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Composer Ryo Yamazaki: Creating Musical Happiness for Balan Wonderworld

Reading Time: 9 minutes

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.

Balan Wonderworld

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.

Balan Wonderworld

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.  

Balan Wonderworld

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.

Balan Wonderworld

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.

Balan Wonderworld

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.

Balan Wonderworld

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!

Xbox Live

BALAN WONDERWORLD

SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

$59.99

This game supports Smart Delivery, and can be played on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. ■Welcome to a wondrous all-action show, the likes of which has never been seen before! BALAN WONDERWORLD is a wondrous action platformer game themed around the Balan Theatre. Led by the enigmatic maestro named Balan, the stars of the show Emma and Leo will use special abilities from a multitude of characterful costumes as they adventure in the bizarre and imaginary land of Wonderworld. Here memories and vistas from the real world mix with the things that people hold dear. Twelve different tales await our stars in the Wonderworld, each with their own unique quirks. They will explore all corners of these labyrinthine stages, filled with a myriad of tricks and traps, to get to the heart of each story. ■Wonderworld exists in people's hearts and imagination The setting for this tale is the fantastic, bizarre land of Wonderworld; a place where people's happy and positive memories mix with their restless worries and negativity. Leo and Emma are led into Wonderworld by the mysterious clown Balan and set off on a journey to find what is important to them. Before they can return to the real world, they must first restore the lost balance in their hearts… ■Over 80 different costumes open up all the action you could want! The stars of the show can use powers from the inhabitants of Wonderworld by wearing their colourful costumes, with over 80 different ones to try on! Bash your enemies, walk in the air, freeze time or manipulate all kinds of objects… the possibilities are endless when you pick up a new costume. ■Two Legendary Creators Reunite! Come one, come all and enjoy the pinnacle of Square Enix storytelling in an all-action world of wonder created by the legendary Naka Yuji. For the first time in 20 years Naka Yuji and Oshima Naoto join forces forming the BALAN COMPANY team; founded around, bringing together action game development, video and music production professionals from both inside and outside of the company.

Xbox Live

BALAN WONDERWORLD Demo

SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

69

This game supports Smart Delivery, and can be played on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. ■Welcome to a wondrous all-action show, the likes of which has never been seen before! BALAN WONDERWORLD is a wondrous action platformer game themed around the Balan Theatre. Led by the enigmatic maestro named Balan, the stars of the show Emma and Leo will use special abilities from a multitude of characterful costumes as they adventure in the bizarre and imaginary land of Wonderworld. Here memories and vistas from the real world mix with the things that people hold dear. Twelve different tales await our stars in the Wonderworld, each with their own unique quirks. They will explore all corners of these labyrinthine stages, filled with a myriad of tricks and traps, to get to the heart of each story. ■Wonderworld exists in people's hearts and imagination The setting for this tale is the fantastic, bizarre land of Wonderworld; a place where people's happy and positive memories mix with their restless worries and negativity. Leo and Emma are led into Wonderworld by the mysterious clown Balan and set off on a journey to find what is important to them. Before they can return to the real world, they must first restore the lost balance in their hearts… ■Over 80 different costumes open up all the action you could want! The stars of the show can use powers from the inhabitants of Wonderworld by wearing their colourful costumes, with over 80 different ones to try on! Bash your enemies, walk in the air, freeze time or manipulate all kinds of objects… the possibilities are endless when you pick up a new costume. ■Two Legendary Creators Reunite! Come one, come all and enjoy the pinnacle of Square Enix storytelling in an all-action world of wonder created by the legendary Naka Yuji. For the first time in 20 years Naka Yuji and Oshima Naoto join forces forming the BALAN COMPANY team; founded around, bringing together action game development, video and music production professionals from both inside and outside of the company.

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