Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin Soundtrack Interview From Gamer

Japanese publication Gamer recently interviewed Naoshi Mizuta, Hidenori Iwasaki, and Ryo Yamazaki about the soundtrack of the recently released Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin.

A translation of the interview is provided below, via our team’s Ryuji.

Note: Not all of the interview is translated yet, but a significant portion is.

Interviewer: First, let’s start with the concept. What kind of image did you all have in mind when making the soundtrack?

Naoshi Mizuta: The overall music theme was originally pitched by [Tetsuya] Nomura-san. He wanted a theme “that just oozes masculinity”, so that’s the theme we went with.

Interviewer: That’s…an unique way to word it. (laughs). If I recall, that’s a theme that you usually don’t do, right, Mizuta-san?

Naoshi Mizuta: It definitely is a change of pace from the more “refined” and “cool” style that I’m used to composing, but from the phrasing alone, I could tell that he meant that the song should’ve had a more “robust” feel.

Interviewer: Are there any points you had to follow when considering the composition?

Naoshi Mizuta: In Stranger of Paradise, your typical area is often divided into three segments, each with their own unique songs. Therefore, instead of having the same song loop throughout the stage, we thought of changing it the deeper you go into it, as I thought this would create a more immersive experience for the players.

Interviewer: I can’t help but notice that Stranger of Paradise has a completely different atmosphere compared to other Final Fantasy games.

Hidenori Iwasaki: In my case, I wanted to create a sense of “tension”. One that increases as you go deeper into the dungeon. So if the music was too assertive from the start, it would be difficult for users to immerse themselves in the world. So the music starts off light, then gets heavier and more robust the deeper you go. And even though this is something we didn’t discuss in particular [during development], it seemed to come about naturally.

Ryo Yamazaki: By the time the demo version had come out, I had already played the game itself, and I felt that Stranger of Paradise truly “peaks” when you get to the end of an area. Our priority was “atmosphere and immersion” rather than pop music.

Interviewer: If I may. Iwasaki-san mentioned that you didn’t discuss this during development. Does that perhaps mean that you all naturally developed a flow where the music is restrained in the beginning, gradually builds up in the latter half?

Naoshi Mizuta: I think this is all thanks to the demo version, which allowed me to compose a test track. When the demo version was released [he refers to the first demo in June 2021], the three of us talked about how we wanted to go about it, and I think we were able to share a rough roadmap or overall image to some extent. After that, we all worked together to create the songs based on the image we had shared at the beginning from the demo’s soundtracks.

Hidenori Iwasaki: Me and [Ryo] Yamazaki-san joined rather late into the game’s development, due to us being caught up with other projects.

As [Naoshi] Mizuta-san commented previously, Nomura-san was the one who pitched the overall song direction at first, and [Daisuke] Inoue-san also pitched in his opinions, so our workflow was basically “Compose a song demo, quickly have Inoue and Nomura-san listen, await feedback, then re-do the parts that they didn’t like.”

It was only very late [in development] until Mizuta-san managed to truly have a look at things in greater detail. 

Ryo Yamazaki: Let’s just say we were like lost sheep waiting for their master.

Naoshi Mizuta: *laughs*

Hidenori Iwasaki: In this industry, it’s always very hard for the producer and director to be satisfied with the first ever draft. I think it must have been very difficult for Mizuta to expend all that energy in correcting it. (laughs). I was able to create the music because I naturally knew what they wanted. But I can’t say it was as easy, nor was it nearly as hard as the amount of work that Mizuta had to do.

Naoshi Mizuta: It really took a lot of trial and error. Nomura and Inoue constantly wanted me to make it a “little more like this”. It was always very close to their vision, but only missed its mark by a bit.

Interviewer: To think even THE Naoshi Mizuta had trouble…I’m a huge fan of your songs, so I would’ve loved to see how that song sounded and perhaps give a fan’s point of view from it. (laughs)

Naoshi Mizuta: The song that perhaps took a lot of work was [Jack’s Theme]. I think Nomura-san listened to 5…6…no, over 7 different drafts, or perhaps even more. But considering that this was the theme for the “star of the show” in regards to the game, I wasn’t too bothered by it.

Interviewer: I see… Development wouldn’t move forward unless Nomura-san was satisfied first. .But after [Jack’s Theme] was composed, did the amount of drafts per song decrease?

Naoshi Mizuta: Oh, yes. After we finished the song to how he envisioned it, I was able to see what kind of theme he wanted to some extent, but there were a lot of requests for the sound direction to be changed, such as making it more “orchestrated” rather than “synthesized”. It was a common thing.

