LIVE A LIVE: a conversation between Yoko Shimomura and Toby Fox - part 3In the final part of the series, composer Shimomura-san and UNDERTALE creator Toby Fox discuss the enduring legacy of LIVE A LIVE, and the rearranged tracks in the remake!
Welcome back to our fascinating joint interview between Yoko Shimomura (composer for LIVE A LIVE, FINAL FANTASY XV, KINGDOM HEARTS series) and Toby Fox (creator of UNDERTALE, DELTARUNE).
We’ve already heard the pair discuss the link between LIVE A LIVE’s MEGALOMANIA and UNDERTALE’s MEGALOVANIA, and their process for creating music.
In this third, and final, part of the series, Shimomura-san and Fox turn their thoughts to the legendary LIVE A LIVE, as they discuss the game’s soundtrack, the new track GIGALOMANIA, and the game’s long-lasting musical legacy, which continues to inspire developers like Fox today.
PLEASE NOTE: this interview includes spoilers for both LIVE A LIVE and UNDERTALE.
- Interviewee Yoko Shimomura
- Interviewee: Toby Fox
- Interviewer and Writer: Anemone Mournian
The music of LIVE A LIVE
Toby Fox: In LIVE A LIVE, each scenario has its own unique soundtrack to give it its own special feel. However, there are also quite a few tracks that are shared across the different scenarios as well.
Cry-A-Live and Warm-A-Live are two of these shared tracks. They are arrangements of the main theme, “Live-a-Live”, used in the sad and happy scenes of each chapter... The player hears the same melody repeatedly, and as their ears grow accustomed to it, their emotional connection to it grows.
Then, in the final chapter, the opening theme, Live-A-Live, becomes the regular battle music! Though I'm not sure if it was composed as an opening theme or a battle theme first. Even thinking about this makes my throat close up.
I’ve said it countless times before, but MEGALOMANIA gains from the scenario structure, too - no matter what chapter you’re on, hitting the boss song will bring back memories of past battles and hype you up. Having just those few shared tracks between each scenario really ties the whole game together into a cohesive whole.
Was there an order to use the same melody for tracks that are common between chapters?
Yoko Shimomura: That was an idea that I suggested. I call it “imprinting” - making the player hear a melody repeatedly so that they remember it.
There are cases where the melody from the main theme is used in various scenes in film music too. If you pay attention to the music during a battle scene, you realise that the melody is from the main theme, for example.
I didn’t particularly have film music in mind, but the idea is similar to a sonata in classical music, where there’s a theme, a development section, then back to the main theme so the player memorises the melody. I just naturally thought that getting the player to listen to the melody repeatedly to learn it is effective.
When I was given the opportunity to write music for an entire RPG with LIVE A LIVE, I wanted to try this method. When there were requests for sad or heart-warming tracks, I remember suggesting: “how about we try them as arrangements of the theme tune?”
I don’t know if it was planned from the start that the track Live-A-Live would be used as the battle theme in “The Dominion of Hate”, but it was Takashi Tokita (Director of LIVE A LIVE and Producer of the LIVE A LIVE remake) who decided that. There was a good synergy between Tokita-san and I, where we were like: “if you’re doing it that way, I’ll do it this way!”
Fox: I think that the opening theme being integrated into some of the final battle music is a super duper cool idea...
Shimomura-san: If I was given a job to write 50 tracks and all 50 of them were different, I wonder how many of them would be remembered by the people who listened to them? But if some of them are arrangements of the main theme or other tracks, then I can create moments like “so that melody’s showing up like this...” and “Ahh, it was THAT melody!” more effectively.
Sometimes, I also think that as long as the tracks are used in appropriate scenes in a way that speaks to the emotions of players, then maybe you don’t need so many tracks. There are some directors who do want 50 completely different tracks, but when I tell them less might be more, they sometimes respond: “Are you sure you don’t just want to slack off?”, leaving me in shock. (laughs)
In LIVE A LIVE, there are unique tracks in each of the chapters set in different time periods with completely different protagonists, each with around three tracks, right?
Shimomura-san: We also set that as a rule, to have three tracks for each chapter: theme tune, field music, and battle music, which are treated separately as completely different tracks.
They all have different moods and melodies, but players remember all the tracks from LIVE A LIVE.
Fox: I agree that more tracks doesn’t mean that it’s better. The longer a player hears a track, the more likely they will remember it, so the soundtrack itself becomes full of memories.
