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A Look Back: KH2 Ultimania, Sound Team Interview



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trapped in revamp hell
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Next up on our interview backlog is the Sound Team interview from the KH2 Ultimania!

Interviewees:
Yoko Shimomura, Music Composer
Takeharu Ishimoto, Synthesizer Operator
Asako Suga, Supervising Dialogue Editor
Ryo Inakura, Sound Designer


The keywords for Twilight Town's songs are "twilight" and "dusk".

— What was the concept behind the music for this project?

Shimomura: After initial discussions with Tetsu (Director: Tetsuya Nomura), we decided to proceed with the notion of incorporating a variety of new songs while maintaining the worldview of the music in KH1. He also asked me to rearrange the returning songs from that game, rather than leaving them as they were. To avoid inadvertently changing their original image too much, I kept the songs fundamentally the same, but if you listen to them carefully, you'll notice that they've been slightly rearranged.

— Regarding the music of the new worlds, what did you have in mind when you were composing them?

Shimomura: Let's take Beast's Castle, for example. The game depicts it with a slightly darker atmosphere than the film, so I tried to keep the original atmosphere intact while blending it with the visual imagery [of the game], creating a song with a "dark ball" kind of feel.

If the songs in any of the worlds were too far removed from the films, fans of those works would get the impression that things are a little off, so I had to be very careful.

— Which world did you have the most difficulty with?

Shimomura: The world was originally introduced in KHCOM, but it's Twilight Town. Tetsu had a strong image of the song in his head from the very beginning, so even though I submitted it to him thinking, "This has got to be it!" he never gave me the OK. I spent a long time stewing over it, and the one that came together at the last minute was the one that was finally adopted.

Tetsu said he wanted a dusk or twilight feel to it. Something along the lines of "a kind of wistfulness that one feels when one's day ends at dusk, like an indescribable sense of nostalgia. However, it doesn't lean in the direction of sadness, but rather has an atmosphere that makes you feel like you're in love."

— How many songs did you make before you got approved?

Shimomura: (Turning to Ishimoto) Around three?

Ishimoto: No, there were more. I received the data from Shimomura and let Nomura listen to it from my side, but many times he'd just say "It's a good song, but..."

Shimomura: Ishimoto did his best to console me. He'd say, "I thought it would work this time." (laughs)

— Ishimoto converts the songs created by Shimomura into data for playback, correct?

Ishimoto: That's right. I wasn't involved in the previous game, so I recreated all of the tones and data from scratch. Of course, I did so on the premise that they'd sound cooler than they did in KH1, so I hope everyone feels the same way.

Shimomura: To give you an idea, there were many times when Tetsu would tell me, "Make this part more wild." I'd just pass the buck and say, "Well, I'll just have Ishimoto make it with wild sounds and he'll take care of the rest."

Ishimoto: That's right, I remember. He'd say things like, "I want it to sound a little more gorgeous, more resplendent" (laughs).

— In the previous game, you used live saxophone for the music in Traverse Town. Did you do anything similar this time around?

Ishimoto: As a matter of fact, the saxophone used in the first Twilight Town song was played by the same person who contributed to Traverse Town. There are also songs like Broken Highway, which plays during Gummi Ship segments, that use live guitar and base.

The growth of the characters and their voice actors overlapped realistically.

— Speaking of the music, one of the main attractions this time is the musical in Atlantica.

Shimomura: Of those five songs, the first, last, and Ursula's are the ones I made. Creating these songs for the musical was difficult because the lyrics had already been decided. When lyrics are written first, the melody tends to be rather simplistic, so I had to think about how to make it sound engaging. Even after completion, we had to fine-tune it to fit the range of the voice actors' singing, which was quite a challenge.

Ishimoto: I think Shimomura had a hard time recording the songs. For instance, she had to be prepared to lower the key by one note in case it was too high for the voice actor to reach.

Shimomura: That's why, when they actually sang them in the studio, it felt like all my hard work had finally paid off.

— In regards to the other worlds, I was surprised that Timeless River sounded so clunky.

Suga: Since it looks completely different from the other worlds, I thought it'd be better to alter its sounds as well, so I brought it up to the sound effects supervisor. Through a lot of trial and error, we managed to come up with sounds reminiscent of old black-and-white movies.

Inakura: We substituted environmental sounds (ambient noise) for sounds of film reels spinning and other noises. We also used musical instruments to express sound effects, mimicking the direction of animated cartoons from that era. For example, we used the xylophone for walking sounds, and cymbals for impact sounds.

— Speaking of sound effects, the footsteps in Space Paranoids were also intriguing.

Inakura: Those were made to resemble the effects in the original film. For this world, we tried to make things sound evocative of computers from the 70s and 80s, just as they were in the film. However, it was quite difficult to create sound effects that matched the atmosphere of each world like that. Especially since this time, we had worlds like Pirates of the Caribbean and TRON where the characters were played by real people, not animated ones, so we had a hard time making sure our effects were not only similar to the films', but also sounded live.

— There are also a lot of sound effects when the characters move around.

Inakura: We created separate hit sounds and wind cutting sounds for every Keyblade. For the hit sounds, we used materials that suited each Keyblade's world of origin. For example, Port Royal's Keyblade (Follow the Wind) uses coin sounds, while Timeless River's Keyblade (Monochrome) uses musical instrument sounds. Some of them don't make you feel like you're actually damaging the enemy (laughs), but it's fun to fight with your favorite sounding weapons, rather than solely being concerned with its attack power.

— How many sound effects did you make?

Inakura: The number of sound effects in KH1 was limited by the game's specs, but this time there were no such issues, so we created tens of thousands (laughs). In particular, we made a considerable number of them for events, which apparently exceeded more than 20 hours in total. If you look at that runtime in terms of film, it'd be longer than 10 films.

