It’s very rare that I pay attention to the sidebar on my Facebook page, but for reason I noticed this classic Super Nintendo controller out of the corner of my eye and clicked on the link. It brought me to the page of William Kage and the amazing SNES music that he makes. For the duration of the day, I listened to the fantastic scores that he composed that were reminiscent of my favorite video games. I knew that I had to let the Towelites know about his great compositions and he was gracious enough to send me a Press Kit and chat with me.
Casey: I stumbled upon your work because it was suggested to me on my Facebook feed, it must have known how much I love 90s video games. As a huge fan of that time period yourself, what got you into doing what you do?
William: Okay, there are two parts to this. The first is my desire to age like an onion. On the inside, I’m still 10, and 11, and 12 years old. It’s cumulative. Those years in particular were spent dumping hundreds of hours into Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy 4 and 6. Keeping my inner kid alive means carrying all those Squaresoft stories and songs with me. The music was so incredible to me as a kid, that I wanted to make my own. Now that I can, I must! My inner pre-teen demands it.
The second part is a lifelong fascination with system limitations. For depth of immersion, or suspension of disbelief, the SNES was kind of a sweet spot. It has just enough visual detail to show emotion, just enough aural detail to simulate real instruments, and just enough space to tell ambitiously lengthy stories.
The 16-bit gems can’t give you photo-realism, or a pit orchestra, but they’re relatively unambiguous. You know what everything is supposed to be. You know that he’s laughing, she’s crying, this song has a flute, that song has a cello. By the mid-90’s, we had 70-hour games, with operas, and 22-minute orchestral medleys. To me, it’s this beautiful tipping point between Pong and PS4. It’s just enough.
Casey: What were some of the game soundtracks that inspired you the most? Also, what composers inspired you as well?
William: The top soundtracks are all Square. Their early stuff shaped my musical brain. FF4, FF6, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger. That stuff’s on permanent shuffle-repeat in my head. It’s actually the Gun Hazard OST that I’ve listened to the most, though.
For specific composers, let’s start with Nobuo Uematsu, king of the leitmotif. His melodies infected me during my pre-teen years, and they were the first melodies that I learned to play by ear, on the piano. Simple stuff like Prelude, Cry In Sorrow, and Melody of Lute.
Then there’s Yasunori Mitsuda, whose atmosphere and emotion struck me more than just his melodies. “To Far Away Times” (Chrono Trigger) was my first real piano arrangement — that, and “Another Arni” (Chrono Cross), are probably my two favorite songs to play on the piano, even today.
Finally, Austin Wintory is noteworthy as a composer and as a person. In both ways, he encouraged me to pursue this silly dream of mine. His music in Journey deeply moved me at a terrible low point in my life. Then, he reached out to me personally, and I even got to work with him. I discovered a true paragon of humility. What a guy.
Honorable mention: Sakimoto for FF12 and Vagrant Story, Mizuta for FF11 and Blood of Bahamut, and Ishikawa for Arcana and Alcahest.
Casey: That time period had Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Earthbound and more. What do you think is the game that you played the most when you were younger?
William: Probably a tie between FF4 and FF6. I spent a lot of time maxing out my teams, level 99 and all that. Then, I thoroughly dissected both games with Game Genie, making my own codes for commands and items, lots of sequence breaking, and so on. It helped that one of my friends had an internet connection. You know, pretty big deal in 1995, right? (laughs)
Casey: Which video game of the 90s would you most want to be a part of if you could be stuck in that particular game?
William: If you’ll allow a late 1999 Japanese release date, I would love to be a part of Chrono Cross. What a beautiful world! But if we stick to the 16-bit gems, then Secret of Mana’s seductive greens win out.
Casey: The packaging you sent over and the press kit itself is absolutely stellar, do you receive a lot of praise for presenting your work like that?
William: Thanks! Well, there’s a lot of love within this niche, yes. But it’s definitely niche. And due to economies of scale, it really is all about the love. Physical goods are very expensive for my one-man shop to manufacture, so it really can’t be about the money. It’s gotta be about the love! And honestly, it’s much more fun that way, you know?
Casey: If you had the opportunity to score any game, new or old, what would you do?
William: Hmmm. After Years is pretty tempting. But, for obvious reasons, they didn’t use SNES instruments. I even had trouble playing the DS remake of FF4, because they took away my precious instruments. It just sounds wrong to me. I would’ve loved to score After Years with some SNES instruments.
I mean, imagine you grew up in China. Bear with me here. Suppose every night, your friend played some marvelous erhu songs. You know, that stereotypical Chinese fiddle. You grow up loving that sound. Then, in your teens, you come to America. Suddenly, no more erhu. That’s what these SNES sounds are to me. They’re just instruments, and they’re instruments that I grew up with. I love them, and I miss them. I gotta have ’em, and I gotta use ’em!
Casey: What games are you liking and what games are you hating right now?
William: I love min-maxing and leveling up, and Fantasy Life was great for that. I was also thrilled to find out that Amano and Uematsu, two great sculptors of my childhood, were behind the sights and sounds, respectively. Bravely Default is worth mentioning for its emulator-like fast forward gimmick. Great for grinding.
As for my hate list, well … hate is a strong word. Let’s talk disappointment. Sticker Star was sad for me. No level-ups, and that made attack/defend timing especially important. I guess I’ll hold out for another Thousand Year Door, no matter how unlikely that is. C’mon, Nintendo … you can do it, I believe in you!
Casey: What do you think has changed the most about video game soundtracks back in the day compared to now?
William: Ooh, great question. Well, back then, composers had to be at least aware of, if not directly involved in, sound engineering. Maybe the composers picked WAV samples from an in-house library, or maybe they made new ones. Maybe they wrote a polyphonically unrestricted score, and then pruned it down. And certainly, I imagine they could seek the help of nearby programmers. But at the end of the day, no matter what, they had to fit the spec. They had to layer or stagger the channels very carefully to get the most out of the system.
One exception comes to mind, and that’s Journey, for PS3. The amazing Mr. Wintory worked with developers to reintroduce that engineering layer. The music changes a bunch, based on your actions, location, companionship, and so on. There are all these little segments and loops, stitched together seamlessly with little bridges. Individual instruments fade in and out. Sort of like how, in Super Mario World, hopping on Yoshi adds a drum track. Only, in this case, it’s your own freaking orchestra, following you around. Very cool stuff.
Anyway, ever since 5th gen consoles, you can basically write whatever you want. Write any song, and shove your lossless mixdown into the game. No problem!
Casey: What projects do you have coming up?
William: Let’s just say … my desire to make new SNES content isn’t limited to music.
Casey: I don’t even know what that means, but if you’re hinting at making a video game, we here at DFAT would be all about it!
I have to give a HUGE thanks to William Kage for chatting with me about RPG’s and his amazing music. I can’t think of a better example of a geek putting his mind to something and turning out somethign that’s so accessible to fans of every generation. We all love the Chrono Triggers (my favorite RPG) and Final Fantasy’s out there, and it’s great that there’s someone out there paying such great respect to the things we grew up with. Make sure you LIKE his Facebook page, follow him on the Twitters, and purchase his albums on his site.