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Game Freak’s Masuda on Pokemon music – process, favorite tracks, composing / directing, more

Posted on July 18, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

Junichi Masuda is one of the most well-known developers behind the Pokemon series. He started out as a composer and programmer before becoming a director (and still making music at the same time).

Game Informer reached out to Masuda for a chat about music in the Pokemon games. He talked about what the process is like when he creates songs, his favorite tracks, juggling responsibilities between being a director / composer, and more.

Head past the break for a roundup of Masuda’s important answers. You can read the full interview on Game Informer.

On Masuda’s process of making music…

One of the important elements is that I have to be alone. Most of the time when I’m with other people, I’m usually talking, so it’s kind of hard to hum a new song [laughs]. Also, when it comes to gameplay ideas and musical ideas, I find that I have to separate the two. I can’t think of both simultaneously. I’ll choose to think about one or the other for a full day. Once I have that focus, the inspiration will come at times throughout the day. But that focus is what’s important.

When it comes to the actual process, I think everyone’s different, but for me, it just kind of starts in my head. I can’t play the piano to try and come up with a new sound, for example [laughs]. Often, I think of the melody first, and then come up with the bass and the drums all in my head. Sometimes I’ll have the whole song in my mind and I’ll just sit down at the computer and all I have to do is enter it in.

On his favorite track from all of the Pokemon games…

That’s a tough question, but it would probably be the symbolic melody that first plays in the intro sequence. Also the music at the title screen. Some other examples of tracks I really like are the ones from Pewter Town, or Cynthia’s theme. I think I really worked hard on those songs. I probably wouldn’t be able to make them now. It’s kind of like when you’re making food and it turns out amazingly well, but you can never reproduce it.

On how Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver unlocked music from the original games upon completion, and why this option hasn’t been in later releases…

The original Gold and Silver titles never actually got a soundtrack, and that was something the sound team kind of regretted. Red and Blue, Ruby and Sapphire, and others all had soundtracks, but there wasn’t a good place to hear the original Gold and Silver tracks, so it was really a special case that the sound team put them in as a bonus for HeartGold and SoulSilver.

On whether he feels chained to the musical tone that he set in the first games or free…

The whole sound team, me included, doesn’t really have any firm rules for what the tone needs to sound like, so technically, we are free to do what we want. With that said, with the history of the series, everyone on the team definitely has an idea of what Pokémon should sound like in their head, and they try to stay true to that for the most part. I’m probably in the best position to shake things up, so that’s why I’ll occasionally do things like the gym battle music in Pokémon X and Y, where it doesn’t really sound like what some people might feel Pokémon traditionally should sound like. I try to expand the possibilities for everyone by doing things like that.

However, one thing we really do try to be careful with is not making the music too complex in places like the Pokémon Centers or the main towns in the games. We want them to have an identifiable melody.

Another thing we try to do is have variety in how the music sounds from place to place. People spend a lot of time playing these games, so we try to mix it up as they progress.

On whether it’s difficult capturing the essence of Pokemon music on modern platforms…

Actually, I think that since the series has been around for 18 years now, everyone on the team has a good idea of what Pokémon is and what it should be, so it’s not so difficult to create music that captures that essence. One thing that I do have to remind the team about on occasion is about the battle music. In Pokémon, it’s not a battle between Trainers–it’s a battle between Pokémon. I think that’s something that differentiates Pokémon from a lot of other RPGs and I make sure that it’s reflected in the music. For example, in a battle with a wild Pokémon, the player may end up catching and befriending the Pokémon they are up against, so it’s important not to make the music create an atmosphere that sounds too scary or dangerous. It’s a fine balance to strike and we have to be very careful.

On whether he’s spent much time discussing music with Nintendo’s Koji Kondo…

I’ve met him a few times. Once, when we were at the Nintendo headquarters – and I think this was back around the time of the first Stadium game – I remember we were talking about how sound effect artists really need to know how to program to do a good job. No matter what sound you come up with, in the end it had to be programmed into the game, so we both agreed it’s important to have that knowledge. I haven’t really spoken to him specifically about music, though.

On how involved he’s been with the orchestrated adaptations of music that appeared in the Smash Bros. games and in their Smashing Live concert performance/CD…

I really wasn’t involved that much in the rearranging of the songs. Of course I would review the final music and give my OK, but I never really want to say “no” to these things. When I make the music, I pay attention to how they will sound in the games, so I don’t feel like I should give a lot of direction for the orchestral rearrangements. For example, people will often ask me what songs they should select, but I always reply that I want them to choose. I’d rather they pick tracks that they really like or can do well than give direction about that.

For the 10th anniversary of Pokémon, we actually had a concert put on by an orchestra for songs from the original games. These were rearranged by Shigeaki Saegusa, who is a composer that handled the music for Z Gundam, which is a favorite of mine. It was awesome to hear songs that I had created rearranged to also sound like Saegusa-san’s work. I was really blown away by it.

On juggling the responsibilities of being both a game director and a composer…

Well, game directors are all about creating games, and sound is really just one part of the game, so the top priority is figuring out what the game itself will be. As a composer or music director, you have to really think about what kind of songs and sounds you need to fit certain situations or fill in gaps. You’ll find a part that feels like it’s missing something and have to come up with a song to fit it. The same type of process exists on the game director side, but instead of thinking about songs with which to fill the gap, you’ll think of gameplay situations – for example, you might say, “let’s have the player ride on a Pokémon through this area.” Just ideas like that.

I find that I can’t think about both game design and come up with new music at the same time, so if I’m working on both, I’ll choose which I will focus on at the beginning of the day and stick to that.

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