This article is a reproduction of an interview done in writing between Iwata and the producer of “Rhythm Heaven,” Tsunku♂.
Iwata - Dear Tsunku♂,
This is Iwata of Nintendo. It’s been quite a while. The release date of “Rhythm Heaven Megamix” is finally upon us. Today I’d like to ask you about this software. Just the other day I saw you on TV giving your “silent speech” at the entrance ceremony of your alma mater. There is absolutely no way that a third party could possibly imagine what it was like for you, someone who has always made singing his profession, to make the choice to give up your voice, but I do pray that you have a speedy recovery. Given that you aren’t able to meet and speak like we always had (※1), I’d like to ask you about this software in a different format - “Iwata Asks in Writing.”
※1 Meet and speak＝ In the past Tsunku♂ has appeared on “Iwata Asks” as the producer of the “Rhythm Heaven” series and chatted in person with Iwata-san. For more details please see Iwata Asks “Rhythm Heaven Gold” and Iwata Asks “Everyone’s Rhythm Heaven.”
Iwata - For starters, if there’s anything you’d like to update us on, please do.
Tsunku♂ - It certainly has been a while. Iwata-san, how are you? I’m sorry to have worried you, but currently I am healthy! I’m happy to be able to converse with you like this. I’m relieved that this recent “Rhythm Heaven” has been finished, and I’m also still writing songs and lyrics, but the biggest update is that I’m entering the final stages of writing a book about everything that’s been going on lately. And with that said, let’s talk about “Rhythm Heaven!”
Iwata - Thank you for agreeing to talk in writing like this. Up until now, three separate Rhythm Heaven titles have each released on three different pieces of hardware (※2), and I’m curious about what kind of perspective that’s given you?
※2 Three Separate Rhythm Heavens＝ “Rhythm Heaven” (Released in 2006 for the Game Boy Advance), “Rhythm Heaven Gold” (Released in 2008 for the Nintendo DS), “Everyone’s Rhythm Heaven” (2011 on the Wii).
Tsunku♂ - Each time the hardware changed that particular piece of software changed the way you controlled the rhythm. First from simple button pushes, then with the touch pen, and finally with the Wii Remote. But feeling that rhythm with your body was something that all of them shared. Each title had its special traits, and I definitely felt that each of them had its own unique value!
Iwata - That’s great to hear. You have this pet theory that a person can “train their feeling of rhythm,” and I’m wondering whether you felt that the “Rhythm Heaven” series of games ended up doing that as intended?
Tsunku♂ - Rhythm can be trained, and I think that there are a lot of people whose rhythm became stronger from the “Rhythm Heaven” series. Once the rhythm enters you body, you’re able to breeze through stages that you weren’t able to clear until then, again and again. And that is the proof that you’ve trained your rhythm. On the other side, if you’ve managed to clear a stage once but then can’t do it again, that’s the result of having somehow managed to clear the stage before your body has soaked up the rhythm. You just need to practice more.
Iwata - I know exactly what you mean when you talk about one’s “body soaking up the rhythm” - that expression fits perfectly with the gameplay of this series. With that in mind, what did you hold the dearest when developing this title, “Rhythm Heaven Megamix”?
Tsunku♂ - Just make it simple. Controls easy. Don’t lean on the characters. If the games themselves have rhythm and are fun that’s all you need. Don’t think of it as a sequel, but as something that even people who are only aware of this title in the series can enjoy. Don’t make a hard game. I suppose that covers it all. Also, for the very first “Rhythm Heaven” we made this habit of hiding “Produced by Tsunku♂” until the game was released, and how long were we supposed to wait with this one…We’ve had this weird habit. Even though we should be able to march it around, “Tsunku♂ is OF COURSE producing this one too!” (laughs).
Iwata - Ahhh, during that first title we did certainly ask about hiding the fact that you were producing it until release. Even though we didn’t need to do that for this one, maybe we were too quiet about it. To that point - how were you involved in this title? And if there’s anything that’s stayed the same, or that you’ve changed from the other titles in the series, I’d love to hear it.
Tsunku♂ - Hmmm. Basically nothing has changed too much from the previous titles. Although during the latter half, when I lost the ability to speak, there was more back and forth through the staff. There’s a pattern where I first write a song, and then the game is formed around that, and one where the game structure already exists and we put a song to that. Also, there’s one where Nintendo sends me this unique sheet music, I guess you could call it, this rhythm sheeting music for shouting along gets delivered to me, and I put a song to that rhythm sheet music. Mainly the songs in the beginning of the game are like that.
Iwata - There will probably be many series fans who are relieved to know that you were involved deeply in this title as well. I suppose the question of who reaches out to who first, you or Nintendo, differs for each game. If there are any ideas in this title that you came up with and particularly liked, or Nintendo’s staff came up with that you particularly liked, would you mind sharing those?
