"Zero ~Shinku no Chou~" is scheduled to be released on 28 June 2012 by Nintendo. Here is a special talk with the singer-songwriter in charge of the game's theme song, "Kurenai", and the game's director, Makoto Shibata of Koei Tecmo Games! We discussed exchanges with the development team, the feelings put into "Kurenai", and treasured incidents while making the theme song, while talking of Zero ~Shinku no Chou~'s charms.
Tsukiko Amano: Made her debut in 2001 under the name of Tsukiko Amano. She is a singer-songwriter who was in charge of creating "Kurenai", the theme song of Zero ~Shinku no Chou~. Besides Shinku no Chou, she has contributed theme songs to the entire Zero series. With composition that is tough yet delicate and tugs at the heartstrings, and mysterious and allegorical lyrics, she delves even deeper into the world of Zero, and receives strong support from fans of the games.
Makoto Shibata: An employee of Koei Tecmo Games. He is the director of Shinku no Chou. He has directed every game in the Zero series. He was also the person who asked Ms. Amano to create the image song.
List of compositions for the Zero series
"Chou" : Zero ~Akai Chou~ theme song & ending song
"Koe" : Zero ~Shisei no Koe~ theme & ending song
"Zero no Chouritsu" : Zero ~Tsukihami no Kamen~ theme song
"Noise" : Zero ~Tsukihami no Kamen~ ending song
*All under the name of Tsukiko Amano.
New album "Sora no Ki" released on 25 July 2012!
A total of 10 songs, including the theme song "Kurenai".
Price: 3000 yen (tax inc.)
Distributor: Dwango Music Entertainment
●What is "Zero ~Shinku no Chou~"?
A work based on the Japanese-style horror adventure game "Zero ~Akai Chou~", released on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, incorporating several new elements. The protagonists are twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura. Mio is always thinking of her sister, who injured her right leg in a childhood accident. Mayu is conservative and quiet, but has a strong sixth sense. Beckoned by a crimson butterfly, the girls become trapped inside Minakami Village. Using the Camera Obscura, a camera with the power to seal away "impossible things" - ghosts - they find by chance, they attempt to escape from the village, but... The graphics and character models of the original have been redone, and a new mode, Haunted House mode, has been added for even beginners to enjoy at leisure.
●The two songs "Chou" and "Kurenai" become one
――First of all, I'd like to ask about the circumstances under which Ms. Amano came to be in charge of the theme song for Shinku no Chou...
Makoto Shibata (below, "Shibata"): The first "Zero" game didn't have a theme song, but when we were working on Akai Chou, Kikuchi, the producer (Mr. Keisuke Kikuchi. An employee of Koei Tecmo Games. He has produced the entire Zero series) said to me, "I'd actually like to have a theme song," and asked, "Do you know anyone who'd be good for that?", and that's how it began. I told him, "I'll go look," and went to the indies corner of a major CD shop in Shinjuku, and began searching for someone from the "A" section... And the one at the very top of the "A" section was Ms. Amano's single "Hakoniwa". As soon as I listened to it, I thought, "It's got to be her!" (laughs).
Tsuki Amano (below, "Amano"): That's the first I've heard of that (laughs).
Shibata: Huh, really?
Amano: I really am in the "A" section (laughs). Personally, thinking that being in the "A" section would make me easier to find was something I'd thought about.
Shibata: When I listened to "Hakoniwa", it was really good. When I told Kikuchi this, he said, "There's no way you could have such good luck, show me some proof," and at first wouldn't believe me (laughs). Perhaps "Singer: Tsukiko Amano Song: Hakoniwa" was too much to do for the image song of a Japanese horror adventure game (laughs). But the font for "Tsukiko Amano/Hakoniwa", and the Otokura label calligraphy, had a Japanese feel to it.
――The song and lyrics of the world Ms. Amano created matched up with "Zero"?
