Game Music

Ask Hibino: American Ninjas and Crazy Japanese People

January 29, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Ask Hibino: American Ninjas and Crazy Japanese Peopleon Twitter

[Editor’s Note: I guess we were overly ambitious with our once monthly plans for Ask Hibino, but we wanted to let you know we didn’t forget! This time, it’s more like “Hibino Tells,” as Hibino-san talks about GEM Impact’s work on Ninja Blade, including some behind-the-scenes details and anecdotes about the creation of the soundtrack. Be sure to check it out!]

Hello! Sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve written the “Ask Hibino” feature. GEM Impact has been quite busy, but I am happy to say that our current project, Ninja Blade, has be released in Japan today (January 29th). I thought this would be a good time to talk about the background behind Ninja Blade and the behind-the-scenes details of our work on the title.

Read the details after the jump.

I have to say that I am quite excited about Ninja Blade! I’ve worked on this title for more than 2 years, and because it’s not a sequel this time around, everything was new, and I had so much fun working with Takeuchi-san, the producer at FROM SOFTWARE.  We talked a lot about “how our ‘Ninja’ should be.” There’re a lot of titles out there about ninjas, including Ninja Gaiden, and FROM itself produces the Tenchu series as well, so it was a challenge to create sometime entirely different.

Although FROM SOFTWARE has been focused on the Japanese game market for a long time, Ninja Blade has been created for the Western market. In Tenchu, for example, the ninja is illustrated in a more Japanese way, accenting the “hidden” elements that the Japanese associate with the ninja. However, he wanted something different. For people in the West, ninjas are more like action stars, including all sorts of martial arts and other things that really aren’t Japanese. We agreed on taking this route, however, and created the ninja in Ninja Blade in this Western image.

So, I first went about creating the 8-minte long main theme, highlighting the following three elements:

– Hollywood action style
– Japanese traditional element
– Sorrowful moment

Also…

– Some “crazyness”

So I guess that makes four. I think Japanese people are crazy in some ways, in spite of their conservative nature and not saying anything straight. Think of things like “Kamikaze” or “the way we do suicide,” which you’ve likely seen in Japanese films or movies. It’s like when Japanese people get angry, they become insane (in Japanese we call this “buchigire”). I understand this and feel that it’s in our blood. We work very hard because of this “inner-hot blood.”

This crazyness is different from any other culture, so I decided to mix this into that 8-minute long theme track (which you can download worldwide through iTunes on Feb. 4th!). Takeuchi-san was quite happy with this, and all the team members, including the programmers and designers, were able to share a common understanding of Ninja Blade quite effectively because of this unifying “main theme.”

You know that graphics and game engines take quite a long time to get into shape. On the other hand, music can be done in a few hours, or a few days at most. So I think this is the best way to get the team focused on the game and gives them direction or a guiding image.

The staff was actually quite inspired by the theme. It also inspired our internal composers at GEM Impact as well. I set the quality of music very high from the beginning, and I told my composers, “This is the bottom line.” We set the bar high, so it was a challenge creating two discs of music that were equal quality.

However, I think we were able to accomplis this by developing a collaborative work style, where we worked together a lot on the music. For example, not only did we reutilize the melody that I had created for the main theme, but we recorded a lot of phrase samples with flutes, vocals, and percussion, and recycled it among the team. Another example would be one composer creating the first half of a song, and another composing the rest of it, according to their expertise.

There are few times that composers can really say “We’ve done it!” Many blockbuster titles are restricted in so many ways, and they use famous composers almost as “bait.” We were mostly in the shadows in the past, but this time it was completely different. We were an integral part of developing a game concept with the team, and the music is truly our original work. All of us at GEM Impact are very excited about this.

As for soundtrack release, I usually hire an engineer to mix the tracks to get the best balance, but this time I asked our composers to try mixing it themselves until they were satisfied. I knew that they had great ears and could do it, but they never had the chance to do so because of total balance or time restrictions. After the GEM Impact team worked on the mix, I spent sufficient time mastering each and every track. So, it took a lot of time, but everyone was able to contribute to the final product that is the Ninja Blade Original Soundtrack. So, you can see that this soundtrack is very important to us. It’s funny that we had finished Ninja Blade way before MGS4 and Blassreiter. But surely it was a great experience working on this project.

I hope you are also able to listen to “Beanstalk,” which is the ending theme with vocals by Yuki Koyanagi (this is already available on iTunes). She used to be a famous J-POP star, but is now trying to find new direction. Most J-POP stars are just an “idol,” and not real singers, but she is truly different. She is extremely talented in terms of her wide range of expression. She can be very soft and very emotional. I intentionally used Japanese phrases in between the English. It starts in English and bridges into Japanese in the middle of the melody. Some of you may think, “wait, is that a wrong word?” (in Japanese we call this “soramimi”). Since this game is from Japan but being marketed worldwide, we decided the language must be Japanese at least some of the time. It must be quite emotional when you hear this song at the end of the game during the staff credits. I hope you cry listening to this!

Thanks everyone for your support. Watch for the Ninja Blade Original Soundtrack in February, and I’ll be sure to tell you for the next “Ask Hibino” about some new projects I’m working on.  If you want to contact me, feel free to do so at [email protected].

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