Originally posted on 1 February 2016
Source: page 160-162

Ryu Encyclopaedia

Portraits of the Creators, Episode 9: Hidenori Shoji

The man who has spent 10 years creating the sound for Ryu ga Gotoku

Sound direction/sound creator
Hidenori Shoji

Joined Sega after playing the guitar in an indies band. Since then, he has been involved in the overall sound on the Ryu ga Gotoku and Monkey Ball series, F-Zero GX/AX and more. He is also a member of [H.], a band composed of Sega's sound staff members.

30 different versions of Receive You were made until it was complete

10 years have passed since Ryu ga Gotoku. So many things have happened, so I have a lot of memories, but when I look back on it, my first impressions of the first Ryu ga Gotoku have to be the strongest.

When I had finished working on a game called F-Zero GX/AX, Nagoshi came to me and said, "I have an interesting project." Honestly, at first I was surprised. I had heard that it was themed around yakuza and the criminal underworld, so I thought, "Look at what I've gotten myself into." At the same time I had begun to think about what kind of sound to go for, so I had actually begun the work of tying together the worldview and the audio from quite an early stage. However, I was creating sounds for a completely brand new title, so I was totally fumbling my way through it. I was going through frantic trial and error in an attempt to represent the worldview that Nagoshi wanted through sound.

I think that this trial and error is reflected in the number of retakes I did for the theme song, Receive You, as well. The song's melody changed quite a lot between the time it was first revealed and when it was actually released. At first it sounded more like dance music, but I was told that it should be themed more around an oriental coolness, so I revised it over and over.

This is a bit of a technical thing to talk about, but the guitar riff itself hasn't really changed at all from the start until now. I'm a guitarist myself, though, so perhaps I just wouldn't yield. I made several different arrangements based around this guitar riff that I put so much care into. Usually, even songs that are of theme song level only have about three different versions made until they're finalised, but for Ryu ga Gotoku, I made 30 different versions of the theme song alone. Nagoshi knows a lot more about music than the average producer, so he got on my case in a good way.

On the other hand, I continued working on other songs for the game without waiting to finish the theme song first. The first song that I finished was a dark, ominous song called "Unrest". The order was for a song that expressed the thick atmosphere of Kamurocho, and it was by first putting this song on a machine that we decided on the atmosphere for the adventure section. The next one to be completed was the encounter battle song "Funk Goes On", which was made to convey the battle atmosphere. At the time there were lots of technical inadequacies, and when we tried putting the track in the game it disrupted the flow of the gameplay. I remember spending quite a lot of time making adjustments until I got it just right. After all of this trial and error Ryu ga Gotoku was finally released, but I had no time to rest before it was time to start working on Ryu ga Gotoku 2. The first thing I felt when I began work was that the pressures from both inside and outside of the company had changed. I think that things like Crazy Ken Band providing the insert and ending song is symbolic of this.

I had actually spoken with Nagoshi from the time of the first Ryu ga Gotoku about wanting to use a tie-up song as the ending theme. However, at the time, no one would take us up on it, apparently. That's how I ended up creating an arrangement of Amazing Grace to use as the ending theme... but I still clearly remember the catharsis from this regret being dispelled on Ryu ga Gotoku 2.

Speaking of tie-ups, when I heard that Ryu ga Gotoku's theme song was going to be rearranged by Koshi Inaba for Kiwami, I was really surprised. Things like tie-ups are the in publicity people's jurisdiction, so I don't really get involved, and it came as a huge shock to me. I was awe-struck.

I was really surprised, too, when I heard the Receive You arrangement that Mr. Inaba had done. Arrangements are normally done by changing the genre, for example making an orchestral version of a rock song. This is a sort of easy way of doing it, but Mr. Inaba's arrangement was in a rock style like the original song. That's why I was so surprised.

Another thing that moved me was that even in the new arrangement, the guitar part had barely changed. The part that I had spent so much care on and had survived more than 30 takes had been left in the new arrangement as well, which reaffirmed to me that I had made the right choice. It's amazing how the components aside from the guitar can produce such a different impression. I spoke with Nagoshi about how this must be top-notch work.

Songs tend to be the most prominent, but creating sound effects is also an important job

Chronologically speaking, the next thing was Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!. As it was historical I did make changes to the instruments I used, but it was based on Ryu ga Gotoku, so there were surprisingly few times when I didn't know what to do with the songs. If anything, the fact that we had shifted hardware to the PlayStation 3 was more of a threat.

Along with advancements in hardware, there's more to do and make on the creator's side. Also, since it wasn't set in modern times I couldn't just appropriate things like environmental sounds from past games in the series, and naturally this also gave me even more to do. Kenzan is set in Gion, so I investigated things like the habitats of birds and insects and went in search of samples that used recordings of the sounds of real creatures. I'm often told that it's so trivial, but doing trivial things like this to make sure that the player doesn't feel like something is unnatural or wrong is the kind of mindset you need when you work in sound. You have to be prepared to do that hard work.

Creating sound effects is, for us on the sound team, as important of a job as creating music tracks. The experience we gain working on music is often useful in the creation of sound effects, and the opposite is also true. There are young members of the team who say that they want to specialise in one or the other, but I would want them to do both in order to expand the breadth of their work. I, myself, am now in charge of checking the overall sound from a quality control standpoint, so lately I haven't been doing much creation of sound effects, so I'm planning to get back involved with that.

