[In an in-depth round-up from Japan for the GameSetWatch-exclusive 'Sound Current' column, Jeriaska speaks to a number of major soundtrack composers -- from Square Enix through Q Games to Capcom -- to document the major audio-related goings-on at the annual trade show.]

The 2009 Tokyo Game Show, which took place last week in Chiba, Japan, has often served as a platform for announcements related to video game music.

TGS offers a special opportunity for game companies to unveil debut trailers for newly revealed titles, hinting at what to expect from their musical scores. As the enjoyment of game soundtracks has traditionally transcended language barriers, audio-related news from the show tends to spread quickly among those who follow it internationally.

Game companies including Square Enix and Capcom have marked the occasion in recent years by debuting albums of remixed game themes at the Makuhari Messe exhibition hall. There also tend to be live music events, though 2009 proved to be an exception, perhaps a reflection of decreased attendance and economic recession. Nevertheless, a number of game designers and composers were on-hand to relate their views on current developments in game audio.

To focus on a few, Dylan Cuthbert was present at the Q-Games booth, offering news on the music of PixelJunk series installments PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. Dan Paladin provided some background on the process behind licensing tracks for The Behemoth games. Nigoro elaborated on how they are currently remixing their background music for the WiiWare remake of La-Mulana, and sound studio Noisycroak had details on the score for the third installment of Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman.

This report offers some impressions from the designers participating in the event. In addition, Square Enix Music department director Soushi Yoshida provides an outline of the fourth volume of their annual music sampler, while sound director Ippo Yamada, who last year composed for Mega Man 9, introduces his new game arrangement compilation Chiptuned Rockman.

The Square Enix Music booth at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show

Square Enix has consistently led the way when it comes to promoting album releases at TGS. This year the company’s music-dedicated booth had on sale such recent releases as the Blood of Bahamut soundtrack album, Reunion Tracks (songs from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete for Blu-Ray) and the 20-disc SaGa series Premium Box. Those who made a purchase at the booth were treated to a sampler CD of material from upcoming game and album releases, the fourth such volume in consecutive years. Speaking with director Soushi Yoshida, we received an overview of the sampler foreshadowing the fourth quarter music releases from the company.

This year the sampler includes the previously unreleased music from the 2007 TGS promo for Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess, composed by Naoshi Mizuta. The same composer wrote the following track, the main theme of 4 Warriors of Light: Final Fantasy Gaiden. A Nintendo DS RPG, its score mixes classical music instruments with NES sound card samples. Hidenori Iwasaki's track on the sample, from the Wii action adventure title Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, leads off with a lighthearted hoedown feel that is reminiscent of "Fiddle de Chocobo" from Final Fantasy VII.

Appearing next on the sampler, arrange album Love SQ appears to be positioning itself as a high profile equivalent of the doujin arrange albums made by Square Enix fans. The game company is recruiting popular artists outside of games to remix Final Fantasy, SaGa, Chrono and Mana titles published during the Squaresoft days. While jazz musicians PE’Z can be heard performing a big band rendition of the Final Fantasy IV theme on the sampler, Sexy Synthesizer, note native and others will also appear on the full album.

Following Love SQ, C+D makes an appearance. Revisiting “Calling” and "Déjà Vu" from The World Ends With You, the arrangement throws some old school game sound effects into the mix, likely presaging a retro remix compilation. Another album revealed by the sampler is a follow-up to Piano Collections Kingdom Hearts. Yoko Shimomura’s music from the series will be further treated to live music arrangements, as a result of the greater-than-expected popularity of the original. The song “Sinister Sundown” is present on the sampler. “Senkou,” a battle theme from Final Fantasy XIII by Masashi Hamauzu, rounds out the album, juxtaposing an austere full orchestra recording with metal-style electric guitar.

Square Enix Music director Soushi Yoshida provides a rundown of the Volume 4 Sampler

While the XBox Live Arcade title Castle Crashers may be less well known within Japan than in English-language regions, developers The Behemoth had a booth set up to show off the playable build of their as of yet untitled third game. PixelJunk Eden composer and art director Baiyon dropped by to talk with art director Dan Paladin and exchange illustrations. The Behemoth has been influenced by classic Japanese videogames, fueling discussions at TGS.

Not only was Paladin responsible for the art for Castle Crashers, he wrote the introductory and ending music themes. Asked how composers were contacted for the game, Paladin explained that all the music was discovered via the Newgrounds site. Formed in 1995 to host Flash games and movies, the website has served as a portal for connecting game designers with user-generated content that is available to license.

"Game 3" is currently without a soundtrack, and a similar process of scouring Newgrounds is planned. The art director says, "I wish more people would go to the Newgrounds audio portal and approach those guys, because they would love to work on other games."

