Recca – 2005 Developer Interview
This 2005 interview from the Recca OST liner notes features a casual talk with composer Nobuyuki Shioda and Manabu Namiki, who remixed the (unused) title track. Shioda talks about the challenges of recreating a “hardcore techno” style on the Famicom, while Namiki waxes affectionately on the impact of Recca as both a game and an inspiration for his Battle Garegga soundtrack.
—Can you tell us how your music career began?
Shioda: I had always had an interest in game music. I bought YMO’s first album, which used game music sounds, and in middle school I formed a YMO cover band. All we played was stuff off BGM and Technodelic, over and over. (laughs) After I graduated, I continued to play in bands, but my family started having financial problems, and I had to get a job quickly to help out. I went searching for any game companies that were hiring musicians, and I ended up getting hired by KID and making game music there. Before KID hired me, I had sent my resume to a number of other developers, but they had all rejected me. I actually thought KID had rejected me too, but the person who they wanted to hire before me actually turned down the job offer, and I ended up getting hired instead.
—Namiki, you did the “JSR $2302” remix for this Recca album. I’m guessing Recca is a game you had some special love for?
Namiki: Recca was a truly impressive work. I believe I bought it the day it came out. I loved games, and in the summer of that year I had just been hired by NMK, who specialized in creating STG games. Of course I also loved the Famicom, so naturally I had been following and awaiting the release of Recca. I remember buying it and playing it the first time, and how astonished I was by it: “what the hell is this?!” When I turned the power on and saw those letters rotating, and the title screen music played, I could feel that this was no ordinary game.
It’s a little difficult to explain in words, but I strongly felt that the game represented the “terminal peak” for the Famicom. On top of the technical maturation it displayed, every aspect of the game was impressive. The speed you moved at, the strength of the enemies, your super-powerful shield, and of course, the amazing music. Everything had an experimental quality to it, like you were standing on the very edge of the Famicom’s capabilities. It was awesome.
—And what was your reaction, Namiki, to the music of Recca?
Namiki: By the first stage I was already blown away by the music. I don’t know of a single Famicom game that has used sampling to such full effect: the intense, busy percussion, the finely detailed bass drum sound… Also, as far as I know, Shioda was the first to use that hardcore techno style in a video game. And the songs themselves were very long for Famicom music, weren’t they?
Shioda: That was something the programmer Shinobu Yagawa requested: “Make the songs around 4 minutes if you can.”
Namiki: Hah, that sounds just like Yagawa. (laughs)
Shioda: When I got assigned to the music for Recca, I went and met Yagawa. He was saying stuff like “With Recca, we can do whatever we want for the sound.” (laughs) And in a later meeting he said “Let’s do the impossible on the Famicom.”
I laughed and thought to myself, “If it’s impossible, how exactly are we going to do it…”, but I also remember thinking: “if he’s got the balls to say that, maybe he really can pull this off?”
Namiki: So what then made you decide on that musical style?
Shioda: For a long time I had thought that four-on-the-floor dance music would be fitting for a STG. I tried making some eurobeat music first, but it didn’t fit at all. (laughs) But I still wanted that feel, so I started listening to a ton of different cds for inspiration. At that point, Yagawa lent me some cds, and one of them was what we call today detroit techno. I don’t remember who the artist was though.
—In Japan, it was an era of “death techno” and “bleep house”… that hardcore techno style of electronic music was still in its infancy. Even the disco “Juliana Boom” was still a ways off.1
Shioda: If you went around to the big CD shops back then, you couldn’t find anything that even approached that sound. I couldn’t even find good samples for the dark, heavy sound I wanted for Recca. I remember having no choice but to use other materials, like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s album B2 UNIT and Stravinsky recordings.
Namiki: Now this is a real treat to hear. (laughs) So you didn’t use samples from the techno musicians you loved, but instead turned to other genres and used that material to compose the grooves on Recca. That is fascinating.
—I also understand that the low-end (bass and bass drum) sounds for Recca were made in a special way?
Shioda: Most people back then were playing their Famicom through small TVs with small speakers. Developers used triangle waves to make the Famicom bass sounds, and with triangle waves, if the sound wasn’t pitched high enough, no one could hear it. But with the musical style I wanted for Recca, I didn’t think I’d be able to get a satisfactory low-end sound that way.2
So in order to make the low-end sounds from triangle waves audible, I turned down the volume on the other two square wave channels.3 That made the low-end sounds comparatively louder. The idea was that the player could then turn his TV volume up and everything would come through clearly.
