Interview with Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth’s Sound Producers Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda

A translation of this Famitsu interview from March 20, 2015, with Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth‘s producer Kazumasa “Habumon” Habu, BGM composer Masafumi Takada, and sound effect producer Jun Fukuda.

(Producer and director interview | Character designer interview | Eater designer interview | Sub-quest writer interview | BGM composer and sound effect producer interview)

The game Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth for the PlayStation Vita has finally been released. For this game produced for Digimon fans who have become adults and RPG fans, we are publishing an interview with its sound contributors Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda. The producer for this game, Kazumasa Habu (hereinafter, Habu), also attended the interview to discuss the music involved in this work.

Masafumi Takada (pictured on left)
Company representative of Sound Prestige. A sound composer who has made game music for a long time. Recently worked as the composer for the Danganronpa series. (Hereinafter, Takada)

Jun Fukuda (pictured on right)
CEO of Gemini Breeze. Responsible for the sound effects of games such as Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and No More Heroes. (Hereinafter, Fukuda)

Their participation was motivated by Producer Habu’s passion

–Today, we would like to ask Takada-san, who was responsible for the music, and Fukuda-san, who was responsible for the sound effects, to tell us what your feelings were when you were requested to work in this Digimon work.
As far as Digimon was concerned, I primarily had an image of it as a “famous franchise”, but I actually wasn’t part of the generation that played with it much, so at first I had the kind of feeling of “well, we’ll talk about it, I guess I’ll hear the request.” But as soon as I met Habu-san, I was hit by his passion (laughs).

–I see (laughs)
I was thinking “Habu-san likes Digimon too much!”, but I also felt “this could become interesting”. Moreover, I felt very honored to be asked to participate in the revival of such a notable, famous franchise. So on the fly, I decided, “tell me what the budget is and let’s go!”

–So the deciding factor was Habu-san.
Habu-san was the deciding factor (laughs).
Fukuda: My experience was also almost exactly like what Takada-san just described.
Takada: Fukuda and I have worked together on things like sound effects from the very beginning, and when I had to do both sound effects and music, I would have him take charge.
Fukuda: I’ve known about Digimon for quite a while, I’d never played with them. But when he said “I want to try flipping some things around completely for this work!”, he spoke with great enthusiasm that hit me directly.
Everyone: (laughs)

–The source for all this was Habu-san after all (laughs).

Building this game’s world through music

Habu: It’s difficult to pinpoint Takada-san’s music style into something like techno or punk, and I think he has quite a unique style. It has a very digital sound to it, with a lot of analog chic atmosphere. It’s the kind of music that I really thought would fit with Digimon. So for this work, in order to create a new kind of Digimon work, when I was looking for someone who could bring it all together and create some cool music, I thought Takada-san would be a good choice.
Takada: Yes, we had a talk about this quite some while ago.
Habu: I decided to ask Takada-san right at the time when we’d started planning this work, so at the very first stage I sent him the offer.

–What did you have to do in regards to your personal impression of Digimon?
For this game, wherever you go, you get the feeling of a very interesting worldview. So the first thought I had was that I want to express that through the music. As far as what my impression of Digimon is as a work, although I truthfully haven’t been able to take it in too deeply, the sort of atmosphere, or perhaps the worldview, was something I felt I had to make through the music, and so I composed with that in mind.

–So you created your own Digimon worldview with the music, and you take the stance that it’s exactly for this reason that this is the world of Digimon.
That’s right.
Habu: For this work, although it in itself is still a Digimon work, I think there’s a big part about it that you can say is “original”. We’ve closely interacted with the development companies involved, and of course as we bring them closer to the world of this work, for each situation we’ve come across they’ve created music to match. And on the other hand, since I was a fan of Takada-san’s work, I gave the okay to everything that came from him (laughs).
Everyone: (laughs)
Takada: There really wasn’t a time when I had to do a full retake of anything. Though I did have times when I had to adjust it at least a little bit.
Habu: Of course, it wouldn’t be good to be irresponsible (laughs). Since the finished product was really good, I let it all through without any complaints. Perhaps, maybe just things like like the theme song. When it came up, I had some small requests.

–In order to make a finished product that matches the image, did it ever get followed up by some thorough meeting? Was there any time when the directors imposed a particularly significant task on you?
Takada: It was basically things like “mysterious” and some finer details on the situation, so it was the easiest music I’ve ever made to match production. The particularly memorable one among the requests I got were something along the lines of “a little mystique in the rhythmic sense”.

