Junichi Nakatsuru Interview: The Sounds of SoulCalibur V (February 2012)
SoulCalibur V features an unprecedented collaboration of composers, performers, and engineers across the world. On the latest instalment of the fighting game series, Namco Bandai Games teamed up with Creative Intelligence Arts to offer a diverse and high quality soundtrack.
In this interview, we talk to Junichi Nakatsuru, the sound director of SoulCalibur V and the lead composer of all previous games in the series. He reflects how he maintained continuity in the series' sound in a number of ways, while embracing the individuality of its composers. He also gives an insight on what to expect from the wider sound of the game.
Interview Subject: Junichi Nakatsuru
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Translation & Localisation: NBGI, Ben Schweitzer
Coordination: Erika Haga
Chris: Junichi Nakatsuru, many thanks for taking the time to discuss the music and sound of SoulCalibur V with us today. As the fifth main game in the series that you've participated in, we're curious about how the score compares and contrasts to predecessors?
Junichi Nakatsuru: Actually SoulCalibur V is the seventh game in the series I've worked on. I was sound director on SoulCalibur Legends (for the Wii) and SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny (for the PSP) as well. They may not be as well known as the main series' games, but I consider them to be just as important.
That said, SoulCalibur V's story is set 17 years after the last game, and features a whole host of new characters, so it is a new chapter, different from the previous sequels. To provide players with a fresh experience as regards both music and sound, we formed an entirely new team for this production. Looking to give more feeling to the characters, while maintaining the tension and sense of speed necessary in a fighting game, we put care into every theme for every character and every battle.
Chris: NBGI has one of the most talented teams of composers in any game company. What inspired you to principally outsource the soundtrack to Creative Intelligence Arts rather than rely principally on internal talent like you did on SoulCalibur IV and SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny?
Junichi Nakatsuru: NBGI produces more games simultaneously than any other company. While SoulCalibur V was in production, other A-list titles such as Tekken and Ace Combat were also in the works, and it was impossible for the other members of the previous sound teams to participate, so I sought help from outside the company. I figured that we would be able to preserve a feeling of continuity as long as the key members of the sound team — myself and Yoshihito Yano, who worked on the in-game sound implementation — remained.
Chris: You have maintained a close relationship with Eminence and Creative Intelligence Arts through concerts such as A Night in Fantasia and past productions like SoulCalibur IV. What was it like to work together on SoulCalibur V? How did you ensure your goals for the score remained compatible?
Junichi Nakatsuru: I have, as you said, worked with Eminence in the past on concerts and orchestral recordings. In addition, I received word that Hiroaki Yura had founded Creative Intelligence Arts, a company that could handle music production as well as performance, just as I was wondering what to do with SoulCalibur V.
Also, I felt the need to oversee the entirety of the game's aural components myself (sound effects, voice acting, music, and performance), so I wouldn't be able to devote as much time to composition as I had in the past.
That's when I asked Mr. Yura, who could produce and direct music, for help. We had a number of discussions so that he would understand the SoulCalibur series' music as we, the former sound team, created it. I also put together a demo to show him what direction the music for SoulCalibur V would take. Mr. Yura handled communication with the composers working with Creative Intelligence Arts, and we at NBGI told them what kind of sound we wanted as music directors.
Chris: Listeners are curious about the goods new names to the franchise will bring, such as Hiroki Kikuta, Cris Velasco, and Andrew Aversa. What new styles and perspectives did they offer to SoulCalibur V? Are there any particular highlights you'd like to note?
Junichi Nakatsuru: After assembling such a multi-talented team, I felt that it would be a waste if we didn't allow their individual talents to flourish and create a richly varied score. Of course, this would all have to respect certain ground rules — the required elements of fighting game music and the series' musical legacy.
Nevertheless, Hiroki Kikuta's Japanese style had a kind of expression befitting a Japanese fighting game, and the grand, Hollywood-flavored orchestrations provided by Chris Valesco and Inon Zur gave SoulCalibur V an even greater sense of scale. Andrew Aversa provided the sense of speed with his rhythmic, exhilarating music. SoulCalibur V has its varied cast of characters, each with their own weapons, and this wealth of music is a natural expression of that variety.
Chris: Despite the diverse cast, we expect that the core sound of the soundtrack will stay faithful to its predecessors. Should we expect a grandiose symphonic sound once again? Will we witness the return of series' classics, such as "Path of Destiny"?
Junichi Nakatsuru: As an important way of maintaining the series' continuity, I personally composed the mode select music and the character select music, among other things. In these places, more than any other, fans will expect the music to have the same style as the other games. Composed by an original member of the team, these tracks are what you might call the game's outward face. With these tracks, I hope that players will feel a sense of familiarity mixed with heightened anticipation for the changes to come.
Also, there are a number of homages to previous SoulCalibur games in the music. People who are familiar with the originals will have a lot of fun finding them, I'm sure. The music is primarily symphonic in character but with elements of other genres mixed in as well.
I'm very glad that "Path of Destiny" was so well received. Unfortunately, it does not make an appearance this time, but SoulCalibur V does feature vocals, which have not appeared in the series before now. I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks of them.