Shibata: I'd thought about this next thing for a while, but it really sounded like the character was talking. The part at the end of Hakoniwa that's repeated - the first time I heard it, I felt scared. But as I listened, it was like the words were coming from a place deep in her heart, and felt somehow like a ghost speaking...
――After that, you asked Ms. Amano to compose something.
Shibata: Right. At first I thought she might not like horror games, but she gave me the okay with a suprisingly light-hearted, "It's fine."
Amano: It was light-hearted. At first I wasn't totally sure what kind of image horror should have, I myself loved games... that was the kind of light-hearted feeling I answered with. But the "image of horror" came to me later. Much, much later.
――Had you known of the "Zero" game before then?
Amano: Around the time I started recording, after I was contacted and told that it was settled that I was doing the image song, a musician there told me, "I-i-it's this kind of game." I really had no idea what sort of game it was, so I began with trying to learn about the Zero world view, and bought and played it.
――How was playing it?
Amano: It was really scary. I thought that it might be scarier to play it in the dark than while it was bright, and "headphones recommended" was written on the package, so I played it with headphones on. I got close to my little TV, and played it in a dark room, and I couldn't stop shivering to the point where I thought I might've caught a cold. But the part of the world view I most wanted to know about what the atmosphere of the ending. Naturally, to find out about the ending I had to fight this fear until I beat the game. I thought that if I at least knew where I should go next it might distract me from the scariness, so I even went out and bought a walkthrough book.
――You can feel Zero's atmosphere with your skin.
Amano: Yeah. At first, Mr. Shibata said to me, "Don't you think a song like Hakoniwa is suited to Zero?", and when I watched the ending credits Hakoniwa came to mind and I thought, "Ah, I see. It really does fit."
――When you asked her to do the theme song, did you give her a summary of the game to expand the image?
Shibata: I did.
Amano: 80% of the data he gave me was illustrations of the ghosts... Ones like the woman with the broken neck. I thought, "I don't need so many pictures!" (laughs).
Shibata: Since the game wasn't yet complete, I thought I'd give her concept artwork. At that time I'd got a taste of Ms. Amano's song, and it made me think that she must love horror. So I thought, "I've gotta give her more data!" I thought that might make her happy. But it was just a nuisance... I also wanted to give her a grasp of the unique Japanese style of Akai Chou. Now that I think of it, at that time, when I spoke with Ms. Amano's manufacturer, they told me, "That's nice, Amano was thinking about going for a Japanese style this year," answering in high spirits. But when I saw the music video for "Same", the single before Chou, for which filming had just finished, I thought that while Japanese is Japanese, dressing up like a samurai is kind of a different kind of Japanese (laughs).
Amano: I was swordfighting in a Western village.
Shibata: When it cut to Western at the beginning I thought, "Huh?" (laughs).
――(Laughs) Fans of Zero say that the world of Akai Chou gives a real impression of beauty, but when you heard the game's story what did you think?
Amano: Rather than beauty, it gave me the impression of fear. When I got the visual of twin girls in the initial data, it felt like Yatsu Haka Mura (Village of Eight Gravestones). A Japanese horror with twins? "This is going to be really scary," I thought.
Shibata: The first Zero has a cold, isolated feeling, but I was told, "If it's too scary it won't sell, so stop it," and for the second game I thought about going for a fantastical atmosphere... Trying for a feeling that at first it's not scary, but it does gradually get scary as you go.
Amano: But the part that's not scary is really only the initial five minutes or so. Maybe right when she gets her shoulder grabbed. When I lent the game to the staff, when they got to that part they said it was scary and stopped (laughs).
――Where did you get the inspiration for the theme song, Chou?
Amano: When I first heard the "Akai Chou" title, the absolute first thing that popped up in my head was "hands". Since your palms are the part of your body with which you can make the shape of a butterfly, at first I had the image of one pair of overlapping hands vanishing. When I looked at the data I got after that, I thought, "Ah, they're together." The image I had was of holding hands, which is different from the palms in the game, but we both chose hands from completely different viewpoints.
Shibata: That's the first time I've heard that story. So that didn't come from the game's story...