–That’s quite a difficult image to create.
Takada: “It’s mysterious even if it has a sense of rhythm?” I thought, and I went to go work on it. Afterwards, I received pictures of the characters, the field images, etc., expanding on the game world. From the beginning I’d thought, “how do I translate the work’s world and story into music?”, and I made the music from there. So in that sense, I get the impression that my work went in a fairly straightforward manner. Rather than the plot, I was asked more to match the situation and location and characters.
Habu: The first one you made was the “EDEN” song, right?
Takada: Yes. It’s the music that plays in the PV.
Habu: The music playing in the first game information PV in December 2013 was the song “EDEN”, and it was the very first piece finished. We asked Kamikazedouga, the studio responsible for the game movies, to design Cyberspace EDEN, and we requested sound that would fit this image of “EDEN”. This cyberspace is the biggest symbol for this game. And Takada-san’s music is absolutely perfect for it, and Kamikazedouga even said “it really fits the image, it’s amazing.” Just from that one song alone, you get the decisive feeling for a lot of things.
Takada: Kamikazedouga’s movies are really great. Just hearing the word “cyberspace” alone is a little vague, and my personal image would be more like a wireframe.

But from that image, Kamikazedouga’s movie was what made it into something with some fashionable sense. It solidified the image I had, so it was a huge help.
Habu: At the time, we hadn’t ironed everything out completely, and we’d gotten something along the lines of test movies for a few scenes. So when we gave the rough draft movies to Takada-san, we told him, “for this game, we want you to make something that, despite having substance, has planar dimensions, a clean and utopia-like atmosphere in this cyberspace”.

–When you make a song, is it easier if you have a picture to go along with it?
It is. When there’s a picture, it’s a really helpful skill to be a good judge of whether you can first match that picture. You really want to check that you know how to hit the finer points of the song. Things like the pitch of the hi-hats. When you think about it, it’s really reassuring to have a picture. If you don’t, there may be times when you think, “I made this with a bluish image, but what if in the picture it’s red?” So it’s much easier to translate it into a song if you have a picture.

A variety of sound effects created with trial and error

–Continuing on that note, we would like to ask about the sound effects. What kind of sound effects were you asked to make?
Initially, we talked about renewing the image and changing it up from that of past works. As far as the sound effects go, I was more conscious of leaving a sharp and strong impact than tailoring it to the digital world. I believe the order that I was given was something along those lines.
Habu: From the beginning, when we were making the order, we were a little unsure on what to do, and we had conversations over things like “how about we try old-style sound effects like 8-bit?”
Fukuda: Come to think of it, we did have that kind of talk! Eventually, we didn’t have anything 8-bit, but we put in something that sounds like its running noise. It sounds slightly different from the original sound, without actually using the original. It may be a bad way to put it, but I wanted to slightly challenge myself in putting in something that sticks in the ear.
Habu: For the sound effects, we had very tight interaction with the development company. Unlike the music, the sound effects are something you hear every time you press buttons, so I think we specified it right down to the details.
Fukuda: Indeed. If the noise is too sharp and intrusive, it’ll get in the way of your playing experience, so taking that into consideration makes it very difficult. And because the timing of movements is even more important than it is in BGM, it’s very difficult to achieve the interaction of perfect timing, but it also becomes fun to do.

–I see. It certainly feels good to hear sounds with good timing. Did having good timing involve paying particular attention to the sounds?
Fukuda: You could say that it’s trying to find which part within the sound has the most impact. It starts with a sudden “don”, and you make a sudden “tss” after it. First you start it “slowly”, and more towards the end you put in the “don”. So timing the impact makes you spend a lot of time on it.

–So it’s like what was said before, it’s connected to the picture.
That’s right. Like with the BGM, the first thing you have to do is get a list, and for certain Digimon attacks it’d say something like “●● is going to fly”, and I wouldn’t really understand (laughs).
Everyone: (laughs)
Fukuda: Like “in what way is it flying”, “how fast?”, “what color?”, or “does it use lasers or ammunition?”, there are a lot of sounds you can think of depending on the situation, and on the other hand in terms of the sound effects, you won’t really be able to make them if you don’t have a picture.
Habu: For this game, the Digimon-related interaction sound effects were particularly demanding. After all, there are 230 distinct ones.
Fukuda: It’s a quite large number of individual ones. In fact, for most of the Digimon, I was making one sound per individual type. Even among Digimon of the same group, even though they move identically, if they’re metallic-colored or something, within the “gooey” sound, there’s a “kan” sound echoing in the mixture. People hearing it for the first time might get the same feeling from it, but in fact almost all of them are different.