Namiki: That’s a great idea. Reducing the overall volume would reduce the dynamic range, but the impact of the DPCM samples would be louder, and the sound effects would be more prominent too.4
Shioda: That was an unexpected benefit. Turning a weakness into a strength.
Namiki: It seems you had a very techno-mindset. Emphasizing the bass drum and low-end, a four-on-the-floor beat…
Shioda: Not really. I mean, when I think back on it now, the idea that I could achieve that sound on the Famicom was just a dumb fantasy at first. (laughs) In contrast with Yagawa, I had no faith at all that we could really do it. But it seemed interesting so I thought I’d give it a shot anyway, and along the way we somehow worked it into shape.
—Recca has an amazing sound test screen too, with the image of “Recca-chan.”
Shioda: Yeah, about that–one day Yagawa calls me over and says he’s finished the sound test screen. Then we walked over to E-tsuka’s booth (the graphic designer), and he showed us that picture of “Recca-chan“. I was disappointed: “I spent all this time making music to match the game’s hardcore atmosphere, shouldn’t the sound test screen match that?” But Yagawa seemed amused. (laughs) So I was taken aback, and even a little angry, but after a few seconds I casually suggested, “well, hey, if this is what we’re doing, why don’t I write a musical theme for Recca-chan?” I wrote three songs and handed them to Yagawa, and asked him if he couldn’t make it so a different song played randomly whenever you entered the sound test mode. He seemed a little shocked. So yeah, those three songs Lovin’ You, Dreamin’ You, and Throbbin’ You, were all done as a joke.
—But didn’t those three songs, not to mention the Recca-chan picture, take up a lot of memory on the Recca cart?
Shioda: Yeah, they did. It’s amazing that Yagawa had that much memory to play around with. He added other stuff just for fun too, like the ura loop, or the boss image at the “To Be Continued” screen after the credits.
—Namiki, was Battle Garegga’s sound influenced by Recca?
Namiki: Definitely, it had a large influence. It’s no exaggeration to say that the sound of Battle Garegga would not exist without Recca. Battle Garegga was the first game I worked on after leaving NMK and joining Raizing. When I looked at the design plans for it, my first thought was “Oh, so we’re going to make Recca for the arcade, eh?” In fact, this didn’t make it to the final version, but early in the development Garegga resembled Recca more closely, with lots of fast enemies and such. I felt like we were making a sequel of sorts to Recca, a game I loved both for its music and gameplay, so as a composer I felt an incredible amount of pressure.
—Shioda, what did you think of Battle Garegga when it was released?
Shioda: I was genuinely happy to see it. When Garegga got installed at a game center near KID’s offices, I heard people talking about it. “Yagawa’s ‘Recca Arcade’ game is out!” Everyone at KID went down together to see it. The first thing we noticed was that the options moved in the same way. (laughs) It seemed like he had made a sequel of sorts, so naturally I was really curious about the music and listened closely. I immediately felt it had the same music style as Recca, and I was very happy.
When it was released, Recca’s music wasn’t really noticed by anyone, and the cart itself didn’t sell many copies, so I never got much feedback about my work. So when I heard Namiki’s songs in Garegga I felt, “he’s recognizing Recca.” He was able to fully realize what I couldn’t in Recca: a STG with a full-on hardcore techno style. I really enjoyed listening to it.
Namiki: I’m glad to hear you think that about Garegga’s soundtrack. Hearing Shioda’s thoughts, it really makes me think… we both love music, we both love games, and we both love game music–yet despite working in different eras, we both wrote game music in the same style, with the same lineage. It’s amazing. It really is true: if there hadn’t been Shioda’s music for Recca, I would not have written Garegga like that. They may not share many fundamental elements in a purely musical sense, but along that “STG vector”, they’re completely aligned.
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“Death techno” is a term used in Japan for early hardcore techno music. Bleep was a record label famous for house/techno in the late 80s. The “Juliana Boom” refers to a popular disco/techno dance club in Tokyo in the early 90s.↩
The triangle wave channel on the Famicom doesn’t actually have a volume control, hence the need to turn everything else down.↩
I’m not certain, but I believe this is the phenomenon he’s referring to: although the triangle wave has no volume parameter, its volume is linked to the volume of the DPCM sample channel. A louder triangle wave (relative to the other channels) would therefore mean a louder DPCM channel, and clearer sound effects in game.↩