WiiWare is currently anticipating several 2D games from developer Nicalis. Recently the company announced that they will be localizing a downloadable title by Nigoro, a small team previously responsible for the slapping-based Flash game title Rose & Camellia.

The team is currently putting the final touches on a full remake of their archeological adventure title La-Mulana, an auteur creation in the same vain as Nicalis titles NightSky (formerly Night Game) and Cave Story. The music is being fully arranged for the Wii by game designers Naramura and Samejima.

Kyoto-based developer Q-Games had a booth at the Tokyo Game Show to demo their upcoming Playstation 3 title PixelJunk Shooter. The game includes music by High Frequency Bandwidth, one half of the techno group The Orb. Company president Dylan Cuthbert has been following the artists' releases for years, and he describes the Shooter soundtrack as a mix of genres, “very modern sounding.”

Also new to the PixelJunk series are ten or so additional music tracks by Otograph, which are being added to the PSP downloadable title PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. The game became available October 1st on the Playstation Network. Not only are there new songs, Otograph has created several music videos, which can be unlocked by meeting certain conditions in the game. The omake extras underscore artists Takashi Iura and Sachiyo Oshima's history as audio/ visual creators, having made interactive installments for numerous Kyoto art exhibits.

Q-Games president Dylan Cuthbert describes the soundtracks to the upcoming Pixeljunk installments

Nigoro talks La-Mulana music

NIS America hosted an event during the Tokyo Game Show to announce the localization of two new titles. Localizer Allison Walter confirmed that role-playing title Atelier Rorona is scheduled for release in English-language regions on the Playstation 3 with music by Ken Nakagawa. The sequel to Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman is also in the midst of being translated, and is headed to the PSP. Music from the first two titles is available to sample on the official site for the album release published by Aniplex Records.

Proceeding in parallel with the localization, musician Hideki Sakamoto is already in the process of composing the score for the third game in the series, titled Yuusha no Kuse ni Namaiki da 3D. A play on words, the installment does not actually take the retro series into the third dimension. Rather, it features three dungeons as opposed to a single playing field. Members of Sakamoto's sound studio Noisycroak will be performing all the instruments for the soundtrack.

Speaking on the subject of the upcoming score, Sakamoto offered a few details on the music for the series. "In the previous installments, the concept for the score was to limit ourselves only to instruments practiced in elementary school," he said. "These were all performed by our co-workers at Noisycroak, every one of whom has memories of practicing them as kids." In terms of what to expect from Badman 3D, he mentioned, "This time out, it almost sounds as if an adult were providing backup. We have some elaborate use of string instruments for one of the songs, and it's perhaps the biggest departure from the previous games. "

Noisycroak musicians Hideki Sakamoto, Tsuyoshi Yukawa, Keisuke Itou & Hiroyoshi Kato

It has been said that '08 was witness to an 8-bit boom in Japan, a phenomenon linked to the time warp undertaken by the Mega Man series. Last year at TGS, Inti Creates announced Rockman 9 Arrange Soundtrack, and this time at the show a related album was made available for the first time at the Capcom CD shop. "Chiptuned Rockman" compiles various artists’ remixes of Mega Man series music, transformed and expanded upon within the domain of 8-bit Famicom chip music.

The CD divides its playlist on the one hand between SNES or Playstation tunes given retro revisions and on the other, classic 8-bit themes like "Snake Man" and "Air Man" treated to Blip Festival-style improvisatory riffs. Ippo Yamada, sound director at Inti Creates, described it as a natural product of collaborating with chiptune artist hally, opening the doors to the participation of twenty musicians. They include international artists Zinger, from Sweden, and Virt, who this year arranged "Freddie Freeloader" for the 8-bit Miles Davis tribute Kind of Bloop.

Primarily Chiptuned Rockman is a collaboration between composers and chip music artists based in Japan. KPLECRAFT, a duo that last year performed live at the EXTRA Hyper Game Music Event, brings their high octane club music style to the iconic Mega Man 2 intro. Cave shooter music composer Manabu Namiki remixes Mega Man: The Wily Wars, while Akari Kaida, having arranged "Jewel Temptation" last year, makes a return. Also participating are Inti Creates composers Ryo Kawakami and Hiroki Isogai.

While live performances all but vanished from the Tokyo Game Show this year, there appear to have been signs present at the Makuhari Messe of collaborations flourishing among musicians via digital media. Whether through the remixing of classics like Final Fantasy and Mega Man, or the localization of downloadable content, a number of unique music projects are transcending the particularities of geographic location. The economic climate alone appears to be a compelling reason for musicians to investigate what creative opportunities are existing elsewhere in the world.

Ippo Yamada introduces Chiptuned Rockman

[Images courtesy of Square Enix and Capcom. Interpretation by Miyu. Additional translation by Yoshi Miyamoto. Photos by Jeriaska.]