We’re fast approaching the release of Balan Wonderworld!
While I’m sure you might have heard snippets of the soundtrack already, today I’ll let you know a little bit more about some of the unique inspirations and challenges that I faced when composing the musical happiness to Balan Wonderworld.
Throughout the composition process, the setting of the Balan Theatre truly inspired the soundtrack. I always kept in mind the perspective of being part of an audience at a live show – looking up and enjoying the performance unfolding before you on stage.
My intention was for the soundtrack to function not only as background music denoting the current situation on-screen, but to also make you feel as though it could accompany the action if it were being performed live on stage.
Inspiration Behind the Musical Melodies
When looking at other sources of inspiration, one of our aims centered around creating a similar feel and aesthetic to Cirque du Soleil. I drew heavily from this idea, the first demo reel that I submitted was particularly strongly influenced by this Cirque du Soleil concept. For further inspiration, I also watched lots of films with catchy soundtracks that draw heavily from the musical theatre genre; “The Greatest Showman,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – as many as I could get my hands on! I paid particularly close attention to the types of scenes where music featured and how the music related to the story. These films were great inspiration for me!
At first, the character art gave me the impression that Balan Wonderworld would appeal to young children, so I thought that cute and comical music would probably work best. However, as the overall concept art came together, I soon realised that a lot of the characters are struggling with deeper emotional complexes, worries, and burdens. I started to understand that the game could resonate with adults as well as children. Stories like the “Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales,” that are both otherworldly and frightening (even for adults) gave me some good food for thought.
When deciding the musical concepts for each specific world, the stage design artwork was an excellent reference point. I had lots of fun incorporating different aspects of the artwork into the music, including the beautiful settings of the forests, the ice and the sea.
All of the boss battle tracks were also especially fun to compose! By playing the different stages in the game, I was able to refine my arrangements and incorporate the various characteristics and aesthetics of each boss directly into the music. You might notice that some of the tracks are even named after the boss characters themselves!
Finding Our Voice
With musical theatre inspiring the soundtrack, I tried to incorporate as many human vocals, voices and shouts into the different melodies and choruses as possible, in order to reflect what an audience might hear in a live musical performance.
When considering the lead vocalist of Balan Wonderworld, it was important that we found a singer who could perform a wide range of styles without being restricted by genre. I asked London based film composer Youki Yamamoto for his advice. He introduced me to Laura Pitt-Pulford, who graciously accepted our offer. As well as performing on London’s West End, Laura also had experience working with Japanese anime, having performed “One Small Step” for the anime “Dr. Stone,” and she seemed like the perfect match for Balan Wonderworld. She brought along the accompanying West End cast that she frequently performs with, who lent their voices as our ensemble. We tried out a lot of different ideas then and there. The studio was full of laughter, it was a very relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
Within Balan Wonderworld, there’s also a strong element of “mystery” that runs as a core theme throughout the game. I wanted to help shape this on the soundtrack, by creating a borderless sound design where the music sounds international, without being easily identifiable as coming from one particular country. To do so, I incorporated musical elements from lots of different cultures as well as reinforcing this mysterious setting by using the game’s made-up language throughout our vocal tracks.
Challenges & Obstacles
Personally, it was my first time working on musical theatre as a genre. I think the tracks that were more heavily influenced by musical theatre were the ones that required the most trial and error. These tracks had to be composed first, due to the motion capture for the dances. The dances were then choreographed based on the rhythm, structure, and length of the song.
Looking back, the first track that I composed really captured the atmosphere of the game, however it didn’t have enough of a celebratory feel for having just cleared the level, so I had to redo it. I was figuring everything out as I went along, and I wrote lots and lots of different songs, versions and variations until things were finally in place.
Writing a song in a made-up language was an interesting challenge. We had to craft the unique pronunciation of the language as well as figuring out the best way for our singer to emphasise the emotion within the song. Our process involved a specialist lyricist who helped make the initial English version. Using this as a base, we switched the order of the vocabulary and altered the words to sound like they might come from another language. We took on board ideas from lots of different people before recording. In a certain sense, there was no right or wrong answer!
Due to the global pandemic, I was unable to travel abroad for our recording sessions. Since I had to do all the work on the recording and mixing of the vocals and orchestral performances remotely, communication with people on-site took a lot longer than originally estimated.
Music in Everyday Life
This might seem contradictory coming from someone who makes music, but I think that when people are truly in the depths of despair, music is powerless. Human hearts and minds are too complex for music to express completely how we are feeling.
However, I believe that once people find a spark of hope and look towards the future, music can be there for them – its power to support people and spur them on increases exponentially.
Overcoming obstacles is all down to the individual, but music can give a little bit of a helping hand along the way. At least, that’s what I hope.
Can’t Stop Humming!
The songs that have stuck with me the most would have to be the main theme tune and the musical songs. The main theme represents the whole game, so I focused on making it simple, memorable, and easily adaptable for use in lots of different arrangements.
I’m sure you’ll hear it quite a few times throughout the game, so it’ll probably be stuck in your head by the time you complete it!
SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.
BALAN WONDERWORLD Demo
SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.
Ryo Yamazaki, Composer, The Balan Company, Square Enix