Amano: When I first decided upon a title, when I chose to call the song "Chou", I had the image of "a butterfly with torn wings that can't fly well". Butterflies are symmetrical. I wondered if I could combine the sense of symmetry of twins and butterflies, and from that I feel like it was similar from a different viewpoint, a combination.
Shibata: It's an opposite image. In the game, the twins become one in the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, which creates a butterfly.
Amano: Yeah. What I thought of was one of a symmetrical butterfly's wings being torn.
Shibata: It's kind of scary that we coincidentally thought of the same thing...
――By the way, after you received the request, did you have any exchanges with Mr. Shibata?
Amano: That's how it was at the time of Akai Chou. Since then, at the beginning I get data called "requests from Shibata" sent to me.
Shibata: Within the company they're referred to as love letters (laughs).
Amano: They're the length of love letters. They're about 10 manuscript pages long.
Shibata: I was aiming to write absolutely everything, so when I wrote it down it was embarrassing. But I thought that if I could put out my side of things and my spiritual experiences in their entirety, it might come out as a more amazing song.
Amano: Though it's really rude to say it, for the most part I feel like I just skimmed it and picked out the good parts. But sometimes something really important is written there, so I look back at it as I write the lyrics, and use it for reference.
――Zero ~Shinku no Chou~'s theme song is Kurenai - what was it like when you first heard they wanted you do to the theme song again for a refinement of Akai Chou?
Amano: I'd heard of it being planned for quite a while beforehand, so I wasn't surprised. I'd been hearing "soon" bit by bit from about a year ago, and then one day they asked me to do it... Since it was the first game I'd been involved in, and I was so connected emotionally to it, I was really happy. At the same time, I was conscious that even though Shinku no Chou is a refined and upgraded version of it, at the root they're the same thing, so it was really tricky to make something again that I'd already made once. For me, Chou was complete.
Shibata: The song we talked about before, Hakoniwa - 5 years after that one, she wrote a song in the same world as it, called Utakata. Since Ms. Amano had experience with creating another song in the same world, I had a sense of anticipation for what would happen if she created another song for Akai Chou.
Amano: I really couldn't see any way to go about it, and was troubled over what to do, when I got the hint "It would be nice if you'd write a sister song", and that's when I feel like I saw the light.
Shibata: I thought it might be nice to have both songs connected and complement each other.
――It doesn't just inherit and break off parts of Chou, but Kurenai was born as a little sister to Chou.
Amano: Right. After I heard about the "sister song" thing, I went straight for it.
――Did you decide on the title "Kurenai" first and then compose the music?
Amano: When I first heard of it I'd not heard the Shinku no Chou title, so I was thinking of Akai Chou. I'd already used the word "Chou" (butterfly) once, so I thought I should use the "Akai" (crimson) word this time. If it was written in hiragana I thought people might take it as "shite kurenai?" (won't you do it?), so I decided to use the old "wi" character. Comparing the two titles, it had to be "Kurenai".
Shibata: So the two songs together become "crimson butterfly"...
Amano: If you'd told me at first it would've been "Shinku" (laughs).
Shibata: But we'd not totally decided on a title back then... (laughs)
――Which parts of the two were you conscious of?
Amano: The viewpoint. "Chou" is in the viewpoint of its protagonist, who flies through the air awkwardly with its injured wings. So I thought of making Kurenai about leaving a torn body.
――I see. Your lyrics give a philosophical impression, but where does the source of your world view-colouring lyrics come from?
Amano: I really don't know. I don't think it's unique to me.
Shibata: Have you got any hints from dreams?
Amano: I don't really have actual dreams very often, but even when I do they're only happy ones.
Shibata: Really? I often have scary dreams - the story for Akai Chou came to me in the shape of a dream during a single night. Since in my dreams I watched as a spectator, I had the viewpoint like an audience member of "What happens in the ending?". I thought about the meaning of the title, and how to bring in some kind of foreshadowing.
Amano: That was the story you dreamt of?
