Behind the music of Actraiser Renaissance

Let’s (Act)raise the roof and talk about the game’s incredible music with composer Yuzo Koshiro!
By Duncan Heaney

The original Actraiser was one of those games that does things its own way.

Its mix of platforming and city-building remains utterly unique, but that’s only one of the reasons its so beloved. Another big reason is the soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, which even to this day remains beloved by fans all around the world.

So when it came to creating the music for the revival, Actraiser Renaissance, there was only one person who could possibly be up to the task of matching that original soundtrack - Koshiro-san himself.

The composer has rearranged and reimagined the game’s original tracks, and even added new ones that despite not being present in the original, fit the world and the scenarios perfectly.

We had a chance to chat with Koshiro-san about his work on the game - and living up to his own legacy.

Actraiser trailer

Hello Koshiro-san! How did you feel when you heard there was to be a remake of Actraiser?

When I heard Actraiser was going to be revived, I couldn’t believe it! Once it had all sunk in, I was happy about the news.

The original game was famous for its stellar soundtrack. What were your inspirations for that original sound?

My original inspiration for Actraiser was orchestral music.

I loved to listen to the Star Wars soundtrack when I was young, so I’d always been curious about making that sort of music. Of course, it was pretty challenging to realize such a sound on the old PC-88 with the FM sound chips that I used to compose Falcom game music!

Later on, the Super Nintendo came out, and it had an SPC700 sound chip, which lets you make a more authentic orchestral sound.

Actraiser screenshot

Has that inspiration changed for the new game's music?

My inspiration hasn’t changed fundamentally for the new songs, but I’ve gained more experience in orchestral music since then.

Unlike the original, Actraiser Renaissance had no hardware limitation while making the music, so I really wanted to create more authentic orchestral music like post-romanticism, which I’ve loved for years.

The new soundtrack captures the spirit of the original, but it has a very new, memorable sound in its own right. How difficult was it to balance this blend of old and new?

It was so hard to get a convincing balance!

Imagine the difference in sound quality between things you created three decades ago and those that you can create today. It’s difficult to fill the gap and actually way more complicated than writing music from scratch.

What was the most challenging thing about it?

Adding an extra part to the original score in the newly arranged songs. That was the most significant request from Square Enix - they wanted me to add an extra section after the original music played twice.

I underestimated what it would take to do this, and soon faced challenges. My original score was made 30 years ago, so I thought it would be easy enough to rearrange if I dressed it up a bit.

But I discovered it was nearly perfect! It had excellent structures as game music so building on it was a lot more effort than I expected. I was worried the additions would be too much and feel redundant.

New songs typically took a full day, but these arrangements took quite a few. I tried to employ the original motifs and melodies as much as possible so as not to ruin the authentic atmosphere.

There are new tracks too of course. The new final boss in particular has incredible music that fits seamlessly with the game’s original themes…

I received information that the final boss would reflect both holiness and awe.

First, I came up with the idea that the church organ sound would represent holiness. I took the characteristic triplet rhythms from the Actraiser Renaissance boss battle theme and used it for the introduction on the church organ so that it gave the impression of the series.

The music starts with holy harmony with an orchestra and church organ tutti, then moves to the little silence and gradually becomes dissonant and louder, accompanying the percussion afterwards. Those series of transitions represent the increasing fear and awe the boss inspires in the player.

There’s also a whole new mode in the game! How did you approach creating the music for the Settlement Siege mode?

Square Enix sent me a few videos of the opening, the Realm Act stage, some views of the Sky Palace, the Realm Defense, the Settlement Siege mode, and the final boss.

When I saw the Settlement Siege scene for the first time, it reminded me of Devil World by Konami - an arcade game that came out in 1987. In that game, harsh orchestral music plays when a giant monster covered with mud emerges in the field. That inspired my approach to the music for this mode. I asked the team at Square Enix if my thought was convincing, and they almost agreed with that.

The completed song in Actraiser Renaissance is called "The Fiends Cometh". Unlike Devil World, I didn't employ an orchestra hit, but I used many orchestral percussions to create an impact sound instead.

Do you have a favorite track from the game?

It's “Alcaleone.”

I thought that “Alcaleone” should sound like a continuation of Fillmore’s theme, as both realms look quite similar and are action stages as well. Also, since “Fillmore” was recorded with a live band, I wanted to record “Alcaleone” in the same way.

Both recordings went really well - all the players gave an outstanding performance, and the recording and mixing were done brilliantly as usual. I hope everyone enjoys listening to the powerful and dynamic sounds from both recordings!

If you could perform one track live in front of an audience, would it be that one?

It would be Fillmore. I think it’s the most popular song in Actraiser. Fans would be hyped up if the band played it live!

Did you have any input into the mini soundtrack included in the game?

Yes. I edited all the tracks making song loops and fadeouts. All songs are the same as the in-game version except World Tree, - I replaced the brass and woodwinds libraries for that track.

Has creating videogame music changed in the last 31 years?

One significant change is that game music now tends to be treated as virtually low-key background music.

I don’t really have any complaints about the trend, but to be honest I do sometimes think something’s kind of missing. I still love the great melodies of retro games, and personally, I keep that sort of stuff in mind when making music that hopefully many people enjoy.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to those fans who love your music?

Thank you for loving and supporting Actraiser and its music for so many years. It would be great if Actraiser Renaissance could sell millions and Square Enix will launch the sequels further!

I also hope the Actraiser orchestral concert will be held in the future.

Many thanks to Koshiro-san for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s no exaggeration to say that his work on Actraiser Renaissance doesn’t just live up to the original - it exceeds it.

You can hear it for yourselves in the game, which is out now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Steam and mobile devices.

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