DJ Highlights

Video Game Composer Quick Looks: Keiichi Okabe

Hey folks, DJ Blazkowicz from Jackpot OST here. Every year, wonderful albums and tracks release from the music industry, but have you ever considered taking a look at video game soundtracks?

Okay, hear me out for a second; it’s not just bleeps and bloops anymore I swear. Often, video game soundtracks can have an incredible amount of texture and quality to them, as they are required to provide an audio foundation for an entire interactive experience without distracting from gameplay. In this series of posts, I intend to focus in on individual composers by discussing a small part of their discography, their work, and share some notes from interviews.

Today, let’s get a few examples from composer Keiichi Okabe, known most recently for the soundtrack of the surprise hit of 2018, Nier: Automata.–PNMsfI

 Keiichi Okabe began his career as a sound designer in the gaming industry in 1995 as an arranger, a specialist who works early in the development process of a song to ensure its elements mesh well. As an arranger, he worked for Namco on the Tekken series before forming his own company, MONACA. Through collaboration with Square Enix, he has worked on all games of the Nier series, Drakengard 3, and the downloadable content of Final Fantasy XV.

Since Nier Gestalt/Replicant, Keiichi’s pieces often share a dreamlike melancholy, with fantastical melodies that incorporate unobtrusive vocals. However, in times of drama or action, Okabe isn’t afraid to deliver driving percussive beats backed with rhythmic chanting and frantic strings. If you are struggling to understand said chanting, don’t worry! Okabe often utilizes fantasy languages in his works, such as the Nier series’ “Celestial,” a combination of Gaelic and Japanese tweaked to sound like a realistic evolution of current languages. This lends many soundtracks a quality of emotion and depth, but without the risk of audible lyrics distracting from gameplay. The fictional Celestial language was the product of continuous collaboration with Nier Automata’s lead vocalist, Emi Evans, who also collaborated on Automata’s previous work, Nier Gestalt/Replicant.

Though Okabe is the founder of MONACA, he does not consider himself as an “artist.” Okabe continuously claims that he provides a supplemental role to the game designers he works in conjunction with to create his tracks. Each song the composer creates is solely for the purpose of furthering the narrative and setting, enabling on screen events and writing to have a greater emotional impact on a player. To accomplish this, Okabe works closely with the producers and directors of the project he is attached to. This collaboration entails a lengthy process of writing, composing, iteration, and endless revision until the music is deemed fit for installation into a scene or area.

With the success of Nier: Automata, Keiichi Okabe has found himself suddenly thrust into the spotlight in a way he is rather unused to. In game design, sound production generally concludes three months prior to a game being shipped, and sound designers can expect a few interviews during this period to boost sales. However, in the case of Nier: Automata, Okabe immediately began work on mastering the game’s separately released soundtrack, an additional unreleased soundtrack where he collaborated with other artists, the live event “Memories of Puppets,” and finally the sound work for a live stage play.

Hope everyone enjoyed this little peek behind the curtain! DJ Blazkowicz will be bringing you fine people more tracks and trivia from the aural hinterlands of video gaming’s original soundtracks. Until then, enjoy the tunes!