme for the studio, it is to really blend art and technology,” Terada says.
“So the goals are quite high as far as developing an open-world game that achieves the highest heights, essentially. Through Forspoken, we believe we’ve been able to incorporate our concept for the studio and showcase that to a certain degree”
While Terada says there’s room to grow, Forspoken will serve as a showcase for the studio in terms of the quality Luminous can bring to the gaming landscape.
The presentation was hands-off, but the gameplay we saw will be familiar to anyone who has played a modern open-world RPG. Protagonist Frey is seen traversing overland to various waypoints and mission markers. There appear to be several points of interests Frey can explore and no limit to where she can or can’t venture towards.
Along the way, Frey will encounter various enemies and monsters in the wild. Combat is completely real-time and primarily magic-based. Frey can cycle through a collection of magic spells and fight enemies with a variety of long-range and close-range attacks, whether that’s firing lightning bolts from afar or dashing close to hit enemies with a magic sword.
The Luminous Engine certainly appears to be putting in the work, especially during the combat animations that mix all kinds of elemental effects like water, lightning, and fire. Visually, Forspoken looks to be shaping up to Luminous’ goal of achieving tech-driven visuals.
While the powers are all from fantasy, your player character is a different kind of protagonist. Frey Holland (played by Ella Balinska) is a troubled girl from New York City. While struggling in our world, Frey is mysteriously transported to a fantasy realm called Athia where she gains powers through a sentient bracelet named Cuff.
The idea was created by writer Gary Whitta (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and later included contributions from Uncharted’s Amy Hennig and finally Allison Rymer and Todd Stashwick. The premise, of a person in the real world being transported to a fantastical land, is a hot genre right now in Japanese anime and manga called Isekai, but Luminous says the inspirations for Forspoken predate the trend.
“We’re well aware there’s this popular kind of sub-genre, especially within Japanese anime and stuff,” says Luminous creative producer Raio Mitsuno. “But at the time, I mean when you really thinking back about it, like there’s been a lot of fantasy novels and works like [The Chronicles of] Narnia and Alice in Wonderland that dealt with these kinds of fish out of water type stories.”
Mixing and matching a fantasy world with a New York heroine certainly is a vibe, as they say. While Athia is filled with magical jargon like the Break — a dark blight that’s corrupting the world when Frey joins; and Tantas — a group of evil sorceresses who rule over Athia, Frey is not cut from this same cloth. Frey won’t spout fantasy-tinged monologues; she’s a bit of a potty-mouth, cussing at enemies while blasting them with magical powers.
The upgrade system, too, is unconventional. While Frey will be able to improve her powers and stats by upgrading her cloak, she can also gain special abilities and buffs using magical nail polish. Overworld travel is also done using magical parkour, which lets Frey cover large distances on foot, dashing across fields or jumping to high locations.
I like this kind of off-kilter take on the JRPG formula, just like how I enjoyed the road trip flavor of Final Fantasy 15. It won’t be for everyone, particularly purists, but it’s new even if maybe just a slight cringe. But I’m willing to take this ride if only to see what Luminous Productions has up their sleeves for their first official outing.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s News Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.