Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Interview with Shenmue Sound Director: Takenobu Mitsuyoshi | Dreamcast Magazine (Dec '99)

In the December 24th 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast magazine, two short yet insightful developer interviews were published as part of a 16-page special feature about Shenmue to generate excitement for the game's upcoming release. The interviews themselves took place approximately three weeks before the release of Shenmue in Japan.

This post is a translation of the interview with Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Shenmue's Sound Director.

The article translation begins below.

Interview with Sound Director - Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Shenmue's Sound Director, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

 "Yu Suzuki kept nagging us: the music during the game needs to be there, but mustn't draw attention to itself. For people like us who had previously created ordinary game music, finding the right balance was extremely difficult, and it gave us a hard time." - Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

A Contrary Approach to Game Music & The Challenge of Creating Music That's "Natural" 

Q: When did you start working on Shenmue?

Mitsuyoshi: I've been working on Shenmue ever since it was being made on the Saturn. At the time, I was also working on the arcade version of Virtua Fighter 3, but at any rate, I've done everything that relates to Shenmue's sound since the beginning.

Q: During the Premiere*, it was mentioned that the concept for the game was built out starting from a single song, wasn't it? How did that work?

* The Shenmue Premiere was held in Yokohama at the end of December 1998 (and other cities around Japan following).

Mitsuyoshi: At the beginning, Mr. Suzuki talked about wanting to create something like Disney: the music would come first, and that would inspire the drawing of art and designing of the characters. I thought this approach of building up from sound and music would be worth trying. At that time, there was already a main scenario in place, but it wasn't yet in a detailed form. So the concept for the game  was built up drawing inspiration from a piece that I wrote while actually visiting China.

Q: What did the new hardware (the Dreamcast) allow you to do in terms of music?

Mitsuyoshi: The most obvious thing is the number of [simultaneous] sounds, which is twice that of the Saturn. Things that hadn't been possible on the Saturn due to its low number of sounds now became possible, whether it's the sound effects or the number of drums. Another thing is compression. We were able to compress the data space needed without lowering the sound quality, so we were able to include more sounds. In fact, there are many things we were able to do thanks to the change of hardware.

Q: By the way, at the Premiere, I saw the names of many people involved in sound, including Yuzo Koshiro. Around how many people were involved in the music for Shenmue?

Mitsuyoshi: It would be about 30 people.

Q: Er, would that be a large number? Or a small one?

Mitsuyoshi: In an ordinary game, there are usually one or two people in charge of sound [laughs].

Q: Is there a reason why there were so many?

Mitsuyoshi: I think it's because everything needed to be at such a large scale. That goes for the number of requested music pieces, as well as their quality, and speed [of delivery]. I guess it wasn't a case of "the more, the better", but it speaks to the scale of Shenmue itself. 

Q: Ah... By the way, while listening to your response, I was just thinking that when you play Shenmue, it doesn't seem like there are that many songs. It seems so natural.

Mitsuyoshi: That's very perceptive of you [laughs]. But I'll take that as a compliment.

Q: This is just my own thought but... Shenmue's music doesn't sound like game music. Game music is written to stick in your head once you hear it, like Daytona USA for example, right? But Shenmue sounds as if it's trying to do the opposite of that. It feels so natural that you don't notice it. But it conveys the atmosphere subtly.

Mitsuyoshi: You've hit the nail on the head [laughs]. Actually, that's something Mr. Suzuki has kept nagging me about - he said the music during the game needs to be there but mustn't draw attention to itself. For people like us who previously created typical game music, finding the right balance was extremely difficult and challenging for us. We went back and forwards like this many times: "I've tried writing it like this" and "No, not like that" [laughs]. In the end, it sounded natural. It took a lot of hard work to get to the point where the music is present without drawing attention to itself.

Q: That's a first, isn't it? As game music, it seems like it would be very difficult to compose.

Mitsuyoshi: It was difficult, it really was [laughs]. It's not really my strong suit. I think my songwriting is all about "standing out" [laughs]. Nevertheless, I emphasized the music in places like significant cut scenes or the prologue, as opposed to the free quest music. But it was a good learning experience. I learned how hard it is to make normal music.

Q: What would you say is one of Shenmue's highlights?

Mitsuyoshi: Lately, I've been thinking over the fact that it's fully voiced. Also the attention to detail in the sound effects. I'd like people to take a moment to listen to the details of the sounds in the city.

[Screenshot from Shenmue I & II release]

Fully Voiced: it's not about the songs, but also the voices, which are a major attraction of Shenmue: a work of such a grand scale that is fully voiced. Once you've tried Shenmue, other titles may feel lacking.

[Screenshot from Shenmue I & II release]

Music that sounds natural in a game: a concept that's actually more difficult than one might imagine. Listening attentively to its craftsmanship and attention to detail, which appears to challenge the conventional wisdom of game music, will make you realize just how remarkable it is.

About Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Mitsuyoshi has led the sound for some of AM2's best-known titles, including Daytona USA and the Virtua Fighter series. The reason he hasn't been visible for a long time is due to his involvement in Shenmue. He was in charge of the entirety of the sound in Shenmue.

Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

-- End of translation --

Source: Dreamcast Magazine, 24th December 1999

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