Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ryuji Iuchi's Music Commentary: Shenmue Play Through | Translation

Composer Ryuji Iuchi, who wrote over 100 pieces of music for Shenmue I and II, has recently started streaming a live playthrough of Shenmue on YouTube, from the Shenmue I & II remake.

In this post we'll pick out some of the comments and memories that Ryuji shares regarding his time developing music and sound for the game during the first part of his playthrough.

The stream starts with relaxing music welcoming viewers: Ryuji's beautiful "Village and Waterside in the Forest" which is full of Shenmue vibes and features the haunting sound of the erhu (played by Hiroko Suzuki).

Ryuji comments that although he purchased the Shenmue I & II software last July, he hasn't played it properly until now. He has even given the series the humorous subtitle of "Pretty much my first try at playing, despite being with the development team".

The whole playthrough is fun to watch though, and the way Ryuji takes the time to turn off the lights before leaving a room to save electricity, or knocks several times on the door of a house to hear Ryo's different responses, will be something many Shenmue fans can relate to!

Notes and translations follow the video.

The opening scene plays out with its dramatic musical accompaniment serving to build the tension as Ryo spies the black car and broken sign outside the Hazuki residence, with Ine-san collapsed in the garden. Ryuji notes that this music was composed by (Tadahiro) Nitta on the sound team.

[Ryo's room] Searching the desk drawers, Ryo takes the cassette tape containing Shenhua's theme. "Oh, this is my song".

[While navigating the corridor of the Hazuki residence] "When I play-tested back in the day, I used to lose my way even then!"

[While in the kitchen] "The SFX staff really put in a lot of work into creating the tiniest of sounds. Even the refrigerator makes a hum".
"Even the refrigerator makes a hum".
[In Yamanose] The iconic FREE music in this part is one of Ryuji's compositions: "it's a mellow piece". Ryuji explains that he wrote this piece starting by choosing this distinctive instrument sound. "I never imagined it would work so well". He recalls the instrument as most likely being from the MR-Rack.
Ensoniq MR-Rack
[At Yamanose shrine] Ryuji comments that the piano music during the cut scene with Megumi, makes use of the left and right channels for its echo effect.

[Opposite Yamanose shrine] Speaking again on the FREE music: "When I listen to this music, it makes me think of cloudy weather".
This FREE music piece is known to fans as FREE 1
Viewer question: Was there anything Suzuki-san often said to the Sound Team during development?

Ryuji: "With respect to FREE music, I remember he asked us to make music that was 'like the air'. There wasn't really anything else he said often. But there were meetings held where songs were proposed and feedback was given. Those in charge of overall sound coordination, such as [Takenobu] Mitsuyoshi, or [Yasuhiro] Takagi, also gave their opinions. The music took shape in this way".

Viewer question: Is there any special memory or episode you could share?

Ryuji: "At the beginning, both music and sound effects were both handled by the same team members. I remember adding several sound effects. The game recognizes what material you are currently walking over and plays differing footstep sounds. I searched through a 'footstep library' that had the sounds of walking on various surfaces. That was something all of us music staff were involved with at the start".

The music that plays at nightfall (7 pm), beloved by fans, was also composed by Ryuji. "I have a feeling this guitar was from the TR-Rack".
Nightfall music

[In Sakuragaoka] Ryuji mentions there had been a plan for FREE music to incorporate some level of dynamic change: "I have a feeling that, back at that time I was thinking of having various [instrumental] parts join or drop out of the FREE music, while keeping the same musical tension. But maybe it didn't get used in the end".

While Ryuji was viewing Ryo's notebook, there was a request from a viewer to "please let us know whenever you hear a song that you wrote". Ryuji reveals that in fact he also created the music that plays while viewing Ryo's notebook!

He adds that another one he created is the slightly muffled music that plays when you pass nearby a certain shop in Dobuita shopping street (i.e. the Tomato Convenience Store jingle, heard from outside). "Back then, the music wasn't sampled and played back, but was put together by combining synthesized instrument sounds".

He also mentions that he wrote a number of the FREE songs, but at this point in the playthrough the music has stayed the same: "I'd like to advance to the next part of the story!".

[At Sakuragaoka Park] Ryuji mentions that the cut scene music that plays when Ryo goes to inform the old lady about the location of the Yamamoto's house was not one of his compositions.

Ryuji mentions being amazed at the Shenmue Sacred Spot campaign that was held in real-life Dobuita prior before the release of Shenmue III, and seeing all the posts on social media from fans.

[Near the Tomato Convenience Store in Dobuita, with the jingle playing faintly] "This was created in a slightly different way from the normal BGM. So that it doesn't sound too direct, it uses a separate set of instruments that are played over the top. It's made so that it only plays when you pass near by.
The jingle heard from outside the store was "created in a slightly different way from the normal BGM".
"There's also the same kind of indistinct music that plays at Christmas time as you walk along the street, which I also made".

As Ryo enters the Tomato Convenience Store, Ryuji confirms that he also composed the main in-store jingle, and he's happy that many fans have uploaded clips of it online,

About the vocal portion: "This is of course the voice of Mitsuyoshi-san from SEGA.

"Mitsuyoshi-san's vocals weren't added until the version recorded using real instruments. The version of this song that I created with synthesized instruments doesn't included Mitsuyoshi-san's voice.

"I think almost all the instruments I used were from the JV-2080 or JV-1080".
Roland JV-2080
[About the Tomato Convenience Store jingle] "I've seen extended several-hour versions of this song up on YouTube, and had a listen to them. That's great to see!"

Ryuji replies with words of encouragement to a greeting from a viewer from Spain: "Conditions in Spain too are really tough right now. I hope everyone is able to persevere and make it through these hard times".

[Listening to the song 'GoGo' on the portable cassette player] "This is a cool song. I can't say too much about it as the composer has not been officially announced, but it's got wonderful sense".

[Listening to the song "Flower Girl"] "This arrangement was made by Mitsuyoshi-san".

[Listening to the song "Shenmue"] "Let's see, which version is this... I'm sure I was able to recognize each of the versions when I was playtesting back at the time, but I've forgotten. ...Ah, this is the one that uses synthesized instruments."

[In response to a comment about the Shenmue Passport disc] "The Shenmue Passport has got lots of my songs in it".

Ryuji reveals another piece of music that is his creation: "Oh yes, the music on the Shenmue I title screen is also by me".

Ryuji wraps up the stream by thanking the viewers, and noting that he really doesn't have much experience playing the game (although he probably was more familiar with it 20 years ago during its development!). He hopes viewers will still find them enjoyable to watch, and hear his anecdotes every now and again about his time developing as one of the sound team.

Ryuji Iuchi's music / songs mentioned during this playthrough:
  • Shenmue I title screen music
  • Shenhua's theme
  • FREE 1
  • Nightfall music
  • Notebook music
  • Tomato Convenience Store jingle (separate versions for in-store and outside)
Related post:
Visit Ryuji's YouTube channel for the latest episodes of his playthrough (the second part in the playthrough is now also up), or to browse some of his amazing musical compositions.
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  1. Thanks for the translations dude! Really enjoyed watching him play in this first part! I need to catch up on part 2 :)

    1. Yes it's a great watch! We're really lucky to have the chance to watch (and interact with, if you catch it live!) one of the original members from the development team playing through.