1) It has been 17 years since the release of Shenmue Chapter One: Yokosuka. Can we begin by having each of you explain your role in the composition of the soundtrack? When did you join the project?
Takenobu Mitsuyoshi : As Sound Director I managed a sound team that included full-time employees, contract workers and part-timers. My job involved the creation and management of all aspects of sound in Shenmue: sound effects, music, voice and sound production. Besides this, I also worked on things like music composition - though only a very few of the vast number of total songs - and attended orchestra recordings.
If I remember correctly, I think I joined the project after I had been similarly in charge of the sound for Daytona USA, so around 1996. I believe it was from the time when development was still being done on the Sega Saturn under the codename VFRPG, using the main character from Virtua Fighter.
Yuzo Koshiro : I think I joined in 1999, for about a year.
Ryuji Iuchi : Primarily I was in charge of music composition, both for the internal sound chip and for CCDA. For the former, I was also in charge of some sound effects, and of recreating music for some of the games in the arcade. For the latter, I was involved in the design of part of a music management system, but I don’t know to what extent that system was actually used. I took part from 1998 to the start of 2000.
Ryuji Iuchi, photo fournie par Ryuji Iuchi
2) Shenmue is one of the few video games where the music was composed before the cutscenes and gameplay were produced. You were composing with only descriptions, key words or drawings. How challenging was it to work without the use of in-game images compared to your usual experience?
TM: Yu-san had highlighted to us the fact that Disney had just made a film using this method and he proposed trying the same thing, so it was a bit of an experiment. It was of course my first experience of it, and in addition unfortunately I had no know-how or experience of things like orchestral scores, music for dramas or background music for movies. So it was an extremely hard time for me. However, even though I hadn’t been able to picture the scenes very well from reading the script, I did get the impression that I was able to form a much clearer image in my head by creating the music myself. So I came to the realization afterwards that it was an effective method for picturing images more efficiently and clearly.
RI: Outside of video games also, it’s common to make music for a scene without seeing an actual screenshot, so I didn’t particularly find that aspect to be a difficulty.
3) Before starting the development of Shenmue, Yu Suzuki said he composed an orchestral suite in four movements from a draft script of Virtua Fighter RPG. Is this song the Shenmue “Sedge Tree” that everybody knows or another song? I ask you this question because after listening to the orchestral version, the song can be decomposed in several parts:
- An initial introduction part, when you can hear the Chinese influence including the use of an erhu,
- A second part, where the music becomes more intense with the use of strings and brass, that can be interpreted as the fight between Ryo and his enemies, resulting in triumph,
- A reprise of the introduction where the erhu returns with the same orchestral fanfare,
- The song finally ends on a mysterious note.
RI: I think this is Mitsuyoshi-san’s song, so it would be best to ask him about it.
TM: As for the orchestral suite in four movements from a draft script mentioned above, I believe he was talking about a song I wrote from the impression I had of Shenmue after reading the script like the way I answered previously. This song was performed by a live orchestra and recorded under the title “A New Journey” on an album called “Shenmue Orchestra Version”. So the song you are talking about is not “Sedge Tree” but “A New Journey”.
This song is one that left a deep impression on me. At the start of the project, we went on a research trip, gathering material as we followed the actual path taken in the story by the protagonist Ryo. The melody came to me during the trip, as I was looking down at the mountains of China from the cabin of a domestic flight from Fuzhou to Shanghai. I hurriedly recorded it by humming into a portable recorder I was carrying for recording sounds of the environment. After I got back to Japan I overlaid my own voice to create the song.
I formed the musical world keeping in mind the dramatic turning points in the story: the journey across to mainland China, overcoming the sorrow of losing a close family member, the appearance of Shenhua - the heroine who possesses mysterious powers.
4) During the game development process, you used to organize "sound meetings" every week with Yu Suzuki to present the songs everyone composed during the week. Can you tell us some stories about that?
TM: Oh, I had butterflies every time! :-) It was called a “sound meeting” but it was pretty much an audition for the songs. For a week, the sound team produced as many songs as possible for those scenes that currently needed them, and then we would play them one at a time in front of Yu-san. We would note down his comments on suitable scenes, screens or characters within Shenmue that occurred to him as he listened to the songs. Gradually the empty slots for each scene would be filled. That was the style of the meeting.
When there were songs that Yu-san liked all was well, but I recall that when there was nothing usable the atmosphere took a turn for the worse, making things extremely uncomfortable.
However, in contrast to how we felt about them, Yu-san seemed to like these meetings. We talked about performances or music from time to time and he appeared to be enjoying himself. In addition there were huge speakers and a pricey amp in the director’s room, and using them to play the music at high volume was something that could only have happened at these sound meetings, I think.
YK: Suzuki-san gave us his considered opinion song by song. He had clearly-defined instructions for each scene. However, as the game itself was evolving and changing on a daily basis, there were times when the thoughts he had up to that point would change abruptly and it was hard keeping up with them.