Tsunku♂ - The same can be said of the music industry, but it’s quite difficult to compete with original compositions, so coming up with the new “Karateka" and “White Ghost” series music while staying with the original theme was surprisingly difficult, but I’m also strongly attached to them. One that comes at you full force, both as a game and sound is “Chameleon.” It gets the adrenaline pumping. It’s like, pure fusion of sound and game.
Iwata - “Chameleon” is in the TV commercials, so there are probably already plenty of fans that know it.
Tsunku♂ - There’s also the “remix” songs that appear at each juncture. There are a lot that are brand new takes on existing songs, so it’s that back and forth between the game-making staff and we sound staff, a collaboration between specialists. There’s this great “back stabbing” in a way - “We made this song with one image and mind and why on earth did you make this kind of completely unexpected game with it!” that just feels wonderful. You’d think, “usually you’d let the music guide you more, no?,” but seeing the game making staff uninhibitedly weave in what they wanted to do or show felt amazing.
Iwata - The real enjoyment of these collaborative creative partnerships is seeing the appeal form from seeing expectations shattered, so much that the first word that comes to mind is “backstabbing.”
Tsunku♂ - I asked someone I met in New York to write the lyrics for “I’m a lady now.” We had plans for a 6-year-old girl to sing a song in English intended for the whole world. I loved the melody and lyrics of the song, “For that big, single tear,” so we had a singer from Ishikawa Prefecture, Hikaru Obashi, sing it. “Tokimeki no Story” is sentimental. As a song it feels like the evening twilight, and I selected singers that would be proper for singing a fresh song to sing it. What Nintendo’s tastes guided me to was the song “Classmate.” It’s a song that you’ll find after you’ve sunk quite a bit of time into the game, and from the beginning I had a rather concrete image for it, that I startled myself, moved to tears at the thought of what kind of game it might become. It’s bitter-sweet, and it’s wonderful in its rawness, which I think is a perfect match. I would love for people to listen to these songs in-game. And then of course I think for Nintendo’s team as well, they had a passion for “Karateka,” and we had several bouts of back and forth where the songs I wrote didn’t quite fit, and if I made a song just as instructed by Nintendo I’d rewrite it two or three times thinking, “But it doesn’t really line up with the image.” The second proposal I wrote for “Karateka” had this furious guitar in a minor key, and that furiousness rocked - so while we didn’t use it with “Karateka”, which comes at the beginning, we did use it during the final battle…Anyhow, it’s the kind of game where these kinds of things came up.
Iwata - That’s what you meant when you mentioned how it was hard to write the song for “Karateka.”
Tsunku♂ - As for new games, there’s this incredible sorrow with “Broken-Hearted Pair,” where you’re surprised to see these kinds of characters in a rhythm game. It’s this kind of game with such a unique taste that it makes you want to question it like that.
Iwata - “Broken-Hearted Pair” also shows up in the TV commercial, and that sorrow is evident just from watching. Now then, I’d like to hear what you feel the appeal of this game is.
Tsunku♂ - In Japanese the title has “Best of” in it, but there are plenty of new songs as well, and people of the age that didn’t get an opportunity to play the Game Boy Advance version will be able to play remixes from that game, enjoying a fresh, new take, and there’s plenty of fun to be had in cooperative multiplayer. (※3)
※3 Cooperative Multiplayer＝ “Rhythm Heaven Megamix” features a game mode that can be enjoyed with up to four people with one copy of the game, where multiple people cooperate to clear a stage.
Iwata - I’d also like to stress that it’s not just a “Best of” compilation. I’d like to finish with a message from Tsunku♂ to everyone reading this.
Tsunku♂ - Thank you very much for reading. There are still many details we didn’t touch on, and a mountain of episodes to tell, but in any event, I’d like you to get “Rhythm Heaven Megamix” and enjoy it with your family and friends. Your rhythm should naturally get sharper! And thank you to Iwata-san!
Iwata - I hope we can continue to collaborate and make things that everyone around the world can enjoy. Thank you for your cooperation.
Iwata - I’m incredibly happy that Tsunku♂ was so willing to take my request for an Iwata Asks as the release date for the game drew near, and that he seemed so healthy and energetic. In closing I’d like to announce the demo for “Rhythm Heaven Megamix.” This demo will be available for free on the 3DS “Nintendo eShop” starting from the day the game is released. This is the first Rhythm Heaven title that can be played by up to four people cooperatively on portable hardware, and that cooperate multiplayer is supported in the demo as well. “Rhythm Heaven” in cooperative multiplayer is quite fun, so I hope that as many people as possible will enjoy both single player and multiplayer. Thank you for reading to the end.