Octopath Traveler soundtrack interview transcript
Hi all. I imported the Octopath Traveler four-disc CD soundtrack (85 tracks) from Japan. The booklet includes an interview with the game's composer and producers, regarding the soundtrack itself. I love reading stuff like that, so I've transcribed it for you below. My wrists hurt a lot.
The three participants are attributed by their initials. The titles/questions are from the (uncredited) interviewer. I hope you'll enjoy reading it.
Octopath Traveler soundtrack interview Interview date: 25th April, 2018
Participants: - Masashi Takahashi, Producer - Masaaki Hayasaka, Assistant Producer - Yasunori Nishiki, Sound Producer, Composer and Arranger
To start off, was there anything particularly memorable for you about working on the music of Octopath Traveler? YN: One thing that really stood out to me was the composition of the development team — almost no-one on the team was actually a veteran of the old days when pixel art was mainstream.
MT: That's very true.
YN: Rather, the core developers were all from the generation that grew up playing those games. A changing of the guard, so to speak. As gaming history grows, I feel that game music, as well, is becoming established as a genre of its own. With jazz, for example, children would grow up listening to and aspiring to become like their favourite artists, but when that generation grew up, they created something with different sensibilities than what they had listened to when they were young, updating the genre in the process. It's the same with game music, where the generation that grew up listening to game soundtracks is now evolving the genre further, helping it grow into a culture of its own. I believe we're right in the middle of that process. Game music concerts are incredibly popular nowadays, and both the creators and the audience are growing. To me, Octopath Traveler is a product of this generation, looking back on the pixel art games of their childhood with an eye to evolve the genre. In composing the soundtrack, I felt it was my mission not to disappoint players right smack in the middle of that generation — most of all myself.
Now then, we'd like to talk about the songs themselves. How did you go about creating the theme songs for the eight protagonists? MH: The key concept that we conveyed to Mr. Nishiki was that we wanted all the songs to feature prominent, memorable melodies. Tunes with catchy melodies — like classics from the Super NES era — are what we think players expect from a Square Enix pixel-art RPG. We made a conscious decision to avoid the more ambient, movie-like soundtracks commonly found in recent blockbusters.
YN: So I did my best to make sure that not only the major themes, but even the more subtle cut-scene themes all featured melodies that would stick with you. Of course, the main protagonists' themes needed to stand out above all of them, and they also had to convey to the player through the natural course of the game that this song is indeed this protagonist's theme. On top of that, I wanted to convey not just the character as portrayed in the main story, but the sort of life that they led up until this point — all through music — to the point that once you've heard the song, you can think "Ah, this is so-and-so's theme," and see that character in your mind. In the end, I decided to have instruments symbolising each of the eight characters carry the main melody, to give each theme its own individual touch. So I started thinking, "A flute feels right for Ophilia…" "A piano for H'aanit, perhaps?" deciding on the instruments one by one.
MT: Were there any that really jumped out at you? Like, "Oh, this character has to be this instrument!"
YN: Ophilia, maybe? Seeing her art and playing her story, together with the snow-swept look of her starting town, really made an impression on me. As a cleric, there's a holiness or sacredness about her, but she also has this warm and gentle femininity. When I thought about how to go about expressing this, the song came to me rather quickly. For the other characters, I struggled a bit more…
MH: I remember that for Olberic and Cyrus, it was quite some time for the songs to come together…
YN: For Ophilia too, we decided on the flute rather quickly, but Mr. Hayasaka and I had quite a battle regarding the song itself.
MH: Ah, the chord in the intro.
YN: The add11 chord used in the beginning of the song evokes an incredibly sacred feeling. It's also a very sensitive chord, with halftones clashing with each other. When I played an early draft for Mr. Hayasaka, I was curious how he would react. When he told me it felt a little off, I thought, "I had a feeling he'd say that." [laughs] But that was the part I was most attached to — to evoke her piousness while also bringing out the ordinary young woman in her that can't fully commit to her role in the church, I felt the add11 chord was indispensable. So I pushed for it, and Mr. Hayasaka was kind enough to let me have my way.
How about Cyrus, the scholar? YN: We started out by trying to figure out just waht sort of feel we were going for with the scholar.
MH: Because he's a professor at a royal academy of sorts, I suggested a waltz.
YN: So I composed what I believed to be an intellectual waltz, only to be told, "This is too waltzy." [laughs]
MH: I guess I found it more humorous than intellectual. Like he was getting into the dance a little too much. [laughs]
YN: I was like, "How can a waltz be too waltzy…?" [laughs] In the end, we cut back on the waltziness a bit and made some other tweaks. It didn't come out easily, this one.
MT: The overall feeling of the song changed quite a bit from the original sequenced version to the orchestrated one.
MH: The live instruments give it more of a sophisticated feel.
