Mushihimesama – Music and Design Interview

Mushihimesama – Music and Design Interview

This interview with Mushihimesama designer Akira Wakabayashi and composers Manabu Namiki and Masaharu Iwata was featured in the the INH “Secret Lover” superplay release. As usual, INH went the distance and included a treasure trove of concept art, from which I’ve selected a few pertinent examples to accompany the interview. Some of the early concept art is tantalizingly different from the Reco we got, and shows the influence of Nausicaa.

—Please tell us how you came to work at Cave.

Wakabayashi: My first encounter with a game center was Final Fight. In the winter of my third year of high school I said to myself, “If I can draw and just make enough to get by, that’d be great.” I took animation courses at a technical college and graduated. Then I went to work for an animation company, but I quit after 10 months. I joined Cave around the time of Dodonpachi. I’ve mainly worked on our STG titles.

—Regarding the imagery and art for Mushihimesame, how are you involved, and how is the work divided amongst the development staff?

Wakabayashi: I come up with the overall image, and I also design the enemies to a certain extent. I convey that image to the rest of the staff, and they turn the designs I’ve made into actual in-game data, taking care that everything is consonant with the world we’re trying to create. For the bosses, I did everything, from the designs to what you see in the actual game. I then convey the image of the game to someone extremely skilled at drawing (Kotani Tomoyuki for Mushihimesama), who then does the promotional art for the game.

—Please tell us about the world of Mushihimesama.

Wakabayashi: Insects, that variety of creatures who act according to their programming far more readily than mammals… it is a world where they are flourishing.

—How do you go about creating and drawing these insects?

Wakabayashi: I get the world of the game solidified in my mind to an extent, then I refine my picture of it and remove extraneous or absurd elements. For my drawings I try, to the best of my abilities, to make things visually clear and discernible. I want people to see the art and immediately go, “oh, you’re fighting a huge stag beetle.”

Also, since these are bugs, I made sure my drawings clearly looked like bugs and not other animals.

Early alternate design for Kin’iro, Reco’s stag beetle steed.

—What is your overall approach to drawing human figures?

Wakabayashi: I make sure they have some feature that easily stands out.

—Please tell us about your concept for Reco.

Wakabayashi: There were actually various versions of her design. shall I take you through the history of them, going up to the one we settled on?

1. A hero, who fights and rides on some kind of living creature.
2. How about riding a dragon?
3. Maybe the hero transforms into a dragon? Hmm, sounds like Dragon Spirit.
4. No, no, definitely she is riding another creature, not transforming.
5. The hero should be a girl.
6. Riding on a dragon has been done too many times before. How about a bug? (at this point I also conceived a world of bugs with bug enemies)
7. How about she rides a butterfly?
8. Oh, this is pretty cool! But the butterfly motive is too similar to ESPGaluda.
9. Well then, maybe a beetle?
10. The backstory became “A princess who secretly works as a bounty hunter, riding and fighting on a beetle.”
11. The way she rode didn’t look good.
12. She’s a princess, so she should sit on her side.
13. Yeah, now we’re talking.
14. Reco. A cheerful princess who is shouldering some heavy burden (she’s conscious of it within herself, but she doesn’t show it on the outside).

—Tell us about your image for Aki.

Wakabayashi: A boy who looks gentle and friendly.

—Was there anything you took cares with when drawing him?

Wakabayashi: Just to make sure he evokes that feeling of gentleness.

Trying out different steeds and riding styles. Note the bat in the upper-right.

—Can you tell us about the backstory behind the enemy names?

Wakabayashi: I wanted the names to somehow evoke the real names of the different insects.

—What are some of the differences between Mushihimesama and Ketsui?

Wakabayashi: The colors, the resolution. Ketsui is mechs, Mushihimesama is organic creatures. Ketsui is about male characters, Mushihimesama female.

Part II: The Music of Mushihimesama

—A year has passed now since Mushihimesama was released. How has the soundtrack been received?

Namiki: When the first soundtrack came out, it was mentioned on various sites and reception was positive, I think. However, at that same time there were a lot of posts about figures and other things, and I would have liked to hear people’s more in-depth thoughts about the music. Even now, I’d like to hear more opinions from listeners.