RI: It was a time when I did feel nervous about what kind of judgment the songs would be given, but I also looked forward to it. There was one time I was being filmed for a NHK TV documentary, and I composed a song and presented it on the spot. I think that song was the Christmas version that was played at the launch venue.
5) Did you feel that you had a lot of freedom when composing the music, or did you have to compose music that matched Yu Suzuki's image of Shenmue?
TM: The latter. Basically they were created to fit Shenmue’s concepts, with Yu-san selecting all the pieces, and so as to whether there was much freedom in their creation, I would have to say no. However, this isn’t something that is particular to Shenmue; basically it’s the fate of game music to keep in close step with the game itself, so in general I don’t think it’s common that pieces can be composed freely. In this situation I’m always thinking about to what extent I can give the pieces my own flavor, but with Shenmue I devoted myself to realizing the image Yu-san held.
YK: There was not much composing done freely, as we always had instructions from Suzuki-san.
RI: Making sure they were in keeping with the game’s world goes without saying, but as for the songs themselves, my recollection is that I composed as I liked.
6) For the first two Shenmue games, more than 800 different songs were composed during the 4-year project. Yu Suzuki said that less than 20% of them have been used so far. Do you think that one day it will be possible to hear the unused songs of the first two games?
TM: Please ask Yu-san :-)
RI: Suzuki-san and Sega may be able to answer that.
7) Who composed the song in this video of the prototype Saturn version of Shenmue? ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foZUcPQAMvg)) Generally speaking, did you compose a lot of songs for the Saturn version whose development lasted 6 months?
TM: I don’t remember :-) It does have the feel of someone who was there at that time though...
At the time of the Saturn version, the sound was handled by me alone, and there weren’t yet any outside sound creators. For this reason, I composed very few music pieces. What I composed at the time were end of battle jingles only and mostly I created the environmental sounds for control in real time. So at that time, the main theme didn’t exist yet either.
RI: It’s a great song, isn’t it! Sorry, I don’t know whose song it is.
8) In the first Shenmue, there was a particular kind of music: the F.R.E.E music. It is music that you do not really notice and that could be heard when Ryo walks the streets of Yokosuka, changing depending on the progress of the story. What were the instructions given to compose this kind of music?
TM: Back then, in our team we referred to a unit of change in a scenario as a “step”. We planned the sound design so that the music would change to match those steps. And so, our work with Yu-san involved checking pieces of music tailored to each step’s circumstances at the sound meeting mentioned previously, and selecting the music.
Our instructions for creating the exploration music were to aim for music that doesn’t stand out, can be listened to repeatedly without growing tiresome and, on top of that, conveys the circumstances of the steps – these were the instructions from Yu-san. For me, who had up until that point trained to make use of every conceivable technique to create catchy tunes for arcade games to draw listeners into a world within a few seconds of inserting a coin, accepting them took an extremely long time. Besides myself however, in particular I think the sound contractors working in the home console area did an excellent job at creating it.
As an aside, just to be clear FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment) was not a concept for the music in Shenmue but for the game itself.
RI: I wanted to try to get them to link together seamlessly, and I remember making several similar versions. I recall we had directions to make songs that would create an atmosphere, like the air, and songs that you wouldn’t tire of hearing repeatedly.
9) What type of equipment did you use when composing the music of Shenmue? Can you also tell us what software was used to compress the sequenced music into Dreamcast Sound Format? To this day it's still very impressive the audio quality achieved with a small file size.
TM: At that time we used to compose the pieces by extracting samples from the digital instruments, turn them into usable sound sources on the Dreamcast, and then create the music in midi format using a DAW. However, there were capacity limitations, and so in order to pack in a large number of instruments in the time of a single load, effort was expended for all sound files (music, sound effects, voice) using various techniques and expertise to cut down on the space taken while maintaining their quality.
Regarding the tool we used to convert the music, sound effects and voice to DSF, we used an original tool called “Sound Factory” that was developed by sound programmers from AM2.
RI: I used the equipment provided by Sega, and for sound generation I used two SC-55 or SC-88 series, a TR-Rack, an MR Rack and a JV-2080. The sequencer was Logic for the Mac. In order to play the sounds through the actual device’s onboard processor, I sampled them, removed looping, compressed and converted them. I carried out all the operations on the Mac.
10) In another interview, you said there were restrictions on the hardware. There are many songs which you wanted to make with better quality, but had to give up due to the hardware specifications. Do you know if uncompressed versions of these songs exist?
TM: In the sound meetings mentioned above, when we presented to Yu-san we played him recordings of the sound output taken from the instruments, so I think that state (i.e. before conversion) will have been preserved.
RI: I don’t know, but I hope they remain.
11) During the Shenmue Premiere event in Yokohama in 1998, an orchestra was there to play the main theme. Then you had the idea to record an orchestral. What were the pros and cons of recording an orchestra version for a video game like Shenmue?
