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Interview:  Half-Minute Hero  Sequel's Multiple Composer Soundtrack

Interview: Half-Minute Hero Sequel's Multiple Composer Soundtrack Exclusive

October 17, 2011 | By Jeriaska

October 17, 2011 | By Jeriaska
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Audio

[In this interview, Gamasutra contributor Jeriaska talks with six veteran Japanese composers (e.g. Michiko Naruke, Hiroyki Iwatsuki) about their contributions to Yuusha 30 SECOND, the PSP sequel to Half-Minute Hero.]

The premise of Marvelous' Half-Minute Hero series, which involves rifts in the space-time continuum, boils genre archetypes down to fast-paced minigames.

For the latest installment, recently released in Japan, a host of well known game composers have each pitched in music tracks. In this interview, six musicians contributing to the game briefly introduce their individual contributions to the game.

Offering their views on the collaborative approach to the background music are Michiko Naruke (Wild Arms series), Masashi Hamauzu (Final Fantasy XIII-2), Hiroyuki Iwatsuki (Omega Five), YAMAPY_1 (Samurai Showdown series), Fukui (Engines Band) and Yoshitaka Hirota (Shadow Hearts series).

Producer Kenichiro Takagi maintains that the series has benefited from inviting multiple composers to contribute to various chapters of the game. Here he discusses how the concept has allowed for the integration of a greater diversity of sounds within the music score in very little time.

The multiple composer format of Yuusha 30 SECOND must have created a number of logistical challenges. What have been the benefits of working with so many musicians on a single game project?

Kenichiro Takagi: I think the greatest personal benefit as a fan of games is that I get to meet people that I really admire. Working with artists who have been contributing to games that I have grown familiar with playing over the course of my life is a definite plus.

There are a number of benefits to this strategy that have aided in the development of the game itself. We all have numerous memories of fun moments, as well as sad, elicited by the power of game music. Communicating with a number of composers, our staff can explore various avenues toward capturing those kinds of emotional moments.

Producer Kenichiro Takagi of Marvelous

Working with a large sound staff also means that we create a distinct image for each chapter more quickly. That's a strategy that benefits the storyline as well as the flexibility of the gameplay system.

What reactions did you encounter to the premise of Half-Minute Hero, and how have they informed development on the sequel?

The idea of the game is that you beat an RPG in 30 seconds. Right off the bat, I think most people hearing that are going to be like, "What? Are you serious?" But after actually getting your hands on the game, I think you see that the results, though idiosyncratic, amount to an actual RPG experience.

What's more, I think it offers a fresh new perspective on a traditional genre. My own feeling is that first and foremost, the concept of a game should be intriguing. When we received feedback that this concept intrigued people, that made pursuing it further all the more encouraging.

The original PSP game's soundtrack paid homage to the chiptune music of the 8-bit era of console games. Is this a stylistic decision that is being continued on the sequel?

Though there was a retro vibe to Half-Minute Hero, for the sequel we've almost completely departed from that aesthetic. Composers were asked to make use of all the sound design resources available today.

How do you go about assigning which individual chapters of the game would go to each musician?

The first step was to lay down a narrative foundation as scenario writers for the game. We decided which scenes would go where, planning the overall structure of the storyline. At that point it was decided who might be the best fit to compose for each scene in the game.

What is your personal philosophy toward offering direction to composers, especially on a project like this where there is such a large sound staff?

In providing direction to the composers, our staff was careful to keep the guidelines to a bare minimum. We relayed no detailed instructions. Things were kept simple, with each artist free to exercise their own techniques.

What's interesting is that once the musicians have communicated to me their intentions for their tracks, it's often their input that will inform the fine details of a given scene. That leads to a creative process where everyone is committed.

Among composers there's a healthy spirit of competition, as there are those who want to do their own thing in order to stand out. That atmosphere, which above all is encouraging individuality, I think has led to positive results in the game's music.

From left: Michiko Naruke, YAMAPY_1, Fukui (Engines Band), Yoshitaka Hirota, Masashi Hamauzu, Kenichiro Takagi and Hiroyuki Iwatsuki.

How would you describe your personal strategies to composing music for Yuusha 30 SECOND?

