For the release of Granblue Fantasy‘s 8th soundtrack “Awakening”, GBF composer Narita Tsutomu graciously answered our questions about his gaming habits, his musical influences, and some of the stories behind each track on the soundtrack.
Check out his tales of dragons, remixes, and old-school RPGs!
On Granblue Fantasy
Granblue_en: How are you doing these days? Has the pandemic forcing people to work at home affected your workflow or GBF time?
Narita: I’m doing well! It’s unfortunate that there are fewer opportunities to see skyfarers and live audiences these days, but otherwise, since I already did a lot of my work from home as it was, there hasn’t been that much of a change for me. On many days, my only chance to speak out loud is when I talk to my crewmates over Discord, and that isn’t any different than before.
Granblue_en: What kind of music have you been listening to recently?
Narita: Recently, I’ve been so busy composing that I haven’t really been listening to anything…! However, I’ve always listened to a lot of classical music and hard rock, as well as soundtracks for anime, games, and movies.
Granblue_en: Awakening is the 8th Granblue Fantasy soundtrack release – when you started working with Cygames for Granblue Fantasy, did you think that you would still be working with the game through 2020 and beyond?
Narita: No, not at all…! Before I started working on Granblue Fantasy, normally I would be finished after completing a single track, so when the second year rolled around, I thought, “Wait, what?” I am truly grateful to have been able to continue working on this game for so long.
Track 1: サアーダタアロ・タアロマスィール
(“Saeada, we sing / Massir, we sing”)
Granblue_en: This is the first song in GBF to invoke the emotion and energy of stage musicals, and especially Bollywood romances. Did you watch any movies or musicals for inspiration before writing this track?
Narita: Mr. Fukuhara sent some references for me to listen to. I also worked on musicals multiple times over 10 years ago, so I feel like I took a lot of inspiration from that time as well.
Track 2: Pushing the Limits: Platinum Sky 2
Granblue_en: What were Fukuhara’s requests for this new version of Platinum Sky?
Narita: They gave me the themes of the event, and told me that they wanted to bring out the majestic nature of it via an orchestral version.
Granblue_en: What’s your process when you’re asked to update and remix a previous track?
Narita: Updating, remixing, or doing a new arrangement of an existing track is a common method used for soundtracks, so it really doesn’t feel any different from my usual composing and arrangement processes. When I’m composing original tracks, I usually first put together a sketch on the piano and so on, then arrange it after. There have been many cases where I used the sketch and ended up taking the track in a different direction.
Granblue_en: When you compose GBF tracks now, are you already thinking about possible Stella Magna arrangements?
Narita: The highest priorities during composition are Mr. Fukuhara’s requests and my own concept of the track. But after that, I definitely think about how I would arrange it for the band.
Granblue_en: When you listen to the older tracks in Granblue Fantasy, are there any particular tracks that you would love to revisit and update?
Narita: There are too many to count! I always put my all into what I write, of course, but I’ve grown so much as a composer since then—I feel like my perspective and methods have changed from when I first wrote the songs. I think I’ll never stop feeling this way about my past works. On the other hand, there are some works I listen to and think, “I did pretty well here.” They all serve to build up and inspire me for the next piece, so I do go back and re-listen to my previous tracks quite often.
Track 3: Oarlyegrande
Granblue_en: Your dedication to playing GBF is famous in skyfarer circles. When new story content comes out, do you rush to finish it immediately? Or do you take your time and enjoy the whole experience before returning to the grind?
Narita: I dive straight in. (lol)
Track 4: Armageddon
Granblue_en: In a previous interview with Fukuhara, he told us that Emi Evans was your recommendation for this track. What led you to bring her in for this song?
Narita: I met her through Mr. Uematsu. Emi has provided vocals for his band, the Earthbound Papas, before. She used a made-up language for the lyrics of that track—I remembered that, and thought her made-up language would fit well with this song too. That made me really want her to be a part of this song.
Granblue_en: As a sequel to Uematsu’s “Higher Yet do the Astrals Dwell” theme for the Grand Order battle, did you approach this song differently from other tracks that you worked on personally?
Narita: I’ve worked on arrangements for so many of Mr. Uematsu’s projects that I just went back to my old habits when working on this. He used to tell me, “Narita, make this one sound good!” (lol)
Tracks 5 and 6: Small Fish in a Small Pond and Illuminated World
Granblue_en: How much information are you usually given in a request for a track? For example, details of the event it will occur in, or more abstract descriptions of the feel?
Narita: Most of the music tracks are composed in parallel to the event’s development, so I often work off of half-finished illustrations and comments from Mr. Fukuhara. When there is a need for the song to line up with the imagery, they’ll provide me with storyboards.
Track 7: Lindwurm
Granblue_en: Fukuhara tweeted that this track is a shoutout to the PlayStation era of Japanese RPGs. What were your favorites of this era? Did you refer to their soundtracks to write the Six-Dragon Advent songs?
Narita: That would be Final Fantasy, of course.
Granblue_en: Did you become a gamer during this era, or later?
Narita: I really got into gaming during the Super Famicom (SNES) era. I was a grade schooler back then, and that’s when I really devoted myself wholly to games.
Track 8: Dragon’s Circle -Fire and Wind-
Granblue_en: Fukuhara noted that this track was meant to evoke the Super Nintendo era of Japanese RPGs. What were your favorite games of that era?
Narita: There are just so many titles I love from that era that I simply cannot say which one is my favorite! (lol) Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Romancing SaGa, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger… I was truly a Square Enix kid.
Granblue_en: What was it like forcibly restricting yourself to a smaller number of sound channels to replicate the limited sound chips of old cartridges? Did you have to rethink any part of your composition process? Did any of your work with Uematsu influence the piece?
