Interview with Yasunori Mitsuda

We understand you have a very busy schedule, and we are therefore very grateful that you’ve managed to squeeze this interview into your schedule. We think it’s great that you want to do so much for your fans all over the world! We really enjoy the fact that more people are starting to appreciate the great art of video game music. A lot of thanks to your great contributions to it.

We are very curious: how big would you say that video game music is in Japan, in terms of popularity amongst gamers and non-gamers?

– Well, I’m not really sure. I think it’s begun to gain more recognition and popularity in the past few years, but if you take a look at my music, you can tell that the kind of stuff that I make was never really meant to be taken in by the general public. Compared to the popularity of other pop music that you see on TV, I think that video game music still has a long way to go.

You’ve composed a lot of music to many video games, such as Chrono Trigger, Radical Dreamers, Xenogears, Tsugunai, Xenosaga etc. Games that have been enriched by your beautiful soundtracks! Now I’d like to ask: which is the best selling OSV or OST that you’ve composed?

– Game-wise and soundtrack-wise, I would say Chrono Trigger, hands down!

Do you agree with the listeners, regarding their favourite soundtrack; is it the one you like the most too? What qualifies, in your eyes (and ears), a successful soundtrack? Is it the collaboration between the people involved in the project, the outcome, production time perhaps, or positive response from fans? What would you say?

– For me, I think a ”successful soundtrack” is one that I can be satisfied with, and also one that listeners can be satisfied with. When I finish making an album and send in the master tape for press, I make sure that the end product is always the best work that it could possibly be. So in that sense, I’m always satisfied with my work, but responses from fans, on the other hand, can only be heard AFTER the soundtrack is printed. And depending on who listens to the album, there are people who really like my album, and also people who don’t like it. This part, I can’t decide for myself, so there’s really no use trying to decide whether a soundtrack is really successful or not until after it hits the shelves.

Recently you’ve been writing the score to the PlayStation 2 game Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, which is the first episode of the saga. There will definitely be more games in the Xenosaga series, but is there a chance that you’ll write the music to them?

– Well, that all depends on if I receive the offer or not (from Monolith Soft), and also if my schedule is open at the time… I can’t say for certain, but it’s possible.

Speaking of the Xenosaga OST; it surely has a different touch to it than most video game soundtracks. Do you feel that this is the new wave of good quality video game music? High-quality real instrument samplings and some tracks being performed by great orchestras. How do you see the future shaping up?

– In my opinion, what I did on the soundtrack for Xenosaga was never really ”a new wave of game music”. In fact, whenever I write songs, I don’t really think about the fact that I’m writing for a game. The way I see it, there just happens to be a genre of entertainment called ”games”, and my music just happens to be used as a soundtrack for it. So if you ask me about the future of this business, I’d have to say, ”I haven’t the slightest clue”. But in my opinion, you’re a bit outdated if you’re writing music that can only be used as game music.

How do you come up with all those new melodies? Do you walk around whistling all day long in the studio and at home? Or do you rather pick up a guitar and start playing softly. Or perhaps you quietly sit down in front of a piano and close your eyes and just let it go?

– Well, most of my melodies, I come up with while sitting in front of my piano… but there are times when melodies pop up in my dreams.

When you’re not composing, do you try out any different instruments? Or do you prefer to stick to your favourite instrument, which is?

– Yeah, I try out a lot of different instruments. Each instrument has its own unique sound and character, so it’s really interesting just listening to these different sounds. Also, one of my hobbies is to collect various musical instruments from around the world (especially percussion instruments), so whenever I find an instrument that really interests me I buy it almost out of pure reflex. My favourite instrument? Well, for the past couple of years, my favourite has been the guitar [why am I not surprised? - ed.].

For all those people interested in making their own video game music; do you have any programs, synthesizers, keyboards etc. to recommend? What are you using for the moment?

– Recently, I got my hands on this software sampler called GigaSampler, and it’s been an extremely useful tool. As a matter of fact, this thing has almost single-handedly replaced all my synth modules in my rack. These days, I don’t think there’s a track that I make without using a sampler.

Aside from composing video game music; are you working on any other projects? Or is that something you would like to do in the near future, work on an instrumental album, similar to what Mr. Uematsu did with Phantasmagoria.

– Yes, of course. I’m thinking about making my own solo album in the near future.

Do you find the music of any particular game music composer to be very good, and if so, what makes him or her such a great musician?

– Does this have to be just within the field of game music? If so, I don’t think there’s anyone in particular that I can name right now.

Are there any composers, video game or not, or musicians that you really look up to, and that you’d like to work together with to produce an album?

– I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s any particular game music composer that I’d like to try working with. Now if it’s musicians that you’re talking about here, then there are a lot of people that I’d like to ask to play my songs.

Both Xenogears and Xenosaga have beautiful vocal tracks, and part of them being so good is due to the great vocalist and of course the lyrics. Did the same lyricist write all of the songs to Xenogears and Xenosaga, and do you always feel confident that the lyrics will fit the mood of your music well?

– The original lyrics for the songs in Xenogears were written by scenario writer Masato Kato (director/scenario writer of Chrono Cross), and the original lyrics for the songs in Xenosaga were written by director Tetsuya Takahashi. As for the lyric-writing process, we always discuss in detail the theme of the song, the emotions that we want to get across, and the meaning of the lyrics, very thoroughly before beginning to write, so I’m always confident that the end product will fit in to the music well.

After you’ve spent months working hard finishing a soundtrack; do you take a long, much needed vacation to regain your strength, before attempting another project?

– A really LONG vacation is a rather difficult wish for me (laughs). Just a few months ago, I took a whole week off, for the first time in a couple of years.

It must be great to live in Japan, a country where old customs and high-tech meet to create a diversity of cultural richness. In other words, when you’re not working with music, what else do you find to be interesting?

– Well, urban-life is nice too, but whenever I get the chance, I try to go back to my home in the Yamaguchi Prefecture to see my folks back home. Of course this is IF I get the chance…

Procyon Studio Co., Ltd is located in Tokyo. Is it also where you live and spend most of your spare time?

– No, I don’t live in the studio [hehe - ed.]. I have a home in a different part of Tokyo, but I spend the majority of my time in the studio.

When I listen to Japanese video game music, I always notice that a lot of emphasis is put on the melody. Would you say that this generally reflects how Japanese people like their music to be, or is it mainly due to the many technical restrictions in the early days of video games? Basically, a good melody was the only way to “woooow!” your audience, when high-quality samplings weren’t a reality.

– Well, in my opinion, a strong melody line isn’t a characteristic unique to game music alone. And generally speaking, listeners tend to like songs that have a good melody… don’t you think this could be said for almost anyone around the world? [yea, that might be, but I’ll stick to me theory - ed.]

Do you know anything about Swedish music? I know ABBA was big in Japan, and a lot due to their catchy melodies. Do you find Sweden, Swedish music to be as exotic as many of us here in Sweden find Japan to be?

– Yes. Of course I’m familiar with Swedish music. I’ve listened to ABBA before and a while back there was even a time when Swedish pop was really popular in Japan. I think it’s similar to French pop in some ways that it is very rhythmic and also very stylish. Trad music is stylish too, but compared to trad, I’d say that Swedish music has a more exotic feel to it.

We thank you so kindly for this, Mr. Mitsuda! Finally, is there anything you would like to say to your fans far away in Sweden?

– At first, I was very surprised to hear that people in Sweden listened to my music. But regardless of the country, I’m very happy to hear that there are people who listen to and appreciate the music that I create. I hope to continue making music that will inspire people around the world and also, at the same time, create works that will surpass all expectations that you may have for my music. Thank you all for your support!