Tango Gameworks’ latest game, Ghostwire: Tokyo, is out in the wild now, and with it comes one of the most atmospheric and beautiful open world games Tango has yet to deliver. A big part of the game’s overall excellence is in music, sound design, and atmosphere. It doesn’t fill a lot of space with unwarranted songs, but rather lets downtown Shibuya speak for itself a lot of the time, only filling in the gaps where necessary and to great effect.
With that in mind, we caught up to Ghostwire: Tokyo director Kenji Kimura and composer Masatoshi Yanagi to speak about the sound design of the game. They shared all sorts of details, such as how Ghostwire: Tokyo’s soundtrack was inspired, the use of traditional instruments in its music, and the balance between overt music and letting the environment fill in the soundscape. Check it out.
Shacknews: The first thing that struck us about the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo was all sounds and music coming from various sources. So much of what we were seeing and hearing reminded us of my personal time spent in the city. We were curious if you spent any time just wandering the city and taking in the environments ahead of composing?
Masatoshi Yanagi: Yes, before the pandemic, 2018 or 2019 so, I think it was when we were still in pre-production, I walked around Tokyo in different areas like the Yanesen area, to get a feel of the different vibes of the city.
Shacknews: During development did you share any references or pieces of media that had inspired you with Yanagi-san to help inspire the soundtrack?
Kenji Kimura: I didn’t really need to give much direction to Yanagi-san because he understood the vision of the game and we liked the same movies and bands. We would just talk about the game, about what we are making, and through our conversations he would figure out what would work well for each piece. I think I may have mentioned that I liked the movie “Sicario” and the music of Johann Johannsson and that I liked Daft Punk, but I don’t think we ever sat down to have a conversation about trying to use those as reference materials for the game.
Shacknews: We noticed that during some of the most intense or suspenseful moments in the game that the soundtrack tended to feature more traditional orchestral arrangements with some modern undertones. It feels like the soundtrack is tying the modern settings with the traditional mythology surrounding the various ghosts and demons you encounter throughout the game. Is that an accurate observation?
Yanagi: Yes, “blending the traditional with the modern” was the vision for the music, and it’s wonderful that you were able to notice that.
Shacknews: Fog and the stark absence of life in the city streets plays such a huge role in this game's environmental presentation. Can you speak to the balance of filling that void with music and where you let the air, rain, and various noises of the city fill in the gaps?
Yanagi: The sense of immersion, of feeling like you are in the city was very important for the game, so we mainly placed the environment sounds first and then used music to help supplement the atmosphere especially where more tension is needed. And so rather than using music with strong melodies for filling in the gaps, I tended to use music and sounds that would help with the atmosphere.
Shacknews: Obviously for a game like this where ghosts and distortion of reality play such a major role, there's a lot to be said for playing up to the intense moments. How challenging has it been to dance between the relatively calm and the intense horror peaks of this game?
Kimura: It was a challenge to balance out the length of those intense moments as it required a lot of trial and error. We’d create the visuals first to create and check the emotional curve, then determine the amount of walking that is needed to get to the location that would be considered the peak. Working with Yanagi-san was easy because he would make the music and it wouldn’t require a lot of retakes. His use of the Japanese traditional instruments, and the way he’d combine them with the use of the synthesizer, is amazing. He’s able to control the tension in such a beautiful way.
Shacknews: As players are walking through the city in Ghostwire, there are a lot of ongoing shows, music, and media playing in the abandoned establishments around us. Can you speak to how much of that was original sound and music composition and what sort of reference were brought in from third-party media? Was it interesting to craft a soundscape in a city where life abruptly stopped in the middle of a busy day?
Yanagi: All the songs in the game were created as original pieces to be used in the game. It was a lot of fun, because I got to work on very different types of music, which can be heard throughout the game world of Tokyo. You can hear them while walking through fashion stores, via fictional jingles, advertisements, and commercials that you’d hear while walking around the city.
That covers our entire interview with Ghostwire: Tokyo’s Kenji Kimura and Masatoshi Yanagi. The game is out today on PlayStation 5 and PC. Be sure to check out our review to see our full thoughts on the game and stay tuned for more coverage here at Shacknews.
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Ghostwire: Tokyo director & composer on designing the game's soundscape