The ending song is the one with strong feelings!?

–Among the songs that you made for this work, which did you put some particular thought into, Takada-san?
I’m the type who likes listening to my own songs (laughs). Actually, the song that plays during the credit roll is the one I like the most.

–Are you serious? (laughs) But you only get to hear it once.
That’s right. So please clear the game multiple times and listen to it over and over again.
Everyone: (laughs)

–The fact you want everyone to play to the end to hear it means you must have put a lot of feelings into it.
Indeed. Beyond that, I put a lot of feelings into the title song. There’s quite a large number of songs in this game. For the special preorder bonus you can download 24 of the tracks, but there’s even more than that.
Habu: I wasn’t planning to put so many of the tracks into the bonus, but Takada-san said “it’s okay, it’s okay, go ahead and put them in” (laughs).
Everyone: (laughs)
Takada: Since there are tracks that weren’t in the download bonus, and because the BGM has become very popular, I’ve decided to release the soundtrack CD right away1! Please stay tuned!!

–Whoa! That’s an announcement that’ll make people happy! I think a lot of people will be looking forward to that. By the way, Takada-san, when you make music for games, are there parts you pay special attention to, or are there parts of it that you think make a uniquely fun experience?
I think music is filling the mood with the players and the playing environment. I think how much you fill it up changes how immersive it is, so that afterwards, when you listen to the music after a few years, you’ll remember the time when you were playing, right?

–There’s that aspect to music.
Right. So I think I want to make music that makes you remember. You can’t just make good music, and you can’t just make a good work, if you don’t have music that matches the work and you don’t think there’s a link between them, and so I make music consciously keeping that in mind every day.

–I see. And, Fukuda-san, what parts do you pay close attention to, and what’s fun about making sound effects?
Sound effects are emitted rather quickly, unlike BGM. The sounds themselves are very short. You make it, you listen to it, you make it, you listen to it, it’s a high-paced flow.
Takada: It’s craftsman’s work.
Fukuda: It is. That’s the fun part of it. You repeat with trial and error, until you’ve reached the best place you can find. On top of that, a while back I asked Takada-san “what do you think is a good sound?”, and since then I’ve been holding fast to what he said.
Takada: What did I say to you? (laughs)
Fukuda: Something along the lines of “not ‘don’, but ‘zu-ddon’”.
Takada: Ah, the accumulation. In sound effects, it won’t be good if the response isn’t good. That’s directly linked to your comfort level. But you can’t just have the response be good, and people feel better if you don’t accumulate it at only one moment.
Fukuda: Instead of “ban”, “ban-kyuun” would feel better. When I feel like I’m not making it feel comfortable enough, I remember this talk.
Takada: It’s really a world involving only decimals of seconds, but I think getting it across is difficult.

–Wow. So your comfort level varies depending on how you stuff it in those decimals of seconds?
It really changes. Even if you strip it down by only a few milliseconds, it really changes.
Takada: For instance, it’s like when you change the motion by only one frame and the smoothness of the motion completely changes.
Habu: Especially for games and video, you absolutely have to keep that in mind in terms of people’s comfort level. In a game, after it’s recognized that you’ve pressed a button, the reaction it returns to you is very important.

–With that, please leave a final message for fans of this game.
When you play this game on the train, I hope people listen carefully to the sound with headphones or earphones (laughs). I myself am on the train very often, and sometimes I see people playing a game that I made the music for. But then I get a little shock, like, “oh, they’re not listening to the music…” (awkward laugh)
Everyone: (laughs)
Takada: And then it’s really like, “But there’s a really good song playing during this scene…!” So when you play, if you’re playing outside, please listen to the music with headphones or earphones. If you play without sound and see a tall guy nearby who looks sad about it, that might be me.

–I see (laughs). Please also put in a word, Fukuda-san.
Since I think the sound effects are in a more prominent setting than the BGM, I won’t dare to say something emphatic as “please listen to that one!”, but I’d like you to listen to all of them as a whole, and if you could aggressively talk about your impressions on social media I’d be very happy (laughs).

Translator's notes
  1. For the original Japanese release of the game, anyone who preordered the first press of the game or bought it within the early days of its release received a free copy of a 24-track selection from the soundtrack. The full CD was released on May 29 afterwards (link to buy). []

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