Xenoblade Chronicles 3 voice: exclusive interview to Sara Weeda

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Dutch singer Sara Weeda, involved as a vocalist in two songs composed by Yasunori Mitsuda in the latest Xenoblade series title launched on July 29th, gave us the opportunity to reply to many questions about her participation, career and experience with the game.
The interview is thus driven as a continuous dialogue directed by me, as the representative of the Italian community, and possesses a more friendly and casual tone than a normal press meeting between journalists and industry members. It was recorded in English and then transcribed, and also translated in Italian. Per la versione italiana, clicca qui.
Questions were written in collaboration with other international communities/creators: XenoMira, XenoBits (Youtube channel), Xeno Series Wiki, XenoChat Podcast and Watte. Good reading!

INTRODUCTION

Stefano: Hello Sara, thank you very much for being here and for your kindness!
Sara: Hi, thanks for the invite, it’s a pleasure.
Stefano: First of all, let’s start with introductions: what is your job, career, groups and how you joined ANÚNA.
Sara: I work for a music school, I do some office-work there, and also do some teaching, and apart from ANÚNA (*linked at the bottom) I also do some education work, so I give workshops, usually on weekends, to choirs about to sing with the ANÚNA technique.
Stefano: It’s a bit of a difficult thing, I suppose, with so many people involved…
Sara: It’s actually… that’s not that hard, no. I like working with groups actually, I’m more comfortable working with groups than individual lessons, for some reasons. That’s my thing.
Stefano: I see. In a group you can adjust to each one, with one’s strengths and one’s weaknesses. So maybe is that a thing?
Sara: I think that my strength, when I’m teaching…  Obviously I can help people with their own voice, but what I really like is to work on the group sound. So that’s why I enjoy those group workshops.
And as a singer, I obviously work as a singer and as a musician, so I have two bands, Seed and Crashing Bats (*linked at the bottom), and we also write the music ourselves, so that takes up a lot of my time.
Stefano: Before doing this interview, I’ve actually listened to every Seed track on Youtube, a really nice group!
Sara: And as a freelancer, people can hire me to sing their music, so sometimes I get another artist who asks me to sing a song or sing along to one of their albums, so I record stuff.
Stefano: And of course one of your main collaborations is with ANÚNA, that you’ve been a member of for many years.
Sara: Yes, I’ve been with ANÚNA for 10 years, actually!
Stefano: Oh, that means that if you’re 28 years old now, you were already a part of them at 18 years old!
Sara: Yes, I know, I was scared at the audition, I was very shy! (And now I’m only shy, not scared anymore…)
Anyway, one of my latest involvements with ANÚNA is as a singer for Xenoblade 3…
Stefano: And that’s the reason we’re doing this interview! You’ve performed in “A Step Away” and “Where We Belong”.
I have to say that I discovered you not when everyone else did, when Nintendo tweeted it last summer, but I noticed your participation back at the end of 2021…
Sara: Yes, you were like sure, a lot! 
Stefano: Yasunori Mitsuda posted a photo in his blog of a video call with Michael McGlynn, and he was together with a namely new singer, and my reaction was: “What is going on now…?”. Of course I didn’t know why but, as we say in Italy, I’ve done the “2+2” reasoning, and said: “If there is a new Xenoblade right now in development, and Mitsuda posted a photo with ANÚNA, I suppose that they are all coming back in that game.” And then, 6 months later, it turned out I was right!
Sara: (laughs)

Questa immagine ha l'attributo alt vuoto; il nome del file è sara-e1640003125141-1-1024x708.jpg
Directly from Mitsuda’s Mt. Fuji studio

