Sound Byte: Meet the Composer of Dark Souls

Veteran Japanese role-playing game composer Motoi Sakuraba tackles the musical challenge that is Dark Souls.


Dark Souls has a lot to live up to, given that it's the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, GameSpot's Game of the Year in 2009. The game is even bigger than the first, set in a world where you can easily immerse yourself. Sure the game is difficult, but the reward and the feeling of satisfaction are worth the risk. The adventure wouldn't be as tense and exciting if it weren't for a great sound design and musical score. Find out how composer Motoi Sakuraba approached the daunting task of creating the music for Dark Souls.

GameSpot: Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role on the project?

Motoi Sakuraba: Hello. My name is Motoi Sakuraba. I am responsible for music creation and editing.

GS: What is your musical background?

MS: I used to be in a hard rock band playing organ covering famous music. Then I made a band of keyboard, drum, and bass playing original songs. I was playing as a keyboard. Then I went into the game music industry.

GS: You've worked on a lot of Japanese role-playing games with very memorable soundtracks. How are you approaching the music of Dark Souls? Is it similar to or different from what you're used to?

MS: This was my first time to make music for this kind of atmosphere. So I had close communication with the game's producer to compose the best fit music for Dark Souls. There were many trials and errors in terms of music creation for Dark Souls.

GS: Could you tell us about the style of music?

MS: Since I am very bad at analyzing myself, my answer here might be very vague. But I have never learned how to compose music. Thus, I do not know much about classic music nor names of songs overall. I studied composing music just by myself.

GS: How did you originally get started working in video games?

MS: I sent my demo tape to a game publisher that was offering the position of music composer. That is how I entered the game industry.

GS: What are some of the challenges you face when doing the audio for a game?

MS: The challenge is not to break the game atmosphere with my music.

GS: How do you prevent that from happening?

MS: First of all, I choose appropriate musical instruments and sounds for the game. Then I start composing music based on the graphic design and the content of the game. If I have any problem in terms of music direction, I always communicate with the game's producer.

GS: As a composer, what is the most important thing when it comes to working on a game like Dark Souls?

MS: It is important to create memorable phrase with unique sounds. This time, it is the chorus.

GS: What is your process when coming up with a track for a game?

MS: I use soft synthesizer to quickly compose music. Then I will record phrase by using real instruments to replace with the synthesizer. This time, I recorded strings, brass, chorus, percussion-solo-vocal, harp, and piano to be replaced.

GS: What are the strangest things that you have done to get the sound that you want?

MS: I have done some weird things to get a sound before. But this time, I used a Leslie speaker unit, which is exclusively designed for organ to record drum sounds.

GS: What kind of research do you need to do for your work?

MS: I do not make any research.

GS: Do you work closely with the audio and sound design team as well? Or do they function separately?

MS: I make/edit music just by myself.

GS: How has video game music evolved since you initially started working in the industry?

MS: When I first started in the game industry, I could use only PSG and FM. Thus, there were many extra amounts of work to do compared to composing regular music. But now, the process of making game music has become exactly the same as the one for making regular music. Even though the amount of time I would need to spend for making music is a lot longer, the stress I feel for doing my work is much less.

GS: Where do you see video game music heading in the future?

MS: I would assume the music will have more links to visual designs.

GS: What kind of advice do you have for aspiring composers?

MS: If you decide to make music, you have to complete making the music from the beginning to the end by yourself. Also, always play an instrument you like and try to record it. But the most important element is love/passion toward music. That's all.

GS: Thank you for your time.

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