Last July, Abyssal Chronicles had the privilege of sitting down with famed video game music composer Go Shiina at Japan Expo 2016 in Paris, France!
To those who don't know him, Go Shiina is a video game music composer under Bandai Namco Entertainment. He is best known for his works on God Eater, Tales of Legendia and recently, some tracks in Tales of Zestiria. He's also worked in some of the escort titles, such as Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology 2 and 3, Tales of VS, Tales of Fandom Vol. 2 and Tales of the World: Reve Unitia. This interview delves more into his work for the Tales of Series.
Doing the interview on our behalf is Europe's Tales of Ambassador 2014, Lex!
Lex: Nice to meet you! I'm Lex from Abyssal Chronicles, a Tales of Series fansite, a site made by Tales fans for Tales fans. We're here to ask you questions, mostly about your work in the Tales of Series.
Go Shiina: Is it a Facebook page?
Lex: It's not just a Facebook page. Well, it has one, but it's mainly has a full website page.
Go Shiina: Ahh, I'm going to check it out later!
Lex: Great! Now, for our first question. For the benefit of the people that don't know you very well, could you give us a brief introduction and a summary of how you started out with Bandai Namco, and composing music for video games in general?
Go Shiina: (Laughs) That's difficult!
Lex: Just a short introduction.
Go Shiina: Starting from my name? Okay... (starts talking in English) My name is... Go Shiina. (Laughs) Can I just say it in Japanese?
Lex: Of course, of course!
Go Shiina: Great. So I'll first try to explain how I landed in Bandai Namco. When I first tried to find a job, I had so many interviews with so many companies and they all weren't successful. I actually failed getting hired 46 times. Bandai Namco was the only company that accepted me. That was actually how I started my career.
Lex: Wow, so only Bandai Namco accepted you?
Go Shiina: Yes, they were the only ones who accepted me. Or rather, it felt more like they picked me up? (Laughs) They saved me, more like it.
Lex: You went through a lot of companies.
Go Shiina: Yes, so many. Those 46 times I failed include... banks, jewelry stores, food shops, department stores, there were so many... Oh, and an ice cream shop!
Go Shiina: And I failed all that! I even tried at Tokyu Hands and some convenience stores, but I failed all those. This was the only company that accepted me.
Go Shiina: After joining Namco, the very first thing I worked on is for the project team of Hammer Champ, the arcade game. I then worked on World Stadium, the baseball arcade game. Though I'd consider the real starting point of my career would be Mr. Driller. After that, I also worked on Ace Combat 3, and of course, as you know, Tales, specifically Tales of Legendia. I then handled Klonoa 2. This was followed by doing the music for the Kyou Kara Maoh! video game, which is originally an anime from NHK. I also got into the God Eater series, and Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection and Tekken 6. There's also Tales of Zestiria. Right now you'll also find my work in animated adaptations of the games, such as the God Eater anime and Tales of Zestiria the X.
Lex: So, how does workflow for your compositions go? Are you told beforehand what scenes or events to compose for? What kind of information is provided for you to help in your creative process? For example, are you given artwork from the game, or just written information?
Go Shiina: Usually, and there isn't exactly a strict pattern to this, I'm given a playable demo of the game. Of course, it isn't completed yet, it's more of a prototype. This is very important for me to make the music. But if I don't have access to this, I'm given assets or an image board which contains explanations and images of scenes and characters, as well as what color or "feel" they're supposed to have.
Lex: When it comes to your vocal tracks, do you choose the singers for them yourself? If you don’t choose them yourself, may we know the criteria for the singers to be chosen?
Go Shiina: Normally, I listen to demo tapes coming from the agency for each track and I choose from them. I choose based on voice quality, dynamism and voice stretch. But the most important thing is that the voice should resound within the heart, even if the words are not understood. The only one who irregularly didn't go through that process was Courtney-san (Courtney Knott). She was part of the choir that sung the track Snow Castle for Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and I specifically asked her to sing Rising Up, the theme for the battle with the dragon Tiamat in Tales of Zestiria.
Lex: Fans are curious. What instruments do you play? Which instrument is your favorite?
Go Shiina: I actually rarely play instruments. I like the violin a lot and recently, I find the recorder interesting. It has so many variations such as the one that is played at school in Japan, the traditional one, sometimes with an earthy sound or a noble sound. I actually used it for the theme Katz Way in Tales of Zestiria.
Lex: In the booklet of the Tales of Zestiria original soundtrack, you mentioned that you also get inspiration from being in unconventional places like Starbucks. Do you do that when you have a “writer’s block" or is it all the time?
Go Shiina: Ah, I did say that, yeah (Laughs). For composing in Tales of Zestiria, when I go to Starbucks and have their cheesecake, the inspiration just runs, you know? Food is actually really important to me in getting inspiration for creating music. Of course, Starbucks is different from my home, so I go there to get something special for myself. What's great about Starbucks is that they have Wi-Fi. I can bring a laptop over and actually work on my music there. It's a good place to do brainstorming.
