Toaplan Music – Composer Interviews (1987-1992)

Toaplan Game Music – Composer Interview Collection

This lengthy collection of composer remarks/interviews were compiled from liner notes of the many Toaplan cds released over the years from 1987-1992. In addition to general musings and the self-deprecation of Uemura and Yuge, there’s also some neat (and funny) track-by-track commentary, including lesser-discussed titles like Fixeight, Tatsujin Ou, and Wardner no Mori.

Tiger Heli
Tatsuya Uemura

I wonder if anyone even remembers the music from a game that was released 3 and a half years ago. It was thanks to the success of Tiger Heli, though, that my standard of living went way up.

The sound, at the time, had many restrictions, and there wasn’t a lot of data memory either… so even calling this a “song” might be a little presumptious. In fact, at the recording sessions for this CD, I think was more embarassed than happy to hear this played back in front of the engineer. I wrote these songs intending them to be full of bravery and bravado, but it doesn’t quite add up somehow… oh well!

Hishouzame (Sky Shark)
Tatsuya Uemura and Masahiro Yuge

For some reason this game always gets lumped in with Tiger Heli and Kyuukyoku Tiger as part of the “Tiger Trilogy”, despite the fact that the player character isn’t a helicopter—nor have we ever said they were intended to be a trilogy. For me, this was my first time working with FM synthesis, and it took a ton of work to create FM sounds… and ultimately, they didn’t come out that good.

Tatsuya Uemura (R) and Masahiro Yuge (L) in 2001.

Kyuukyoku Tiger
Tatsuya Uemura and Masahiro Yuge

Anyone who listens to this music can probably tell right away that it’s done by the same sound team that made Hishouzame. But hey, instead of saying this is the only kind of song we’re capable of writing, let’s call it our “style”…! It was our second attempt at FM synthesis, and we had only a handful of days to complete it… and so again the results were less than “ultimate.” By the way, while I tried to approximate a guitar solo on the song TSUGARU, despite what the title might suggest, I was not trying to imitate the sound of the tsugaru-shamisen. Most everyone thought so, though.

Toshiaki Tomizawa

You’re probably wondering, why did I used Chopin’s “Tristesse” etude for the ending theme? Astute listeners as you are, you no doubt have surmised that I must have some special attachment to this piece. And that would be correct, but what, pray tell, is the nature of that attachment? Was I perhaps forced to play this piece on piano as a child, bespectacled music teacher hovering over me, whip in hand—a portrait of childhood trauma? Or was this the favorite song of someone near and dear to me, someone who treated me to meat dumplings, crab sushi, sashimi, and beef kalbi? No, it was neither of these, I’m afraid: the truth? The truth is this Chopin piece was used in a TV drama I liked. We’ve got a number of TV-addicts here at Toaplan.

Now I’ll tell you about each individual song. You’ll notice I use some abbreviations here… after you read this, listen back to the pieces and try to guess what the initials stand for!

For the Stage 1 theme, “FIXER“, when I wrote this it fit so well that I had to abandon several of the previous songs I’d intended for Fixeight, which had sad, marching-rhythm melodies. The intro for Stage 2’s song, “O.T.“, was made by me playing around with the tone of orchestral hit sounds, and done in the style of TN. The melody for Stage 3 was based on a chord progression I wrote in the style of APP… for some reason, the intro reminds me of a locomotive too. For Stage 4, I had USY’s song D in my head while I composed, but it turned into something unexpected as I went on.

Fixeight OST by Toshiaki Tomizawa

For Stage 5, my reference was the rhythmic aspects of SR’s songs, which I tried to convey with the tympani. I used brass and tympani throughout it. Stage 6 was started in the same fashion as Stage 4, but as I wrote the hook for the chorus, it ended up going in a different direction.

For Stage 7, at first I only had those sampled vocals, and I wrote the rest of the song around them, trying to bring them to life.

Overall, I used a lot of tympani for Fixeight, because I had an orchestral vision for it—which is why, for the arrange versions here, I tried to add little “preludes” for each song!

Same! Same! Same! (Fire Shark)
Masahiro Yuge

Fire Shark – We used the overseas title of the game for the song title. I tried to write something with a catchy hook, and my image was of someone about to face a fierce battle. The game is basically split into two halves, each one climaxing at an assault on the enemy base in stages 5 and 10, so I think it’s fitting that we used this for Stage 6, too, giving the player the sense of a new beginning.

Give Me Your Heart – This song is offered up as a quick breather for players after clearing stage 1. The title makes it sound like it will be some kind of lament, but the song is meant to convey the feeling of doing anything for the one you love (male or female), even giving your life. And even if you don’t have that beloved (female or male) in your life, if you play with this feeling, perhaps you too will reach the airy heights of a 1 million—no, 100 million!—score. Please think of that special someone (male, female, or…?!) in your life as you strive to be your best… both in and outside of the game, of course!

