Phantasy Star Online’s music has outlined the collection for 20 years

Phantasy Star Online’s music has defined the series for 20 years

With 2020 being the 20th anniversary of Sega’s Dreamcast role-playing recreation Phantasy Star Online, we’re trying again with a collection of interviews that includes key workforce members who labored on the sport. Over the previous two weeks, we’ve posted chats with producer Yuji Naka and director Takao Miyoshi, and now we transfer over to composer and sound designer Hideaki Kobayashi.

Kobayashi’s trippy digital music is without doubt one of the most notable parts of Phantasy Star Online, and from the unique PSO onward, Kobayashi has been accountable for almost all of the collection’ sound design and soundtrack work. Below, Kobayashi shares his ideas in regards to the substantial physique of music he’s created, the collaborations which have occurred on the collection, PSO in live performance, secret fan service, and the music he composes in his free time.

Can you please clarify your position on the PSO workforce? I do know you had been accountable for the theme songs, however had been you accountable for all of the sound within the recreation?

There was a sound director who determined the general temper of the sport. Originally, I labored beneath him to create numerous sounds and items of music. There was one other creator on the workforce who I labored with to create the background music and sound results. I got here up with the sounds that I felt match nicely within the sci-fi surroundings that PSO was going to be set in.

Were you a member of the Wave Master workforce [an audio group at Sega] on the time?

It’s a bit sophisticated. At first I used to be at Sega Enterprises. In the early 2000s, I converted to Wave Master, and that’s the place all of the sound creators had been. Wave Master nonetheless exists immediately, however at one level all of the creators moved again to Sega, and now all of us work at Sega Games.

How lengthy would you say you had been at Wave Master?

I’d have to look it up. I used to be there for a number of years.

You had been part of Wave Master throughout the growth of PSO?

For the primary PSO title, I used to be working beneath Sega Enterprises.

Was Wave Master at all times a publishing label, too?

Initially, they had been a label and likewise did sound manufacturing. I labored for Wave Master throughout the growth of Phantasy Star Online Episode 3: CARD Revolution.

Wave Master revealed their very own recreation at one level, proper?

Yes, they did. It was known as Roommania #203.

Hideaki Kobayashi stands in front of the Sega logo on a wall

Hideaki Kobayashi
Photo: James Mielke for Polygon

How did you get assigned to the PSO challenge and turn out to be the soundtrack composer?

The motive why I used to be chosen most likely needed to do with the timing of the challenge, and the sound director on the time will need to have thought I might be a great match. In addition to that, although, there was additionally the truth that I personally actually favored the unique Phantasy Star. I realized easy methods to play the [Yamaha] Electone, an electrical organ, in center college and created my very own preparations of the music of Phantasy Star. That’s how a lot I like the sport, and it’s one motive why I bought into Sega within the first place.

One day, my boss got here round to my desk asking if I knew about Phantasy Star. I’m like, “Of course!” To which my boss responded, “We’re making a game in the Phantasy Star universe. Would you be interested in giving it a shot?” And I informed him “yes” on the spot. So, that was how I bought the place. I used to be nonetheless a rookie, solely about two years since becoming a member of Sega, so the workforce most likely didn’t know something about me. I can solely guess that their response to having me was most likely like, “Well, let’s give this guy a shot.” That was the primary time I made a demo tape for a theme track and the music for the primary few phases. Fortunately, these items I wrote matched nicely with what the event workforce had created, they usually accepted my work. That’s, I feel, when the event workforce accepted me and I used to be in a position to be concerned with the total challenge.

Phantasy Star Online is developing on its 20th anniversary. This was one among your early initiatives, trying again, however how do you mirror on the event of the sport at this level?

I joined the Phantasy Star Online franchise within the 12 months 2000 with PSO and have been concerned with virtually each model of the sport since, for 20 years. It’s turn out to be my life’s work, actually. At the identical time, 20 years has passed by in a blink of an eye fixed, from my perspective. Right now [at the time of this interview in 2019], we’re engaged on Phantasy Star Online 2. We’ve been engaged on this title for over 5 years. It actually feels just like the years flew previous.

