Casting you into an imaginary land where people’s happy and positive memories mix with their restless worries and negativity, Balan Wonderworld promises to be “a wondrous action-platformer” from Square Enix’s new development troupe Balan Company.
With thanks to Square Enix for the opportunity, we have had the chance to ask the game’s producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto, character designer Naoto Ohshima and composer Ryo Yamazaki questions to learn more about their creative processes, their favourite worlds and what secrets exploring the magical Wonderworld may hide.
With the game now available worldwide, we hope that you enjoy learning more about Balan Wonderworld from their answers as much as we have:
Balan is a uniquely designed and playful character. Were there any inspirations that went into his design?
Naoto Ohshima: Balan is an enigmatic maestro who appears in a theatre that can only be seen by people facing inner turmoil, so I started with the concepts of a costume reminiscent of a troupe-leader and a big grin peering out from under a heavy-brimmed hat, to capture the sense of mystery.
Why did the team choose Balan Theatre as the place that transports players into the imaginary land of Wonderworld?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: We were inspired by the worldview and aesthetic of musical theatre. The concept is that by opening the door to the Balan Theatre, the theatre belonging to the eponymous enigmatic maestro, you’ll be drawn into the story and world of each cast member.
There are two protagonists in the game – Leo Craig and Emma Cole – are there any differences to the experience based on which the player chooses?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: Balan Wonderworld features the stories of the protagonists, Leo and Emma, and their innermost worries, alongside the stories of the starring cast members of the twelve chapters. While Leo and Emma’s stories differ, there are no differences in the stories of the cast featured in the twelve chapters. Aside from the main character’s story, the experience is the same regardless of the protagonist chosen.
Each Chapter will transport players to a different world. Which location(s) are your favourites?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: I like the world of Chapter Four: The Boy Who Would be One with the Wind. I enjoy the actions that allow you to float through the sky, and I like the mysterious atmosphere and aesthetic of whales swimming in the sky.
Ryo Yamazaki: I like the snowscape in Chapter Eight: The Lady Too Scared to Love. When I first started working on the music for this stage, I thought it would have quite a dark atmosphere, sealed away in ice and deep, falling snow. However, when I actually played it myself, the impression I got was more exhilarating and active, like winter sports, so I reworked the music from scratch.
At which stage of the process did you start to compose the music for the game, and how much direction were you given by the team?
Ryo Yamazaki: I joined the team when it was decided that we would be creating an internal pre-production version. Initially, the keywords were fairly broad, like “mysterious musical” and “a world like the Cirque de Soleil”. I worked with these keywords as a starting point for the demo reel. The team really liked the first demo I produced, and I was given relatively free reign following that.
Each world is born from someone’s heart and emotions. Was it challenging to come up with different musical moods and soundscapes based on these?
Ryo Yamazaki: It was both challenging and fun to try and portray a different world and atmosphere for each stage. When composing the themes for each stage, I incorporated key motifs that I picked out from background and character art by the designers as inspiration. If anything, the part that took time was making sure I had a good understanding of the overall flow of the game and the underlying message of the story myself.
There are more than 80 costumes in the game. How challenging was it for the team to make sure that they each felt unique from each other?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: While it was interesting and enjoyable to design costumes with appearances that seem to intuitively match the action, it was also quite difficult. Additionally, if we made one costume action particularly good when we were adding unique characteristics to the over 80 different actions, the player would just keep using that one same costume. It was challenging to balance and think of the pros and cons for every action.
If you could use one costume in the real-world, which would it be and why?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: Probably the Invisible Man, a costume that allows you to turn invisible for just five seconds. There are characters that can turn invisible in the world of films, anime and manga, and it’s one of the powers that I think would be cool. The additional rule that it can only be used for five seconds at a time adds an interesting angle and makes it fun to just imagine and think how you could use it. Ah, but I definitely wouldn’t use it for anything bad [laughs].
Are there any special costumes that require players to complete challenges or gather collectibles in order to unlock them?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: Yes, there are. Just to give one example, once the player completes all twelve chapters, an extra act (stage) will be unlocked for each chapter. These are quite challenging, and if you can clear them, there are some wonderful costume actions waiting to be discovered.
The game’s demo was met with a mixed response. Has the team been able to address any of the feedback they received as Balan Wonderworld approaches launch?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: We received a lot of feedback from people who played the demo. Although we were working with limited time, we selected several things that we thought should be improved and will be updating these in a day one patch.
The controls have been improved by slightly increasing the player character’s movement speed and acceleration, the camera has been improved, and the stages and bosses in the later chapters have been rebalanced to a higher difficulty.
Balan Wonderworld is now available at retail and on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch worldwide.