As is often the case, there was often a clash, where if you change the part X, the song itself crumbles completely. If I were to express this using a color-related analogy, it would be something like this: Imagine you’re requested to “repaint this sunflower field with red colors”; 

But since sunflowers are naturally yellow, you end up having to change the whole thing, such as maybe repainting them as something other than a sunflower, one that looks great with red colors. That sort of analogy also applies to the music field, where to change even one note, you have to change a lot of others.

*Translator’s note: I added the sunflowers and other elements myself, to enhance what kind of analogy he was telling the interviewer.

Interviewer: Pretty sure that’s an analogy that only people in the music (and artistic) industry can relate to. I have no experience in the area, so I had no idea. (laughs)

Naoshi Mizuta: That’s how it often goes when you talk about your field to someone who’s not in it. *laughs* There were a few things that were a bit difficult in that regard.

To be more specific, the first drafts of “Chaos” and “One Who Becomes Chaos,” which both are songs that are played in the Chaos Temple, were initially made to sound more like a synth style, with some rock accents, but we swiftly discarded that, as at the time, we were still unsure on what kind of style to nail on.

Similar to Final Fantasy XI? 

Interviewer: By the way, I can’t help but notice, but the one thing Mizuta-san, Iwasaki-san and Yamazaki-san all share in common is that you all helped compose Final Fantasy XI’s music. How was composing for this game different compared to that?

Naoshi Mizuta: When it comes to the music playing in the background of the game, we had to think about the same things, but we had to make sure that the music would not be so depressing to listen to all the time, or that it would not be too strangely assertive or “too floaty”, or something like that. 

Stranger of Paradise presents itself on a very different scale, so while the fundamentals of the game are the same, the touch and feel of it, as well as the listening experience and overall atmosphere of the game, is completely different compared to FF XI.

Hidenori Iwasaki: Precisely. Because in Final Fantasy XI, when you are walking in the field, the field soundtrack plays, and when a battle breaks out, the battle soundtrack plays. In contrast, since this is a competitive type of game where battles are always waiting for you, you can’t have uplifting battle-like music while walking through the field. So truthfully, we were used to fundamentals on this sort of field to battle transition.

Final Fantasy XI also had a large range of music genres, because the player travels through various worlds, and thus, could have a slightly ethnic feel here and there, depending on your location. Stranger of Paradise on the other hand, uses dark and heavy soundtracks.

Interviewer: I see. All to match Nomura-san’s request for a “oozing masculinity” theme.

Hidenori Iwasaki: Yes, that’s right. In terms of the specific sound, I was thinking of music with a low center of gravity, or something that wasn’t too flashy.

Ryo Yamazaki: I don’t know about the others, but when composing, I genuinely did not think of Final Fantasy XI. However, since Mizuta-san was inevitably in charge of a large number of songs for both titles [FF XI and Stranger of Paradise], there is an overall Mizuta-esque quality to the music.

Incidentally, in my case, since I participated in the development of Final Fantasy XI as a manipulator, it was refreshing to participate this time as a composer. The three of us have a long history of working together on FFXI, but I was able to work with them in a rather fresh way.

Hidenori Iwasaki: I think we all forgot that we were all in Final Fantasy XI’s dev team until they [the interviewer] pointed it out. *laughs*

Naoshi Mizuta & Ryo Yamazaki: [Both agree with Iwasaki.]

Interviewer: I must say I was very surprised to see your names in the credits’ roll. How unexpected that you all would have forgotten! *laughs*

So to put it simply, Stranger of Paradise’s soundtracks are not an arrangement of past BGMs, but rather, a mixture of impressive phrases from the motifs and themes of the original Final Fantasy [hence the name “Origins”]. What made you decide to use it in such a subtle way instead of rearranging it?

Naoshi Mizuta: From the very beginning, Inoue’s order was very clear: to not use an arrangement, but to use the motifs of the original soundtracks in a subtle way, so that those who would notice would be able to recognize them.

However, when we first submitted the demo, he asked me: “If you were to include this [in the original Final Fantasy], would it be fitting?” Feedback also went from “It would be better to have a few more phrases included compared to the original song,” or conversely, “What’s this? The motifs aren’t subtle at all.”

Hidenori Iwasaki: That there were.

Ryo Yamazaki: I think at one point, he even outright said “This looks too much like the original.”

Naoshi Mizuta: Some of the stages in Stranger of Paradise look almost exactly the same, but the concept of the game as a whole was that someone somewhere had imitated them, so that’s what we focused on in the music as well.

Ryo Yamazaki: That being said, it was more of a case-by-case basis. The original dungeon-like tunes were pretty much an extension of the atmosphere of the original music, but it was difficult to create a battle tune from them.

Hidenori Iwasaki: Songs with melodies were especially difficult. I arranged as best as I could, but was told that it was just like the original. I said, “How come I ended up full circle?” *laughs*

Check out our review of the recently released Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is now available worldwide on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store.

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.