Iwata: I saw people talking about it at a certain BBS. (laughs) I read a little bit of commentary at that time, but since this cd wasn’t put out by Basiscape, there wasn’t as much of an opportunity to hear feedback.1 But I would also like to hear from more people. (laughs)

—What did you focus on when composing this soundtrack?

Namiki: I have a certain idea in my head about how game music is supposed to be, and as usual I followed that idea when composing. When you’ve written a lot of music, various things come into focus, and some things are lost, but having a lot of strong melodies is definitely the main thing I’m conscious of when writing game music.

Iwata: I remember talking with Namiki in the beginning and saying, “I want this OST to evoke the golden age of arcade games.”

Namiki: Yeah, the fact that the game plans Cave showed us had a strong fantasy feel, different from Cave’s previous military style, was a big influence. Seeing those I thought, “We haven’t seen a game like this in a long time…” That being that case, rather than saying we consciously imitated Space Harrier or Dragon Spirit or anything, it was just natural that the melodies would have a similar feeling.

Iwata: I was surprised at how each time they sent us new reference materials, the design of the heroine kept changing. (laughs)

Very early design for Reco, drawn by Akira Wakabayashi.

—Iwata, this is the first STG soundtrack you’ve done in awhile, isn’t it? Knowing how many passionate STG music fans are out there, did you feel any pressure?

Iwata: Well, I myself love Gradius II and STGs generally. Since I hadn’t composed for a STG in so long, I was a little worried.

STG fans can be really hardcore about the music, you know? “I love when that phrase starts right at that part in the stage.” So I talked a lot with Namiki, who has experience with composing music that’s timed with the stage progression. I paid careful attention to synchronizing the music with the stage, like when the stage 2 midboss (scorpion) appears and the melody changes there.

Namiki: I’ve also loved STG games for a long time, and so I prefer music that gets you excited as you play. I make the music flow with the stages, confirming that progression by using footage from the videos Cave records and sends to me. I did the same for Daioujou and Ketsui. For Garegga there was no video or anything, but I watched players and used a stopwatch to time the length of when things happened in a stage.

Iwata: In STG games the stage changes from moment to moment in a fixed way, so it's a little different from the background-ish music you hear in RPGs. At the same time, you can’t really escape the category of “background” music… It was real a struggle making this soundtrack. (laughs)

—Namiki, the music for the Aki and Akka fights feels different from your previous work.

Namiki: For these songs, Cave told me directly: “we want you to change the general feel and do something majestic and different.” Most of the boss music I’ve done previously has been uptempo, with insistent drums. That just the image I have of a “last boss.” (laughs) So if I hadn’t been told by Cave to do something different, I probably would have made my usual fast-paced boss song. (laughs)

In general, though, Cave isn’t finished with TLB (true last boss) that until the very end of development, so there’s no video footage for me to synchronize my music to. So the TLB is the reverse of what I’ve been saying: Cave synchronizes the timing of the bullet patterns and other events to the music I’ve written.

The unique TLB music for Mushihimesama.

—Speaking of songs where Cave gives you specific directions, are the ending themes hard to write?

Iwata: For this game, I believe it was something like “Make it sad, but a happy end.” (laughs)

We used the ending graphics and text from Cave as a starting point, then expand on that with our own ideas. At first, the ending theme was shaping up to be a song that was just completely sad, but then we worked hard and tried imbuing it with a different feeling, “a sentimental girl” … “with tears in her eyes, she returns homeward into the setting sun.” (laughs) I think it turned out pretty well though.

—As composers, are you satisfied with these songs?

Namiki: I never feel like I’ve gotten things perfect, but hearing that listeners liked it makes me happy. I’m going to keep giving my best.

Iwata: When Cave first talked to us about working on a new STG soundtrack, they made it sound like Kyuukyoku Tiger or Raiden, and then suddenly one day it changed to a fantasy game with a girl. That was surprising, but now that it's all done, I think it came over very well.

Early design with Reco riding a butterfly, in Nausicaa pose and attire.

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  1. Although I’m not certain, this remark is probably due to the fact that in Japan, the “comment card” or response card that accompanies products, including cds, are often mailed back to the artists / game developers and actually read by them. If Basiscape did not release the original Mushihimesama OST, it's possible the artists didn’t receive as much feedback in that manner.

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