Next up, on Ryu ga Gotoku 3, though not at the level of job rotation, the staff had changed a bit. This was the game that served as a turning point for the sound team. As part of this I ended up devoting myself to the creation of music, so in that sense, as well, it's a game that holds a lot of memories for me. The game is set in Okinawa, so I remember putting some southern reggae rhythms into the battles and making modifications to make it seem different from the other games.

Oh, that's right - I remember something from when I was working on Ryu ga Gotoku 3. Eikichi Yazawa provided the theme song for Ryu ga Gotoku 3, butit seems like he used the theme songs I created for Ryu ga Gotoku and Ryu ga Gotoku 2 as reference. It seems like he said, "This is rock!" and I still remember how overjoyed I was to have that recognised by someone so influential. I am truly blessed as a creator.

Making my own style less prominent is also important when thinking about the series

What I remember about Ryu ga Gotoku 4 is just how much work there was to do (laughs). There were four protagonists, and so we needed more songs as well. We had also begun to master the PlayStation 3, so there was more to do, leaving us with an unusual amount of work.

Inevitably, the amount of outsourcing we have to do has also increased, but even when I contact people who have nothing to do with the industry they often know of the Ryu ga Gotoku series, which makes things easier and comes as a surprise. I never expected our efforts until now to have an effect on such matters.

Even our in-house staff went outside of their usual roles to work on Ryu ga Gotoku 4, but even looking back on it now, having a different person in charge of the music for each protagonist was an unusual thing. Akiyama's part was done by Hideaki Kobayashi, who is now working on the sound for Phantasy Star Online 2, and Tanimura's part was done by someone from the film industry. I did Saejima's part, and I helped out Kobayashi with some of Kiryu's part - we divided the roles up in a way you don't usually see. By making my own style less prominent, I think we also achieved more of a sense of variation.

The next game we made, Ryu ga Gotoku Of The End, was a big turning point for the sound team. The younger staff were gradually really being pushed upwards, but I've heard that the same was true of the planners as well, so it had this pretty striking impression in the way that the generations were switching around through the game.

At the time I was working on the sound for a game called Binary Domain, so on Ryu ga Gotoku Of The End I only really played the guitar for my juniors' songs, and on Ryu ga Gotoku 5 I only participated a little as a sort of helper. The main music for both games was handled by Mitsuharu Fukuyama, who is a member of the same band as me and who is currently working on Phantasy Star Online 2 with Kobayashi. I, personally, wanted to bring some new blood into the series, so I think that this was a good thing. Musicians grow by experiencing songs that aren't in their usual style, but I think that, in the same way, new blood is important for the growth of the series.

So, just when we had brought in this new blood and it seemed like we would be able to make a new contemporary drama, we ironically enough started work on Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin! (laughs). Looking back on Ishin, the first word that comes to mind is "shamisen". I had actually been thinking from the time of Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! that, if we were to do another historical drama, then I would like to play the shamisen on it for myself, so working on Ishin was the impetus for me beginning to learn the shamisen. In order to fulfil my wishes, I played the shamisen on all of the songs for this game that I was in charge of. However, the shamisen was even more fun than I had anticipated, and so even now, around three years since I began playing it, I'm still studying. I can't really admit to people that my all-important guitar has fallen into neglect.

As I had assumed, the next thing to come after making a period drama was a contemporary one... but one that was sort of in the past, being set in 1988, and I remember being perplexed by this.

However, despite it being a reproduction of the bubble era, Nagoshi didn't want the BGM to go back in time as well, which meant that I was able to put together things featuring dubstep or drum and bass, so I was able to have a relatively enjoyable working experience. There's also a scene in which a big band appears, which gave me my first supervisory experience with regards to motions and musical instrument composition. It was a really fresh feeling to see my own musical experiences take shape on screen. If I get the chance, next time I'd like to try being a motion actor.

And finally is the latest game, Ryu ga Gotoku Kiwami, which lets me reflect on the history of the past 10 years. The game is a remake of the first Ryu ga Gotoku, but actually there's a sort of behind the scenes setting - or rather a slight effect - to do with the BGM in the cutscenes, which I don't think many people will know about. This is that each of the principal characters has their own designated instrument. This is reflected in the BGM that plays during cutscenes - for example, Majima is bass, Date is the electric piano, the Florist is a harp... A song will play based around these instruments, which was intended to strengthen the distinction between the characters.

However, there was nothing I could do with scences like ones where Date and the Florist appear at the same time, so I started making exceptions to the rule partway through (laughs). At the very least, I kept to the rule for the scenes in which they make their first appearance or play a large role.

Aside from some symbolic tracks from Ryu ga Gotoku, all of the cutscene BGM has been remade for Ryu ga Gotoku Kiwami. There have also been large additions made to scenes that previously had no music, but in keeping with the instrument settings that I spoke of earlier. I think that if you listen out for this, you might enjoy it more.

So, this has been a summary of my looking back on the past 10 years for both Ryu ga Gotoku and myself, but at the time I never could have imagined that the game would ever be remade. Looking at the sound data for the first Ryu ga Gotoku, it's all full of youthfulness; the past 10 years seem like both an age and no time at all, and at the same time this strange feeling of what a long way we've come. Working on Kiwami really made me reminisce about it. But it's a fact that we owe it to the support of the fans that the series has been able to go on for this long, and I hope that I can think the same thing in another 10 years.