Interview with Yuki Sugiura, Composer
conducted by Patrick Gann and translated by Chris Winkler.
Intentionally androgynous presentation, goth-influenced J-rock, and stunning synthesized game music. These are the three things we've noticed about up-and-coming game music composer Yuki Sugiura.
Yuki Sugiura has recently written music for a host of titles from Japanese company Idea Factory. RPGs such as Spectral Force Legacy and Spectral Gene, as well as graphic adventures including Death Connection and L2 Love × Loop make up his current repertoire.
Mr. Sugiura is also the founding member of the band "Heinrich von Ofterdingen." Alongside female vocalist miqui, the band performs their own music alongside doing theme songs for all of the aforementioned games. They have only begun to gain ground, though we expect that as performers for game music, their work will continue to gain traction in Japan and abroad.
In the following interview, we ask Sugiura about the origins of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, how he got started on game music, and more!
RPGFan: Mr. Sugiura, we have many questions for you, but first, what is the meaning and inspiration for your band's name, "Heinrich von Ofterdingen"?
Yuki Sugiura: Among the works of German author Novalis (editor's note: representative of the early German Romantic school; 1772-1801), there is a novel titled "Heinrich von Ofterdingen." This work is incomplete. It tells the story of a traveling young man. The fact that it's incomplete made me feel a strong sense of drama and based on the image of continuing an unfinished journey, I made this the name of my band, upon consulting with fellow band member and vocalist miqui.
Also, there is a trend among Japanese bands to revel in short band names. As an antithesis of this trend, we dared to go with a long band name.
RPGFan: How did you get started in game music? Did you do any work before working with Idea Factory, or did you get started thanks to Idea Factory?
YS: The impetus was that I was in charge of the main theme for Spectral Souls 2. Compile Heart executive Sato-san (editor's note: Yoshiteru Sato, co-founder and executive of Idea Factory as well as president of Compile Heart) was kind enough to listen to a demo of mine. It all started when on that occasion I received the request [to work on the soundtrack], with him telling me that "I'd really like you to create the soundtrack." That was how I ended up being responsible for Spectral Gene's OST.
RPGFan: There are not many people who do composition and performance in a rock band for game music. Usually, a person does one or the other, but not both. What is it like to do both, band music and music created with the synthesizer?
YS: I think of myself as a member of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen." I create a lot of game OSTs, but my field of activity is not limited to [game music]. I'm seeking a broader field of activity. You could say that the game OSTs are one way to get more people to hear the music of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen." Hence, I put my best effort into creating both game OSTs and original works.
RPGFan: The Death Connection soundtrack is your latest work. How do you feel it compares to previous works, particularly other graphic adventures on the Otomate label (such as L2)?
YS: L2 Love × Loop evoked an image of ruins and a gothic taste, like Tim Burton's works. Moreover, I'm a big fan of Japanese composer Koichi Sugiyama (editor's note: the composer of Square Enix's Dragon Quest series) and at some point wanted to challenge myself to create a grand orchetral theme not unlike the OSTs of anime movies such as Ideon Hatsudou-hen (editor's note: 1982 movie sequel to the Space Runaway Ideon anime series) or Cantata Orbis. L2 Love × Loop presented me with the chance to challenge myself to create such a grand theme.
On the other hand, Death Connection has a hard rock image to it, in contrast to L2. The composition offer list was filled with rock tracks. In fact, I used sound sources from the 1950s and brought in an atmosphere of a past era, because the time setting was a story of the past. More than half of all songs were recordings of live guitar and vocal performances. That's because it was a work that demanded human nuances.
As for the ending theme, I aimed for an ending featuring a level of exhilaration similar to that of Aerosmith or the Cranberries. I also referred to a mixture of songs used in plays by hide (editor's note: Hideki Matsumoto of X Japan), Zilch, and Slipknot, all of whom I like a lot. I began creating Death Connection in the summer of 2009. I remember being very busy back then, because I was simultaneously scoring Spectral Froce Legacy.
