Sound Byte: Meet the Composer - Nier
We talk to composer Keiichi Okabe about his work for 2010's underdog RPG.
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While critics were divided about the gameplay quality of Square Enix and Cavia's role-playing game called Nier, the majority of them agreed that the game's soundtrack was majestic to the aural senses. In fact, there have been numerous remixes and even a live stage show to honor its quality and uniqueness.
GameSpot Asia talked to one of the composers of the game's music, Keiichi Okabe, on how the music for the RPG came to be.
How did you get started in the video game music business?
I've always loved music as a hobby, as I had been taking lessons for the electric organ since I was a child, and I would join bands during my adolescence. But I always thought it would be difficult for me to make music my profession.
In college, I majored in CG design and there was an assignment to create a CG animation sequence. As I was creating music that would accompany the video, the desire to be in a job that would allow me to put music to video grew stronger. I was hired on to a video game company as a sound creator, and the rest is history.
Which artists are your main influences when composing music?
I was influenced by lots of music and many artists, but my favorites are Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ennio Morricone.
What made you want to create music for Nier? What attracted you to the project?
Yoko, the director, and I were friends since we were students, and we have a close relationship outside of the work environment. And so, just as the Nier project was starting up, he had mentioned over dinner, "I'm going to be handling this project. Okabe, do you want to do the music for it?" and I accepted the offer (laughs).
At that time, I never thought in my wildest dreams that this game would become a title that so many people would come to support.
What kind of vibe were you aiming for in creating Nier's music?
I was told that the feel of the world and the atmosphere of the story were "sad and gloomy," and so I did my best to bring out a sense of melancholy in everything. But I didn't want the music to be just gloom, so I focused on expressing various sadness and gloominess, from a quiescent sadness to intense sadness, and so forth.
I had separated out certain parts, such as rhythm, vocal, piano and bass, and made it possible to switch out parts as needed so that I can match the effects with the real-time scenes.
Because of that, I had to keep from the parts having gaps, and so I struggled to keep each part going. When it came to recording the soundtrack, I had to remake the structure and mixing so that I can listen to the playback.
From a musical standpoint, I like scores that have a cool tone and ones that power through the sound field, and I have made songs like that with other projects. But games nowadays seem to lean so much in that direction that it seems there are few scores that actually bring out a beautiful melody. Because I wanted to express many different types of sadness, I wrote the score with emphasis on the melody.
Among all of the tracks, which ones took the longest to compose? Why?
I don't think there was any one song in particular that I thought took the longest. But then, it has been almost five years since I first started composing, so it might just be that I forgot. (laughs)
For "Ashes of Dreams," how did you come up with four ending songs? Could you give us a rundown on how each came to be and why each of them have their own styles?
Nier has multiple endings--four to be exact. Because the ending songs start to play during the ending event scene, and each had different lengths and contents, I wanted to vary the arrangement for each sequence.
Usually, the arrangement is applied to the backing track only, and the vocals remain the same. But since I believe one of the features of the music of Nier is "vocals sung in a fictitious language," I wanted to add a sort of color to each version of the vocal track, so I changed the lyrics and recorded each version separately.
To be honest with you, it did add to the hassle (laughs), but I believe we were able to express the fruits of our efforts through the difference in impression for each version of the ending.
How did you get Emi Evans on board Nier's soundtrack? Were there other vocalists you considered in the field before you went with Evans?
Before asking Emi Evans to come on board this project, I was already acquainted with her through a friend and just didn't have an opportunity to work together.
When the Nier project started up, seeing that I wanted to express this unrealistic and outerworldly feel, I thought that Emi's voice would be perfect, and that's when I asked her to join.
The way in which she sings is also a factor, but I also wanted to add a mystical feel of the language of the songs, and so I thought no one would be more suitable than Emi, who is knowledgeable in many languages.
That being said, songs with one vocalist is mostly Emi, but I have also recorded Nami Nakagawa on tracks that needed multiple simultaneous voices, or I sung some of the male vocal parts, and I've also recorded a boys choir as well.
If you were to hold a live concert featuring Nier's music, which songs do you think will get the most requests from fans?
I would say "Songs of the Ancient," "Kaine," and "Emil" may be popular.
How much different is composing music for an RPG compared to the music you've done in the past like the Tekken series?
When I'm composing, I think about the direction of what I make not so much in terms of the genre of the game, but more about the concept of the title.
Taking the examples you had mentioned, I bring out the rhythm and the backing tracks, whereas in the latter I bring out the melody. In terms of game genre, in an action-packed game such as Tekken, the player would have to concentrate on his or her own gameplay and not have the capacity to listen to the music. So, I would write tracks that would evoke a sense of competitive spirit.
On the other hand, it's not all about the player being driven to concentrate on his or her own gameplay especially in an RPG like Nier. In some instances, there are scenes in which the player's mind can shift to the story, graphics, and the music. So I believe that not only the element of adding a stage effect, but to make the music something that the player can listen to is a very important element.
Looking back at your past discography, do you have a particular favorite soundtrack that you worked on?
Nier is still my favorite (laughs). Other than that, I think Tekken, too, since I've been involved with that franchise for such a long time.
What would your favorite tracks be from your discography? If not the best, just tell us which ones you're very happy and satisfied with.
"Ashes of Dreams" is my favorite. The technical aspects of the music aside, I feel that this song moves me the most.
What can we expect from you in terms of music later this year and in 2013?
In terms of Square Enix titles, I wrote some of the tracks on Demons' Score, which will be available on smartphones and iOS. Outside of Square Enix titles, I had the opportunity to work on the music of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which will be available on consoles in September.
Other than that, I am working on a few video game and anime titles, but I'm afraid I can't tell you about them yet. When the time comes, I will definitely let you know on my website and Twitter. I will continue to work hard to bring you music that you would enjoy, so please keep an eye out!
Check out Nier's music and remix albums at Square Enix's stores and iTunes.