Interview with Yasunori Mitsuda (October 2009)
In the second of a four part interview series at Symphonic Fantasies, Yasunori Mitsuda talked to us exclusively about his past, present, and upcoming works. The majority of the interview occurred in person, though there were some follow-up questions by email. A follow-up to our earlier interview with him, the result provides a fascinating retrospective on his Chrono work and an insightful look at his diverse recent accomplishments.
Yasunori Mitsuda has become one of game music's most loved composers through his work on Chronos, Xenogears, and Legaia: Duel Saga. More recently, he has produced collaborative scores such as Arc Rise Fantasia and Sands of Destruction, technical achievements such as the KORG DS-10 and an iPhone game, and popular scores such as Inazuma Eleven and Lime Odyssey.
Interview Subject: Yasunori Mitsuda
Don: Symphonic Fantasies is a historic event, chronicling a rich history of series, including your own work on the Chrono series. Could you please describe how you became involved with this monumental event? Did you know beforehand that it would be presented in such a long suite and how do you feel about the final results?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yesterday at the rehearsal was the first time that I had heard the suite. In Japan, there are not many people who could create such a score. As I was listening, I was really amazed by its fantastic quality. I was just... so overwhelmed and impressed by it.
Don: Since your concert suite focuses on your work on the Chrono series, could you please describe how it felt reminiscing about your past works, your recent work on Chrono Trigger DS, and why do you think they became timeless classics?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Why is it so famous? I am not sure about this myself (laughs). I did not really expect worldwide recognition for my music for this series and it's amazing that it continues even though the Chrono series is now 14 years old.
One thing I can say is that it was very common to have a semi-orchestral sound in games 14 years ago. However, what I wanted to do was a bit different from that. I was more interested in traditional folk music or jazz style. At the time my approach was fairly new, and I am guessing it was somehow accepted to the fans.
Don: Speaking of the Chrono series' music, this year marks Chrono Cross' 10th year anniversary. Last Christmas, you released a beautiful sample for "A Narrow Space Between Dimensions" from the upcoming Chrono Cross Arrange Album. What kind of styles are you adopting for the rest of the album and is it still on track for being released soon?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Oh! I'm amazed you know that! Actually I have been working on a Chrono Cross arrange album for years, and that was one of the songs from the album. The album is almost done, so that arrangement was kind of like a Christmas gift to the fans. I am hoping we can release this CD this year since it is the 10th year anniversary of Chrono Cross, but I am not sure it I can make it in time!
Don: So, hopefully later this year?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yeah... Hopefully!
Don: On the topic of Chrono Cross, you recently released Colours of Light, a compilation of many of your vocal themes throughout your career. What compelled you to release this collection? Do you have a personal favourite song?
Yasunori Mitsuda: I have been thinking about releasing like a compilation album that includes the songs I have written before. But until recently, I could not make this happen because of the number of songs, the schedule, the licensing issues, and whatnot. Luckily I am at this point where I am finally able to release this album with a satisfying quality.
As for favourites, that's difficult! I have very strong feelings about all the songs on this album and I really like them all often for different reasons.
Don: Recently, you've taken a larger role in becoming a music producer in the games your studio has been involved with, such as the Luminous Arc series and Arc Rise Fantasia. Could you describe the process of working on collaborative projects? How do you make a cohesive soundtrack with a common sound?
Yasunori Mitsuda: First I try to fully understand what styles of music that each composer is good at and what kind of sound they would like to achieve. Then I look for what the client wants, and I make a certain goal. Also RPG and Tactics games take a long time to develop, so I have to put an extra care for the composers not to get sick of the project, as I sometimes have done on major projects. For example, I schedule a recording session in the mid-point of the development to keep the energy going throughout the whole development process. I think this is one of the important tasks for a music producer.
Don: Reflecting these collaborative projects, Procyon Studio has recently grown with the addition of Shunsuke Tsuchiya, Maki Kirioka, and briefly Shota Kageyama. Could you please tell us what it is you look for when hiring new composers and what specifically attracted you to Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Maki Kirioka? Why did you decide to employ additional composers at your company after being the sole composer for so long?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Maki Kirioka worked at Konami before, and we were talking about doing something together and whatnot. I did not have any problem asking her to join the team since I was already familiar with her works on Zone of the Enders as well as its sequel, Anubis.
For Shunsuke Tsuchiya, he sent a demo to us which impressed me with its quality despite him being so young. I thought it would be interesting to have someone like that in the team, so I hired him. He's since worked on quite a few group projects of mine, such as Arc Rise Fantasia and World Destruction.
Don: Moving back to your solo works, Inazuma Eleven had a very playful soundtrack with some more serious themes heard throughout. What kind of things influenced the direction of this soundtrack?
Yasunori Mitsuda: The game itself blends a soccer theme with role-playing elements. As a result, it was necessary to create an fun and action-packed score overall while retaining a personal feel and some drama. As a result, it was necessary to create quite a range of themes. A lot of them were inspired by my other works, both past and more recent, in terms of style and mood.