Shibata: Have you never had the experience of creating a song in a dream, and then actually writing it?
Amano: I barely remember anything of my dreams... Ah, though I do remember having dreams before doing a live show that no one would show up (laughs).
Shibata: Was that because you were nervous?
Amano: Perhaps I'm nervous, or perhaps it's a warning from God that I need to practise.
Shibata: A little more about my dreams - since I can't just do what I like in my dreams, and I don't see a map of the right side during them, even though I might want to turn right I can't. Because of that, when we're making the game I have to ask, "I haven't seen a map of the right side in my dreams, so please wait a bit before we make it."
Amano: When I go into houses, I go left at first. Speaking of which, after I wrote Hakoniwa, I went to try out sandplay therapy (hakoniwa ryouhou), things in the right seem to be subconsciously the most important to people.
Shibata: I guess even unconsciously, people avoid important things. Even in the game, Itsuki's storehouse is along the right hand side.
――(Laughs). Back to the story, are there things you like that influence your songwriting?
Amano: There are. Perhaps because somehow they influence me, lots of things are mixed up into my songs. I'm not the type who strongly won't accept any influence.
Shibata: Since Zero and Hakoniwa were already in harmony with each other, I wondered where the lyrics had come from, and that really bothered me.
Amano: I write with a theme, and in Hakoniwa's case that theme was "when something ends something begins, and when something begins something ends". I thought it would be good to make it a song about being one step away from leaving the garden. Sometimes people tell me that the lyrics are philosophical, but I think that depends on how you look at them. Whether it's in your nature to want to know or investigate whether it's a dressed-up exterior or interior, like whether it's a "dressed-up event" or "dressed-up emotions".
――When you're producing your music, do you write the lyrics first?
Amano: First is the music. Once I've done part 1 of the melody, I immediately add words to it. So when part 1 is done, part 2 is just writing the lyrics, so I feel like as long as I can get the first part done it's almost complete.
Shibata: Really... The words always match up with the tune so perfectly that I'd been wondering for a while which part comes first.
――Could you tell us what to listen for in Kurenai?
Amano: The stringed instrument quartet. Actually, since Chou, all of my songs have involved the same string arrangement, but I think the strings promote the Zero world.
Shibata: The strings were in there from the very first demo version, weren't they?
Amano: Yeah. Since then they've been replaced with raw, unprocessed versions. The arranger of all of my music was also going for a "Zero-ish feel" when they did the arrangement.
Shibata: "Zero-ish" is a strange thing to talk about.
Amano: Like "the feeling of wanting to die", upon Mr. Shibata's orders (laughs).
Shibata: To make you empathise with the characters, to make the differences between you and the protagonist indistinguishable, while creating the game I asked for a "feeling like wanting to die" for a song to put with the ending.
Amano: When I'm writing them, some part of me thinks of death. Sometimes I write the words dry, and when I put a little in it feels false, but quite dark. Before I start writing a song for a game, while I'm flooded with feelings I write what words appear in my head down in a memo, and when I look at it later it scares me. I wonder if it's writings of the dead or something (laughs).
Shibata: I do that often, too. Though I don't remember it at all, the languishing scary words are on the memo. Or while I sleep I vaguely think of something, and then send it to myself using my mobile to my work email address so I won't forget it, and when I open the email the next day I think, "What the hell is this!?" in shock. It's my own horror (laughs). By the way, Ms. Amano, have you had any spiritual experiences?
Amano: None whatsoever. Even when I go to places it's said ghosts appear I see nothing at all. The story of Mr. Shibata's I can't forget was the one about the procession of ghosts walking along the path.
Shibata: I didn't see them, I could just hear voices along the whole stretch of road. They were coming from the shrine, mumbling and muttering.
――That's scary (laughs). By the way, For the Wii game Zero ~Tsukihami no Kamen~, how did you hear of the story for creating the music?
Amano: Just photos of giant kelp, and again he sent me loads of things, and I thought, "I don't need this!" He said that they have great significance in the ending, things falling in there (laughs).