Stefano: But you also discovered my article about that! Because I remember scrolling on my notification on Facebook, and got: “Sara Weeda loved your post”… WHAT THE…? So in that moment I exclaimed: “So I am right for a new game!”
Sara: AHAHA. But in reality that was not what I meant by liking the post, I was like: “This man is a Sherlock Holmes, he’s really trying to find connections here!”
Stefano: A diligent student, you could say!
Sara: I was hoping not to give anything away, but I liked the fact that you were keeping tabs.
Stefano: In the videogame world we create a lot of speculations, but you can’t be sure until the very end. Anyway, in that very same evening I said: “Well then, because of this situation, I’m definitely going to interview this girl…” so here we are!
Stefano: The first mandatory question is: are you a gamer? Which games do you like?
Sara: Yes, I am a gamer! But I got into gaming pretty late; most people started when they are like teenagers, but I was 20ish years old. Because before that it really wasn’t a priority to me, I was just making music, it was my entire life. And then at some point I thought that I needed a hobby, so I started with… maybe some gamers are going to hate me, but I really enjoyed RuneScape for a couple of years. That was my first game and also the only game that I’ve played on a really bad laptop, at lowest settings! It was terrible! And then I actually got into gaming during lockdown, because my friends are all gamers, and they had a Discord in which they invited me and said that I really had to try other games that they were playing, so we played together a couple of more games, like Sea of Thieves on PC. For solo gaming, I think that The Witcher 3 single handedly got me through lockdown, like I played it every day when I was locked inside my house.
Stefano: That game almost was a cultural phenomenon, it’s understandable that you loved it.
Sara: So yes, those were my favourite games,  and then we enjoyed some other multiplayer stuff, like 7 Days To Die… but I don’t really like zombies, so I was usually just building stuff and farming (laughs). So in the end, I enjoy playing together with other people.
Stefano: Well for me, on the other hand, I’ve always been a single player gamer, but when I discovered online communities and those things, when I was a teen, I changed my point of view. You know, I’ve been running the Xenoblade Italian community since 2011, so…
Sara: Woooo!
Stefano: So I was 16 years old, and now I’m 27… it has been a very large part of my whole life! But you know, back in the days the things were much different, the Internet was not as expanded as it is today, so it was the time of forums and chat rooms. The first time I worked with Nintendo of Italy I was 20 years old, and what can I say, it was like the beginning… the realisation of a dream, from a fan perspective to the contact with the people that had to publish and advertise games. And in this sense, what we are doing in this moment is the actual culmination of that path, since I’m talking to someone who worked on a Xeno, so One step closer to the divine… I’m a bit shaking! (laughs)
Sara: Oh no! (laughs) I’m just a person!
Stefano: This is an experience that I’ll have to tell!
So back to the topic, you were a gamer in lockdown. So, even the lockdown did something good.
Sara: Yeah. definitely. Among all those suffering times, there were like two good things, and one of them was gaming! (laughs)
Stefano: So this is it as a general gaming experience, but getting closer to the core, have you heard about Xenoblade before?
Sara: Oh yes, but that is a bit unfair, since I heard about it for the second one, of course, because ANÚNA was involved.
Stefano: The second chapter was the one that actually brought a lot of people together, it was the spark that made the series exit the niche and appeal to a wider audience, so it is just normal.  
Sara: So back then I didn’t play it, but I read some stuff about, and I found it very interesting. I didn’t know anything about that genre of gaming.
Stefano: and you know, it was anime stuff, I don’t know if you would like that (laughs) Or Japanese in general.
Sara: Well, yeah, but I didn’t know any of the gaming part
Stefano: there is a whole world that now you can discover then!
Stefano: So you’ve already said that you were part of ANÚNA in 2017, but were you actually involved in Xenoblade 2? Nintendo even filmed a video for the song “Shadow of the Lowlands”.
Sara: ANÚNA is quite a big group, but for projects we choose certain people among all. For Xenoblade 2 I was not on the recordings, sadly.
Stefano: Were you involved in the Xenogears concert in 2018 in Japan?
Sara: No, because I was part of the group which was touring in the Netherlands at the same time, so we contemporarily had two ANÚNAs, performing on opposite sides of the world. But I did sing the solo Shadow of the Lowlands on tour, because the game obviously was still a bit new. And there are two versions of that song, one sung by a man and another by a woman.
Stefano: Yes, the day and night version in game. Actually, Shadow of the Lowlands is the night version sung by a man, while the day version for a woman is called Ever Come to an End.
Sara: In the end it was a bit strange to sing that song, when the other part of the group was in Japan doing stuff with its actual composer… but it was nice! It’s a really good song!
Stefano: Also for me, it creates the right atmosphere of a place in a distant world, separated by the rest of the people, it gives you that exact feeling.
Anyway, how did you come in contact with Mr. Mitsuda?
Sara: My first contact with him was during the recordings actually, so we saw each other on a screen through Zoom. Of course before that I had already received the music and everything.
Stefano: When were you contacted for Xenoblade 3?
Sara: I don’t actually remember (smiles). It was in 2021, but quite some time before the recording, not a last minute thing, so I had the time to prepare mentally, and get properly nervous!
Stefano: You know, I would have thought even before that year, since in the game development sometimes the music is one of the first thing that gets planned with the composers.
Sara: It was not 5 years ago, if you want to ask me that! But I can’t be more precise than this, I feel guilty…
Stefano: Oh no, you’ve just given me more details than I would have expected, so thank you! (laughs)
Stefano: Were you aware from the start that it was for the game?
Sara: Yes.
Stefano: Ok.
Sara: (laughs). I knew it was A game, and that was all I knew for that time! I didn’t even know it was for Nintendo. And my reaction was: “Yes, I like games!”
Stefano: From Mitsuda tweets and posts we started to know about a new game around Spring 2021 for recordings with Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, and then in May for remote recordings with Bratislava Symphony Choir… in the comments for one of those photos appeared Michael! Was he foreshadowing?
Sara: This is a question you should actually ask them, but I think they were just for real saying that they would have loved to record something together in that place, they were not foreshadowing.
Stefano: So I can put a bit of a trivia here: when Mitsuda was composing Xenogears back in 1998, he also contacted a European choir and also a singer, and it was a bit unusual for that time. But he also said that he was a big fan of ANÚNA and their frontman, and that he always wanted to do something with them… his dream came true almost 20 years later!
Stefano: From an interview by Eabha Mcmahanon we discovered in September 2021 that ANÚNA were involved, at the beginning of lockdown in 2020, for a new song for a Playstation remake. Later it turned out it was Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (which came out in 2022, announced in the same Nintendo Direct of Xenoblade 3), with a new song in Gaelic from Michael’s daughter Aisling. Were you somehow involved? 
Sara: No, and I didn’t even know until it was released! Secrets are kept even within ANÚNA, like nobody there knew about me in Xenoblade either. We don’t even tell our colleagues what we do! (laughs)
Stefano: So that’s why Nintendo wants to work with you, you are their perfect partner! (laughs)

