Yasunori Mitsuda is widely recognized among contributors to the music of RPG game titles. While a composer at Square, his music was a memorable part of such role-playing games as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and Chrono Cross. Since then, Mitsuda has created his own sound design studio and music publishing company. Through his extensive knowledge of creating excellent audio quality on electronic instruments, the technical advice of Procyon Studio has become a sought after resource among developers of Nintendo DS titles. While the portable version of the composer's Super Nintendo title Chrono Trigger will be headed to the Nintendo DS in English-language regions this winter, many of Mitsuda's projects in recent years have not seen their way outside Japan. In this exclusive interview with RPGFan, the musician updates listeners of his music on his currently Japan-exclusive RPG Soma Bringer, while also sharing his thoughts on the subject of being an internationally recognized videogame composer, as demonstrated by the orchestral concert taking place in Australia titled "Destiny Dreamer's Alliance."
RPGFan: Mitsuda-san, thank you for taking the time to join us for this discusssion on the subject of your music. Destiny Dreamer's Alliance was in several respects a collaboration. The concert involved the works of two videogame musicians, and it was also a partnership of game music and orchestra. Furthermore, the international scope of the event brought together Japanese and Australian musicians. What can you tell us about the process of organizing such an ambitious international music concert?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Hitoshi Sakimoto and I had been talking for some time about the idea of organizing a concert together, but seeing as we are both so strapped for time, many years went by before the opportunity finally presented itself. On the occasion of meeting Hiroaki Yura of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra, he shared this dream of holding such a concert together. We knew this was a chance that would not present itself again anytime soon, so despite all of us having hectic schedules, we dove right in. (laugh) Really, it was because of our staff members' support that the concert was a success.
RPGFan: Hiroaki Yura serves as the concertmaster of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra and his violin performances feature in a central role in many orchestral songs. Seeing as you have been involved in arranging live game music from your own compositions as early as the Creid album, did you have the chance to discuss with Mr. Yura the particular approach taken in this symphonic concert?
Yasunori Mitsuda: As I mentioned, the act of scheduling the concert was somewhat spontaneous, so there was little time for providing instructions in fine detail. Luckily, he's a longtime listener, both of my music and Sakimoto-san's, which enabled him to skillfully capture the character of these songs. Naturally, I would have preferred more time to work out all the details, but considering the limitations on time, the concert turned out very well.
RPGFan: Two of the songs featured in the Destiny Dreamer's Alliance concert are from the album kiRite. We are reminded of a diary entry that was posted online expressing your thoughts on this music project. You have written that this was your favorite album. Has revisiting kiRite for this live concert had a perceivable impact on your more recent works?
Yasunori Mitsuda: I would say so. KiRite marked a personal turning point for me and was extremely influential to my activities as a composer. I had to balance the two different roles of being a manager and being a composer in an effort to produce exceptional products for the world to enjoy. KiRite made me revisit the fundamentals and once again consider the kind of message I wanted to convey to listeners.
RPGFan: What can you tell us about your collaboration with Hitoshi Sakimoto for this concert?
Yasunori Mitsuda: As I may have mentioned, it was a very hectic process and largely a matter of good timing.
RPGFan: News of your having suffered physical illness during the process of composing your earliest videogame music scores Chrono Trigger and Front Mission: Gun Hazard have caused concern among listeners of your music. Since that time, have you found strategies that enable you to work without subjecting yourself to conditions that compromise your health?
Yasunori Mitsuda: During my twenties, my daily existence involved dedicating myself to my occupation to such an extent that my health deteriorated as a consequence. By the way, this should not be viewed as an expression of my love of music, because honestly I was making up for a lack of skill. In any case, I clearly was not allowing myself enough time between work to allow my body to recover. As a result, by the end of each project I invariably was rushed to the hospital. (laugh) Having suffered through those experiences, I now place a higher priority on maintaining good health. I manage not to overdo it. In particular, I take care of what I eat, and though I once was a heavy smoker, I've since given up the habit.
RPGFan: Forgive us for asking, but will we be seeing a release for the long-awaited Chrono Cross Arrange album?