Narita: MIDI audio is limited to 16 tracks, so that was the limit I set for this piece. I did use a newer model of synthesizer to create the sounds, but I made sure to keep it to a single synthesizer. The composition process was the same as all my other works, but doing all the delays by hand, without using an effects unit, was absolutely a technique I learned from Mr. Uematsu.
Granblue_en: Speaking of Uematsu, do you still keep in contact with him? Is there a chance that we will see him at any future Granblue Fantasy performances, like a second orchestral performance or a guest stint as keyboardist of Stella Magna?
Narita: Our last personal correspondence involved something like “Can you recommend any good iPad holders?” Since then, we haven’t really had the chance to chat recently. We do still work together, however. If there was a chance to perform together on stage that wouldn’t put any strain on Mr. Uematsu, I would love to do so! Actually, first I’d like us to go for a drink together. (Granted, I don’t drink alcohol, but…)
Track 9: Dragon’s Circle -Water and Earth-
Granblue_en: According to Fukuhara’s tweets, this was meant to be a psychedelic theme – what inspirations did you draw on for these dragon songs?
Narita: I believe that the influence of the techno and electronica that I listened to when I was younger comes to the forefront in this piece. In addition, since I had to compose the previous two songs under some limitations, I really felt how free it was to be able to create without any specific form to conform to. This piece has over 6 times as many tracks as the previous songs.
Track 10: Dragon’s Circle -Light and Dark-
Granblue_en: What were your instructions for this track? Was it meant to be an homage to another era of RPGs?
Narita: Mr. Fukuhara’s request was to give it a “face-melting rock sound”. There wasn’t any particular homage to be made, but I did lean into giving it a progressive metal sound. In the end, the approach was fairly straightforward.
Track 11: Children of Utopia
Granblue_en: Between aggressive tracks like battle songs and peaceful ones, do you find one particularly easier, or prefer one over the other?
Narita: When it comes to RPG music, battle themes seem to be able to grab attention more easily, but I feel that quiet themes and slower themes are far easier to compose, so I prefer them.
Granblue_en: Due to Granblue Fantasy’s nature as a browser game, the tracks are cut into multiple smaller tracks that loop. When you compose, do you keep these smaller segments in mind, or does that take care of itself?
Narita: I tend to arrange my tracks into 30-60 second groups. When a track calls for a very short bridge or something similarly difficult, though, I silently apologize to whoever has to cut it for the game.
Track 12: Existence -New King MIX-
Granblue_en: Unlike most of the soundtrack, this song appeared first in Granblue Fantasy Versus before going to the mobile version. Could you talk about how you came to the changes? What do you think makes the music of GBVS retain the Granblue feeling while being distinct on its own?
Narita: I personally wanted to do some of the “updating” I mentioned earlier with this track—to remix it so it fits better with the themes and style of the RPG version of Granblue Fantasy. When they said that they wanted to use it in GBF, I asked if I could do that.
Track 13: 創呪擦罪 骨肉相噛 (Grudge of the Scapedog)
Granblue_en: If you had free rein and could write a character song for any character in GBF, who would it be, and why?
Narita: Since character singles are already taken care of by picnic, I hope to get a chance to shine a spotlight on something other than characters. Songs like “Lyria” and “Sky Journey” represent large parts of the story, so I’d like to try writing something that represents smaller pieces of the story, or perhaps the Rhem Kingdom and individual islands from the story—songs that would help give a better idea of the world.
Granblue_en: What genre would it be?
Narita: It would depend on the track, but based on the material I want to work with, I think it would end up being a slower theme.
Track 14: モニカモナ CAR のうた (Monika’s Monacar Song)
Granblue_en: Do you approach the comedic tracks of GBF differently from the serious tracks?
Narita: To be honest, I’ve always had a hard time writing comedic themes… which is why, while my approach itself was nothing out of the ordinary, I agonized over this one so much longer than usual.
Granblue_en: The visuals for the song borrow heavily from morning children’s cartoons – do you have any particular favorites that you used as inspiration? Did you actually have the Monacar Charge Attack visuals available when you wrote the song?
Narita: I was provided with the storyboards for the charge attack animations. Also, when I was a child, I actually watched a lot of those kinds of shows! I think I was what you’d call a TV kid.
Granblue_en: Do any of the other members of Stella Magna play Granblue? Are they aware of how intensely you play?
Narita: Several of the others play as well. And everyone knows about my playstyle! When we’re doing rehearsals or recording, I’m playing on my iPhone, and when it’s time to farm meat during Unite and Fight, I take time off.
Granblue_en: Could you talk a bit about how you were introduced to the various vocalists?
Narita: Fubito Endo and CHiCO were members of the Earthbound Papas, while I met Haruka Shimotsuki through playing with her at live concerts. I met Taro Kobayashi and nana hatori at a birthday party for a long-time member of the GBF sound team. After that, when I was looking for a vocalist for Order of the New World, nana introduced me to STEVIE.
Granblue_en: We’ve noticed a Vyrn cushion is always on the set where Stella Magna performs. Is there any particular significance to it, like a good luck charm?
Narita: When we perform at Granblue Fantasy Fes and other Granblue Fantasy events, he’s always there. He’s the guardian of our instruments.
Granblue_en: Do you have any parting comments for overseas fans of Granblue Fantasy and its music?
Narita: Thank you for playing this game, and on top of that, listening to the music. It’s been a long journey since we launched the game, and we’ve made it this far thanks to all of you. As a player myself, it’s possible that I’ve bumped into a lot of you who’re reading this interview right now in-game, and I hope and dream that we can meet each other at an event someday. I’m going to keep working hard at composing more music that you can all enjoy, so I hope you’ll look forward to it!