Don: Yes, I've noticed some Chrono Trigger similarities in places and some more tropical works like Legaia Duel Saga. Anyway, the Inazuma Eleven series seems to have gotten a lot of support lately with a DS sequel, a Wii remake, and an anime adaptation. Could you tell me about your work on these projects?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yes, I recently returned to work on Inazuma Eleven 2. My music was also featured on the anime adaptation too and it was interesting working with this media after all. That said, this is the first time I heard about the Wii version. Although they might be planning it, I have not heard from them at all. I will decide if I am going to work on it if they ask me.
Don: Ahh, interesting. There were some news reports about a remake based on a Level 5 conference. But maybe it's been delayed or abandoned.
Don: Moving swiftly on, your studio was responsible, in part, for creating the highly innovative Korg DS-10 software. Could you describe the difficulties in creating a piece of software that was so technically detailed?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Let me see... For that software, we were able to work with very intelligent and talented people from Korg Japan. We both shared our knowledge and condensed that into a DS rom. It was extremely difficult to put such a high quality synthesizer into such a small device with a limited data capacity.
Don: Based on popular reception, it seems that you and Hidenori Suzuki succeeded! Anyway, could you please describe your experiences as part of the Korg DS-10 trio at Extra 2008 and what it was like to play "Scars of Time" in such a unique fashion?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yes, I also have this project called DS-10 Trio with Nobuyoshi Sano and Michio Okamiya, the guitarist of The Black Mages. To tell the truth, we are interested in doing a "Comic Band". We don't really want to be serious, and we wanna joke around and make people laugh. We will probably bring in singers to help too. We are going to be pretty active this year as well as next year.
Don: Ahh, it must be fun working with these guys!
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yeah, they're both close friends of mine. By the way, did you know that Sano-san and I recently created our own game together? It is called bQLSI Star Laser and is for the iPhone. I actually produced, directed, and composed the game while Nobuyoshi Sano, Yuji Izumita, and Hidenori Suzuki helped with sound design and programming.
Don: Wow, that's the first time I've heard about it! Speaking of unique software, Soma Bringer truly showed off the technical prowess of Procyon Studio's impressive sound team with the creation of a custom sound driver. Could you elaborate on the development of this sound driver and how it seems to have been adopted by other music studios who want quality sound from the Nintendo DS?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Suzuki-san was the one who worked on the sound driver. The DS sound quality is pretty bad as it is, so we wanted to find ways to have better sound quality. We were able to make it possible by using my company's technology. The outcome of it was a much better sound quality with a lesser amount of data.
Don: Soma Bringer was the last major work you were involved with to get a soundtrack release. However, you have been involved with World Destruction and Arc Rise Fantasia since. Do you have any reservations about publishing their full soundtracks?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Unfortunately, there is no release plan for either World Destruction or Arc Rise Fantasia at the moment. However, some music was released from these soundtracks for their promotional albums.
Don: I've heard you are rewriting the World Destruction soundtrack for the Western release of the game. Is this true and if so, will there be a possibility of a subsequent soundtrack release?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Yes, Tsuchiya from my company is rewriting the opening music for the Western version called Sands of Destruction. However, there are no plans for releasing its soundtrack afterwards.
Don: Of course, your biggest project announced currently is the MMORPG Lime Odyssey. This is the first time since Xenosaga Episode I that you'll be working with a live orchestra for much of the soundtrack. What is your approach to this soundtrack, given the use of live orchestra and will you be orchestrating the themes yourself again?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Wow, you know my works very well!
Don: Of course, you are my favorite artist!
Yasunori Mitsuda: Thank you very much! *laughs* Anyway, Lime Odyssey is an MMORPG developed by a Korean company. Initially I didn't plan to have orchestral music, but the game footage the director showed me was pretty epic and so was the story. I thought orchestral music would probably fit better in this context. The sound we are going for is not like a film score. Instead I would like to have more of a Japanese feel in it.
Don: Thanks for that valuable insight and thank you very much for your time with us today Mitsuda-san. Now that Symphonic Fantasies has been a great success, do you have any dreams about future performances of your music? Also, would you like to tell anything to your fans around the world?
Yasunori Mitsuda: Honestly, I don't really know how much people all over the world enjoy listening to my music. It makes me absolutely happy to actually see it, and I am very thankful to such an opportunity. It is kind of difficult to send out my music to the world from Japan, but as a composer, it is definitely a huge reward to see that the fans listening to my music.
Many thanks to Thomas Boecker and Yoshie Miyajima for organising this interview. In addition, thanks so much to Kanako Boecker and Shota Nakama for kindly translating it. Without them, this interview would have never been possible. Of course, many thanks to Yasunori Mitsuda for taking the time to take part and giving such insightful responses.