Laura Shigihara is a classic overachiever. She’s both a musician and game developer whose music has appeared on a far-flung range of soundtracks—from the addictive mobile-turned-platform mega-hit Plants Vs. Zombies to the generation-defining World of Warcraft and the notoriously tear-jerking indie To The Moon.
Perhaps more impressively, Shigihara is a D.I.Y. wiz: she’s a talented multi-instrumentalist who usually self-produces her music, and she’s a bona fide YouTube star with over 100,000 followers and millions of views to her name. The culmination of her talents can be seen in the forthcoming indie adventure game Rakuen, where Shigihara is both the primary force behind the game’s story and development, as well as the artist who created its soundtrack, out this month. We talked over the internet about Mega Man and growing up between Japan and the United States.
Did you grow up playing games?
Yes, definitely. My favorite game of all time is Chrono Trigger, but some other favorites are Starcraft, Mega Man 5, Yoshi’s Island, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana. I was pretty crazy about Mega Man when I was a kid: I used to design my own levels on paper, I learned the music on piano—I even dressed up as Mega Man for Halloween in elementary school.
Half of your family is based in Japan, and it sounds like you’ve spent considerable time there. What effect do you think that has had on your musical and gaming taste?
When I was really little in the U.S., boys and girls seemed to be equally interested in Nintendo games. However, beyond a certain age, all but one of my female friends stopped playing, and video games were suddenly considered more of a boy’s activity at my school. In Japan, on the other hand, it was totally different. Everyone played games well into high school, regardless of whether they were a girl or boy. They had a much more diverse selection of games, as well: more story-based games, games about non-traditional things. I think as a result, my taste in games is pretty widespread; I am especially drawn to games with unusual stories or game mechanics.
With music, I’ve noticed that a lot of notable Japanese producers will integrate all sorts of different genres into the same album—or even within the same song. I remember hearing a song that featured traditional Japanese Enka vocals with a backing track that consisted of electric guitar, bossa nova-influenced percussion, and electronic synths. It was such an eclectic mix, and so creatively arranged! Perhaps because I was exposed to this type of music, I’m fond of many genres (as well as the mixing of many types of music within a single song).
What are a few game soundtracks that you really appreciate, that have maybe taught you something about composing music for games?
I feel like I’ve learned a lot about composing game music from the Chrono Cross and Secret of Mana soundtracks, as well as NES Capcom games (the original Mega Man series, some of the old licensed Disney titles, like Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers and DuckTales). I’ve always been impressed by how composers of the NES era were able to create tracks that had a simple and catchy melody, yet a really complex arrangement beneath it. They did so much with so little, in terms of technology, and I think that’s why people are still listening to—and remixing—those soundtracks. Gravity Man’s music from Mega Man 5 does some crazy complex stuff!