Valkyrie Profile – 1998 Composer Interview

Valkyrie Profile – 1998 Composer Interview

This excellent interview from 1998 with composer Motoi Sakuraba and Tri-Ace sound programmer Hiroya Hatsushiba covers the music of Valkyrie Profile. There’s a lot of detail about the designers’ ideas for the music, and some surprising admissions from Sakuraba about Valkyrie Profile and his composition process. This interview was featured in the Valkyrie profile World Guidance mook.

I. The Workflow

—Which parts of the music did each of you handle for Valkyrie Profile?

Hatsushiba: Sakuraba did all the composition—the artistic, creative work. My job was to act as a “bridge” of sorts between his work and the main programmers at Tri-Ace; I took Sakuraba’s raw data and programmed it so it would sound good when played back on the Playstation. I’d describe the work as halfway between music and programming. By the way, I actually did more than just sound programming for Valkyrie Profile. Although I’m listed in the credits as sound producer, I worked on the story and did other programming too. Sort of an all-around handyman. (laughs)

—Can you go into some of the details of your work?

Hatsushiba: The first thing I had to do was create sound patches. I sampled a bunch of interesting sounds and built up a library from them. I gave those sounds to Sakuraba, and he used them to compose the music.

Sakuraba: I loaded them onto my equipment at home, and used the ones I thought were good to write the songs.

Hatsushiba: After I got the raw music data back from Sakuraba I converted it to use on the Playstation. I had a software tool I used to convert the data, but the truth is that even though those sounds I made on my computer might sound good on Sakuraba’s pro-audio music equipment, they won’t sound good when played back on the Playstation without some adjustments. Sakuraba and I both worked on getting them to sound right there.

Sakuraba: Basically it involved changing things like the volume and texture of certain sounds.

Hatsushiba: Then we’d send the final version of the song data to the programmers, and see how it all sounded on the actual Playstation.

Hiroya Hatsushiba (sound programmer) and Motoi Sakuraba (composer).

—Who decided on the image for each song in Valkyrie Profile?

Hatsushiba: Masaki Norimoto, one of the designers, was responsible for that. Normally he would go through me, and I’d convey his ideas to Sakuraba, but for Valkyrie Profile he contacted Sakuraba directly with his ideas. But it’s very difficult to explain your ideas for a song, or for sounds, in words. I think Norimoto had a tough time too. He also had to decide which song would ultimately be used for which scene.

—What kind of musical requests did he have for you?

Sakuraba: The most prevalent request this time was for “cool, stylish songs with a catchy chorus/melody.” I can’t even remember now how many requests were just that…?

Hatsushiba: Over 20 songs I think.

Sakuraba: He would always make his requests in bulk too. Like, “give me 10 stylish, catchy songs.” (laughs)

Hatsushiba: Yeah, they were almost all like that. (laughs)

Sakuraba: The world of Valkyrie Profile is based on Norse mythology, but I didn’t inquire about the details of the story, or which scenes a specific song would be used for. Most of the time they never had mock-up scenes or visuals to show me, either. That’s typical though, as usually I’m working at the same time as the other developers, at the point when the graphics and visuals aren’t yet completed.

Hatsushiba: For the dungeon music, when they had a certain image in mind they would give us a specific request, like “the music should evoke flames” or “it should sound like a Yamato-style dungeon.” Otherwise, though, they took the generic dungeon music we had made and matched it to specific dungeons after the fact.

Sakuraba: I kind of feel like, for Valkyrie Profile, my image of what the music should be didn’t really match up with what the developers wanted. The setting is Northern Europe, right? So my initial image for the music was something much more somber and quiet. I didn’t expect to receive so many requests for “cool and stylish” songs. But after they were written I thought that way worked well enough too.

II. The Music of Valkyrie Profile

—How long did it take to create the music for Valkyrie Profile?

Hatsushiba: Hmm… we weren’t only working on Valkryie Profile the whole time, so it’s a little hard to say exactly. Actually, we had been working on the Valkryie Profile project for awhile… since Star Ocean: Second Story. About 3 years back we made our first three sample songs for it. We had to wait for the designer’s image of the whole game to come together, then the bulk of the work took just under a year to finish.

—What was the very first song you completed?

Sakuraba: The normal battle theme, “Mikakunin Shintou Syndrome“. That’s one of the songs I finished 3 years ago. The sacred phase song “Lily of the Valley” was also created at a very early stage. This song was actually meant to be the town music originally, but I didn’t realize Valkyrie Profile was going to be such dark game, and it was too bright and cheerful for the towns… so we ended up using it for the sacred phase music.