――(Laughs) For Tsukihami no Kamen you made two songs, the theme song and ending song - was the image originally to be made as two songs?
Amano: I made them from the concept data, and those photos.
Shibata: The emotions in Tsukihami no Kamen are different from the ones the rest of the series has. In the series up until then, you would proceed with the protagonist's story and gradually enter their inner world, until the emotions of the ghost waiting at the end entwined and linked with theirs... But Tsukihami no Kamen has multiple protagonists, and is seen from a variety of viewpoints, with a shared emotion. So the combination of these feelings is a bit different from the other titles.
Amano: Remembering the difference between each protagonist from the plans was quite tricky. I wasn't quite sure which one to pick up on...
Shibata: Because of that, the song has the atmosphere of all of the songs she's contributed for the entire series. I think that since there wasn't one single person in charge of the scenario, the game didn't just converge into a single emotion, and so it's different from the theme songs before.
Amano: Evidently, I wrote Zero no Chouritsu as a theme song for all of the games in the Zero series. Separately from that, it was requested that I write something I personally wanted, and I wrote Noise.
Shibata: I wondered what if the song was too cool.
Amano: Didn't you think it might not be Japanese-style? (Laughs)
Shibata: Until then we'd had the theme song playing during the ending, but people who didn't get to the end wouldn't experience the emotion of the song, and so used it for the opening. Since it was an even cooler opening song than I'd expected, I wanted to use it was an ending song, too.
Amano: Zero no Chouritsu really is like an opening song.
――Throughout the series, Ms. Amano has contributed the theme songs, but what's really different from the other games is the parts where I feel an extraordinary affinity with the game's story.
Amano: It makes me happy to hear that. There's a story from when I was working on Zero ~Shisei no Koe~ (Voice of the Tattoo) - before the game was released, I had been writing a song called Irezumi ("tattoo"). The word for "tattoo" is read a different way, but it's still the same word, so I thought I couldn't still use it, and should use the "Koe" ("voice") part as the theme instead. The basis of Shisei no Koe's story is that the female protagonist, Rei Kurosawa, loses her fiance to a traffic accident; in actuality, I had a friend who really lost her fiance. I gave the song its image while thinking of that friend. I thought that though the dead person may be the person you loved more than anyone in your entire life, it should still be okay to love someone again. You don't want to forget a single thing about them, and I understand that feeling, but the basis of it was that it should be okay even if their voice gets a little hazy. I wanted to do a "forgetting, but not wanting to forget" song, but Mr. Shibata asked me to do a "never forgetting" song. When I looked at my friend, I felt like "you should forget, but just being won't make you happy", so I wrote the song like that anyway... As a result, Mr. Kikuchi stood between Mr. Shibata and I, with our divided opinions, and tried to soothe us (laughs).
Shibata: When I first asked her to compose something, Ms. Amano actually said, "I've actually already made it."
Amano: Yeah, that's right. When Mr. Shibata was telling me, "I want you to write it this way," I think I'd already written it (laughs).
Shibata: Actually, when the game was completed it turned into that kind of story, so it was added to the end of the cutscene. It's the middle ground of our two opinions. What I put into the game was the protagonist, Rei Kurosawa, saying, "I won't forget," and I got the impression that Ms. Amano was beside me, watching with dry eyes, saying, "No, forget."
Amano: Then, when I received the script for the first time, though I'd not written the song yet I saw "the prelude to the ending starts here" written there, and thought, "Looks like this song really needs a prelude," (laughs).
Shibata: During the script-writing stage, I had an image like that of Ms. Amano's song "Lion" in my head. Lion has a prelude, so I considered keeping that image for the ending scene. Lion is a song full of reluctance too, isn't it?
Amano: No, I think of music like a mirror reflecting the person interpreting the song. "Lion" might sound like a song full of regrets about a man, but there's the theory that it's the song of departure to a woman. Or like me paying attention to the clock near you waiting for the train.