Were you concerned with Phantasy Star Nova on PlayStation Vita?

I wasn’t concerned with Nova instantly, no.

Because it was developed by TriAce?


What are your favourite musicians or influences?

That’s troublesome. In regards to BGM, once I was in school I used to be in a jazz band. It was massive band jazz. I used to be closely influenced by that fashion. After that, I went to a music college for 2 years. It was the late 1990s and I used to be uncovered to fusion music … Brecker Brothers. But Chick Corea, additionally. Also, French composer Michel Legrand, who handed away just lately.

That’s fascinating, as a result of PSO has a really synthesized really feel, and that felt like a deliberate alternative for the sci-fi factor. Some of the music is form of trippy, like an acid journey, as a result of the sounds had been modulated loads. What had been your targets whereas making the music?

[laughs] Yeah, I began with, “What form of music would match the PSO world?” I assumed that ambient music would work. I actually needed to make use of ambient music, particularly within the scenes that weren’t battle scenes. For the battle scenes, I added extra rhythm and beats with extra melodic songs. The method the music modifications is a bit distinctive in PSO. The music is seamless between the battles and non-battle scenes. Maybe that transition comes off as sounding a bit trippy.

If you had been to mirror in your physique of labor from PSO to Blue Burst and Phantasy Star Universe and PSO2, what would you say are the frequent parts throughout your work?

I feel the factor that unites the PSO video games is that they’re sci-fi. I needed to actually embrace that and mirror the sci-fi factor within the music. Other than that, there actually isn’t a theme that [unites the music in the game]. I needed to keep up the construction of music that I initially composed for PSO, which I feel has turn out to be the “color” or essence of PSO music. Other than that, it’s music that I like and suits my fashion.

Can you discuss what your favourite gear is?

I wish to play trombone, and that’s what I used within the massive band group again within the day. My favourite {hardware} synthesizer is the Roland JV-2080. It was a well-known synthesiser on the time, and all of the Phantasy Star Online songs had been created on the Roland JV-2080. Nowadays, all of the synthesizers are on the pc within the type of software program, so we stopped utilizing {hardware} for music composition, however the PSO sound was doable due to that Roland {hardware}.

So not one of the PSO music was composed on the trombone?


You additionally used an orchestra. In the credit, there’s the orchestra producer and arranger, who rearranged your unique music. Can you describe how they had been concerned?

I requested another person to work on the orchestra items. Originally, I composed the theme track and orchestra songs, after which had another person prepare them for the orchestra. But the songs I composed had been additionally used within the first stage, so there’s a bit little bit of each, my compositions and orchestral preparations.

Can you inform us why you determined to have orchestral preparations within the recreation?

Honestly, I can’t bear in mind. I feel it was the sound director who needed the opening music to be an orchestral piece.

Have you collaborated with lyricists and vocal artists incessantly?

I haven’t written too many songs with lyrics. Traditionally talking, the opening theme songs have had lyrics, however not a lot inside the recreation. That has modified for PSO2, which has a number of songs inside the recreation which have lyrics.

How do you collaborate with the lyricists and vocalist whenever you work with them?

I normally meet with the lyricist, and supply course and details about what I bear in mind. I solely meet with the vocalist on the recording classes. I’ve normally offered them with the demo tapes upfront, after which give them course as we report.

Is the vocalist additionally the lyricist?

No, they’re completely different individuals.

We’ve spoken with different members of the workforce in regards to the technical challenges of PSO. Can you discuss a few of the challenges of writing music for the Dreamcast, if any, for this recreation?

Where ought to I begin … I discussed earlier that the PSO sounds had been a bit completely different. To elaborate on that, the music knowledge exists as one stream with a bunch of quick items which can be related collectively. Each melody is constructed in 4 measures. Those four-measure items are related collectively in-game, based on the gameplay. So, if an enemy seems on display screen, the music shifts to play the items related to that enemy, or whenever you’re in fight.