Toby, in UNDERTALE, you also effectively use the motif from the opening in other scenes, right?
Fox: That’s right. I’m sure LIVE A LIVE played a part in that!
The new track: GIGALOMANIA
We’ve talked about MEGALOMANIA, but I would like to ask you about GIGALOMANIA - the new track for the HD-2D remake of LIVE A LIVE.
Fox: I really like the arrangement of the intro.
Shimomura-san: We combined the melodies from MEGALOMANIA and The Middle Ages chapter.
Even though the existence of GIGALOMANIA was hidden from both fans and media, the intro was actually used in the trailer.
Shimomura-san: That’s right. I was worried when the first trailer was revealed! I thought: “this is a massive spoiler, is this track really ok?”
Players who believed Tokita-san’s statement that “there are no changes from the original version” were in for a shock when they reached the final boss battle with this unexpected new track… then another shock when they saw the track title once it was unlocked after completing the game. Was the decision to add a new track made from the start of the remake?
Shimomura-san: The only thing that Tokita-san said was, “I want to request just one new track. The title is already decided, it’s GIGALOMANIA”. I remember thinking that while “MEGALOMANIA” is a word with an actual meaning (grandiose delusions), “GIGALOMANIA” would be a completely made-up word! There’s no such word; it’s after MEGA, so it’s GIGA? (laughs)
Even on the Internet people said, “so the next one’s going to be TERALOMANIA?”, to which I laughed and thought: “TERALO sounds so weak!”.
Anyway, the addition of a new track and its title were already decided, and the composition completely left up to me, but I was told that he wanted me to make a piece that goes “even further” than “MEGALOMANIA”.
After being told that, it took a very long time before I could start writing it. Once I started, it wasn’t as quick as the one hour it took with “MEGALOMANIA because there were a lot of tracks, but it was still quick.
To write a piece that goes “even further” than “MEGALOMANIA” - a track that has grown with people’s memories - must have been a battle to surpass yourself, in a way.
Shimomura-san: I wouldn’t go that far (laughs). The idea of the piano intro phrase leading into the MEGALOMANIA intro phrase already popped into my head from the first draft, so I thought: “this is it”, and was able to keep that momentum up and write it all the way to the end.
I did have some worries about submitting that demo to Tokita-san, but at the same time I thought, “I can’t produce anything better than this”. When Tokita-san promptly replied, “this is very good”, I was relieved. After receiving his approval and listening back to it a few times, I kept hearing a sequence in my head after the original ending that I wrote, so I hurriedly worked on it.
The very last part was actually added on later as an extension - I felt like I had to add it since I kept hearing it in my head, so I asked to amend it.
Wow! I see. Also, is the birth of GIGALOMANIA a sign that Toby will be making GIGALOVANIA?
Fox: Supposing I ever had to write a piece that would go “even further beyond”… Personally, I do not think I would use the name “GIGALOVANIA”.
Toby, do you have a favourite track from LIVE A LIVE other than MEGALOMANIA?
Fox: With the original game, I always loved the tracks Live-A-Live, MEGALOMANIA, Prehistory, The Near Future, The Middle Ages… I listened to the soundtrack all the time.
There are some nice new arrangements too! I love the battle theme Playing with Psychos from the “Near Future” chapter. That chapter overall really stands out. I noticed despite the “future” vibe, Shimomura-san chose to use instruments like the accordion and the harmonica, which I found to be a very interesting choice. Though the protagonist is psychic and fights with a giant robot, the world has a pretty old-school vibe to it, doesn’t it?
Shimomura-san: That’s right. The Near Future chapter is supposed to be in the future, but it’s a bit retro. In fact, there’s a bit of a Showa* atmosphere.
*(Editor’s note: the Showa period lasted from 1926 to 1987)
Therefore, I used instruments that you would find at school like the harmonica and the accordion to give it a nostalgic feeling.
Fox: That makes sense. And Steel Titan is exactly what you’d expect, too.
Shimomura-san: “Go! Go! Steel Titan!” is just perfectly cliché, isn’t it!
Fox: Of all the tracks featured on the LIVE A LIVE HD-2D Remake Original Soundtrack, “Go! Go! Steel Titan!” is definitely the one that gains the most from being arranged!
Shimomura-san: When the development of the remake was confirmed, it was already decided that Hironobu Kageyama* would be the singer.
*(Editor's note: Hironobu Kageyama is an extremely famous singer in Japan, singing such famous songs as CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA, the Japanese theme song to Dragon Ball Z.)