MT: It has a real stateliness about it.
Next, tell us about Tressa, the merchant. YN: The overarching theme of Tressa's story is "a journey". I thought a harmonica would fit this feeling of travelling the world as a merchant, growing along the way.
MH: Personally, I think this song really gives off the feeling of a seaside town, making it perfect for the start of Tressa's journey. Do you think it's because of the harmonica?
YN: I think it's that, and also the jazzy elements I gave the chords, using tension notes like sevenths and ninths.
MH: I see — it really captures a lively sort of feeling.
YN: Tressa's youthfulness, a port town, and a journey. With these keywords as a base, I'd say this song came together pretty effortlessly.
Next is Olberic, the warrior. YN: I started by asking myself what a "warrior-like" song would sound like. To that I wanted to add something of Olberic's serious nature.
MH: Serious, stern, and a bit stiff. We also wanted to capture the sense that he was a knight of a fallen realm.
YN: I struggled somewhat to compose this one. I tried to bring out the tragedy and the sense that he was carrying a heavy burden from his past…
MH: The secondary melody, played by the horn, really brings that out. It carries a lot of weight.
MT: Olberic changed quite a bit through the course of development. I think the final version is a much cooler character than he started off as.
Now we come to Primrose, the dancer. YN: The theme of her story is revenge, but I felt we needed some wistfulness in there as well.
MH: We also wanted to give it a desert feel, so I talked about adding metallic sounds. That, and giving the melody a "feminine" feel.
YN: As I was composing the song, I could really feel Primrose's inner strength and the burden that she carried from her past. As for "femininity", it can come in different forms. While Ophilia has more of a gentle, embracing warmth, with Primrose, there's more of a sadness and melancholy around it.
MH: Now that you mention it, the chord progression in Ophilia's theme has more of a gentle, relaxing feel. Primrose, on the other hand, has quick chord changes, giving it more of a spirited feel. I fell like the differences in the songs really capture their respective personalities.
How about Alfyn, the apothecary? YN: I used a saxophone for Alfyn, but at first I really wasn't sure if this was the right call.
MH: I remember talking about it in terms of the sax being a relatively modern instrument, as history goes.
YN: When you think of the saxophone, you think of jazz. We were concerned that Alfyn's would feel like it didn't quite fit the world. That said, Mr. Hayasaka and I agreed that the sax was the best instrument to bring out Alfyn's gentle, warm personality, so I decided to give it a shot. In the end, this is the only song in the game that features a sax — a relatively rare instrument in RPGs — and yet I feel like I was able to use it quite well, in a way that doesn't stick out from the rest of the soundtrack. When we recorded it, we asked the performer to kind of downplay the typical sax sound, and I think that also worked well.
Continuing on, we have Therion, the thief. YN: I used an oboe for Therion. I'm personally a big fan of the oboe, which for me has a certain melancholy feel about it, and I thought there was really no other way to go for Therion. Midway through, an Irish flute also kicks in, evoking a sense of loss and the character's sort of dry, hardened grief.
MH: With this piece, I had a heated debate with Mr. Nishiki about whether or not to add a hitch in the final chord progression.
YN: It was quite the battle indeed. [laughs] In the end, Mr. Hayasaka's passion won me over and I adopted his idea. Personally, I'm also quite fond of the secondary melody.
And last, but not least, H'aanit, the hunter. YN: For H'aanit, I was set on doing a piano solo from the start. Other songs feature piano, of course, but to keep H'aanit distinct, I decided hers would be the only piano solo. I wanted to express her strength and unwavering determination.
The soundtrack spans four discs. How did you decide the song order and where to divide the discs? Also, was there anything particularly important to you when naming songs? MT: Mr. Nishiki put quite a bit of thought into the song order.
YN: I was very particular about the order, but also the titles, especially those of the battle songs. I remember thinking, "The standard battle theme just has to be 'Battle I', of course!" [laughs]
MH: You don't see many songs titled "Battle I" these days.
YN: At first, it was called "The Battle of So-and-So," but I was set on "Battle I" and pushed for it.
Why were you so particular about that song name? YN: We wanted to convey our respects to the era when pixel art games were mainstream. Even though we have evolved the genre, our intention was to keep the style the same as it was back then.
MT: Many soundtracks in those times had song names like "Battle I".
MH: So we gave the other songs simple titles, too, like "Reminiscence" and "Discord".
YN: And we put the songs in an order that, to some extent, follows the flow of the game.
MT: At first, we couldn't decide whether or not to put all the character theme songs together.
YN: It wasn't necessarily out of respect to the old way of doing things, but we researched a lot of old video game soundtracks when trying to decide the song order. We found that most weren't arranged by theme, and that's how we settled on ordering them this way. We learned something new during our investigation, and were able to see this order as something fitting Octopath Traveler. Even while paying homage to past styles of games, I feel like we were able to put together an order we can call our own.