We had been in a position to implement all that utilizing the CRI [CSK Research Institute] sound libraries — you may need seen the ADX emblem within the recreation. That’s all associated to the sound. What the programmer needed to do was insert the precise numbers, like 3.76 seconds, for instance. And, each 3.76 seconds, a brand new melody would play. All of that programming to match the gameplay needed to be executed from scratch, and that was a really troublesome course of. What ended up being a failure for the challenge was that there wasn’t sufficient reminiscence out there on Dreamcast for the variety of sound results being performed on the similar time.

We selected direct streaming to play again the sound of the sport, however we didn’t understand simply how a lot knowledge there was going to be on the finish. We determined that the sport was going to have a steady stream of music, however what ended up taking place was that it used a lot of the Dreamcast’s {hardware} assets that we encountered a whole lot of crashes associated to that. The phenomenon even gained a status as “The Crasher” due to how usually this might crash the sport. That was undoubtedly a failure in our strategy to that. For the GameCube model that got here alongside later, we modified the system in order that the sport would run inside the reminiscence allocation of that {hardware}, and the music can be learn from the {hardware}.

Does that imply the system was continuously studying off of the Dreamcast GD-ROM?

Yes, so when streaming the music from the disc, there have been some sound results that didn’t match within the reminiscence, so we needed to additionally stream these results from the disc. There had been components of the sport that used an inflow of these specific sound results and brought about the sport to crash.

The GameCube had extra onboard RAM, so had been you in a position to load many of the sound results instantly into the reminiscence?

Yes, the GameCube sound reminiscence was greater. I feel we had been in a position to load all of the sounds into the GameCube reminiscence.

So when making the model for Xbox — which got here with a tough drive — was that a large useful resource for storing the sound results and the soundtrack?

I feel all of the sounds match into the reminiscence for the Xbox, as nicely, however I don’t assume the sounds had been put in onto the arduous drive.

Nobody used that onerous drive. Can you bear in mind the primary observe you composed as a check for PSO?

[It was] the boss observe that performs within the first stage with the dragon, and the title display screen background music.

Which one is the track that bought the orchestral remedy?

The theme track, and there have been a number of tracks the place some sections of the track used non-synthesizer devices, notably the strings sections. The Vol Opt boss battle was partly orchestrated. There had been numerous different songs that additionally had strings layered all through the tracks. And the final boss, Dark Falz, was one other observe that had strings layered into the observe.

So, these are actual string devices.

Yes, that’s right.

When you had been composing the soundtrack for PSO, had been you conscious of or making an attempt to keep away from being influenced by every other RPGs or motion RPGs?

I feel so. Yes.

In hindsight, are there any recreation music composers that you simply admire?

Taito’s sound workforce. I really like Zuntata. I truly needed to work there and utilized for a job place at Taito, however didn’t get the job. But I bought accepted to Sega so, you realize, no regrets. I needed to work for Sega, as nicely.

12 Phantasy Star Online characters stand side-by-side

Phantasy Star Online art work
Image: Sega

Nobuo Uematsu does reside performances of his compositions. Have you executed reside live shows with the PSO soundtrack?

We’ve had three PSO live shows. But they had been all live shows after the discharge of PSO2, so it was principally music from PSO2. I feel the primary or second efficiency had a medley of the PSO songs. I didn’t carry out [at the concerts] myself, although.

Are these live shows that had been organized by Sega?

Yes. There have additionally been small gaming occasions the place I used to be requested to carry out the theme track to PSO. For these occasions, I employed a vocalist to do the vocals and I carried out on the keyboard.

That’s actually enjoyable to listen to. Were these official occasions?

These had been occasions organized by Sega. Every infrequently, Sega organized small occasions for customers the place they might come and compete onstage. The winner gained prizes, and many others. We determined to do a mini-live live performance at one among these occasions.