XENOBLADE 3 SONGS
Stefano: So In December 2021 you appeared for the first time in that photo for the remote recording. Was it decided from the start to record it in that way, or was it an obligatory choice from Covid outburst?
Sara: I don’t actually know the original plan, but for me it was always a remote recording in Ireland because of Covid. We even had a back-up studio in the Netherlands in case I couldn’t fly out, because I believe the week before the flight the regulations became strict again here so I was like… fingers crossed!
Stefano: For Xenoblade 2 the recording happened in Japan, because Mitsuda contacted McGlynn and he replied that, by chance, he already had a Japan tour scheduled for the beginning of 2017… you know, they even said it was a “lucky twist of fate”! Because fate… many have tried but no one have ever managed to escape its flow…
Stefano: Other songs are sung by Michael McGlynn’s daughters, was Mitsuda himself asking for the three of you, or did he simply want some singers and ANÚNA proposed you?
Sara: I can’t say for sure, you should actually ask him, but of course he already knew the ANÚNA sound, and every singer in ANÚNA has a very unique sound for themselves as well, and the three of us all have our solo works with them, so what I think happened is that he chose individual voices for each role.
For example Aisling, when she did the Chrono Cross thing, was asked because her voice matched what that song needed, and I think that for Xenoblade 3 those songs needed a different type of voice so that’s why I was asked.
Stefano: It’s nice, because with such a big group, it is now always automatic.
How was it working with foreign (for our perspective) people, with language difficulties, cultural differences and so on? Was it frustrating or maybe stimulating?
Sara: Stimulating, not frustrating. Because of course there was a lot of talk about how to portray certain emotions or things in the texts, and we had some different perspectives on it, for example I think that in our Western media and arts when we get more emotional, we tend to make bigger, but when we were talking about those songs, which were obvinously very emotional, we actually got to the point where we said: “No, if this character gets more emotional, they get more introspection, and I would actually have to sing softer.” And that’s something that I wouldn’t have thought of, from my cultural view and what I’m used to hearing and singing in our media, since if emotions grow I would normally sing louder. And in this case, I was actually pulling back. So that was very interesting, I’ve never looked at emotions in that way, it was very stimulating trying it out.
Stefano: This is the best answer we could get!
About that, how was the process of lyrics writings? Did he simply send you the English words and you had to sing? Were you shown the original Japanese? Do you have any other clues in general?
Sara: Yes, simply sent the lyrics. I was not involved in the creation of it or the songs themselves. I obviously read them a lot, and we discussed them, but I wasn’t there when they wrote them, so I had no influence. We talked about them in the studio because I knew what they mean, but not “what they mean” with their different nuances. 
Stefano: One of the best parts for me is that the original Japanese lyrics are written directly by Takahashi, so the man behind the story, the lore, the gameplay and so on is even capable of doing this. Which I think is not an easy task, not at all. Or at least, I’m not good at writing at all… for me it would be impossible (laughs)
Sara: Yeah, I do write songs but not… not on this level. This is the next level (laughs).