Vice in Tokyo – The “vice” in Tokyo doesn’t refer to me personally (though there are those who would say otherwise). Nor does it refer to any prejudice against Tokyo on my part. It just means “bad guy”, more or less, in the same way we say a “good friend” or a “bad friend”… eh?! what? This doesn’t make any sense you say! Well, yeah, of course not: that’s because this song title has nothing to do with the song! One day, these words just suddenly popped into my head, and I thought it fit the song, so I decided to name it that. Maybe the bassline is the Vice, and the melody is Tokyo…? Ehhhh… now that’s pushing it!

Masahiro Yuge's Fire Shark OST.

Sadness in Your Eyes – He who valiantly struggles to make it to this stage, and whose arm starts to hurt and cannot go any further… look into their eyes: you will see true sadness. We should all acknowledge the effort it took to get this far, so let this song be a sweet homage to your progress as you gird yourself for another fight. P.S. – there’s still a long way to go!

From the Sun to Me – You who have made it this far—you are a badass! When you clear Stage 5, you’re halfway there. Listen to the music: do you hear it cheering you on? If you can hear it that way, it’ll give you the energy you need to cross that finish line. Just be careful about not getting too distracted by the music itself… (I tell myself the same!)

In the Blue Sky – Did you hear this song and think, “hey, that sounds just like Hishouzame…!” ?

If so, you’ve got good ears. Why do they relate? Because Same! Same! Same! was supposed to be Hishouzame Part 2.

Long Happiness – The person who makes it far enough to hear this song at the game center is probably a “Shark Pro”. Or to use a slightly older expression, maybe we should call them a Shark Tatsujin [Expert]…? This song is meant to say, “Good Work.” Be careful on the second loop!

Last Chance – This song plays when it’s game over. Of course, in reality, you get many “last chances” each time you play. But please play with that spirit—as if it really were your very last chance! They’re your precious 100 yen coins, after all!

Gleam – The title means a “faint sign”, by which I meant to say: just because it’s Game Over, it doesn’t mean your life is done.

New Year’s art from Toaplan, printed in Gamest from 1990-1993.

Tatsujin Ou (Truxton II)
Masahiro Yuge

It had been awhile since I’d done any sound work (Same! Same! Same!), so my feelings as I composed were a mixture of nervousness and excitement. I think that excitement shows through in the fact that, overall, the melodies are very bright and cheerful.

This was our first foray into PCM sound (here mainly used on percussion and sound effects) at Toaplan, so I think the songs have a slightly different atmosphere than our previous work. Somehow, though, many people who have heard the music for Tatsujin Ou still say, “yeah, it’s that Toaplan sound!” Personally I’m not quite sure what they mean by that—I guess I need to study up more.

The first song I finished for Tatsujin Ou was Stage 5, “NO DELUSION.” I had the prequel, Tatsujin, in mind when I composed it. I next wrote Stage 3, “GRATIFY“. It turned out to be a super happy-sounding song: that was just how I felt at the time, and that feeling found its way into the song.

The next songs I made were conscious efforts on my part to broaden my usical horizons (but I guess they still register as the “Toaplan Style”, eh?). For Stage 1 “LIVE IN FUTURE“, I imagined a future world where young people are flying through the sky, enjoying life.

For Stage 2, “I DEFEND STM“, I was thinking how the desire to “defend” something makes life stronger, and I wanted to express that vigorous living spirit in this song.

For Stage 5, “STILL LOVE YOU“, my image was of someone holding fast to their dreams and hopes, and I paid special care to the melody line.

The song in which I tried to recall the olden days of “prog rock” is “FAZE” from Stage 6. (I think I may have got it wrong though)

The boss BGM, “HEAVY LONG” (incidentally, also the first arranged version I finished for this CD), was done in the heroic style, of one who is striving to finish a long, arduous journey. I wrote out the sheet music for this one, so try your hand at performing or sequencing it!

Tatsujin (Truxton)
Masahiro Yuge

BRAVE MAN – FAR AWAY – The title Tatsujin (“expert”) actually refers to all you players out there. It seemed like a suitable title for this moment in time, when the players themselves are far more skilled than the developers! This song was created as a paean to their glory, and the title refers to a brave hero about to embark on a journey to the furthest reaches of space. This is the first song you hear after inserting a coin. It’s also intended for people who aren’t yet “Tatsujin” themselves, as a bit of encouragement!

SALLY – After you defeat the Stage 1 boss, it switches to this song: training is over, and now the real fight begins! Hence the title, SALLY (meaning “to sally forth”). This stage could also be called the gateway to Tatsujin; it requires a bit more thoughtfulness compared to the “STG basics” feel of Stage 1. And if your arm and fingers are tired from Stage 1, maybe this song will cheer you up…? Yeah, maybe not!