Suga: There are more than 120 characters in speaking roles, resulting in 2x or 3x the amount of voiceover than that of the first game. It took about 7 months in total to record them all, and due to scenario changes along the way, we often had to add or cut dialogue, making things rather difficult to manage.

When we asked the voice actor for retakes of lines they had recorded at the beginning, they were confused, saying, "Huh? You sure I already recorded that line?" (laughs)

— The voice actors for Sora and Kairi are close in age to their characters, and their growth since the last game was well represented.

Suga: That's right. Miyu Irino, who plays Sora, was 13 or 14 years old when we recorded for KH1, and about 17 when we recorded for KH2. I think it was right around the time his voice changed, and it did so rather pleasantly, so it was very impressive to see his real growth.

Risa Uchida, who plays Kairi, was a junior high school student when we recorded for the first game. Now, she too is in high school and has become more mature, which shows in her performance. Her lines in the flashback scenes in Twilight Town are the same ones from the original game, so you can tell very clearly how much she's grown when you hear them. 

— Are there any lines that you're particularly attached to, Suga?

Suga: When Sora leaves Twilight Town, there's a line where he says, "You know... I'm sad." I remember the exact moment when we recorded it. It was such a great read that everyone, including the sound director and the Disney producers who were present, were impressed, letting out an collective "Ohh!"

The staff roll and epilogue songs that have become a culmination of the music to date.

— What did you have in mind for the ending theme when you were composing it?

Shimomura: The ending itself uses a song by Hikaru Utada. For the staff roll that follows, I was asked to do a march-like song with an orchestra, like in KH1. I'd originally heard that the story would be completed with KHII, so I wanted the song to be like an assortment of the music we've done since that first game (laughs), or a reminder of the songs we've played so far. So, I added various songs here and there, such as the chorus song that became the basis of KH1, as well as the beginning of the melody of KH1's ending theme, creating a composition that, when played in its entirety, would make the audience feel like, "Oh, it's all over."

— Destiny Islands's theme plays in the epilogue, after the staff roll.

Shimomura: That's actually the version used in KHCOM, which I'm quite fond of it. There was no song specified for that scene at all, so I wanted to use Destiny Islands's theme since it was completely absent from the story, and I wanted to record it with live audio. After that, another song from KH1 - Traverse Town's battle theme - is played. Since the same song was used in KH1's epilogue, we decided to not only follow suit, but record it live as well. In the end, they turned out to be gorgeous productions, thanks to the live orchestra (laughs).

— Sora and Kairi's exchange in the ending, "We're back" and "You're home", is quite memorable.

Suga: Sora, Riku, and Kairi's voices were recorded in chronological order as much as possible, and with the actors actually together in the studio. That's why we didn't record the ending until the very end. However, the cast had been involved since KH1 and were very emotionally invested, so things came quite naturally for them.

Inakura: When it comes to the sound effects, I'd like players to pay attention not just to the ending, but also the final battle leading up to it. Since Sora and Riku have grown up quite a bit since KH1, our approach was to create sound effects with a more mature image. However, for the normal worlds, we had to keep things in line with the atmosphere of the original works. In that respect, for the final battle where only Sora and Riku are available, their sound effects have a more mature feel, as though they are taking down the enemies with a great sense of urgency.

— What about the song in the secret ending?

Shimomura: I was only asked to include a memorable phrase in the song somewhere; the rest was left entirely to my discretion. Since the video has a completely different atmosphere from the rest of the game, I decided to give the song the same treatment and disassociate it entirely from the game's image. However, in my mind, the piano plays an important role in the melody of Kingdom Hearts, so I put a little bit of it midway through the song to retain that nuance.

That song was recorded with an orchestra, but I actually had them play it while watching the video.

Ishimoto: In addition to the live orchestra, I also mixed in synthesizer sounds to complete the piece.

Shimomura: Ishimoto handled the prep work for this as well. Nevertheless, orchestra recordings are done early on due to the schedule. That's why it's hard to say "Well, that's a wrap" when the ending is complete, as we still have loads of songs that still need to be done (laughs).


Secrets of this title that only they know:

Shimomura:
The chorus I used in the previous game was a "cursed song" that always caused trouble when I was working with it. This time, when I played the song at home, the breaker tripped and the water was cut off... I don't want to touch this song anymore (laughs).

Ishimoto:
I used live guitar and bass for the song that plays on the Gummi Ship highway, and asked Tsuyoshi Sekito and Keiji Kawamori of THE BLACK MAGES to play them.

Suga:
When we recorded Xigbar's voice, Nomura redrew the character's outline and jawline on the spot to match the voice actor's disposition and vibe. I'd never seen that happen before, so I was very impressed.

Inakura:
The sound effects for Cloud, Tifa, and the others are the same ones used in FFVII Advent Children. Listen and compare the sounds of their clothes rubbing against each other, their swords clashing, and when they take damage.

 

okhi12

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Thanks for the interview! While maybe not as interesting as the previous one, it was worth reading anyway.

I don't pay much attention to keyblade hit sounds, footsteps or clothes rubbing but it's nice they put so much effort into that, I'll have to listen more carefully next time I play.

Nomura being picky with the music is a classic of KH interviews. Tetsu, don't ever change.
 

Sign

trapped in revamp hell
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The remaining KH2 interviews (Battle Team and Graphic & Minigame Team) are more gameplay focused, so they probably won't interest anyone looking for more story-based tidbits but they are still pretty interesting. There's some context provided for certain subjects that people try to claim as one thing or another.
 
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