One of Sea of Star’s most compelling selling points is the involvement of Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda. The fact that an inspired game by ChronoTrigger will include music composed by the composer is an exciting thing. It is still worth it to be excited about the soundtrack Mitsuda won’t directly contribute.
The majority of Sea of Stars’ soundtrack is in the hands of the talented Eric W. Brown, who also composed the soundtrack for The Messenger. Brown’s musical history started with playing drums in metal bands. “I’ve been a drummer since I was a kid and I’m still a drummer now, but, you know, I got into music production via chiptune essentially,” Brown says. In 2006, Brown decided to concentrate on creating his own music in chiptune. He was primarily focused on Game Boys. After being offered The Messenger, he moved to Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and NES-flavored music.
Brown loves working in 16-bit mode. Brown also makes use of an online database of musicians who have collaborated over the years. It allows Brown to find out what samples and tools were used back when video game composers worked. It is used by composers like Brown to locate specific sounds modules or keyboards that were used in the making of music from the past. With that said, though, Brown is not placing many self-imposed restrictions on himself for Sea of Stars’ soundtrack.
Brown says that the visuals of Sea of Stars are influenced by 16-bit RPGs. However, Sea of Stars cannot be played on Super Nintendo. The same goes for the music. “I definitely could have done that, and that’s what we did with The Messenger,” Brown says when asked if the music could conceivably come from a Super Nintendo.“For this, during the pre-production phase, I was experimenting, and I think initially, I wanted to do a more hi-fi type of thing. We landed upon something that isn’t retro, but doesn’t let you lose the present. The same goes for the visuals. All of this would not work with a Super Nintendo. Not the way that it looks.”
Brown was able to deliberately simulate some of the Super Nintendo’s shortcomings by adjusting the sound effects so that they sometimes interupted the music. The Super Nintendo had a limited number of sound channels. This meant that the sound effects would sometimes overtake other elements in the track. Although it was more difficult for Brown to make that Sound Interruptor in Sea of Stars work, he did want it included in the game. “It’s really subtle, but I think anyone who would recognize that from Super Nintendo will appreciate it. And that’s why I did it.”
Brown would like the music to be reminiscent of Super Nintendo but without imitating it. The soundtrack should be more memorable with hooks and melodies. Most contemporary soundtracks effectively focus on setting a subtle mood in the background, but that wasn’t the case in the past. “I think part of the reason that retro soundtracks were so catchy is because they had so little to work with. There was very little sound to choose from on the hardware. For example, the Super Nintendo had only eight channels. Whereas nowadays, you have essentially infinite channels,” Brown says. “To me, it just feels like the compositions were so much stronger because they had such limitations – the classic saying that ‘limitation breeds creativity.’ But yeah, I think that a staple of retro games was just really strong hooks.”
When it comes to RPGs the best hook is usually the battle theme. It is the most listened to and frequently repeated music. “Well, that’s the ultimate question,” Brown says in response to how you make a battle theme not get repetitive. Sea of Stars has several themes for different bosses, but for the core, standard combat, there are only two – one for day and one for night. The themes are identical, however Brown claims that the night versions have more shimmering bells and subtle rearrangements. “I think. Personally, I had an easier time with battle themes because they’re more upbeat and exciting,” Brown says, but the fear of it becoming repetitive was pervasive. Brown explored the possibility of creating multiple themes depending upon the size of the fight, though he acknowledges the difficulty in writing so much music. Brown estimates that he’s composed 150 songs for the game. Mitsuda has about ten additional tracks.
Along with music, Brown works on the larger soundscape, creating all the game’s sound effects. The menu beeps are a crucial component of RPGs. These sounds are often heard more often than combat sounds effects. How do you create a memorable menu sound effect? “To be perfectly honest, I just tried stuff,” Brown says. “My thought process was… I don’t want it to sound retro. But I want it to sound pleasing.”
One type of song Brown says isn’t in Sea of Stars yet, but was in Chrono Trigger, is a Legally distinct, but very similar to Rick Astley’s never gonna give up. “[Laughs] Not yet, but I feel like that would be a pretty good opportunity.” I suggested a different 80s hit song that has been similarly involved in many memes: Toto’s Africa.
The combat theme might be the most pervasive music in the game, but Brown’s favorite themes to create are for the bosses. “I think those come the most naturally as like a metal guy,” Brown says. Brown relied on his metal roots to make intense and upbeat battle music. For some of the amazing sound effects, he also turned to his friends as vocalists. “I called up a lot of my vocalist friends, and I got them to just record a voice memo,” Brown says. “I had no direction for them other than, ‘I just want stuff to add to the pile that I can chop up and process.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, cool.’ So they just send it over, and so I have like a stockpile.” You would never be able to pick them out individually, but Brown says Riley McShane of Allegaeon fame, Patrick “Admiral Nobeard” Henry from Swashbuckle (of which Brown played drums), and others are all mixed into the game in subtle ways.
Sea of Stars will be available on PlayStation, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One consoles. It also comes to PC, Switch, Xbox One and Switch starting August 29. You can read more about Sea of Stars in the Game Informer magazine’s most recent issue.
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