Ghostwire Tokyo Composer and Director Talks Importance of a Soundtrack: “It’s Like Air”

Ghostwire Tokyo is one of the most stylish games of 2022, skillfully blending Japanese lore with the futuristic neon hues people associate with the city of Tokyo.

Much like gameplay and storytelling, Ghostwire Tokyo’s soundtrack merges the old with the new – and while you might not always notice it, the game’s soundscape is just as important as those stunning visuals.

To learn more about the creation of the game’s brilliant soundtrack – and to celebrate its vinyl release – we spoke with Ghostwire Tokyo composer Masatoshi Yanagi and director Kenji Kimura.

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

Masatoshi Yanagi: This one was quite long, it took about a year or so, and compared to other titles, it’s probably quite long. It was about the same length as The Evil Within 2 in terms of how long it took – but it’s probably longer than most projects done by other companies.

The game fuses Japanese tradition with the modern era – how did you approach this mix of old and new with the music? Did you use any unusual techniques?

Masatoshi Yanagi: I took traditional musical scales and combined them with more modern instruments such as synthesizers. We tried to make the music match what was happening on the screen, that feeling of merging that Japanese tradition with the modern era. When I think of unusual techniques, the first thing that comes to mind is how we tried to imitate environmental sounds in the city of Tokyo. They don’t have musical scales but I tried to paste them into the music.

I think for a lot of casual gamers, the soundtrack isn’t the first thing they think about – they look 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 necessary. It may look different depending on the situation you are in. In emotional scenes, for example, the air will taste a bit different than when you’re in dangerous situations. It is something very necessary.

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

Masatoshi Yanagi: It is certainly true. You need it. It’s like air.

Shibuya Crossing at Ghostwire Tokyo

One thing I liked about playing Ghostwire Tokyo is that when you’re exploring there are a lot of quiet moments where you just hear that hum of Tokyo in the background. How important is it to strip things down and have silence once in a while?

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

Were there any other soundtracks that inspired you to create the music for Ghostwire Tokyo?

Masatoshi Yanagi: There is a genre of traditional Japanese music called gagaku that I studied a lot, and I listened to a lot of music from traditional dances called noh, which were pieces that were sometimes performed as ritual performances for emperors at one time very old in Japan. I also looked towards anime like Akira and Ghost In The Shell, which were very important in 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 collection songs in the game is Under The Water by DJ Multiverse. It doesn’t quite fit with the fight against demons, but I still would have played it in the background. What was the thought process behind including upbeat songs like this for players to listen to?

Masatoshi Yanagi: As far as presentation goes, for a game, yeah, sometimes having music that doesn’t really fit the situation is considered a no-no. But in this case, we thought there would be a lot of exploration to do as the city is quite large and wide with lots to see. So we thought there should be some variety for players to choose from, and even if it doesn’t fit the situation, they can still have fun with it. Sometimes players want to take a break with a different melody or melody, so we thought this variety would be good for the user experience.

A visitor to Ghostwire Tokyo

Aside from Ghostwire Tokyo, what are some of your all-time favorite soundtracks?

Masatoshi Yanagi: Can I have an hour to answer this question? [Laughs] Picking a favorite is so hard, but the first ones that come to mind are the soundtrack to the first Jurassic Park and Big Fish movie directed by Tim Burton. On the game side, the first ones that come to mind are Journey and ABZÛ, 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 that you weren’t able to include in the first game that you would like to develop in the future?

Kenji Kimura: After the game’s release, there was a lot of great feedback from the community and great feedback that we heard about online and elsewhere. Personally, I would be very happy if we could continue and grow the franchise and respond to some of these comments. The thinking and philosophy of the studio [Tango Gameworks] is always to do the coolest thing possible at the time. So as we move forward, if the coolest thing at the moment is to expand with a sequel, then maybe that will be it – but if it’s something else, that will be it. Right now we are still trying to figure out what will be the coolest thing for our next project.

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

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