With the 20th anniversary developing, perhaps it’s time for an enormous celebration? How about on the Budokan? Maybe Tokyo Dome?

[laughs] That can be superior.

Of all of the soundtracks, which one is your favourite?

It’s a tough query. I like all of them. I particularly like the primary two. The first album was recorded on a “CD extra”; it was a CD that might retailer knowledge. But when you saved knowledge on it, the remaining storage capability couldn’t maintain the remainder of the tracks. CDs match about 74 minutes of music. But it might solely retailer about 45 minutes of music, not sufficient to suit all of PSO’s tracks. That’s why I needed to launch [the second] CD. But, if I recall accurately, it took awhile earlier than we had been in a position to launch the second CD. I used to be happy after we had been lastly in a position to launch it with the remaining tracks.

What was on the CD-Extra?

It had further content material, like screenshots, that took up house on the CD and prevented us from together with all of the music from the sport. For the second launch, I needed to verify all of the music was included, so we launched it as a two-disc album.

Working at Sega has allowed you to see a number of albums’ value of music launched on CD. How do you’re feeling about that?

I’m fairly joyful that my music has been launched on CD. Sega most likely wasn’t certain what number of would promote, so we tried together with screenshots and “extra” materials to make the product extra interesting. They’ve launched a soundtrack CD for each recreation launched, and I’ve strived to write down music that might make individuals need to purchase the soundtrack, so I’m joyful that I’ve been in a position to accomplish that.

If you had been recording your personal music, a solo album, exterior of gaming, what sort of music would you launch?

I’ve launched my very own unique music up to now. Not via a writer, however as an newbie artist. I used to burn my very own CDs and promote them at small occasions. Nowadays, I don’t have the time to write down my very own music.

Hideaki Kobayashi carries a large pile of CD cases

Hideaki Kobayashi with a lot of his Phantasy Star soundtracks
Photo: James Mielke for Polygon

What kind of music was it?

Some of the songs had been much like the music of PSO, utilizing the synthesizer. I additionally wrote some string quartet items, too. They had been made on a synthesizer, however it was recorded with a string quartet.

Did you additionally do the composition for Phantasy Star Online Episode 3: CARD Revolution?

I did some, however not loads. Specifically, the title display screen and the final boss.

Do you bear in mind making an attempt to keep up a sure fashion?

At the time, I used to be already engaged on Phantasy Star Universe, and I wasn’t in command of the music for PSO3. But, partway via the challenge, they requested me to return onboard and write some music for PSO3, so I took the music I used to be writing for Phantasy Star Universe and used it for PSO3. So the music for the title display screen was initially one thing that I used to be writing for PSU.

Why didn’t you utilize it in PSU?

When it got here time to return to work on PSU, the universe was very completely different from the opposite Phantasy Star video games, as you realize, so my unique concepts for PSU didn’t actually work for that recreation. So, I made a decision that I wanted to provide you with a brand new fashion for PSU.

The Phantasy Star Portable video games had been principally ports of PSU. But the ultimate recreation, Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, had a whole lot of new, unique content material. Were you concerned with writing the music for that, as nicely?

Yes. For Infinity, I principally wrote all the brand new songs that had been wanted for the sport. I feel it was one stage, one boss stage, and one vocal track, as nicely.

Any fascinating tales for the readers?

I don’t know if that is fascinating for the readers, however I joined the challenge mid-development and was a hardcore fan. I’d play at my desk and had two Dreamcasts simply so I might play PSO.

Have there been any fan service sorts of issues that you simply included into your music?

In PSO2, the music is randomly generated, and I included jingles from the unique Phantasy Star. So gamers would randomly hear jingles from the unique recreation whereas enjoying. In Blue Burst, there have been new Rappy characters and I used to be requested to provide them new voices, so I recorded voices of individuals within the workplace — and one of many ladies whose voices that I recorded is definitely now my spouse.

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