RPGFan: We have reviewed much of your music here on RPGFan. If someone who had never heard your work before were to ask you to describe the style of your music, how would you respond?
YS: Thank you. I'm grateful to everybody at RPGFan.com beginning with Patrick and Chris. When composing game music, I focus on the world of that game and aim for a simplicity that allows the player to understand the story through the music and to feel empathy.
That being said, the original sound source of [the music that] "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" will produce from now on won't be limited to these themes. It will have more rock to it and be more exciting.
RPGFan: Recently, your game music has been published via your own label, MUZZLE DUZZLE MUSIK ALLERLEI. Will there be original albums from "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" published here as well, or is this only for game music soundtracks?
YS: Indeed, I'm currently producing an original "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" album. All songs featured on it will be brand new. We just finished recording miqui's vocals for 11 songs. Now the track down phase will commence. Miqui's emotional, wonderful songs have been recorded. At the earliest, we will be able to release [the new album] in the summer of 2010.
RPGFan: Are you contracted to work exclusively with Idea Factory, or are you "freelance" (open to work with other studios)? Would you like to work with any other companies? Is there anyone in particular whose games you'd love to write music for?
YS: I'm a freelance composer and not exclusively affiliated with Idea Factory. Currently, I'm concentrating on the creation of a new original album, but in the future, I would like to try and work on foreign games and music soundtracks, if that is possible. The reason why I'm wishing for that is so that people around the globe get the chance to listen to the music of "Heinrich von Ofterdingen."
RPGFan: Do you like to play videogames? Did you play videogames when you were young? What were, and what are, some of your favorite games?
YS: Absolutely. I especially like Final Fantasy VII. What shocked me most with Final Fantasy VII were songs like Sephiroth's Theme (One-Winged Angel) that were played back using audio-files instead of MIDI which had been used until then. The most recent game I have played was Dragon Quest IX for DS. I also like Monster Hunter for PSP (editor's note: the Monster Hunter Portable series; Monster Hunter Freedom in the US) very much.
RPGFan: What kind of music do you like to listen to? What artists are in your current "playlist" (iPod etc)?
YS: I like rock sound a la Led Zeppelin or Metallica as well as Yoko Kanno's Macross Frontier OST or Kenji Kawai's Ghost in the Shell OST. If it's good music, I like whatever.
RPGFan: Will "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" ever play any shows outside of Japan? There are a lot of game and anime conventions in North America and Europe where people may be interested in hearing your work.
YS: Of course, I'd like to perform abroad. I hope that offers from abroad will come. I'm a big fan of American music. Hence, one could say that to me America is the holy land. I would like to take a Heinrich von Ofterdingen CD and perform this album in the US. I'm waiting for people to contact me.
RPGFan: We know that you can play guitar and keyboard proficiently. Other than those two instruments, what instrument do you like the most? You don't have to know how to play it, just one you like to listen to.
YS: I think of Macintosh and Pro Tools as instruments in a wider sense. Therefore, I enjoy updating various sounds with this kind of soft synthesizer. Apart from this software-generated sound, I have an interest in folk instruments of various countries and like very much to get my hands on weird instruments.
RPGFan: None of the games you've written music for have been localized in America yet. Among the games that have your music in them, which do you think is the one that would to best in North America?
YS: It is my strong desire that fans in the US will be able to listen to my music as well. I definitely would like [American fans] to listen to Death Connection, because it has English lyrics and is performed in English.
Similarly, the new album which is currently in production also features English lyrics. I'm looking forward to the day when [fans in the US] will be able to listen to those albums.
RPGFan: Are you currently working on a new game music project?
YS: Right now, I'm producing an original "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" album. Present day pop music in Japan is afraid of progress and I'm sensing a standstill. Hence, I think it would be great if we could pioneer and present a new sound and a new style of music. Please support us.
RPGFan would like to thank Sugiura-san for his cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.