Stefano: Did you discuss the music and arrangements?
Sara: Yes besides the lyrics, we also discussed the melodies sometimes. Just as I was singing, questions popped up, so we talked about it.
Stefano: So just like a back and forth collaboration I would say.
Sara: It’s not like I said that I wanted some of the notes to be different, we didn’t change those or the lyrics, but it was just that sometimes I asked things like: “Could I take a small breath, even if it’s not written in the score? Cause it would help me sing the next line more relaxed, or so. In the end, I had some influences in the performance. The music was set, but anyway it didn’t need to be changed, it was perfect 👌🏻

Stefano: This is a thing I agree with, and in the way it was really intended: when Nintendo posted for the first time the lyrics without context and we read them, many thought that they weren’t that deep or impactful. But, after having experienced the songs in-game, they acquired a completely different meaning, so everyone said: “OK, they were just right on the spot!”
Sara: Yes, what I really like about them is that if you read them, they are so simple, there are not a lot of difficult words, but then when you see the setting and how complex the situation is, it’s just so beautiful how the meaning behind them appears.
Stefano: As you said before Japanese people are different from us, and in this case maybe the motto: “Less is more” perfectly applies.
Stefano: How much freedom were you given with regards to singing the lyrics given to you? Did you have to sing exactly what was written, or you could make some adjustments for music/wording?
Sara: No freedom. But I got to know what the character was and within that I got some freedom to sing my natural voice and not have to sound just like the character talked, so I could choose how to use my voice to convey the meaning of the lyrics. They gave me the freedom to “act”, my own way to portray what the character was experiencing.
Stefano: That’s very interesting, because you used the verb “to act”, since a singer also is an actor somehow.
Sara: Yes. I’m not singing about myself of course, I’m not in that situation, so I have to be like the “instrument” the character is singing through.
Stefano: Mitsuda said that he read the script of the game many times before composing, was it the same for you? Or he simply told the general settings for characters and plots?
Sara: I did not read the script, but I got enough information about the scene and the character to be able to do what I had to do.
Stefano: Were the lyrics actually fit for the situation that was described to you?
Sara: Yes they were, but it was actually a combination, I was given at the same time one package of information to work with.
Stefano: Mitsuda wrote that he found the recordings “dark and cool” (really using the English adjectives), and that it indeed was the real purpose. Can you confirm?
Sara: I have no idea what this is about, sorry. (laughs)
Stefano: I think that he was talking about the songs in general, since the story for the game was more mature and less light-hearted than the previous ones, so the music had to focus on this.
Sara: Well, if that was his purpose, then yes. “Dark and cool” it’s a pretty way of putting it.
Stefano: I know that in English it does sound a bit strange, like nothing special, but in Japanese using English words is a way of making things somehow “nicer” and “more fashioned”, maybe for the foreing touch. For example, in this but many other Japanese games, even the name of attacks and skills are in English anyway, so if you change the voice acting to Japanese you’ll hear the same shouts during a battle!
Sara: Ohhhh (laughs)
Stefano: He also wrote (even if he did not specify which one among the two) that this probably was “the most difficult vocal theme I have ever written” because of both lyrics and accompaniment. Did he say this even to you or he kept it to himself?
Sara: No, and I don’t know if he means that it was difficult for him to write, or to sing, he didn’t say anything to me. But I can imagine it was difficult, they are complex compositions actually.
Stefano: Were you allowed to listen to other tracks from the OST outside yours?
Sara: No, but I was privileged to be together in the studio with Aisling and Lauren when they recorded, so I heard their songs, and I was just going 💥 (laughs). Do you know which their songs are?
Stefano: Oh yes, the Ouroboros and Moebius themes, even if I don’t know the official names of the tracks because the OST isn’t out yet. And this just made me remember that in that famous first post, Mitsuda wrote he had recorded with two sisters, a choice fitting with the work theme… just imagine how much we could have actually discovered from the beginning!
Sara: So I heard them, and just listening to the instrumental I was like: “WHOOOO, WHAT” and then, when they sung… well, they are such a good singers, really, I was a big fan, I was happy to be there sitting on the couch listening to them, and it was like 🎉. I got very excited about hearing the rest of the soundtrack, but no, they didn’t show me anything else. 
Stefano: It’s also cool to discover all these details about the songs, when the game has such a variety of different tracks, not just the vocal emotional ones but also sad themes, or the bangers like track battles where everyone is pumped up with drums…
Sara: And don’t forget the Chain attack one! ✌🏻
Stefano: AHA, a very good song, but after the 20th time in a row you’ll listen to it, it gets a bit oversaturated for me… 
Sara: Same (laughs)
Stefano: Also because it doesn’t blend that much with the main tracks, so… sometimes it happens out of nowhere.