When we were making the original game, I had said: “it would be great if one day, Hironobu Kageyama could sing this”, although I thought that could never come true. I never imagined that we could get such a star to really sing it after 28 years! It made me think that you should never give up on your dreams. I think that Tokita-san holding onto that wish led to this collaboration!
This was also the first time that I met Hironobu Kageyama and he was such a wonderful person, despite being a busy star. It’s a great honour that somebody like him could sing it. It made me feel glad to have been a composer.
Fox: I’m really happy for you! The song turned out amazingly! (Staring straight into the camera) I wonder if Kageyama-san would agree to sing for me if I sent him an offer...?
(Pause. Toby immediately forgets that he said this.)
Another favourite of mine is Clash in China, the battle theme of the Imperial China chapter. The usage of the erhu is great.
Speaking too much about The Middle Ages chapter would probably be a massive spoiler, but I also like the battle theme Heroic Struggle. As well as being stylish, there’s tension that gives it a real feeling of a fierce battle. You can also see the protagonist’s suffering and a foreboding feeling that the story is heading in a bad direction… You can really feel the storm clouds rising…the brooding emotion…and, you know, the slap bass.
Please stop me from talking about all the tracks forever!
Shimomura-san: I feel so honoured! It really makes me feel that LIVE A LIVE is supported by love from the fans.
Even though it was a one-off title that doesn’t even have a sequel, there are people like Toby who still love it after 28 years and fans who come to see the live concerts. I feel so grateful.
The feeling of the new arrangements
Fox: The battle tracks were changed quite a bit from the rock style of the original game. As opposed to some of the other tracks, the music ends up taking on quite a different feel. Are there any tracks that you arranged yourself?
Shimomura-san: I was generally supervising, but there were actually some tracks where I wrote data myself and participated in the arrangement.
For this title, we worked in separate teams from the start for orchestral arrangements and band arrangements. I’m not so familiar with band arrangements, so I appointed another person to lead that team and I mainly worked with the orchestra team. The tracks that I worked on are also the orchestral arrangements.
When arranging music, I describe it as “applying make-up” or “dressing it up in beautiful clothes”. When there is an original track, it’s difficult to surpass the original, so I think that you shouldn’t compete with it.
Just like how people change over time, it’s impossible to completely recreate its beauty from 20-something years ago, so my philosophy is to retain the beautiful memories from the old days and bring out its current charms while “applying make-up” to it.
For example, Live A Live is a track that has been loved by fans over the years, so I wanted to arrange it while respecting the fans’ feelings.
The DNA of LIVE A LIVE lives on
Shimomura-san: LIVE A LIVE is a title that has been supported by fans, and we were able to release it with English audio and localised into each language thanks to international support. I have nothing but gratitude for that.
It also helped Toby to create UNDERTALE. I’ve been able to meet and have such a deep conversation with him, and I think it’s amazing how LIVE A LIVE has connected us!
Fox: It’s just like LIVE A LIVE itself! Various people gather from different origins... That’s the power that this title has.
I don’t think there’ll ever be another game like this. Only LIVE A LIVE can be a game like LIVE A LIVE: an RPG with very different protagonists in each chapter, who each experience different stories, and then assemble. I think it had a very unique vibe out of all the games on the Super Famicom.
Together with the awesome soundtrack, it’s a bit of a miracle, isn’t it? The feelings you get from this game could never be replicated in anything else. There’s no wonder that there are still so many passionate fans.
We’re approaching the end of our session. Can we please have some final words from the both of you to each other?
Shimomura-san: Even though we were born in different generations and grew up in different countries, video games brought us together and gave us an opportunity to have such a lovely conversation, so I really feel motivated!
I’ll try playing UNDERTALE as well!
Fox: It’s over already? Feels like I fell suddenly forward in time...
Shimomura-san, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. It was such an honour to talk with someone who I’ve been heavily inspired by. If it wasn’t for Shimomura-san’s music, my music would never have been born. Please continue to inspire me!
Shimomura-san: Thank you very much. Let’s have another chat someday!
LIVE A LIVE releases April 27, 2023 for PS5, PS4 and Steam, and is available on Nintendo Switch now.
You can hear Shimomura’s exceptional soundtrack in the LIVE A LIVE HD-2D REMAKE soundtrack - available to buy now digitally via services including iTunes and Amazon, and physically via the Square Enix Store:
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on the Square Enix Store
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on iTunes
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on Amazon Music
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