At Sakura-Con 2008, we had the privilege of interviewing Hiroki Kikuta (菊田裕樹). He is best known for composing game music, such as Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2 (聖剣伝説２) and Soukaigi (双界儀). He also wrote the music for Sora no Iro, Mizu no Iro / Soramizu (そらのいろ、みずのいろ) produced by Ciel, among other visual novels. In addition to composing, he produces games and writes scenarios, among other game-related jobs. He was very friendly, and spent a while chatting with our reporter as well.
Mr. Kikuta started his professional career composing for some minor TV anime series, and sound effects for Romancing SaGa (ロマンシング サ・ガ) in 1992. After leaving Square in 1997, he founded Sacnoth and produced Soukaigi. However, due to internal conflict, he left the company and later founded Nostrilia Corporation, a game design and music company.
We would like to thank Mr. Kikuta for taking time to speak with us and answer our questions about his work in depth, even past the end of the scheduled time. Also, we would like to thank the Sakura-Con staff for arranging this interview.
encubed: Your music uses a lot of familiar synthesized sounds. Why do you still prefer this versus more real-sounding samples?
Hiroki: I do use synthesizers, but I really like to use samples from real instruments. However, I believe that using real instruments, synthesizers, and samples are all ways of performing. The form that works best should be chosen when expressing through music.
e: How has the transition from 8-bit synthesizers to the programs available today changed the way you make music?
H: It has, in terms of being simplified. Playing instruments and singing are forms of expression. Singing is a very simple form of expression. Hitting something, like drumming, is also a form of expression, playing a guitar is another form of expression — using whatever tool you choose is its own form of expression.
The important thing is that each instrument has its own structure. A piano has its own structure and limits, and so does a guitar. Just like those, oscillators have their own unique forms of expression because of their construction. Even 8-bit synthesizers have their own sound. Famicom (ed: Family Computer / NES) has its own ‘atmosphere’, and you can make good music with it. If you use an SNES, you can make fitting music with it too.
e: Are you restricted to a certain timbres of sounds or styles of music for a given game?
H: Using a SNES’s ADPCM, 8 sounds can be used at once. Managing that is quite difficult. For example, to create band sound, first there is a bass drum. There is a snare drum. There is a cymbal. There is a bass. How many are left? Adding do-mi-so, you’re done. You can’t combine the bass and snare drums. If you want to combine the data from two tracks, you have to do it by hand, which is quite difficult.
e: How much influence do you have on the rest of the game production and vice versa?
H: It’s more about how much you want to be involved. If you don’t try to be involved, even if the game is successful, it won’t make you as happy, because you weren’t involved. Whether it succeeds or fails, it’s about how much you put yourself into the game. Just trying to make the best use of your time, trying to make yourself involved in the game, is interesting.
e: What did you think of the Soukaigi soundtrack, since that was recorded using live instruments?
H: That time, we had money. I probably mentioned it somewhere before, but the sound director said, “I got the budget!” When I asked how much we had, he said 30,000,000 yen, so we could do anything. Having that freedom, and that good work was so valued, meant that everybody shared the passion. I think it was just the timing of working with Square (ed: now Square Enix).
e: Would you like to use real instruments with other games?
H: First, can they be used? Second, is it right to use them? If I have both of those reasons, then I would use real instruments. With humans playing instruments, you have a certain massiveness or heaviness. But if the game’s world and graphics are simple, but the music is heavy, it’s bad. If the image is light, the music should be light too. For example, cheap is not necessarily bad. If the design is cheap, the music should be cheap too. Depending on the feeling the entire game is aiming for, like cheap or pop, there are factors to consider. If to achieve that, real instruments are needed, then they should be used.
e: What did you think about writing vocal songs, like Soramizu (ed: theme song of Sora no Iro, Mizu no Iro) and Lovely Strains.
H: Soramizu is a visual novel, so there was a lot of freedom. The game has its own world, so first I had to try to express that through music. I have my own personal style, and it was difficult to combine the feelings. Also, I like to make music that can be sung, but if you don’t have experience it won’t turn out quite how you want. I think I could have done more a interesting job, so I would like to write more vocal songs.
e: How did you come to compose music for visual novels?
H: I do music composition, but I also do production and scenario writing. Through those jobs, I meet other people. Those people may let me know about available jobs, and ask if I would like to write music for them. I tell them I don’t care what genre it is, it just matters that I find the job interesting, and how much freedom I will have. And most importantly, whether or not the person requesting the work will appreciate my music. Considering all of those, I will decide to do it. Even if it is a visual novel, it doesn’t matter.
Within visual novels, there are different people that make music. Of course, I have heard wonderful songs they have written, so I think they enjoy writing music for visual novels. You probably like groups like I’ve, composers like Orito-san (ed: Shinji Orito / 折戸伸治). Listening to those, I like the music, and I think, “Genre doesn’t matter. They can make interesting music for it.” If the circumstances are right, the genre doesn’t matter. You can create good music wherever the place. In a market for visual novels like in Japan, by buying the work you are praising the project. If the players feel moved by emotion, I think that the passion of the creators is real.
e: What differences are there between composing music for RPGs and galge?
H: They are different. Their goals are different. With RPGs, there is a certain playing style. For example, the characters walk all over the field. The field music is heard for 20-30 hours by the player. So that music can’t be ordinary music. But if you go to Tower Records and buy the CD, are find out you have to listen for 20 hours, that’s no good. You would give up. So RPG background music isn’t ordinary music. You have to make something that achieves its goal. With galge, there is music that fits the genre. Thinking about the type of music that best fits the style is most interesting for me. Meeting the goal is most important. There are times where you don’t know the goal though.
e: Do you often play the games you work on?
H: In general, I play the games when debugging, but when it’s completed I usually don’t like the game anymore. When the job is complete, it isn’t as interesting as before. I listen to my music for many hours when composing it, so I’m tired of it at the end.
e: Might you compose for other visual novels in the future?
H: As long as I’m interested in it. What are you looking for in galge? I think if someone can truly accept and even cry for the expression in the game, then I would put all of my effort into it. Whatever field, whatever expression, I think that it’s a wonderful job. For that goal, I would consider many ideas to pick the best way to express with music. Even with galge, there is very good music. If you don’t have that result, expressing the feelings isn’t very interesting. How the music can influence the entire work is very important. Working for that result is the best job.
e: Do you have any suggestions for someone starting out creating music for games?
H: First of all, discover your best way of expression so that whoever listens to it can recognize that you wrote it. Games’ background music is a mechanism to reach the final goal, so it can easily become something that doesn’t have individuality. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter who makes it. Always keep in mind that losing individuality is dangerous. That intent is very important. It’s not good to think that anybody can do the work. Starting out thinking that you are the only one who can do it is absolutely necessary. Your style may not be understood at first, but if you throw that away, you won’t become anything. So what I want to say is keep working using your own style.
e: Finally, what do you think of translations of the games you work, both official and unofficial?
H: Nothing in particular, though one time I insensitively wrote many hard to translate parts for an RPG. When I read the translated version of the script, it was ‘fixed’ and made completely different. I wanted to say it in one way in Japanese, but in the English was completely different. When I noticed the translation was strange, I asked why that was so. Of course, there was conflict in deciding the best way to express it in English. Without that it’s not a complete work. If a game that I wrote was translated into English, I would need to understand the translation, even though I can’t speak English. But if I can read it, I can understand it. This is accepting the translated version, and taking responsibility for it.