Lex: And just to get the idea, how long does it take to compose an entire score for a video game for, like Tales or God Eater?
Go Shiina: Using God Eater 2 as an example, it took me 8 months to complete the whole score. That's actually longer than usual because I wanted to use the traditional instruments in China. It took much time traveling there and recording there, so in total it was 8 months.
Lex: It has actually been a long time since you made music for the Tales of Series. How does it feel to come back to have composed for Tales of Zestiria? And are you also coming back for the upcoming Tales of Berseria?
Go Shiina: Unlike God Eater, Tales is a series strong on the fantasy elements. Because of this I thought I needed to greatly cleanse my soul. I read fairy tales that I used to read as a child and went to a theme park in order to get my mind back into a state of being a child. It was important for me to visualize myself as having the dark parts of my heart turn a deep blue instead. It's been so long, after all. I also went to nearby places like Hakone and Mt. Fuji to have contact with nature, such as the feeling of fresh air and the greatness of Mt. Fuji.
Go Shiina: Regarding Tales of Berseria, I didn't make any new tracks for it, but a couple of my tracks from Tales of Zestiria appear, namely Katz Way and (name withheld due to spoilers).
Lex: You helped out with the music for Tekken 6, correct? There is a rumor that the track Fallen Colony is actually inspired from a Tales game. Is this true?
Go Shiina: Ah, that. When I was making Fallen Colony for Tekken 6, I was also making the opening and ending for Tales of Fandom Vol.2. Because of that, I thought it might be interesting to put a taste of fantasy from Tales into Tekken. I spoke with the director and let him listen to the demo, asking how he thinks about the tune even though it doesn’t really sound like Tekken. He said I should just go for it (Laughs). So, I was able to put a little imagination and color of fantasy into the track.
Lex: From all your works within the Tales of Series, such as in Legendia, Zestiria and even the Escort Titles, which track or game would you say you enjoyed composing for the most, and why? Which track you made do you like most and are you most proud of?
Go Shiina: I would say my favorite, and also the toughest to work on, is Tales of Zestiria. I did very much enjoy working on Journey's End and Rising Up. It took so much time and effort to work on those, but at the same time they were the most enjoyable.
Go Shiina: Speaking of my favorite tracks for the franchise, that would be Hotarubi from Tales of Legendia, the one in English. Originally, Hotarubi wasn't supposed to have lyrics, but I love this piece so much that, well, with my own responsibility, I added lyrics to it. It's my favorite song I've done for Tales.
Lex: Have you played any of the Tales of Series games? If yes, what is your overall favorite Tales game?
Go Shiina: I have special feelings for Tales of Legendia as it was the first one I worked on, however at the moment I like Tales of Zestiria the best. It might be typical, but I like how the characters that have their own problems cooperate with each other to form one big power. The game makes me recognize the ordinary things in life as something great. And actually, now that I think about it, the first time I had contact with Tales is actually with Tales of Destiny 2 - I did debugging for it.
Lex: With the worldwide broadcast of the God Eater anime last year and Tales of Zestiria the X currently, people outside of the video game scene have easier access to your music! How do you feel about that?
Go Shiina: I'm happy that there are now even greater opportunities for people to listen my music! As the anime's melody approach is different from the game, it is great if viewers could pay attention to it. My goal is for people to say that a particular scene with my music moved their hearts.
Lex: Bandai Namco Entertainment’s ORCHESTRAL MEMORIES concert will be soon, and fans are really looking forward to it. You’ll also be there for a meet and greet and signing. Are you excited for it?
Go Shiina: I'm really looking forward to the concert! The atmosphere will be different, and the sound vibrancy also differs per country - I'll be able to see a unique face of musical composition. I expect to be able to learn a lot from this for the future. I also look forward to interact with the fans. In fact, I'm enjoying interacting with fans right now here in Japan Expo.
Lex: Now, for the last question. We noticed that you write about food on your Twitter a lot. What is your favorite food? Least favorite food?
Go Shiina: I really like duck. In Japan, I eat duck with soba, though here in France I was able to eat it in a different way and it was really delicious! I also like cherries. My least favorite food would be Udo (Japanese spikenard or mountain asparagus), Japanese parsley and Namerou (raw fish tartare). (Laughs).
Lex: (Laughs) Thank you so much for the interview today! We really look forward to seeing you again at Bandai Namco's Orchestral Memories!
Go Shiina: Thank you very much!
Go Shiina together with Tales of Ambassador 2014 Lex, Tales of Ambassador 2015 Koyo and Muuse!
That's all for our special interview with the renowned Go Shiina! We have more special features coming the past few weeks, so stay tuned!
Many thanks again to Tales of Ambassador 2014/AC Honorary Member Lex for doing the interview for us! Special thanks to M.u.x.o for the pictures and to Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe (and their translator!) for this opportunity!