Forspoken is at a crossroads.
With the game’s recent delay and an overwhelmingly negative fan response to marketing, Square Enix’s ambitious new IP is left in a weird spot, especially seeing as this is the first title developed by Luminous Productions, a new studio founded by the development team of Final Fantasy XV in 2018.
Despite everything, the team behind Forspoken is absolutely confident in the experience they’ve created. “I don't think fans should worry about the writing style,” Creative Producer Raio Mitsuno tells Inverse. “I think they're going to be in for a very captivating and enjoyable story,” .
Square Enix is experimenting with a lot of new IPs lately, including Triangle Strategy, The Centennial Case, and Harvestella. Forspoken is a big piece of that experimentation, looking markedly different from what you’d expect from the team behind Final Fantasy XV. After a hands-on preview, Inverse spoke with Mitsuno, co-director Takefumi Terada, and cinematic artist Roosa Jokiaho about Forspoken’s narrative ambitions, the reasons behind the delay, and fan reception.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Forspoken is an Isekai where the protagonist is transported from the real world to Athia. Why do that rather than have it all set in a fantasy world?
Mitsuno - What's really funny is when we started this ideation years back, Isekai wasn't a term in the West yet. Over the course of production we started hearing Western fans say, “Oh, it's Isekai!” and we’re like, wow, they understand Isekai? You know, it’s always been a thing in Japanese anime and mediums here in Japan, but it's surprising to see how much that term has caught on.
This is a fish-out-of-water story, much like Narnia, even like Superman. It’s a fantasy trope, per se, but it's been a genre in itself. Our goal was more about, let's make a fish out of water story with a grounded, contemporary modern protagonist, and throw her in this crazy world and have her react to things as if we would.
The creative team combines the Japanese studio Luminous Productions with Western writers like Gary Whitta. Were there any unique challenges associated with combining the two?
Mitsuno - Trying to pair our development that’s done here domestically with Western talent was a new kind of endeavor for us. But it was something that we wanted to do from the get-go to create a game that is universally beloved across the world. We thought based on our cumulative experience with past games, that the best way to do that was to combine the best of both worlds.
So it was a challenge, for sure, but that was a big part of what we wanted to do with Forspoken. We wanted to break new barriers and try new things. The easy part of that equation was to have some amazing people like Amy Hennig contribute and help us create this amazing story.
Fans love the focus on the relationships between the core cast of Final Fantasy XV and having all those big emotional moments. Is that something that we can expect in Forspoken even though there's not necessarily a main party?
Jokiaho - Yes, it's also very much at the heart of the game. Even though it's Frey’s story, she basically goes from somebody who's only always relying on herself to someone learning to rely on others. She builds a lot of meaningful relationships that help her grow as a person in this new fantastical world that she's thrown into. You can definitely expect some really emotional moments.
Can you talk about the reason behind the game’s recent delay from October to January 2023?
Mitsuno - The reason for the delay wasn't really anything dev related. As it is a new IP, we wanted to make sure that our players have the best opportunity to play and enjoy the game. We looked at everything from the market situation to all sorts of reasons that might affect that. We discussed this with all of our key stakeholders and felt like it would benefit both the game and the player if we push back and delay for a couple of months.
Terada - The development team as a whole really believes that it's been a great opportunity to strengthen the final quality of the game overall, whether in terms of graphic quality, or just the balance or the volume of the content and storytelling. All of that is being strengthened in the coming months and so we feel that the final product will be even stronger.
There's been a lot of different reactions from fans online with recent trailers. What would you say to anyone who might be worried about the tone of the game or the writing?
Mitsuno - We're definitely aware of the reactions to all the asset drops that we've been doing. We basically took footage that we had already shown before and then dialog that we've already shown before, and kind of just put it together in a new social media video. And yeah, it kind of took off in a different direction than then we were thinking and became memes. I do have to admit, some of those memes were pretty funny. So I did enjoy looking at some of them.
But we're not worried as a team, because we're very confident in the writing style and the story overall. The challenge with a game that is so narrative-driven is that we have to be really selective about what we reveal before the game comes out because we don't want to ruin the story. So we're taking bits and pieces of dialogue and just taking them at face value. We're not seeing the context behind the dialogue. We're not seeing the interactions that took place leading up to it, understanding Frey’s state of mind when she said certain things. So half the picture is missing from these things that we're dealing with in marketing.
It is unfortunate, but we're hopeful we can show what Forspoken is really like in future drops. I don't think fans should worry about the writing style. I think fans are going to be in for a very captivating and enjoyable story.
Jokiaho - Because of story reasons, we’re showing a lot of Frey from the early parts of her journey. So there's still a lot more coming. She's gonna develop so much as a person. There are just so many cool things waiting for her. I wish I could talk about them right now.
Forspoken will be released on PS5 and PC on January 24, 2023.