HOPE – The title for this was not, in fact, taken from the popular “Hope” brand cigarettes. The meaning of the title is to give some hope to players who have lost most of their lives at this point and might be discouraged. And it’s also meant for players who have made it here with lives to spare: you can take a moment to rest and catch your breath…. hah, it’s a dangerous title, isn’t it?

Locking with the rhythm of this song and maintaining your strength, you eventually come to a section where enemies are affixed to metal rails, and destroying them nets you a ton of bombs and speed power-ups. This area is there for you to get out your stress, by bombing again and again and picking up all the 5000pt bonuses (from being at max speed). But it could also be a trap, if you get over-enthusiastic about it… watch out!

Tatsujin OST, also by Masahiro Yuge.

FRIEND – The reason thing song is called “friend” is because, quite simply, we all need friends. If you’re a Tatsujin player who’s managed to make it this far, but can’t beat this stage despite numerous attempts—abandon your pride, and ask your friends for some advice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doggedly forging ahead on your own, but please mind your health. And if you do start experiencing problems, listen to this song and remember your friends, and ask for their help.

UNKNOWN – Written in the summer of 1988, this song’s title reflects my state of mind then. Yeah… it was the hottest part of the summer, and my brain was starting to go into panic mode over the programming for Tatsujin. So I decided to take a break from programming, and refresh myself by working on the music instead. My image for this song was of someone fumbling their way towards an unknown future. That explains why there’s something that feels a little weird about this one…

CRISIS – The melody in the beginning of this song was meant to convey a certain sense of urgency and danger, but as you destroy more enemies and progress further into the stage, the latter part of the song is meant to make you feel confident of your own skills. All the bosses in Tatsujin are pretty formidable, but by the time you’re hearing this song repeat itself midstage, you’re probably already thinking “I’ve got this in the bag!”

Wardner no Mori (Wardner)
Lee Ohta

1. Hi no Yama (Fire Mountain) – A dark song. When this was ported to the Famicom, upon re-listening to it I was again surprised at how dark it is. It was hard to imagine that I wrote it—but it is my work.

2. Koujouseki (Factory Ruins) – A song made up of only a bassline, a simple repeating melody, and percussion. Maybe it was too simple!

3. Mori no Naka (Within the Forest) – Bongos! Bongos! This is a jungle! It sounds like native drumming.

4. Shiro no Naka (Within the Castle) – This is the song you get when you suck at piano, like me. Playing quick passages is impossible for me, so this is a dynamic piece, with individual notes played one at a time.

5. Chika e (To the underground) – This one came without trouble. I’ve been told it resembles the melody in a news program. No doubt my mind is a patchwork of fragmentary news theme melodies, and one got out in this song.

6. Kobito (Little Person) – A nice sense of weight, but speedy—and a simple, looping phrase that draws you into the boss battle… that’s what I had in mind when I composed this one.

7. Nodoka (Tranquility) – On this song, I tried writing a reggae bassline. If I had extra channels, I would have liked to add some guitar in there too. Hey, if you’ve got a guitar at home, pick it up and play along! Unchaka, unchaka, unchaka…

8. King – The sound in the beginning is the growling of your final foe, Wardner, while the melody depicts Wardners razor-sharp claws.

9. Shop – Shopping for items has to feel fun, but you can’t let players get too relaxed, or time will run out! The final chorus is your cue, time’s up!

Zero Wing
Tatsuya Uemura, Masahiro Yuge, and Toshiaki Tomizawa

Tatsuya Uemura: Zero Wing originally started as a project to train new recruits at Toaplan. Other than development chief Toshiaki Ohta at the helm, the entire team was made of new hires. However, at some point, the Tatsujin and Hellfire teams got mixed up in Zero Wing, and the project became a “battle royale” between old and new.

Naturally, this meant the sound, too, was very diverse. We had the ultimate Tatsujin, Masahiro Yuge Sensei, write one song. Meanwhile, our new rising star, Toshiaki Tomizawa, wrong 3 songs—though I may have interfered too much with my suggestions about melodies and the arrangement, so I’m not sure whether Tomizawa really considers this his own work or not.

A young Tatsuya Uemura in 1991.

However, the composers at Toaplan all have such individual styles (or rather, we’re all one-trick ponies that can only write one kind of song…), that I’m sure fans will be able to pick out which songs belong to who. Indeed, you’d be perfectly justified in saying, “Hey, doesn’t this sound like that one song in Hellfire…?” But for me, I wrote the music less as something specific to this game, and more as a general “space STG” music, so that’s what you ended up with! Now let’s here a word from the other two composers…

Masahiro Yuge: Yeah, same story here—”wait a minute… isn’t this song from Tatsujin?”

Toshiaki Tomizawa: Nice to meet you. I’m the chubby, tone-deaf new guy at Toaplan. My songs have: 1.) an intro, 2.) an A melody, 3.) a chorus, 4.) a 2-voice harmonized melody. The drums are loud, like a motorcycle engine that you finally got up and running… VROOM!

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