TM: When Shenmue was being developed, RPGs and adventure games from other companies were observed and the mission was to make something that would surpass them. This also applied to the sound. At the time, full voice would be a first for this genre of game, as indeed was the control of sound effects for an open world. And it was a time when it wasn’t customary to use an orchestra as a matter of course, unlike the RPG-style games of today. So from the perspective of generating a buzz and being something different, I think the technique of streaming a live orchestra performance was extremely effective in supporting the grand story through sound. The only thing I regret is that the entire sound source for the orchestra within the game was only able to be played in mono due to technical limitations.
RI: I think the use of an orchestra is very effective for portraying things like a grand sense of scale, or expressing breathing. I can’t think of any cons. I imagine it would make for a lot more work to present it, however...
By the way, although it’s not live orchestra, I really like Yuzo Koshiro’s Actraiser series.
12) Have you ever played the Shenmue games, and if so, what did you think of them?
TM: When the development was over, I was truly exhausted, both mentally and physically. I didn’t want to see Shenmue’s screen for a while - or should I say ever again. :-) I never put Shenmue into the Dreamcast that I owned, to have a game. However my sharp-eyed children found it and pressured me, saying they wanted to try it, so I reluctantly played it with them. There was a flashback scene with the protagonist Ryo’s father at the dinner table, where he scolded Ryo for not eating his carrots. When my children saw that, they whispered “It’s not good to be a fussy eater”, and that’s when I realized for the first time, “Oh, maybe this is what Yu-san wanted to do with this game. Maybe he wanted to send a message from adults to children about doing the right thing.”
After seeing that, my judgement of Shenmue changed a bit. Then as the times moved on, creators from overseas who cited being influenced by this game released open-world hits, and I felt anew that I had been part of an amazing project. And now I am proud to have been involved in it.
YK: Yes. I feel that games made by Suzuki-san are always revolutionary. Shenmue also gave me that impression.
RI: Yes, of course. I thought that the games had a feel about them not encountered before.
13) The theme music from Daytona USA is included on one of the game discs of Shenmue 1. Is it true that when you were choosing the music for the forklift race, Yu Suzuki told you "it should be the Daytona song,” so you added the song, when actually he was joking so you replaced this song with the music we hear in the final version?
RI: You’d best ask Mitsuyoshi-san…
TM: It’s true. :-) We were all just so exhausted, including myself, that we didn’t have enough energy left to decide whether he was joking or being serious. :-)
14) What was special about the music for Shenmue compared with other games?
TM: I’d like to ask you the same thing back. :-) What’s special about Shenmue’s music? :-)
Let’s see… the “moistness” of it, I guess. :-) It’s the music that Japan was able to create. Some people say that Japanese horror movies produce a certain fear that can’t be created by people overseas, don’t they. Shenmue’s music might be like this. I think that this moist music :-), created in the humid country of Japan, probably can’t be created elsewhere. That’s something that was felt directly by people outside Japan, not in their heads but in their hearts. If there’s something special about it, then I guess that’s where it lies, in my personal opinion.
YK: I think it’s that we had talented composers gathered together, creating each and every song with uncompromising care under the direction of Suzuki-san.
RI: I think it’s because it gathered together top composers, starting with people like Mitsuyoshi-san and Koshiro-san, and because of Suzuki-san’s attitude of placing importance also on the music.
15) I know it will be difficult to choose and to remember after all these years, but out of the hundreds of songs you have created for Shenmue, which ones do you feel the most passionate about?
TM: I touched on this above, but personally I haven’t made a great many songs for Shenmue. However, among the few pieces I’d say the one that left the greatest impression on me is probably the piano version of the main theme created for the credits screen. It’s another where I really wanted to stream the sound of a live piano, but for loading-related reasons it is generated by the Dreamcast’s internal sound chip.
YK: It would be the rapper song.
RI : Among those I have fond memories for are Shenhua’s theme, for which I saw the orchestra and vocals recorded right in front of me; Tomato Convenience Store, for which Mitsuyoshi-san kindly did the vocals; and Wish, for which the sound staff sang temporary vocals.
16) What are your next projects now?
TM: Right now I’m participating in a music game project for the arcade games MaiMai and Chunithm. Within that I’m composing pieces and at times singing. My role and the content is quite different from my time with Shenmue ?.
RI: Do you mean my ones? I have several projects in progress.
17) Thank you very much for your time. It’s been such an honor to get to speak with you! Is there anything else you would like to say to the Shenmue fans out there?
TM: I feel great happiness (as well as some embarrassment at the rashness of my youth) that fans who love Shenmue are still listening to the music that I was involved with creating back then in this way, spanning generations. It pleases me if it is able to be enjoyed still now as back then, without being faded by time. Thank you very much.
YK: I’m very happy to have been involved in a game that has been loved by fans for so long. Usually I compose my songs at home or in the studio, but with Shenmue I was composing in the unfamiliar environment of the Sega offices so I had a lot of difficulties. But making people happy like this really makes me feel that it was all worth it. Please keep up your support for Shenmue.
RI: I’m very honored to have been involved as one of the staff for the music of a game that has been supported by so many fans and has left its mark on history. Thank you for your continued support for Shenmue going forward.
Shenmue Master 2001/2019
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