The fitting music to precisely calculate how to get more than 150 TP

Regarding that, since it probably wasn’t a Mitsuda track, did you know that he wasn’t the only one involved in the game and that a big group of composers worked together?
Sara: No, I’ve discovered just when eventually it was announced.
Stefano: So, not being allowed to other parts of the soundtrack, you didn’t know the theme about the flutes, in both music and story. But what was your reaction to the real life reproduction of the flutes posted by Nintendo?
Sara: I saw them, big fan! I was left with my mouth open! “They did what??” Really cool! I want one of those!
Stefano: Everyone does!
Sara: (whispering)  Nintendo give me one…
Stefano: you know, they used the golden decoration just to say that it is too expensive to be put on sale, so we can’t…
Sara: Yeah, fair enough… but I look forward to people making their own, where the cosplayers are? I’m waiting patiently to give them thumbs up, because that would be epic! (laughs)

Tetsuya Takahashi and Koh Kojima examining Noah and Mio’s flutes

THE GAME

Stefano: We mentioned before that you indeed are a gamer but you weren’t a Nintendo type…
Sara: I have to correct you, it’s not that I’m not a Nintendo type… I’m just really bad with controls! I had a Nintendo 64 and I loved MarIo Kart! I just sucked… I have a Nintendo DS Lite, so I could play the old Animal Crossing, but I’m just really bad at it (shaking her head) so it’s not that I don’t like Nintendo, it’s just Nintendo that doesn’t like me! I should have made a video about the first 5 hours trying to play with the Switch, all the wrong buttons, it was terrible! Joking of course…
Stefano: (Laughs). What was your reaction during the game launch? Were you surprised by the fanbase response on Twitter?
Sara: I was very nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t able to tell anyone, or show the songs to anyone, so it was the first time I could see the people’s reaction to anything related to the game, because before that day nobody knew about this… I could finally say (raising a hand) “Hey, it’s me! Mum, look!”
Stefano: (laughs)
Sara: So yeah, it was great, I was so excited, and also proud, even though I only had this very tiny fraction of involvement in the game. If you look at the entirety with how many people there were and how much they worked, I’m also really proud of them because: “Finally, your baby!”
Stefano: I also noticed this, since the Xenoblade community is now much bigger than the previous years and always open to anyone, so when I opened Twitter and saw all those cheering comments, I said: “Well, I remember when I was all alone buying the game, 10 years ago!”
Sara: Owww (cries). It felt like new year you know, when it’s finally midnight and fireworks go off.
Stefano: You can clearly say that your efforts mattered to someone, to many.
Stefano: So what did you do?
Sara: And in those sparks of joy… I bought a Switch just to play Xenoblade! And it’s still my one and only game!
Stefano: Even Harry McEntire, Noah’s voice actor, bought the game just to stream it on Twitch for the fans… and at first he was looking down on the controller to see the buttons!
Sara: Me too, as I already told… (laughs)
Stefano: How would you describe your experience with the game, as a normal fan? Did you like it, did it match your expectations? The first experience with a JRPG this big and complex could have been discouraging…
Sara: I actually preferred this I think, because I don’t know any other JRPGs and I couldn’t compare it to others, this was my first…
Stefano: So not even Pokémon?
Sara: No, sorry… Xenoblade is a massive world, but I loved that! It’s the reason I’ve put like 80-90 hours into it, so far. I’ve kept on sidequesting, and I wanted to see all the parts of the maps, and then found out that all the monsters were way too high-levelled and I died, so I went back… I was just running around on the map, visiting random people, asking how they were doing… and I loved it! I love how big it is!
Stefano: That’s just the typical reaction of anyone, because the first stages of the map are just a long corridor you have to follow, and as soon as the landscape opens up, you see such a big place, and you say: “Wait, so I can actually reach that point!”
