Sitting down with an industry legend
It’s not every day you get to talk with an industry legend, but I was lucky enough to have that opportunity just a couple of weeks ago.
As some of you know, I’m an absolutely massive fan of videogame music. I don’t think game composers get the credit they deserve, and I’m always out to sing their praises and spread the word on what they do. That’s why I jumped at the chance to interview Harumi Fujita, a game composer who’s worked on a litany of big-name franchises throughout her career.
You name-drop a series and Fujita has been involved. Mega Man, Bionic Commando, Streets of Rage, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, the list goes on and on. Some of gaming’s greatest franchises have been made that much better due to the work of Harumi Fujita, and most recently she lent her incredible talents to the soundtrack for WayForward’s Spidersaurs.
In the interview below, I chatted with Harumi about her amazing career in the game industry, the legacy of her compositions, and her contributions to Spidersaurs. It was an absolute dream come true, and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed the opportunity.
GN: First off, your work is absolutely iconic. From Bionic Commando to Mega Man, Chip ‘n Dale to Tomba, you have contributed to some of the most memorable game soundtracks ever released. Did you ever think your work would garner you such a following, or become so timeless?
Harumi Fujita: I had no idea my work would ever garner such a following. The internet wasn’t around back when I composed for those titles, and my awareness was limited to just whatever was happening in very specific parts of Japan. When I finished working on Strider, I was told by the sales department that the game would only be released outside of Japan; I was so unfamiliar with the world outside Japan that I had thought Strider was being sent to die. Looking back at it now, I can see that the outside world is much larger than Japan itself. I never really thought about how much people outside Japan would listen to my music or how popular it would be there. Nowadays, I receive many messages from people on Facebook and Twitter saying how much my music has resonated with them, which is very surprising, but it’s something I’m also very happy to hear. I’m grateful for that.
GN: Just how much has changed in your creation process from the early days of gaming to today, and inversely, what has stayed the same?
Harumi Fujita: The process of coming up with melodies and converting that into data hasn’t changed at all. When making music, it doesn’t matter if it’s with a band or orchestra or the sounds playing in my own head, all sound is the same. That said, when arranging those sounds, such as taking a grand orchestra and converting the melody into 3 channel-PSG or FM audio, there are many sounds to choose from nowadays, which is different. Making a good melody that no one gets tired of listening to and remains in the hearts of listeners remains unchanged from the past.
GN: People can next hear your music in the upcoming Spidersaurs. How did this collaboration with WayForward come about?
Harumi Fujita: WayForward approached Brave Wave Productions, the label I belong to, and that’s how we were able to collaborate.
GN: How many tracks did you put together for Spidersaurs, and how much time did the process take overall?
Harumi Fujita: I think I created around 24 tracks for it. It took about five months to compose everything, as I worked on the music while development on the game progressed. I think I did five tracks at a time.
GN: There seems to be a heavy focus on electric guitar in your Spidersaurs songs. What made you lean on that instrument among others?
Harumi Fujita: One of the characters in the game uses a guitar as a weapon, so I ended up using a lot of guitar in the music. I’m not actually that great at using guitars in my music, so I wanted to challenge myself and overcome that hurdle.
GN: What sort of vibe were you looking to strike with the music of Spidersaurs?
Harumi Fujita: Without specifically choosing a genre, I looked at the stages in the game and what sort of vibe, atmosphere, background, and characters they had. I tend to create exciting-sounding music, so I tried to imagine what kind of emotions a person playing Spidersaurs would have and went from there with the music.
GN: Outside of the game itself, what influences helped you build the sound of Spidersaurs?
Harumi Fujita: I didn’t really reference anything outside of the game itself. I was provided the game’s artwork and story, which served as my direct inspirations when composing the music. That said, I did see a little bit of Jurassic World!
GN: I might be hearing things, but I could swear there are some very slight nods to your classic soundtracks in a handful of Spidersaurs tunes. Is that something you did here, or have done with songs in other games?
Harumi Fujita: I was asked to harken back to my old music when composing for Spidersaurs. I listened to my old music and tried to create something close to that. I actually have a bit of difficulty with this approach because I don’t really like referencing my old music. [laughs] I’ll reference my old work if developers ask for it on other projects as well, but I generally don’t like doing it. That said, it’s still me making the music, so I’m sure there’s a similarity among different tracks.
GN: What song are you most proud of in Spidersaurs, and which was the most challenging to create?
Harumi Fujita: I think the boss tracks (especially the first boss) are the ones most representative of me as a composer. I like the track I made for the second half of Mission 4, deep in the sewers where there is a creepy and dangerous atmosphere. I think Mixer Driller from Mission 3 is the stage with the most suitable track as well and is in my favorite genre.
The toughest track would have to be the Credits. I was asked to rearrange the stage tracks and combine them together. However, because of the sheer variety of the tracks, the rhythms were too different from one another, which made it hard to bring them together. For the Credits arrangement, I chose songs that I was particularly proud of making.
GN: What one thing do you hope people take away from your work on Spidersaurs?
Harumi Fujita: Games like Bionic Commando, Mega Man 3, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Strider, or PULSTAR have what I call the Harumi Fujita sound on them. Please give them a listen and take a stroll down memory lane, and give them a try, too!
Again, I’d like to offer an absolutely massive thanks to Harumi Fujita for taking the time to answer my questions. Interviewing someone who crafted some of my favorite childhood tunes was an incredible opportunity. I’d also like to thank the team at WayForward for making this all happen!