Yasunori Nishiki Developing the World of Octopath Traveler Through Music (Interview)

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Project Octopath Traveler

Brandon Bui: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Nishiki-san! We appreciate speaking to you today! 

Yasunori Nishiki

Brandon Bui: Can you tell us about your musical experience? How did you get into composing music?
Yasunori Nishiki: I started taking private piano lessons when I was 5, but it wasn’t until I entered Tokyo College of Music that I became more serious in studying composition. A few years later, I started working for Konami and began to pursue my professional career as a composer.

Jordan Aslett: What was your first experience in composing music?
Yasunori Nishiki: As far as I can remember, my first experience in composition was when I assembled some music for a book-recitation class in school when I was around 12 years old. To be more precise, I’d already begun to compose before then, but this was the very first time I brought my composition to others.

Brandon Bui: When did you realize in your life that music was your calling?
Yasunori Nishiki: That’s quite recent, perhaps since I’ve become a freelancer. At the same time though, I often find myself wondering if this is really the path I should pursue.

Brandon Bui: Where do you think video game music is heading next?
Yasunori Nishiki: As game visuals became more and more realistic like films, cinematic sound designs and musical styles also began to be adopted for game music. However, I feel there is the drawback – that memorable game music has become less.

Meanwhile, games with pixel arts similar to the old days began to increase. Their soundtracks are also memorable, with a timeless feel. I think the reason is that the people having played the classic video games during their impressionable ages in the 80’s and 90’s began to play the role in the center of game development. They are trying to bring back the emotions they felt before in new games.
I believe we are in a transition stage, and the need for memorable game music will increase again.

Jordan Aslett: How has your musical composition style developed over the past few years? What’s your process?
Yasunori Nishiki: Since I started working as a freelancer, I’ve done various projects such as composing background music for anime or puppet shows for kids, rather than limiting my clients to the ones from the game industry. This helped me learn techniques to compose a broad spectrum of music, and to find the best possible sound for each context from a wider point of view.

The World of Octopath Traveler

Brandon Bui: How did you come to be involved with Octopath Traveler?
Yasunori Nishiki: This project was brought in by Imagine, which is the music production company I often collaborate with. When Imagine provided some resources with Square Enix, they found my portfolio interesting and decided to offer me the job.

Brandon Bui: One of the aspects of Octopath Traveler that has been universally praised is the soundtrack of the game, which both Jordan and myself have regarded as phenomenal. How has that reaction been for you as a composer, now that you’re being recognized on such a global level?
Yasunori Nishiki: One of the pillar concepts of Octopath Traveler was to update the old-school RPG. I felt that music had a significant role in bringing this concept to life. To be honest, I’m quite relieved to have received a lot of positive feedback. I really wanted to avoid disappointing the game fans, so I’m glad to know that the music is getting some good reviews.

Brandon Bui: I noticed that for each character, they’re represented by a different instrument. How did you decide on the instrument to represent each character?
Yasunori Nishiki: When I composed characters’ theme songs, I tried my best to reflect character details in the musical expression, including their personalities, upbringings, and the reasons why they traveled. For example, Alfyn is a masculine character but he is also kind-hearted. I chose the sound of the Alto Saxophone to express this duality in his character.

Jordan Aslett: What were unusual/uncommon instruments that you included in the orchestra for Octopath Traveler that were necessary to create the musical experience you wanted for the game?
Yasunori Nishiki: In Tressa’s theme song, I used the sound of a chromatic harmonica in order to express her character. Also, in one of the songs I composed for a boss, I tried to create a solemn atmosphere by using operatic vocal sound.

Brandon Bui: In an interview that you had with JeuxVideo, you mentioned that you were inspired by SaGa and Final Fantasy. In what ways did the games influence you and how did those influences get translated into the music for Octopath Traveler?
Yasunori Nishiki: The developers of the game are all from the same generation and they have equally been influenced by RPG games. I grew up playing RPG games and am heavily influenced by that, too. I can’t say exactly what aspects of the games influenced me, but what I can say is that the game experience is deeply ingrained in my senses.

For the Octopath Traveler project, I believe that the users expect to hear certain elements in battle songs, and some of those elements must be implemented in the music. I unknowingly acquired a sort of intuition to know exactly what sound is needed in those specific moments of the game, and that’s something I nurtured through my experience in playing RPG games. For this project especially, I found it very important to include those specific elements in music that could be called something like a “shared perception” among the game fans. I could say the same thing with the field songs and dungeon songs.

Brandon Bui: Given that Octopath Traveler’s graphical aesthetic is akin to a “retro HD” style, why did the soundtrack for Octopath Traveler go in the symphonic direction? Was that decision made by you, or was it a decision made with Takahashi-san?
Yasunori Nishiki: This idea was brought in by Takahashi-san and I agreed with him. This HD-2D style tried to update the retro 2D experience by using modern expression, so I tried to update the retro-style music by using orchestra sound, without letting the music lose the authentic old-school atmosphere.

Jordan Aslett: What was your hardest piece to compose, and why?
Yasunori Nishiki: I mentioned this earlier, but the battle songs seemed even more important than the main theme song in some ways. Also, I knew that the players had much expectations for the game’s music, so I did my very best to come up with the best compositions possible. I composed many different types of battle songs so the players can enjoy a variety of sounds.

Brandon Bui: In Octopath Traveler, we have eight heroes of very different backgrounds. Did you see yourself in any of them, and if so, how did this perspective help in creating their character theme?
Yasunori Nishiki: I don’t think I reflected myself in the heroes.

Jordan Aslett: Of each character’s theme, what’s your favorite one?
Yasunori Nishiki:
I like Ophelia. I think I was able to create music that expressed both her feminine softness and the sacredness.

Jordan Aslett: Did you find it challenging to transition music during scenes of conflict/tension into other pieces like the boss battle themes? What was your process for doing this?

Olberic

Yasunori Nishiki: The trial version that was released last year included stories of Olberic and Primrose. We needed to implement Battle Extend stage effects for this, so I first created music for two characters, with a presumption that the scenes would lead to Boss Battle I. It became clear that both of them functioned well in the trial version’s implementation, so I went ahead and created the Battle Extend for the rest of 6 characters based on that. Then I created other Boss songs that would seamlessly transition from those Battle Extends. This was the main process that I took.

I wanted to avoid losing appeal in Boss Battle songs as a result of focusing too much on the stage effect of Battle Extend, so I had to work cautiously in terms of that. I’ve also paid extra attention to creating character theme songs using different tone colors, in order to emphasize that the Battle Extend songs were composed exclusively for each characters.

Brandon Bui: And that’s all for today, thank you again for your time and dedication to the game!

This interview was translated by Rema Neufeld – thank you so much!