Ryota Kozuka Interview
Persona Magazine: First off, now that you have a release date announced for Dancing All Night and put out that trailer at Persona Super Live 2015, how are you feeling about the game?
Kozuka: I’ve been working on this game for a long time now, so on the one hand, I’m relieved we’ve finally got a real date announced for it at last. But on the other hand, I also feel a real responsibility to help see this project through to the end and that I have to give it everything I’ve got in one last sprint to the finish line.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the place of music in a rhythm game greatly differs from games in a lot of other genres, but from a production standpoint, is there that much that’s different about making music for a game like this versus an RPG?
Kozuka: Obviously in contrast to your ordinary RPG music, music in a rhythm game is what ultimately justifies and makes up their existence to begin with, so that has to be kept in mind during the general compositional process. Still, because of the story mode in Dancing All Night specifically, there are times where I’ve kind of forgotten I’m supposed to be composing music for a rhythm game in the first place when working on background music for that portion. (Laughs.)
Sound design in general is also really important for a game of that genre, as is just overall button responsiveness, too.
Kozuka: Those are probably the biggest differentiators from an RPG, yeah. Unless you get good feedback while controlling the game, the whole thing falls flat on its place and loses any sort of appear it’s supposed to have as a music game, so what we’ve been doing is following along with the sounds in the game really carefully and then tuning things immediately as issues appear until we get it just right.
You’ve got a really solid lineup of Persona 4 songs that are set to be in the soundtrack, too. You might as well call it a greatest hits album, really.
Kozuka: I agree. We’ve pretty much pulled all the stops to make sure we don’t miss any of the popular songs from Persona 4, as well as ones from Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q.
And on top of that, it looks like a lot of them are going to be rearranged, too.
Kozuka: Yep. Some songs will also have their original versions showing up in the game as well, but the big emphasis is on lots and lots of remixes. I’ve personally done three remixes myself for it. And at the risk of sounding a little hauty, I’m really proud of the lineup of other artists we’ve managed to bring on board; there’s a good amount of stylistic variety going into this project and I love that.
Can you talk a little bit about how Atlus was able to get those other artists to join the project?
Kozuka: Well, initially, for a lot of them, we just sort of fantasized internally about who we would love to work with if the stars aligned in our favor. (Laughs.) In more practical terms, we have someone on staff who really knows their way around the music industry here and thanks to them, we were able to make offers to some really outstanding and talented folks. It’s been really humbling to have them all collaborating with us on a project like this. I couldn’t be happier.
When it comes to remixing, does Atlus relay any requests to outside artists in particular when working with them?
Kozuka: Everyone that’s working with us is already more than capable of doing the work that’s been laid out to them, so we more or less let them run wild since we chose them on the basis that their output would mesh well with what we’re wanting to achieve with Dancing All Night in the first place. Basically, the only things we ask that they keep in mind are that the original melodies are still recognizable for whatever song they’re remixing and that they don’t make their remixes too lengthy since they need to be used in-game. Other than that, they can do whatever they like and the results have been fantastic. Everybody’s turned in really unique remixes full of their own personality. Throw in the characters’ dances and all of the other production value-related stuff we have and the whole thing has become something really special to us.
Of course, the songs also work great in isolation, too; they’re made to be perfectly appreciable just as their own things, too. As you probably know, for our special edition versions of the game, we’re compiling those remixes plus the background music from the story mode onto a two-disc soundtrack that people can enjoy. It’s actually a bit of a miracle we managed to cram all of the songs onto two discs, as we were worried about that for a while there, but that’s a story for another day. (Laughs.)
I know you’re the one who worked on the opening theme, “Dance!” What was your thinking process when you were composing it? What themes did you draw upon?
Kozuka: Naturally, if you’re going to make a game about dancing, then the theme song should be one that’s worth dancing to in and of itself, right? So when looked at from that angle, in my mind, the best era for dance music that fits in well for Persona 4 is the 70s. [Atlus staffers such as Soejima have previously discussed how parts of the original game were meant to feel retro to a degree, especially with respect to character design.] And if you’re going to go with the 70s, then it’s pretty natural to arrive at putting in disco influences into the mix, which is how I ultimately arrived at the opening song we have now.
At first, it was suggested that I just try to blend a bunch of Persona 4 songs together, but that turned out to be harder than I thought, so, honestly, I just gave up on that after a while. (Laughs.) I wasn’t inherently against the idea altogether, though, so there is a little bit of “Pursuing My True Self,” Persona 4‘s original opening song, in the final theme. And then once I got help from Shihoko Hirata on the sung vocals and Lotus Juice for the rapping parts, that’s when it finally felt like we arrived at a dance song befitting Persona 4.
If I recall, you’re the one who originally wrote the Junes theme for Persona 4 and even that song is being included in Dancing All Night, it seems.
Kozuka: I did write that, although this time around I actually made a full version of the song, so now it’s actually viable to use as a playable song within the game. There are also new lyrics for it that I had the team include that I’d say are definitely worth listening to. (Laughs.)
To close things out, do you have a few words to share with people looking forward to Dancing All Night?
Kozuka: I guess for starters, the songs that are going to be in the game are all going to be really varied, especially the remixes we collaborated with other artists on. And while they’re perfectly great and enjoyable listens in isolation, they’re meant to be part of a greater picture within the game alongside the visual elements. If we’re making the game right, the sum of everything will hopefully feel greater than its parts and people will find a lot of new things to like about the game in general, not just the music itself. And even the music outside the main rhythm gameplay segments, including the story mode portions and menu songs, that’s all more or less not being recycled from past games; those songs are either brand new or rearrangements, so it’s my greatest hope that there’ll be a lot of awesome things to look forward to once the game is finally out in a few months.