Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Mini-Interview with Shenmue Composers Yuzo Koshiro & Takenobu Mitsuyoshi | January 2000

A mini interview with Yuzo Koshiro and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, two composers on the Shenmue project who were already known as legends in the gaming world at the time. This interview was translated from the January 2000 issue of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine, published soon after the initial release of Shenmue in Japan.

The translation starts below.

Yuzo Koshiro and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Usually, only one or two people are in charge of the sound for a single game. However, Shenmue has more than 30 music team members involved. Some of you may have noticed the name of a legendary sound creator among them. Yuzo Koshiro. This legendary man has enchanted fans with the numerous famous songs he has composed for classic games of the past. Let's take a closer look at the secrets of the Koshiro sound that inhabits Shenmue!

About Yuzo Koshiro

Yuzo Koshiro is 32 years old. In the past, during Nihon Falcom*'s heyday, he developed sounds that made full use of FM sound generation for games such as Ys, Sorcerian, Dragon Slayer V, and Xanadu, and quickly gained a strong reputation among fans. His relationship with Sega began during the Mega Drive era when he established a sound that thrilled fans with The Super Shinobi and Bare Knuckle.** Ten years ago, that "Koshiro sound" was his trademark. Recently, after Vatlva and Culdcept, he has been stepping away from the sound business to focus on his work as senior managing director of Ancient Corp.

*[Switch] A Japanese video game developer of role-playing video games, most notably the Ys, The Legend of Heroes, and Trails series. The company was founded in 1981.
** Known as The Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage respectively, outside Japan. 

About Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Takenobu Mitsuyoshi is 32 years old. Formerly, as a member of the SST Band*, Mitsuyoshi was one of Sega's most prominent sound creators. He says that he had little direct contact with Yuzo Koshiro, but they had a strong rivalry since that time. His major works include Virtua Racing, which pioneered Sega's 3D era, Daytona USA, the Virtua Fighter series, and many other masterpieces. A sound creator from a new generation, who is able to sing and dance, is now seeking to push the envelope with the blockbuster Shenmue.

*[Switch] SST (Sega Sound Team Band) was Sega's official in-house band from 1998 to 1993, specializing in rock versions of Sega arcade game themes.


"Actually, I had been wanting to work together."

Q: At the end of last year's Premiere event, your name appeared on the credits list, didn't it? Everyone was surprised to see your name there (laughs).

Koshiro: I started working on Shenmue in August 1998. I went to Mitsuyoshi-san and asked if I could be his apprentice (laughs).

Mitsuyoshi: Oh, please! (laughs). It wasn't like that at all (laughs). It all started out when I was talking about it with the department head, Yu Suzuki, and we were both pretty keen on the idea. Before I started working on Shenmue, we worked together for the first time at a Roland event. After it, he asked me, "Would you like to work with Koshiro-san?" Of course I wanted to, and replied, "Absolutely".

Q: To what extent had each of you been aware of the other?

Mitsuyoshi: Koshiro-san has always been cool, hasn't he? I had always wanted to be like him. He came onto my radar 10 years ago, in a big way (laughs). I really think it was a great experience for me personally to have been able to work with him on various projects.

Koshiro: I came onboard [the project] to arrange the Shenmue theme song that Mitsuyoshi-san had composed, but I wish that there had been more time.

Mitsuyoshi: That's true. There wasn't much time, and the environment must have been very difficult.

Q: What do you mean by the environment?

Koshiro: It was the first time I'd used headphones when creating sounds. Being at Sega and working alongside other team members, that's just as expected, though. Usually I create music at my place by listening to live sound through speakers, so I had a lot of challenges in that regard. But it was a good experience for me.

Mitsuyoshi: Koshiro-san used to come to Sega at least once a week, you see.

Q: At which points during the game can songs Koshiro-san worked on be heard?

Mitsuyoshi: There are a lot of different team members involved in this project, so there may not be a huge number [of his ones], to be honest, but I've worked a number of songs he wrote into the game. One example is the hip-hop song that plays at Tom's hot dog stand. I've also used Koshiro-san's songs in several places during exploration, such as in the warehouse district. Also, Shenhua's theme at the ending of the game was arranged by Koshiro-san.

Koshiro: I wanted to do an orchestral arrangement for the project, but in the end there turned out to be a lot of hip-hop and jazz (laughs).

Mitsuyoshi: I've asked him to do songs for lots of different locations: one might be for exploration, another a jukebox song. Koshiro-san is someone who can create songs with a good understanding of the hardware, so he is able to write the songs and take them right through to the final step of playing them on the Dreamcast.

Q: What did you think of songwriting for the Dreamcast?

Mitsuyoshi: It's more like pasting together waveforms, rather than keyboard entry.

Koshiro: Well, I tend to get bored if I always use the same method (laughs). I try out as many different methods as possible. That's what I like to do.

Q: In what way do you receive work orders?

Mitsuyoshi: Once a week, we have a sound meeting where we present the songs we've been writing for that week. I ask Koshiro-san (and I do the same with other staff) to write and bring along a song for a certain scene that's in the game. Then we put them all in a contest and have the director Yu Suzuki listen to them.

Q: Do the songs come first? Or images?

Koshiro: The music comes first. When I was working on it, there were many cases where the picture was provisional. But when it came to making an impression of locations like Dobuita, everyone was scratching our heads over what kind of music would suit. With a name like Dobuita, should it be a slightly grubby* kind of music? That kind of thing (laughs).

*[Switch] The name Dobuita refers to boards that cover a drainage ditch.

Mitsuyoshi: On the other hand, I think it has been much easier to envisage the locations in Chapter Two*, which has places like Hong Kong and Kowloon.

*[Switch] The chapter-based naming scheme was in reality dropped from the game's Japan title after the first game.

Q: How many songs did each member of the sound team write?

Mitsuyoshi: The number varies a lot. Some people wrote 60 to 70 songs. By the way, I wrote about 10 songs (laughs).

Koshiro: I don't really have many stand-out songs; a lot of them play in the background. Like during exploration scenes.

Mitsuyoshi: That's right. The songs that play continuously during exploration are actually Koshiro-san's songs.

Q: What was your impression of Yu Suzuki when you first started working together?

Koshiro: Well, actually, when I was a gamer, I made a kind of fan manga of Space Harrier (laughs). I brought it along with me to Sega, and I was talking with Yu Suzuki. Even though I was just a regular user, he was very interested in what I had to say. I remember being impressed, and have been ever since, at how user-oriented he is. Also, he is very perceptive about things. I guess it may be because he used to play rock guitar, but it's really amazing how he intuitively understands what is most important in music.

Q: Finally, what is something players should listen out for?

Mitsuyoshi: The exploration songs have gone through many twists and turns, to become what they are today. I hope they will be able to feel that.

Koshiro: We've tried a lot of daring experiments. I'll be happy if people are able to recognize this evolution.

Source: Dreamcast Magazine Vol.1, 2000

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