May 11, 2009 4:00 PM | jeriaska
[Continuing the GameSetWatch-exclusive 'Sound Current' game music interview series, Jeriaska chats to the composer behind the intriguing music for Atlus' Persona 4.]
Last week marked the release of Persona for the Playstation Portable in Japan, Shoji Meguro's debut as a game director. The title appears well over a decade after Atlus first localized Revelations: Persona for English-language territories.
In North America, this month will see the continuation of the Devil Summoner series with Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon serving as the latest entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series, also scored by Meguro.
This August in Tokyo, three of the composer's songs from the Playstation 2 RPG Persona 4 will be performed live at the Press Start Symphony of Games concert at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro. In this interview on the subject of the game soundtrack, the composer comments on the innovative use of English-language lyrics during animated cutscenes and battle sequences.
In addition, the discussion touches on how precisely the Persona 4 scenario, which in several respects broke new ground for a console role-playing game, impacted the design of the score and its best-selling original soundtrack album.
Meguro-san, thank you for joining us for this conversation on the subject of your music. Before we begin discussing your original soundtrack for Persona 4, the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2 is approaching in English-language regions. Will the soundtrack be an important part of establishing the game's historical setting of Taisho era Japan?
Shoji Meguro, composer of Persona 4: Not all the songs on the soundtrack are seeking to represent the Taisho era through the use of traditional Japanese instruments or those styles of melodies. The Raidou series has already established a unique atmosphere, and I composed with a feel for that material in mind.
In the opening, the use of the shakuhachi, which is an end-blown bamboo flute, serves to convey a sense of the period. I think that for a lot of people the impression it leaves is very clear. In my judgment, the use of this instrument alone is enough to conjure up a sense of the Taisho era.
On the subject of Persona 4, several English-language websites including Gamasutra and Kotaku have hosted editorials on the subject of the repressed personalities that feature in the story. This narrative theme appears to be succinctly described by the titles of your songs "Pursuing My True Self" and "Reach Out To The Truth." Were these songs intentionally meant to reflect the game's recurring theme of overcoming self-deception?
There is something to be said for creating a link between the underlying themes of the Persona titles and their music scores. In terms of my process as a composer, the opening theme "Pursuing My True Self" to a certain extent helped to inform my understanding of the psychologies of the central characters. Though the protagonists act calmly on the surface, underneath they are in conflict. The battle track "Reach Out to the Truth" is an expression of the strength of these characters to work through their internal struggles.
"Reach Out To The Truth" plays during the battle sequences that take place inside The Midnight Channel. The song is scheduled to be performed live at the Press Start Symphony of Games concert, which is a first for the series. How did you and singer Shihoko Hirata go about creating such dynamic emotional range for this song?
First off, I searched around for a singer that would be able to represent the setting of Persona 4, and that was how I came across Shihoko Hirata. Hirata-san was able to convince me without hesitation that this project was meant for her. In terms of the demands of the soundtrack, I was able to leave it up to her to address the challenges that this song entailed.
While writing "Pursuing My True Self," were you aware of certain elements of the storyline, such as the drama revolving around a murder mystery or the main characters' inner conflicts?
The music for the opening sequence had been written first. However I had received a rough outline of the scenario. The details of the composition came together just as the development of the story and all the spoken dialog was underway.
In a sense, composing a soundtrack is a lot like writing a story. First it is essential to have an impression of the overall shape and then determine the finer details, such as the melody lines for each song. In my work, I construct a framework to guide my progress and only then do I actually start composing.
To what do you attribute the successful reception of the original soundtrack album published by Aniplex Records?
For one, a great degree of attention was given to each of the songs on the soundtrack when it came time to release the album. The vocal tracks in particular were revised for sound balance and the mastering process was optimized for 24bit/ 48kHz recording.
Who was responsible for writing the lyrics to these songs?
This was the work of lyricist Reiko Tanaka. Since the start of Persona 3 we have collaborated on three songs together. She writes excellent English-language lyrics.
According to an interview with Play Magazine, your first song for Atlus was "Aria of Soul," the theme of the Velvet Room composed for the original Persona. How did you arrive upon the remix of this song found on Persona 4 Original Soundtrack and how do you see yourself arranging the song in the future?
"Aria of Soul" appears in the same form in Persona 3 and Persona 4. I really felt that the shape of the song had been well defined in the previous game. For that reason, it is likely that future arrangements will reflect a similar structure. I do have an idea of how I would like to elaborate on the theme further, but I'm afraid that's a secret. (laughs) "Electronica in Velvet Room" was planned as a bonus track for the domestic soundtrack, and so it is totally separate from the game.
In closing, you have stated that in graduate school you studied mechanical engineering. Do you find this training has informed your work as a technician in the field of electronic music?
Up until I had entered college I felt destined to be a scientist (in high school my focus was on math and science) and I had a strong regard for technology. It was only natural that my interests extend to electronic musical instruments.
A facility with computers can only count as an advantage for anyone interested in writing music for videogames. My personal experience programming since high school was extremely beneficial in that regard.
[Interview conducted by Jeriaska. Translation by Ryojiro Sato. This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current, in French on Squaremusic, and in Italian on Gamesource.it. Images courtesy of Atlus. Persona 4 Original Soundtrack can be imported through Amazon.co.jp.]