Shibata: Huh!? Really? It's like a psychological test (laughs).
――Mr. Shibata - you've worked on various games, but being able to collaborate with an artist all this time doesn't happen often, does it?
Shibata: It's rare, isn't it? I don't think the emotions in the songs are really all that stronger than the games. I feel like they increase the emotion that the games make you feel.
Amano: Actually, when I was playing the first Zero game, I couldn't empathise with the heroine, Miku Hinasaki. I thought that if I could empathise with her... I wrote the song while thinking of the possibilities of a song from the perspective of someone who did empathise.
――When I hear that story, I wonder what it would be like if one of Ms. Amano's songs was added to the first Zero game.
Amano: I wonder. I guess a song like Hakoniwa would fit after all.
Shibata: Yeah. I think it really does suit it, but I think there are bits in there that are similar with Akai Chou, too.
Amano: I guess they're Kirie's (the ghost who was the origin of the incident in the first game) feelings. If I had to say, I'd say that Chou is from Mayu Amakura's point of view. My deepest memory of Akai Chou is Mio Amakura saying, "Mayu, stay there," but Mayu vanishing anyway so many times, which gave me a really strong impression of Mayu being a burden (laughs).
Shibata: Starting with the day she fell from the cliff, there was something like a reserve between the two of them. That reserve was solved in Minakami Village...
Amano: I wanted to complement Mayu like that.
――Did you know that Shinku no Chou has new endings?
Amano: I've heard that some have been added. But I've not been told the details. I know that Akai Chou had several endings, though...
Shibata: Since Akai Chou's normal ending was a really good match with the song, we made it our mission to make the song for this game, Kurenai, match up with the scenes and story.
――Hearing Ms. Amano's thoughts on playing Shinku no Chou is amusing.
Shibata: It's fun, but scary, too. Saying "Mayu's in the way," again (laughs).
Amano: Since I think that with regards to fans of the Zero series there are lots of people who empathise of course with the world and its characters, I thought it might be quite hard to make. The character designs for Shinku no Chou have been changed, and I think there will be quite a few people who won't take to them right away. Speaking of which, I've seen people saying, "Their chests have got really big!" on the internet (laughs).
Shibata: That's the result of Nintendo telling us to give them "a bit more mature design"...
Amano: You really concentrated on the costumes for Akai Chou, too, right?
Shibata: Yeah. We've also got collaboration costumes with Nintendo, in the shape of Mario and Luigi costumes.
Amano: Right. That's fun (laughs). Though it's been this way in the whole series so far, I like the costume change element.
Shibata: I'm really glad that Ms. Amano played it until she cleared it, and even then enjoyed spending time changing costumes.
――Then finally, your messages for the fans who are looking forward to the release.
Shibata: Zero ~Shinku no Chou~ is a renewal based on Akai Chou's story. The gameplay perspective third-person, the same as in Tsukihami no Kamen, so it adds to the sense of realism of Minakami Village, and we've added lots of new and changed elements, so even those who played Akai Chou can enjoy a brand new experience. I also want them to enjoy Kurenai, the theme song that plays during the ending. Also, we've added a new element in the form of a short, simple Japanese-style horror to enjoy called "Haunted House mode". Since it has simple controls, even people not so good with action games can play it simply. Various things are incorporated, and I have full confidence that it can be enjoyed as a 2012 horror game, so please look forward to it.
Amano: Please keep going until the ending and listen to Kurenai. Actually, Sora no Ki, the album Kurenai is on, is currently being recorded. I think that Kurenai is also a number that people who I've got to know through Zero can listen to easily, and I think that Sora no Ki is a huge tree, made up of various branches of each song it contains, of which Kurenai is one, so it's a colourful album. Rock-ish sounding songs, songs that don't sound rock but are in your mind, cute songs... it has songs with all kinds of atmospheres. It's my first full album in quite a while, set for release by Dwango on 25 July. While being excited about the countdown until the album's release, I'm thinking about lots of things, so please look forward to my activities in the future.