Hiroyuki Iwatsuki: I'm Iwatsuki of the Natsume game company. I wrote music for Half-Minute Hero and am currently contributing to the making of Yuusha 30 SECOND.

Last time, I wrote background music for the game's shooting segment, and this time my music will be appearing during the Princess Yushia storyline. The style will be familiar to those who played the original, though this time it will be serving as a field theme.

The new arrangement is intended to strike a chord with those who have played the original Half-Minute Hero. I composed another track as well, though we'll keep it a surprise.

Michiko Naruke: Hello, I'm Michiko Naruke. I was invited to join the sound staff of Yuusha 30 SECOND.

There are quite a few battle tracks in this game. In addition to writing a boss battle theme, I contributed a vocal track serving as a prologue to the story. Vocalist Haruka Shimotsuki performs the song, while Noriyuki Iwadare has served as the arranger. The three of us are participating together on three music tracks for the game.

These days, there are many games whose visuals are so beautiful they rival animated movies. What thrills me about this particular game series is the nostalgic 2D graphics. I've always found this to be such a fun genre, and I hope RPGs will not see an end to their legacy any time soon, so I'm hoping they will continue to thrive far into the future.

I'm glad to be joining all these great composers, so now I will pass the microphone to Hirota-san.

Yoshitaka Hirota: Good afternoon, I'm Yoshitaka Hirota. I was also given the opportunity to join in composing several music tracks for this game. My compositions are battle themes, rather aggressive in their tone.

I recorded together with Akihisa Tsuboy, whose instrumental performances on violin can be heard on the Shadow Hearts series music that I composed. He is a well known progressive rock artist and an outstanding performer whose participation on music productions spans the fields of rock, Celtic, and Arabic music.

The only guidelines that Takagi-san gave me were to come up with some "Hirota-sounding" music, so I developed some uptempo rock tracks in an attempt to fulfill that request.

I feel they manage to convey a sense of tension and the wilfulness to survive. It's rare that the concept of a game sounds fascinating from the very first developer meetings, but the idea of this game had an immediate impact on me.

Masashi Hamauzu: I'm Masashi Hamauzu. I'm also contributing two tracks to Yuusha 30 SECOND. They include an introductory theme and a battle track.

It was requested that I write something similar to a previous music composition of mine for a mid-boss battle track. However, this was a particularly difficult piece of music that had been singled out. It's a small miracle that I managed to come up with something that matched the complexity of this previous piece.

As has been mentioned, it's interesting to see a game go back to the roots of the RPG genre. As was the case with Hirota-san, I was intrigued within the first few minutes of hearing about the concept for the game. Just that initial introduction was enough to capture my interest.

For years I have worked for a single company, and as a result, it was a little intimidating to be joining so many incredible composers on this game. I recognized that it was a special opportunity, and I hope that if you have the chance to play it, you'll listen closely and say, "Hey, that one's Hamauzu's song."

Hamauzu during the recent 4 Star Orchestra concert series in Japan

Yamapy_1: Hello. I'm Yamada, aka Yamapy_1. I am continuing my participation in the Half-Minute Hero series, following the original. For a number of years I worked for the game company SNK as a sound creator, and, as it turns out, Takagi-san is a fan. He reached out to Fukui-san at SNK, and through that correspondence I became involved.

For Yuusha 30 SECOND, I'm contributing one track as Yamapy_1, as well as two tracks with Fukui-san, as Engines Band. I wrote the field theme for the character of Ragnarok. With Engines Band, we recorded the theme for when Ragnarok's powers as a hero are first awakened.

We also tackled the final boss track, an epic battle of the gods. I had only to write for a single character, so that made things relatively straightforward, and Takagi-san afforded us total creative freedom.

Engines wouldn't be a very interesting band if I were making all the music by myself. So I collaborated with Dencyu, the famous guitarist, known for "Let's Go Onmyouji!" from Shin Gouketsuji Ichizoku: Toukon Matrimelee. Though he's my sempai, he offered to bestow these tracks with his abilities as a guitarist, with Fukui-san serving as producer.

Fukui (Engines Band): I'm the producer on Engines Band. I didn't contribute to the compositions, but I will say that if you listen closely to the Engines songs, you may discover something special hidden in the music.

[This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current. For more information on the game series, visit the official website. Translation by Scott Tanaka. Photos by Jeriaska.]

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