Ghostwire Tokyo’s composer and director on the importance of a soundtrack: “It’s like air”

. 1 month ago
A screenshot from Ghostwire Tokyo to accompany an interview with the director and composer
Tango Gameworks

Ghostwire Tokyo is one of 2022’s most stylish games, expertly blending Japanese tradition with the futuristic neon hues that people have come to associate with the city of Tokyo.

Just like the gameplay and narrative, the soundtrack of Ghostwire Tokyo merges old with new – and while you won’t always notice it, the soundscape of the game is just as important as those show-stopping visuals.

To find out more about how the game’s brilliant soundtrack was created – and to celebrate its release on vinyl – we spoke with Ghostwire Tokyo composer Masatoshi Yanagi and director Kenji Kimura.

An empty street in Ghostwire Tokyo

How long did it take to create the finished soundtrack for Ghostwire Tokyo, and would you say it was shorter or longer than most projects like this?

Masatoshi Yanagi: This one was pretty long, it took about a year or so, and compared to other titles that’s probably a fairly long time. It was about the same length as The Evil Within 2 in regards to the time it took – but that’s probably longer than most projects that other companies make.

The game merges Japanese tradition with the modern age – how did you approach this blend of old and new with the music? Were there any unusual techniques you used?

Masatoshi Yanagi: I took the traditional musical scales and combined them with more modern instruments such as synthesizers. We tried to make sure that the music matched what was going on on the screen, this feeling of merging that Japanese tradition with the modern age. When I think about unusual techniques, the first thing that would come to my mind would be how we tried to mimic the environment sounds within the city of Tokyo. They don’t have musical scales but I tried to collage them into the music.

I think for a lot of casual gamers, the soundtrack isn’t the first thing on their mind – they’re looking at the graphics and the gameplay. But sound is so essential to the overall experience. How would you describe the importance of a good soundtrack in a video game?

Masatoshi Yanagi: It’s literally like air, like oxygen, it’s needed. It can feel different depending on the situation that you’re in. In the emotional scenes, for example, the air will taste a little differently than when you’re in dangerous situations. It’s something that’s very necessary.

Kenji Kimura: It’s something that’s there, you just don’t notice it – but you do notice it when it’s missing.

Masatoshi Yanagi: That’s definitely true. You need it. It’s like air.

Shibuya Crossing in Ghostwire Tokyo

One thing I appreciated when playing Ghostwire Tokyo is that when you’re exploring, there are a lot of quiet moments where you just hear that buzz of Tokyo in the background. How important is it to strip things back and have silence every now and then?

Masatoshi Yanagi: It makes us very happy to hear that you noticed that, it’s something that’s true to life within Tokyo itself – there are sections of the city where there’s a lot of hustle and bustle and a lot of noise, and then there are places that are very serene and quiet. We wanted to recreate that variation that’s in the city and have it be as true to life as possible. So we’re glad you noticed, that’s awesome.

Were there any other soundtracks you looked to for inspiration when creating the music for Ghostwire Tokyo?

Masatoshi Yanagi: There is a genre of traditional Japanese music called gagaku that I researched a lot, and I listened to a lot of music from traditional dances called noh, which were plays that were performed sometimes as ritual performances for emperors in very old times in Japan. I also looked towards anime like Akira and Ghost In The Shell, which were very important for expressing modern Tokyo, so I look at the music that was used in those forms of entertainment.

I love pop music, so one of my favorite collectible songs in the game is Under The Water by DJ Multiverse. It doesn’t really match up with fighting demons, but I would always have it playing in the background. What was the thought process behind including upbeat songs like this for players to listen to?

Masatoshi Yanagi: Presentation-wise, for a game, yeah, sometimes having music that doesn’t really match the situation is considered a no-no. But in this case, we were thinking there would be a lot of exploration to do as the city is pretty vast and wide with lots of things to see. So we figured there should be some variety for players to choose from, and even if it doesn’t match the situation, they can still have fun with it. Sometimes players want to take a break with a different tune or melody, so we thought having that variety available would be a good thing for the user experience.

A visitor in Ghostwire Tokyo

Other than Ghostwire Tokyo, what are some of your favorite soundtracks of all time?

Masatoshi Yanagi: Can I have an hour to answer that question? [Laughs] Choosing one favorite is so hard, but the first ones that come to my mind are the soundtrack for the first Jurassic Park movie and Big Fish directed by Tim Burton. Game-wise, the first ones that come to mind are Journey and ABZÛ, which were both composed by Austin Wintory. They had great soundtracks.

Finally, do you have any hopes for a Ghostwire Tokyo sequel or spin-off? If so, are there any elements you didn’t get to include in the first game that you’d like to develop in the future?

Kenji Kimura: After the release of the game there were a lot of great reactions from the community and some great feedback that we’ve been hearing about online and elsewhere. I personally would be very happy if we could continue and expand on the franchise and address some of that feedback. The thinking and philosophy of the studio [Tango Gameworks] is always to make the coolest thing we can at the time. So as we move forward, if the coolest thing at the time is to expand with a sequel then maybe it will be that – but if it’s something else, it will be that. Right now, we’re still trying to figure out what the coolest thing is going to be for our next project.

Ghostwire Tokyo is available to play on PS5 and PC, and the soundtrack is out now on vinyl.

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