Sara: And I also really liked the long cutscenes. I imagine that some people don’t, but I enjoyed that after so much gaming you could actually sit down… and cry for half an hour! And then you went back to playing! That’s why I love RPGs in general, for their lore, and backstories, getting to know people and places. The more story a game has, the more I like it.
Stefano: That’s the reason you adored The Witcher 3 then, the quality of writing in its quests, one of the best examples.
Sara: Yes. So my experience with the title: 👍🏻 I’m not very good at it, I’ve found the combat pretty complex, that I had to pause sometimes to look at the controller, being like: “Ok I have first to press this one, and then the other one, so finally this to do that… Got it!”
Stefano: And also the fact that you could put down the controller and let them fight on each own!
Sara: Yeah, I had to “cheat” sometimes, and look up on Google… What skills do I need to this build? I don’t know! What’s the best…
Stefano: And from a “developer” perspective, how did it feel when you heard the music? Was it on topic with the story and landscapes? Did it create the right atmosphere?
Sara: I don’t know from a developer perspective, just from a player perspective, it’s just, it’s perfect. Every time I walked into this new area and the music started playing I was just like standing there for a while smiling… Nice! And then started walking again. And especially those moments where Aisling and Lauren are heard, obviously because I know them and I like them, but the way the sing it, and the moments that their vocals appear were just 🤯
Stefano: Because their songs aren’t in the place you would actually expect, the first time they took me off guard. For your songs it was possible to see the moment coming, you could expect a tragic song, but for theirs was different, I was waiting for Moebiuses for a strong battle theme being fierce enemies, and then we got this… cool!
Sara: That beautiful soft, sad, young voice… I thought it was creepy! I got goosebumps, not just in an “emotional” way, but I got a little bit scared, since I expected something massive and then it’s just this delicate sound…
Stefano: Yes the contrast was the aspect that made it look unique, it was right in the place when you listened to it. 
Did you know the right moment your songs were actually coming, or were you caught by surprise?
Sara: Yes I knew, because Where We Belong is simply the ending theme, and for the other one, A Step Away, I was told the situation that the song would be in, but I didn’t know the exact time.
Stefano: A prison…
Sara: Yeah, but when I was playing the game, they were talking about this prison a bit before they got there, and then they got there, and did a lot of stuff, so I was like: “Ok, this is the place, so my song is coming any moment now, right?” And then I played for another 3 hours… I was still caught by surprised a little bit when it finally happened! I knew the story, but I didn’t see the entire cutscene, and that little part of gameplay before my song broke my heart into a billion pieces… I think it was 2:00 AM when I got to that point, and I was also just a crying mess. (Laughs) Sort of standing in front of my TV with the controllers 😭
Stefano: The scene in itself was definitely impactful, but when the music kicked in… it was just like the icing on the top of the cake to bring you to the floor!
Sara: I actually got a little bit upset cause of course I knew how my song sounded like but I didn’t know what the scene right before it was, so when it was happening I was like: “Noo…  You can’t place that song right here, after what I’ve just seen! NO! They’re going to… that’s too much!” And then of course the song played and I was like: “You cruel! My heart…” (laughs)
Stefano: Yes, when we read the lyrics for the first time we said that it was pretty obvious that Noah and Mio were in love with each other (and also the other ones for the Ouroboros stuff) but then, when you think about it, they probably are not just for Noah… also that counterpart we can say…
Sara: That’s a theory! I like it, but I cannot confirm or deny anything… (laughs)

