What makes the combat of Forspoken so magical?

Takayuki Kanbayashi, Battle Director on Forspoken, explains his vision for the visually spectacular combat system - and the challenges of bringing it to life.
By Takayuki Kanbayashi
Tags: Forspoken

Hello everyone! My name is Takayuki Kanbayashi, and I’m the Battle Director for Forspoken.

As Frey Holland, you have access to many magical abilities, which you can use to defend yourself against the dangerous denizens of Athia. The game’s combat system is something truly unique in the RPG genre - fast-paced and visually stunning, it puts loads of spectacular spells at your fingertips, and gives you the freedom to play how you like.

Of course, getting it to that point was no easy task! Here’s the story of how we created it:

The inspirations behind Forspoken’s combat

When making games, everything starts with an idea. In the case of Forspoken’s combat system, that was the concept of “Zero to Hero”.

To get that idea across, we had to think about how we could show her growth - both as a character and as a fighter. Frey is not from the land of Athia - she’s a normal person from New York. We felt that if she simply got stronger throughout the game, she’d feel less and less like she was from our world.

We wanted to ensure that Frey still feels like a fish out of water through the whole journey, so we chose to show her growth by expanding the things she can do with magic. That meant that we had to give her an expansive toolset, and design lots of different abilities.

However, as Forspoken is a long game, it would get rather boring to repeat the same spells or tactics over and over. We wanted to give players more options as Frey grows over the course of the story, to encourage different play styles and give people the freedom over how they play.

Forspoken screenshot

Planning out the spells

We also wanted to make sure that every spell in the game - and there are a lot - was useful and had a clear function. We didn’t want anything to feel redundant.

Early in development, I created a matrix of all the spells, broken down by magic type and purpose, such as offensive, traps, and support. After I created this magic list, I then took it to the wider team.

We discussed things like which spells would be too tricky to implement, or how well a spell’s purpose and visuals would match. We also made changes to the list to incorporate better ideas and to eliminate spells that felt too similar.

We were particularly mindful of creating a lot of spells that work well in mid-range. Long range magic essentially turns the game into a shooter, and close-range becomes too much of an action game, so finding that balance was important. Frey can move around with ease using magic parkour, and the combat system was designed to encourage good positioning.

Forspoken screenshot

Everything at your fingertips

One of the key elements we thought a lot about was how to make the combat system easy for people to use. We wanted to offer a lot of different types of magic, and have players use it, so what’s the best way to make that happen?

One common system in games is to pre-set spells in the menu and take them into battle, but we realized this wouldn’t work for Forspoken. We figured that there might be players who would find that tedious and end up not trying out new spells - we wanted to make every spell accessible at all times.

In the early phases of development, we experimented by assigning spells to different button combinations. However, as the game was a new IP, we didn’t want to force players to have to master complex controls.

The solution was to go with a ring menu, that lets players easily switch between different spells on the fly. It meant that players had full access to all their spells in an intuitive and easy to understand way.

Forspoken screenshot

Balancing form and function

Perhaps the most challenging thing of all when designing the spells of Forspoken was ensuring we treated their spells and visual effects equally. We wanted the magic in the game to both look and feel spectacular, and we had a team of visual artists, game designers and programmers working together to make sure we were always looking in the same direction.

This approach meant that if someone had a concern during the early part of development, we took the time to explain, refine our approach if necessary and make sure everyone was on the same page.

We also formed a LookDev team - the function of this is to clearly define the look and feel of the magic in the game, and ensure it stays consistent. This opened the door for a lot of active discussions, and it was ultimately this team who created the final, distinctive look for Forspoken’s spells.

Forspoken screenshot

Final thoughts

Overall, I’m proud of the work we’ve done on the combat system in Forspoken. I think it’s pretty rare for a game to offer this much magic that is instantly accessible, without having to rely on presets or button combinations.

Also, magic parkour grants so much maneuverability that naturally lends itself to evading, but we’ve also incorporated it in a way that lets you fight in style.

There’s also a battle grading system that rewards you for using lots of different spells and techniques, so player who are into that can use it as a guide to fighting effectively - and looking like a badass while they do so!

Thanks for reading - I hope you enjoyed our tales of making the combat of Forspoken!

You can experience it for yourself right now on PS5, Steam and the Epic Games Store. You can also save up to 33% on the game for a limited time!

I hope you’ll enjoy experimenting with the spells and finding a style of play that you enjoy!