Last week’s issue of Famitsu had a different type of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate interview. While we’re typically used to hearing from director Masahiro Sakurai, the magazine caught up with two people heavily involved with the music side of things. Hideki Sakamoto (who wrote the main theme song) and Erina Koga (who sung the main theme in Japanese) chatted with Famitsu. There was talk about the creation of the music, what the recording session was like, and more.
You can read our full translation of the interview below. We do also have a brief comment from Sakurai as well who commented on his approach to the main theme this time around.
We heard that you two were acquainted before this project.
Sakamoto: Yes, back in fall of 2016 I was on a panel of judges at a seiyuu* audition event called “Seiyuu Stadium”. And that was the year that Koga won the grand prix.
*Note: Seiyuu is the Japanese term for voice actor, which is held in a more prominent regard than that of voice actors in the west due to the prevalence of the animation industry in Japan.
Did Ms. Koga sing at the competition?
Sakamoto: It was supposed to be a seiyuu audition where we just judge the entrants’ voice acting abilities, but she came out at the end with a guitar in hand and asked if she could sing us a song. And once we heard her sing, the whole panel was completely blown away. I nearly fell off my chair! (laughs) She was incredible, and that was the first time I saw her. I knew that if I ever worked on a song that would fit her voice, I was absolutely going to have her do it.
And that opportunity came about with “Smash Ultimate”.
Sakamoto: She had just the kind of voice that Sakurai was looking for. That, and she’s a young, fresh face. I knew I wasn’t going to find a more perfect fit.
Could you tell us what it felt like to be selected, Ms. Koga?
Koga: Well actually, it all started with Sakamoto approaching me and asking if I’d like to work together with him on a project. I didn’t know what kind of project this was, like, a song or whatever, but I ended up going to Tokyo to hear more about it.
Sakamoto: I asked her what video games she likes when I was escorting her to the office and, coincidentally, she said she likes “Smash Bros.” I thought to myself, “Oh, man, this is gonna be great!” (laughs) And then when she told me that Kirby’s one of her favorites, I thought, “I can’t get her to meet Sakurai fast enough!”
And once you finally met with Sakurai, that’s when you found out that the project was singing the main theme song for the new “Smash Bros.” game.
Koga: This game is beloved by so many people the world over—I never would have thought that I would be involved in it. When I went to the meeting, I arranged to go together with my mom. And since my older brother has always been a huge fan of “Smash Bros.”, she definitely knew about the series. So as soon as they told us what the project was, we both looked at each other and screamed (laughs).
What did Mr. Sakurai talk about when you first met?
Koga: He told me about “World of Light”, the story, how things were going to go—mostly general stuff. I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I told him how I loved Kirby without actually knowing much about Sakurai himself.
I see. So even though you love Kirby, you didn’t know about who made him, right?
Koga: Right. After coming home from the meeting, I took out Sakurai’s business card he gave me and I started looking up his name on the internet. Then I realized, “Wow! I just met, like, a really important person!” (laughs) I learned so much about him.
Next, I’d like to hear from Mr. Sakamoto. Could you tell us the details of how you became responsible for the main theme for “Smash Ultimate”?
Sakamoto: Sakurai said to all of the musicians involved in the game, “Whoever wants to make the main theme, come forward as a candidate.” I really wanted it, so I added myself to the list. Once all the names came together, we had a competition of sorts to decide. I presented my first demo to him, but, uh…
What did he think of it?
Sakamoto: He told me to fix the chorus and to make it even more orchestrated than it already was. I tried, but I had a really hard time figuring out the right melody for the chorus. It was really an arduous process for me. Sakurai told me he wanted a song that you wouldn’t be able to forget after hearing it for the first time. That’s way easier said than done! (strained laughter) I worried myself about it day after day and night after night. And then suddenly, one day, I had something like a revelation in the middle of the night. I woke up with a jolt of energy and the melody came to me out of nowhere. I hurried to my PC and thought, “If this sounds alright in the morning, this is what I’m going with.” And that’s the chorus that we have in the song today.
Wow, so it just came to you, huh? Was there anything you set out to do with the musical composition?
Sakamoto: Well, the main theme gets used in all kinds of places, like menu screens and battles, right? So I had to create a lot of different arrangements. I recall thinking how I wanted to make a song that could fit any kind of arrangement well. I did write the song with the premise that there would be accompanying vocals, but at the same time, I figured the version that everyone would hear most often would be on the menus. So I knew I’d have to make the melody that the player would hear on those screens absolutely radiant. I have a lot of memories of contemplating the melody of the song more than the arrangement.
It truly is a song that you can’t forget once you hear it, and it does stay in your head.
Sakamoto: But I did receive a lot of good feedback on the arrangements in particular, and I revised them quite a lot. At first, I made the orchestra more bombastic, but I got some feedback that they wanted the opening to be very quiet, as it made sense from a story perspective. So I remember reducing the boldness and the amount of notes in the song by about half. I was worried while I was revising it, like, “Should I really get rid of this much?!” (laughs)
Were you formally chosen after all of the arrangement work was finished?
Sakamoto: I was officially chosen just before I did some touching up on the arrangements. Waiting to hear the results of the competition was pure hell – (strained laughter) Even though I’ve been through that process many times in my career as a music producer, wondering whether I would get it or not. Sakurai sent me an email himself in just one sentence, all in bold: “We’re choosing you, Mr. Sakamoto.” I broke down in tears when I read that. This was the first time I had ever cried upon hearing that I got the job; I was that happy.
What did you think when you heard the finished song, Ms. Koga?
Koga: My older brother is a big fan of the “Smash Bros.” series, so I’m familiar with a lot of the music. And when I heard this song and how resonant it was, my very first impression was, “This is so Smash Bros.!”
Sakamoto: When we first planned it out, we intended to hire a professional lyricist to write the lyrics. But then I had the thought, “What if we got Sakurai to write it instead?” So I sent him a message asking if he’d do it and he responded, “Hmm, I’m not sure about that.” Then the next time we talked about it, he said, “The lyrics are done.” I thought, “Whoa! That was fast!” (laughs)
The lyrics use a lot of language you don’t hear regularly. It’s a pretty difficult song to understand.
Koga: I agree. I had to look up so many things in the dictionary. (laughs)
Was it difficult for you as a singer?
Koga: Well, I did have a hard time with one thing. There’s a long note that I had to hold out at the end, and so when deciding on the key for the song, I thought it would be a good idea to go a little lower. But when I did that, the lowest note I had to hit in the second verse ended up being too low for me.
Could you tell us about any sort of difficulties you may have had while you were recording?
Sakamoto: The song was already in an incredibly high key, but Sakurai-san requested of me to “up the key by a half-step towards the end.” Sure, it made the climax of the song even more exciting, but it was already pretty high; from a singer’s perspective it was tough. Before we recorded the actual take we’d practice in the studio, and frankly, at the time it just wasn’t happening.
Koga: If I remember correctly that was around half a year before we actually recorded it.
Sakamoto: Right before we were set to record, she was finally able to hit it; she didn’t say anything about it to me, but I knew she had to have been practicing constantly.
Koga: Every day all I’d think to myself while I was practicing was “you have to hit that note!” I could produce the sound, but just being able to produce it wasn’t enough – at the end of the song there’s a long note that I had to give it everything I had to sing. Continuing to sing the note was really more difficult than just having to hit it.