Heartfelt, high-concept and the subject of much internet hysteria; there's plenty that Forspoken has in common with its predecessor of sorts, with the development team behind Square Enix's big-budget action RPG having been assembled from those who'd worked on Final Fantasy 15 - a game whose tortured development became legendary, but one that emerged hobbled yet highly entertaining.
I've had a soft spot for Final Fantasy 15 ever since it came out, its abundance of character and sense of adventure atoning for some of its lumpiness, and despite a rough ride in recent weeks following its widely-derided trailer I'm developing a soft spot for Forspoken too. After spending just over an hour fleet-footing around the fantasy region of Avaolet, there's that same free-wheeling sense of adventure that warmed me to Final Fantasy 15, backed up by an abundance of systems that promise some serious depth.
Those similarities shouldn't be too surprising, given that Forspoken is only the second game built upon the Luminous Engine that powered Final Fantasy 15. It shares the same stupendous scale of world to explore, with the same propensity for a beautiful wide-open vista - the area we had to play around with was full of diversions and mobs and sub-bosses to defeat, but perhaps the biggest distraction was the photo mode I kept turning to, capturing our hero Freya dancing across the fantasy landscape with her magic-infused parkour. If your idea of a good RPG is a stunning open space to explore with plenty of distractions along the way - as is mine - then Forspoken looks like it'll deliver.
"We didn't set out deliberately to make it in any way like Final Fantasy 15," Forspoken co-director Takefumi Terada told me after I'd played through the demo. "We thought okay, we're doing a new IP, we're doing a completely new game here. We want to do things that have never been done with Final Fantasy before, and we had that great opportunity so we didn't really have it in our minds at all to set out to make something similar. But obviously as we worked on the game, we put it together and suddenly came and took shape. Then we started to see those same things and they surprised us just as much so yeah, this does feel a little bit like Final Fantasy 15. So in some ways it was as much a surprise to us as it was to you!"
Providing a rich, vast fantasy world is one thing, but Forspoken is keen to make the act of exploring it as fun as possible thanks to its magic parkour system. Deployed with the simple press of a button, it sees Frey scooting speedily across terrain, vaulting objects and describing impossible, graceful arcs as she leaps from point to point. It's underpinned - and unlocked - by a dense skill-tree, with new abilities earned through in-game challenges. Climb a certain height and you'll gain access to an improved leap, which might in turn open up some more areas for exploration out in the wilds, while your ever-expanding moveset provides more possibilities when it comes to combat.
And when it comes to combat, Forspoken is bewilderingly broad, boasting some 100 abilities for you to mix and match - a fact that promises some serious variety when it comes to creating builds. There are ranged attacks that ping from Frey's palms, or brutal melee attacks that can be charged, while you can also summon armies of fiery soldiers to fight by your side, or cast a dancing ring of fire that encompasses you and your enemies (and provides a handy buff to your attacks should be inside its range), or binds that can slow an enemy on the spot so you can whittle down their health in next to no time.
It is a lot, and a not insignificant part of my time with the Forspoken demos was spent browsing menus and tinkering with options, with those options expanding as I explored more. There's a radial menu that hosts a slim picking of all those abilities, with combat being a case of juggling buffs and debuffs while exploiting enemy's weaknesses (and despite all the complexity on offer it effectively boils down to picking between different flavours of purple ranged magic and red melee magic). There's added depth to the builds, too - defeating one mini-boss unlocked a new design for my nails, which would then allow me to soak up a teensy bit more damage while charging up attack spells more rapidly - the perfect foil for frantic playstyle that had me flinging all-sorts at enemy mobs.
"I think the main defining feature of the battle system itself is the fact that we've got this massive variety of different magic spells that you can use," says Terada. "Having over 100 different abilities was very much set down at the start of development and was borne in mind throughout the whole of the creation of the battle system. Combine that with the high speed movement from the magical parkour and I think those two elements come together to make it a unique system, certainly in terms of that variation that was very important."
If there's one concern, it's that for all the depth the magical parkour offers in tandem with the breadth of compat options, it's lacking somewhat when it comes to impact - there's a floatiness and slight lack of feedback with the combat as it stands, something which Forspoken also has in common with Final Fantasy 15, and something that extends to the traversal which can sometimes feel a touch too frictionless. It's something that can hopefully be addressed with some fine-tuning in the extra months that Forspoken leading up to the January release after its most recent delay. There's promise here, though, of a triple-A game that's got heart to back up its sense of spectacle.