Chris: The focus of the SoulCalibur V soundtrack is the stage themes. How do you meet the challenge of supporting action-packed gameplay while portraying vastly different characters and settings? How do find room to divert from fast tempo, thick textured pieces?
Junichi Nakatsuru: We have challenged ourselves to do just that ever since the first game in 1997. Even though SoulCalibur's soundtrack was produced without any of the advantages of today's technology (in terms of sound quality, number of voices, hardware, etc.), it was well received by a good number of fans. As a weapons-based fighting game, a lot of sound effects and voice clips play constantly over the music, which always has to have a memorable intro and a relatively simple, melodious style.
These things still hold true all the way through to SoulCalibur V. It's not like an action-adventure game, where the player spends a long time on each stage before moving on, so maybe what we did is a solution to that problem. But, if there were a mode that players would spend a lot of time in, I think we already have plenty of thickly textured pieces to use.
Chris: In addition to action-packed stage themes, there will be numerous cinematic cues on SoulCalibur V. How do you feel they will support the story? Do you expect they will be enjoyable on a stand-alone basis too?
Junichi Nakatsuru: Unlike the battle mode, the music in the story mode was composed with the aim of portraying the world and its characters' emotions. Tomoki Miyoshi, who composed the majority of the story mode's music, provided exquisitely beautiful melodies to accompany its events.
As a music editor, it took a good deal of work to take emotionally-charged music and finding the most effective scene for each piece; I believe that resulting scenes — their combination of music, sound, and dialogue — turned out very well. I think that it is the most impressive story mode in the series' history. Of course, the score is filled with pieces that are impressive to listen to on their own as well.
Chris: You also led the sound effects to the title alongside Forcewick's Masayuki Endo. What should we expect from this aspect of the title? Was it possible to improve on the already realistic and impacting sound effects for the previous game?
Junichi Nakatsuru: I became acquainted with Masayuki Endo through sound design conferences and such back when he worked at Capcom. I checked out his work and could see its quality at first glance, so to speak. I heard that he had formed the company Forcewick, and thought that maybe someday we could work together. About a year later production on SoulCalibur V began, and we got our chance.
I asked Forcewick to handle the in-game sound effects (the characters' weapons, foley, and environmental effects) and the sound effects and audio placement in the cutscenes. As a result, Yoshihito Yano, who had created the earlier games' sound effects, was able to turn his attention towards the actual implementation, delivering an overall increase in sound quality through the careful integration of the high quality material provided. Endo-san has worked on fighting games himself, and he is a fan of the SoulCalibur series, so the production went smoothly. It was a great experience.
Additionally, we asked a third party for an objective view, and we put a good deal of emphasis on that in our discussions. It may have done more for the project than our own requests. Particularly as regards the sounds of the characters' weapons, we went for a higher level of realism, and the resulting sound is, I feel, more visceral than before. I think that players will feel as if they respond better than before.
Chris: It'd also be fascinating to hear you talk about the implementation of the score. Will there be an even greater emphasis on full orchestral performances than SoulCalibur III and SoulCalibur IV? How have world instruments, electronic beats, and other non-orchestral components been integrated into the score?
Junichi Nakatsuru: The emphasis in SoulCalibur V is not on the traditional full orchestra. Rather, we have combined various instruments to create music with an orchestral feel, as in past games. While in the cutscenes we naturally used a live orchestra to create the required emotional expression, during battle or relentless action scenes we used the kinds of expression, and the kind of instruments, that were best suited.
John Kurlander, the game's recording and mixing engineer, deserves credit for taking all of the sounds we provided and distilling them into a cohesive musical atmosphere.
Chris: Finally, SoulCalibur V has been described as a landmark in video game music history, given it is a truly international score. To what extent do you agree? Do you think it will set precedent for similar collaborations?
Junichi Nakatsuru: Sound designers and sound directors all over the world are trying out new ideas and sounds every day, and I think of our work on SoulCalibur V as only a part of that process. We can't know at this point in time whether it was a big step forward or not, and there could already be a number of other directors doing the same thing. It is by no means the best or only way of doing things, just the one we thought best suited to this particular project, and the players are the ones who will decide how well it turned out. As a sound director, if they are happy with our work on SoulCalibur V, then so am I.
Chris: Many thanks for your time today, Junichi Nakatsuru. Is there anything else you'd like to say about SoulCalibur V? Do you have any messages for fans of SoulCalibur music around the world?
Junichi Nakatsuru: I would like to thank all of the fans of the SoulCalibur series for waiting so patiently. But the wait is over. SoulCalibur V moves the series forward in time, beginning a new story with new characters. We have renovated the music and sound from the ground up, and although our approach is new we have preserved the best of the old. I am looking forward to seeing what players think of our work.
And to those who have enjoyed the music in earlier SoulCalibur games, all of us who worked on SoulCalibur V's music hope that you add the soundtrack to your personal library of favorites too. Please take the time to enjoy all of these different facets of SoulCalibur V's world.
SoulCalibur V for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is in stores now. The soundtrack can be ordered here.