—Were there any unused songs?

Hatsushiba: Almost none. With your typical composer, out of, say, 100 songs they provide, we would select the best 70 or so… but with Sakuraba they’re almost all hits, so there’s almost nothing to reject.

Maybe there were 2 or 3 songs we didn’t use? But almost everything else he gave us, we used.

Motoi performs the battle theme “Mikakunin Shintou Syndrome” from Valkyrie Profile.

—Who came up with the song titles?

Hatsushiba: Shigeru Ueki, one of the lead programmers, came up with the names. When we made Star Ocean: Second Story, we added a sound mode, but we didn’t include any song names. It became a problem for fans to identify the songs, like when people were talking about the music on the internet. So this time we made sure to add the song names too.

Sakuraba: The truth is I’m supposed to be the person who comes up with the song names. But—and this happens every time—I couldn’t think of any names. (laughs) I noticed they used a lot of difficult kanji for the Valkyrie Profile song names this time. (laughs)

Hatsushiba: And since we didn’t name the songs ourselves, we can’t tell which is which by looking at the titles.

Sakuraba: Seriously. I can hardly recognize any of them! (laughs)

—Do you have any favorites?

Sakuraba: I like “Lily of the Valley” (jp: suzuran) For this game I had to write a lot of aggressive, uptempo songs, but the truth is I prefer quiet melodies. Also, this isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but the Japanese restaurant song “Soon We See Shadow and Light” has a unique sound. There were originally some other songs I wrote that used voice patches, too.

Hatsushiba: Ah, those were cut. (laughs)

Sakuraba: They were? (laughs) Ah, I remember now. It was a memory problem, so we had to remove those patches. I think we re-added them on the arrange album though.

Hatsushiba: My favorite is the song for Brahm’s castle, “His Name is Fear“. No matter what game he’s writing for, Sakuraba always includes one weird song in there.

Sakuraba: Yeah, I always try to include something that’s interesting to me. The gamelan in “Soon We See Shadow and Light” was another such inclusion.

—What were some of the struggles you faced during the making of Valkyrie Profile?

Hatsushiba: Our biggest challenge was time. Also, this isn’t related to the music, but the voice recording (of the voice actors) was very difficult, because there was so much to record.

The sacred phase song "Lily of the Valley", a quieter piece and one of Sakuraba’s own favorites.

—Do you have any interesting anecdotes or incidents surrounding the development to share?

Sakuraba: Nothing that would be interesting, I think.

Hatsushiba: Weren’t you stopped by the police?

Sakuraba: Oh, yeah, that. (laughs) It was for making an illegal right turn. It happened twice actually, on my way home from Enix’s offices.

Hatsushiba: That’s pretty much it though, as far as little anecdotes goes.

—Have you played the finished game?

Sakuraba: I don’t play games. (laughs)

Hatsushiba: I also don’t play my own games. (laughs) I’m too scared. (laughs)

—Are you satisfied with how the music turned out for Valkyrie Profile?

Sakuraba: Well, if I had my way, I would have liked to include more quiet songs, but…

Hatsushiba: Making a game is, in a certain sense, an artistic endeavor. So there’s really no limit to your ambitions. That’s what makes this work so rewarding and so fun, though.

III. Motoi Sakuraba and Composing

—What is your process for writing music?

Sakuraba: I write everything using sequencer software. However, even though the method has changed, I don’t think it’s all that different from writing music out traditionally, on sheet music.

—What kind of equipment do you use?

Sakuraba: I use two different kinds of sequencers. The first is really old. It’s called “COME ON MUSIC” and was used on the PC-98. I also use Digital Performer on Mac. As far as the sounds themselves, I use multiple sources for that. Samplers, synths, analogue synths…

—About how long does it take you to write a single song?

Sakuraba: On average, it takes me about 2 hours.

Hatsushiba: That’s fast!

Sakuraba: If it’s a song where I have to match up the timing with a movie or other visuals, then it would take about 3 hours. But generally speaking, game music songs are short and they loop, so they don’t take too long to write.

Hatsushiba: You were saying you got some crazy requests though, like “Please write 10 songs by tomorrow.”

Sakuraba: To be honest they were almost all like that, the requests. (laughs) Even though it takes only ~2 hours to write a song, it still takes a certain amount of physical and mental energy. It’s not like I could actually write 12 songs in 24 hours.

—What is your actual composition process like?