About prisons, theories and broken hearts…

Stefano: OK! Then, were you shown the cutscene? Did you use that knowledge to adjust the performance?
Sara: Yes, but just some parts of it, not all. Some little glimpses for the atmosphere, like some visual stuff to help to get into the characters.
Stefano: So maybe you’ve even seen the under development version of the characters, not the final one.
Sara: (with a “mysterious tone” in her voice voice) Everything was a big surprise to me…
Stefano: How it was listening to yourself?
Sara: Normally, it’s very hard for singers to listen to themselves, but in that case, since the songs fit so well with the story, it didn’t feel like I was listening to myself, I was listening to “a character”. It actually made it better. And I was crying…
Stefano: So that’s the proof that the work was so good… usually when an artist looks to a work, they  always do it with a critic eye, trying to analyse to high and low quality aspects of it, but if you forgot about that and just let yourself enjoy that being wrapped by the moment it was just that good.
Are you excited for next year’s Expansion pass with the new story? Are ANÚNA going to be involved again?
Sara: As a player, yes! And as for ANÚNA, I don’t know! I’m super excited, but I don’t know about any ANÚNA involvement. Or maybe I do, but I can’t tell you! (singing)

Expansion Pass Volume 2. The new story is going to be in Volume 4

Stefano: But… have you beaten the game?
Sara: Yes, the ending also had me in tears!
Stefano: In Xenoblade 2 the prequel DLC came with new music, even with a new song from the same singer for the base game, Jennifer Bird. Have you ever listened to it?
Sara: Yeah I did.
Stefano: So we hope to hear about you again as well!
Sara: (derp gesture) AHEM
Stefano: Do you have any info about the OST commercialisation? We hope to have ANÚNA featured in its booklet, since for Xenoblade 2 and Xenogears concert ones there were many interviews.
Sara: It helps that I don’t actually have this info! I can’t even spoil that, because they just don’t tell me these things, so I don’t know.
Stefano: Because you know, Mitsuda wrote on Twitter that Xenoblade 2 was his most demanding work ever for its dimension with more than 100 tracks, and that he would have never, ever, done something that big in his whole life again. And then… we got Xenoblade 3 with 140 music pieces!
Sara: AHAHA!
Stefano: He also wrote that the soundtrack commercialisation wasn’t yet decided because it would have been very big, very difficult and so they weren’t that sure about doing it. And then just one month later they announced that they were going to publish it! I was like: “Don’t tell me that with the creatIon of the real life flutes you wouldn’t expect from the beginning an OST release!” (laughs)
By the way, have you seen the recording of Xenogears concert in 2018?
Sara: Yes, I’ve seen it.
Stefano: The best part was at the beginning with the first song. ANÚNA weren’t on stage, there were only Mitsuda with the orchestra, but then in the middle of the song, ANÚNA appeared at the centre of stage raised up from the floor with an elevator. It was very cool!
Sara: I’ve seen some videos of them trying to stand right on their legs (mimics the act of falling with open arms, and then laughs). And then there were also some parte when the floor also suddenly started turning… they really had to practise that! Because when you’re singing, you don’t really want to be moved, because you can’t control your voice in those moments. The circle on the floor didn’t move in a gentle way, it just went jerky! (even mimics the mechanical sound)
Stefano: These little bits of informatIon are the best stuff, because otherwise you would never know! Now, do you plan to play the previous Xenoblades too? You really have to understand how everything started! … and also Xenogears…
Sara: YES! Probably when I’m like 40 years old… but yeah, definitely. My boyfriend wants to do things in the correct way so he started playing the first one. I was a bit upset: “You didn’t start with my game?” (laughs) No, he said that he would make his way up, so… we’ll probably meet… and play the second one together!
Stefano: Also because when you’ve beaten the game you should have got the real reason why it’s called “Xenoblade 3” and not just with a new title, with some returning characters…
Sara: Oh yes, but I did spoil myself all the time! I love spoilers, I don’t care for spoilers warning… so I’ve already read many things and how some people already knew certain characters, Googled entire Wiki pages…
Stefano: Ah, I can say you that the Wiki guys love you!
Sara: Oh, Wiki loves me? I love the Wiki! I’ve read 90% of it! Cause I needed help…
Stefano: Nice nice! In other words, there is a recurring questuon: “What is the difference between a good game and a classic game?” The fact that when you’re done playing the classic you are still thinking about it, or searching for the lore, listening to the music… that sort of stuff.