Yasunori Mitsuda: I know it should be out by now. When so many guitar arrangement videos appeared on YouTube, I thought the demand had been satisfied already, by the fans... I'm probably not going to get away with that, huh? Well, I can say at this point that I am still considering what would be the best course of action. (laugh)
RPGFan: For the development of Soma Bringer, you have teamed up with longtime collaborator Tetsuya Takahashi. This time it appears that you have both departed from the tragic nature of the Xenosaga series. What new directions did you decide to set out on for this project?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Takahashi-san decided to create an in-depth introduction to RPGs on the Nintendo DS. It sounded to me like an exciting experiment that brought to mind the experience of creating Chrono Trigger. I liked the idea of people saying that the first role-playing game they had ever played was Soma Bringer. It would require creating a variety of content that was easy to grasp, while gameplay allowed up to three players to connect wirelessly. Because Takahashi-san and I respect each other's opinions, it was a very pleasant working experience.
RPGFan: Did choosing to work on the gameplay first and only then develop the storyline have a noticeable impact on the development of the videogame score?
Yasunori Mitsuda: The score was created with its two main objectives being to provide a fun atmosphere and lend energy to the battle sequences. While playing the game, I really wanted there to be the feeling of sprinting at a fast pace across the fields, and I composed with the idea of capturing that heightened emotion in mind. It was a significant departure from more heavily story-oriented titles. Generally, while developing RPGs, the composer must wait until each scenario is completed before working on the music. The advantage this time, in terms of my own contribution, is that since most of the songs correspond to a geographical territory, the music could be developed from an early stage.
Because the first thing we did with Soma Bringer was to design the gameplay features and the the locations where the battles take place, and only then write a narrative that fit within that context, the music coalesced early on. It actually turned out to be easy to create story events within that framework. On the other hand, this approach makes it difficult to delineate multiple branching paths and expand the world very broadly. Those, I would say, are the disadvantages.
RPGFan: Does the shorter development cycle of DS games prove challenging when it requires the completion of an epic soundtrack covering three discs of music?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Truth be told, it took two years to develop. That said, we spent about a year studying the Nintendo DS hardware, so I guess it was a little less than a year spent on composition in total. Now that I think about it, that's not a lot of time! I think the part I struggled with the most, far more than composing songs themselves, was discovering how to make pleasant sounds with the DS. It required using fewer instruments, rearranging tracks to fit the hardware, many times I had to start songs all over again. While there are three CDs in the original soundtrack album, if you include the test tracks I would say I wrote just shy of one hundred songs.
RPGFan: We have read that there are different mixes of Soma Bringer's soundtrack depending on whether the player selects the speakers or headphones as an output. In technical terms, why was it necessary to create two unique settings for the game score and what engineering techniques were employed in making the music right for each setting?
Yasunori Mitsuda: The Nintendo DS Speakers are capable of playing sounds between the range of 300Hz to 8KHz, but the headphones are capable of a range of about 80Hz to 16Khz. As you can tell from just looking at the numbers, it is impossible to maintain the same quality with both outputs. I found that I needed to think about this carefully while composing in order to write music that is in synch, not just with the bass on the DS speakers or the bass on the headphones, but both varieties. However, this would have been impossible to implement on most schedules, so it was really a good thing having twice the normal time for the project.
RPGFan: Did the experience of working on Deep Labyrinth offer you any insights into creating music for the Nintendo DS?
Yasunori Mitsuda: I used a totally different method of playback for Deep Labyrinth, so it was honestly like starting from scratch. After conducting many experiments, I think the sound quality on Soma Bringer turned out to be unique among DS games.
RPGFan: What can you tell us about Procyon Studios and Sleigh Bells? How have the goals of the company and staff developed over time?
Yasunori Mitsuda: The way that these companies are different from most record labels in general is that we are not as concerned with sales. Of course we want to recover our expenses, but beyond that... (laugh). Initially other companies will think about how to raise proceeds, while first and foremost we listen to requests from fans, and that is what we aim to create. We feel this is the approach worth following.
RPGFan: Procyon is involved in the upcoming release of the Korg DS-10 software, a product that allows players to create their own electronic music. Did you offer advice in the development of this unique software for the Nintendo DS?
Yasunori Mitsuda: We are often asked for advice when it comes to synthesizers and music software. Making music on the DS is something our company has practical knowledge about, so the developers sought out our knowhow. I think it is a fascinating product, and a great way to learn to comprehend the construction of electronic music. I hope that it will be enjoyed.
This interview would not have been possible without the support of production manager Yoshie Miyajima. Photographs are courtesy of Procyon Studio.