Sakuraba: I don’t think of the melody lines one-by-one; I come up with the general outline of the song in my head all at once, then write everything together. Once the song is complete, I never go back and make revisions or change things. If I have to do that to a song then the song was a failure. If I’m reworking and fussing with it that much, you see, it means my idea was mistaken from the beginning. No amount of tinkering will fix it.

—What kinds of things do you pay close attention to when you compose?

Sakuraba: When I’m working for awhile on songs for the same game, it’s easy for them to start resembling each other. I try to avoid that. I also try to mix in some non-game work in between.

—How do you refresh yourself while working?

Sakuraba: I sleep. (laughs)

PC-98 rendition of Motoi Sakuraba (center) with the “Sergent Wolf Band” from his Wolf Team days.

IV. Artists’ Career

—How long have you two been working together?

Hatsushiba: Quite awhile now! I think we’ve known each other since I joined Wolf Team, about 8 years ago.

Sakuraba: Wow, it’s really been awhile, hasn’t it.

Hatsushiba: Sakuraba was working there first, and I joined afterwards.

—How did each of you get involved in game music?

Hatsushiba: I’ve always loved games, so I went to a school to study programing. I also like music, so game music seemed like the ideal job for both my interests.

Sakuraba: I started doing game music after I joined Wolf Team.

Hatsushiba: Speaking of which, why did you end up joining Wolf Team in the first place?

Sakuraba: I wasn’t making enough money to feed myself as a studio musician. (laughs) The work wasn’t regular enough.

—How did you learn to use a digital audio workstation?

Sakuraba: When I joined Wolf Team, I had to use a computer to compose, so I learned it then. Before then I hadn’t used sequencer software at all.

—What was the most difficult game you’ve worked on to-date?

Sakuraba: It’s very old so I’m not sure anyone remembers it, but the Megadrive game FZ Senki Axis. (Final Zone). It was very difficult. I had just begun doing this kind of work, and there were many things I didn’t know.

—What genres of music do you like?

Sakuraba: Well, my fans seem to think I only listen to progressive rock. Of course I love prog rock, but the truth is, I’m more into straight rock-style songs. Stuff from the UK, those English bands from the late 70s.

—Many of your game compositions are in an orchestral style. Do you also listen to a lot of classical music?

Sakuraba: Lately I haven’t been listening to it much, but when I was a kid in elementary school I listened to classical music. I never studied music formally though; those orchestral songs I wrote are just my own interpretations of classical music. They’d probably sound weird to a classically trained musician.

—Since your band dejva-vu broke up, have you been involved in any other bands?

Sakuraba: I have not. If I had the time, I’d like to though… I think it’s been 5 years since I played with a band? It was a different group from deja-vu. Man, it really has been awhile, now that I think of it. (laughs)

Motoi Sakuraba (on the left) with his prog rock band, deja vu.

V. Soundtracks

—Who selected the songs that appear on the two Valkyrie Profile arrange albums?

Sakuraba: I chose them myself. The arrange album is more subdued than the OST album, which is full of energetic, uptempo songs. I wanted that balance between the two.

—What are some of the things to listen for in the arrange album?

Sakuraba: Personally I like Valhalla, and the gregorian chants in the song “His Name is Fear.” There wasn’t space for those vocal chants on the game versions, but that’s one advantage of an actual music cd: no memory restrictions! (laughs)

—And how about the voice mix arrange album?

Hatsushiba: I’m really proud of this cd. The album was my idea—we had all these great voice actors assembled, I thought, that it would be a waste to not use them more. I think it’s really unique, combining the voice actors and the music at the same time.

Sakuraba: I think this might be the most interesting album of the three. It’s really a different kind of album so it’s hard to compare with the others. There’s also two newly composed songs on it. Unlike pure instrumentals, because of all the dialogue, it has more of a message. For the arrange album I selected songs with good melodies, but for this one I chose songs with strong rhythmic elements.

—Finally, please give a message to all the fans and players.

Sakuraba: I think a lot of the people who listen to my music like progressive rock, but I also think that many of those fans are a little closeminded about listening to music that isn’t prog rock. I would like it if they would not get hung up on genres when listening to music; if you like music, it shouldn’t only be as a “prog rock fan.”

Hatsushiba: We’re hard at work on Star Ocean 3, so please be sure to check it out! (laughs)

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1 comment

  1. “About 3 years back we made our first three sample songs for it.”

    It’s always fascinating to hear how long games take to be planned and made. A lot of respect to these devs because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to bear to wait that long.

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