MH: To answer your question about how we divided the discs, you'll see that at the top of Disc 3 is "Battle II" and at the top of Disc 4 is "Battle III". This is to show the progression from the central areas to the further reaches of the realm. During production, we called them the "inner", "middle," and "outer" areas, and each has its own battle theme. The journey further out into the world is expressed by the different CDs, and you can enjoy the progression of the battle music that Mr. Nishiki has composed. There might be some who are surprised when the battle music suddenly changes during the game, and we hoped to capture that feeling with the song order, too.
What are your favourite songs from the game? YN: I like the ending theme. Take a listen to it in the game if you have a chance. This time, as a special initiative, we gave each character their own unique boss battle intro. And after you finish a character's story, you'll be able to hear a motif befitting that traveller during the ending. Of course, there are eight of these as well.
MT: The boss battle intro songs are on Disc 4, from "For Light" to "For Master".
MH: We made bonus tracks of each character's ending motif.
YN: The ending theme is a medley of motifs from the eight overworld songs. Considering that this song will be heard at the end of a long journey, I felt it only proper to include the songs that play along the road our heroes travel. We even made sure the medley contained the themes in the "OCTOPATH" order. We also wanted to add the character motifs mentioned earlier, but found that to be rather difficult because we couldn't alter the length of the song itself, and we would have to make all the character motifs the same length… [laughs]
MH: We didn't make it easy on him. [laughs]
YN: And on top of that, we would have to connect it to the main theme, which would require changes in key.
MH: And furthermore, we would have to find a way to make it clear to the player that the motif belonged to the protagonist that they originally chose…
YN: At first I was asked to compose an orchestrated version, but I had to tell them it wasn't possible. So I offered them a compromise: a piano accompaniment along with the main instruments used for each character — like the saxophone for Alfyn and the flute for Ophilia — and that is what we settled on. We worked hard until we created a song we liked. Another one of my favourite songs is "Battle II".
MH: We also had a debate about the intro for that song. [laughs]
YN: That we did. [laughs] It had a different feel to it than the other Octopath Traveler songs, but I liked that fact and pushed through with it. If you're wondering why I like this one so much, it's because the other battle songs were created in a very systematic way — like inserting certain elements to get the player more excited. In that sense, I remember working very hard on them. But "Battle II" was composed without thinking too systematically, rather just putting down and arranging the phrases as they came to me. Because of this, I feel like this song is the most like myself. How about you, Mr. Hayasaka?
MH: I like "The Flatlands." Whenever I think of plains in RPGs, I picture characters going forth full of energy. In Octopath Traveler, however, I imagine something overshadowing the landscape. I like how this is different than other games. The Flatlands have a rather bright look about them, so I'm curious as to what concept you had in mind when composing this song, Mr. Nishiki.
YN: If I remember correctly, I didn't receive any reference videos for this.
MH: Oh, that's right! Now that you mention it, this was the last overworld theme to come together.
YN: I thought about making this song straightforward, but like Mr. Hayasaka said, it ended up having a sorrowful and somewhat dramatic feel to it. Usually when making field songs, I compose while watching the videos they give to me. The entire atmosphere of the game is somewhat sorrowful, and I think I was able to create this song naturally by capturing the feeling of what I saw on screen.
MH: As a producer, are there any songs you're partial to?
MT: I like the soundtrack enough to say "all of them," but I think I should first mention the main theme. Most songs I left to Mr. Hayasaka and Mr. Nishiki, but the main theme is used many times and it's something you hear a lot before you even start the game, so I told Mr. Nishiki what message I wanted to include in the song and what image I had in mind. Mr. Nishiki was able to create that song exactly as I envisioned it. I was moved and thought that this was a song that could really get players looking forward to playing the full game, so I felt the most attachment to it as a producer. I also like "Battle at Journey's End." During the final stages of production, I played the game many times and listened to this song a lot. Since you hear it during the fight at the end of the characters' emotional journeys, it feels very dramatic. During the battle, you can almost see moments of your adventure flashing before your eyes. I think it's a very moving piece that players will enjoy.
And finally, do you have a message for all those who bought the soundtrack, Mr. Nishiki? YN: When creating the soundtrack of Octopath Traveler, I wanted to keep the best parts of old game music, while also giving it a more modern flair. But I didn't just want to rehash the same old thing. If those who play the game or listen to the soundtrack can feel that evolution in the music, I will consider my work a success. Furthermore, game music only exists because there is a game to play. I took a good look at Octopath Traveler and its characters, and did my best to create the perfect songs to match them. After finishing the game, I hope players can listen to this soundtrack and remember the sights they saw on their journey.
submitted by mattgemmell