The 6 nominees for Game of the Year

Stefano: And let’s not forget that the game was just announced as a contender for Game of the year award! But not just that, even in the Best RPG category and, moreover, the music category. In the general opinion the last one is the most possible prize it could get, and in the end you would have had a primary part in it. How do you feel about the TGA nominations?
Sara: I’m glad that the game and everyone who’s worked on it, and also the community who is so active on social media, is getting recognition for their work by these nominations. Seeing it up there with some other massively popular titles is high praise that the game definitely deserves!
(but sadly the interview was recorded before the event, thus we didn’t know the results of voting yet…)
Stefano: Just add whatever you want, and leave a message to our readers, but especially to your fans!
Sara: I haven’t anything profound to say, I just want to say that I started looking a lot more at Twitter (I used to hate it) when the game launched, because I wanted to read everything. And I really loved reading people’s posts, not just about songs or anything, I just loved it all. I look at Xenoblade memes (laughs)
Stefano: Oh yes, you follow “Xenoblade Portugal”! (laughs)
Sara: And also there is one “Make up a Xenoblade player”! Great! When it came out that the cooking with Manana didn’t work I really laughed out loud!
Stefano: How many bugs in the game…
Sara: That was hysterical! (laughs) I think it is just a great community! I didn’t know there was one beforehand, and now I really enjoy just browsing through what they all say. I think it is a nice little world that they have. And, there are some pretty young people who have recorded covers of A Step Away and Where We Belong and I’ve watched all of them, and I gave likes and everything, commented on some. I got a little bit emotional seeing so many different interpretations, so…
Stefano: You really know that your work mattered to someone, that’s the best feeling.
Sara: Yeah, I remember that there was one girl that once said to me: “Oh, this song is actually very difficult for me, but I tried recording it in one take…” She was very insecure about that. But I was like: “No, you’re doing a good job!”🥲. So yeah, I just think that this community is not just people playing the game and maybe discussing technical stuff, but I really like how they’re inside this little bubble. One day they said like: “Let’s only make jokes about Manana!” in that one thread! I really like how they’re like, and sometimes I sneak in…
Stefano: That’s the reason why we’re doing this interview tonight, because if you weren’t that involved with us it would have been impossible. I remember that when I first messaged you I wasn’t expecting too much, because you know, in the world of NDAs, contracts, Nintendo… I was thinking that I would have been shut down, but wanted to try nonetheless. And it went way better than I could ever have imagined! So thank you again!
Sara: Oh, I’ve enjoyed this dialogue! I got some questions through messages (for example about the meaning of the lyrics), and they were all very respectful, everyone was being very kind. And you was also very nice, almost too respectful that first time, I’m just a person, not a “a queen” (laughs)
Stefano: You know, I was a bit worried about the reaction! Now we’re done with this long chat, thanks also from all the people involved in this project! I also hope that everyone reading this text is satisfied with it, maybe not complaining with “You could have asked her this, asked that…”
Sara: Oh, they’re welcome to write to me if they want! Good luck for everything!
Stefano: Thank you again for the time you gave us, congratulations for what you’ve created!

This markes the end of my interview. A huge thanks to Sara to let us ask so many questions and for being such a kind and passionate friend that behaved so nice, and also thanks to all the other communities involved in the project.
But, thank you for reading too!

Credits for the music groups:
ANÚNA links: Website, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Spotify
Crashing Bats links: Facebook, Youtube, Spotify, Instagram
SeeD Pagan Folk links: Website, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Spotify

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