This is the first entry of a new regular item on Minus World, ‘Career Spotlight’. In this monthly feature you’ll get an opportunity to learn about the unsung heroes who have been responsible for some of your favourite titles, often working behind the scenes and in many instances overlooked for the fantastic work they have contributed to the gaming industry. Composers, artists, developers and many more will all be given the spotlight here so you can discover more about their careers, projects and stories. Please enjoy!
Association: Nintendo EAD Sound Group
Whilst it is unclear exactly how many games Nintendo’s EAD Sound Group have worked on, it’s easy to understand through listening to many of the fantastic pieces of music found in Nintendo titles, especially those developed by the EAD division, that it is home to some truly talented composers. Despite having only joined Nintendo in 2003, Asuka Hayazaki (often credited for her earlier works with her maiden name, Asuka Ohta) is such a composer, having already left her mark on the company’s history of remarkable music with some unique and memorable soundtracks.
When it comes to music, Hayazaki is easily what you would consider to be well-versed; playing a variety of different instruments and having taken part in a number of different bands over the years, as well as dabbling in a wide selection of musical genres ranging from techno to classical, which she was trained in whilst attending university, it’s no surprise that Koji Kondo himself was impressed by her knowledge and experience, leading to her recruitment into the EAD Sound Group in 2003.
Working closely with Kondo, Hayazaki’s Nintendo musical debut would come in the form of 2004’s The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, the multiplayer-focused GameCube Zelda spin-off title that made use of the Nintendo GameCube-Game Boy Advance Link Cable. The game’s soundtrack featured a mixture of original compositions and a variety of arrangements of tracks from Kondo’s 1991 score for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Many of Hayazaki’s tracks carry a distinct orchestral flair that combines both the powerful, memorable sounds of Kondo’s original themes with a more playful overtone that meshes perfectly with Four Swords Adventures‘ more lighthearted themes, as expected from a title that focuses on creating a fun multiplayer experience as opposed to the often heavy-handed and dramatic story found in mainline Zelda titles. One of the most notable Hayazaki compositions from Four Swords Adventures is ‘The Village of the Blue Maiden‘, an upbeat arrangement of Kondo’s unforgettable ‘Kakariko Village‘ theme from A Link to the Past that makes creative use of heavy percussion and brass, contrasting heavily but brilliantly from the slower and more relaxed tones of Kondo’s original. The song’s fast, playful nature made it a brilliant asset on its appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s ‘Pirate Ship’ stage, a chaotic yet colourful venue that suits such a track perfectly.
After thoroughly impressing with her work on Zelda, Hayazaki’s next project was 2005’s Yoshi Touch & Go alongside Nintendo veterans Toru Minegishi and Kazumi Totaka. Hayazaki worked to create a variety of fluffy, lighthearted and cheerful compositions well suited to a Yoshi game, again working on arrangements of some well-known Nintendo classics, for instance Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island‘s ‘Athletic‘, a fast-paced track created to suit more energetic stages that Hayazaki has given a calmer, almost tropical spin in comparison to the original. However, as opposed to her work on Four Swords Adventures, Hayazaki was given greater freedom to experiment with brand new compositions to suit the DS title, including a brand new version of the ‘Flower Garden‘ theme that took the same name as a song featured in the original, albeit with a completely different sound. Hayazaki was invited to re-arrange this particular track for Super Smash Bros. Brawl (featured above) making use of the Wii’s greater sound capability in comparison to the DS’ basic audio to transform the track into one considerably more jazzy and better suited to a fighting game.
The DS would provide a fruitful system for Hayazaki, giving her an opportunity to work with new and old franchises alike; her music reached a wider audience thanks to her work composing for games in the Touch! Generations series such as Nintendogs (with the above track, arranged by Hayazaki, featured on a special Club Nintendo CD featuring both original and arranged music from various Touch! Generations games) and soon after she would receive the prestigious appointment to serving as Kazumi Totaka’s assistant on the composition for Animal Crossing: Wild World, the Animal Crossing series’ first portable instalment; her ability to adapt to the series’ individual yet memorable style that focuses on literally being ‘background music’, serving as a soothing backdrop to your gentle daily escapades, suggests a great level of musical competency.
However, Hayazaki’s crowning achievement on the DS would come in the form of her work on 2006’s New Super Mario Bros., the 2D Mario revival that would go on to take its place as one of the best-selling games of all time, her music heard by over 30 million people worldwide. As evidenced by a 2005 interview with her on the Nintendo website, Hayazaki is a self-professed Mario fan, having appreciated Koji Kondo’s music for the Famicom original when playing it in her youth – she even talks of how she had recorded the game’s music from her TV set, unaware at the time that there was such as thing as a soundtrack! With this in mind and working under the supervision of Kondo himself, she set out to create an original score for the game that would invoke a similar feeling in its players to that felt by her and many others back in 1983. Whilst many may remember the soundtrack of the New series, something for which Hayazaki likely set the tone with her work, for its simple style and its peculiar use of sound effects that have caused a divide in opinion amongst Mario music fans, the game features a number of overlooked tracks that do succeed in invoking emotion and carry with them a level of charm and quality not unlike the music found in the soundtracks of critically acclaimed titles such as Super Mario 64. Notable pieces from this collection include ‘World 7 (Clouds)‘, a map theme that serves as an idyllic ‘calm before the storm’ in the game’s gradual path towards Mario’s toughest challenge, Bowser himself. The fast-paced, mesmerising beats of ‘Flowing Lava‘ are again perfectly suited to their environment, matching up with the tricky jumps and frantic dashes to avoid stages with fast-rising lava; game sound effects are even mixed in to great effect, presenting a slightly different style to what you’d expect from your conventional volcanic game world. With New Super Mario Bros. turning 15 years old this year, it’s interesting to think that the game’s overworld theme, ‘Walking the Plains‘ will one day likely invoke a similar nostalgia in today’s children to that invoked by the original ‘Ground Theme‘ in those who grew up with an NES controller in their hands.
Having established herself by this point as a highly competent composer well-suited to Nintendo’s diverse array of music, Hayazaki would go on to contribute to soundtracks on many high profile titles during the Wii era, such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, on which she co-composed various orchestral pieces, once again working with Toru Mingeishi. Hayazaki would serve as the sole composer for Wii Fit Plus, another best-selling title that made use of tone-setting music ideal for a lighthearted and accessible experience. Her work on 2008’s Mario Kart Wii alongside Ryo Nagamatsu a game that would take the prestigious crown of being the second best-selling game on the Wii only behind pack-in title Wii Sports, utilised a wide range of musical styles and instruments for a large number of original compositions, as well as arrangements on classic Mario Kart tunes. Hayazaki’s ‘SNES Ghost Valley 2‘ captures the unsettling yet atmospheric essence of the original track from Super Mario Kart, making creative use of the Wii’s more powerful musical capabilities to achieve a musical balance with sounds reminiscent of those produced by the SNES, albeit with entirely new instruments. Her heavy use of simulated organs and brass on ‘N64 Mario Raceway‘ again does a fantastic job at replicating an existing musical tone, in this case set by Kenta Nagata‘s original composition. However, Hayazaki’s original tunes stand out on their own, with her fresh take on the main menu theme (featured above) invoking a feeling of tension and preparedness through its gradual buildup, introducing quickening drum beats and a cutting piano melody as you reach the final stage of the track select screen and prepare to race. Hayazaki’s dabbling in techno clearly shows through in her fresh and energetic theme for the wintery ‘DK Summit‘, whilst in contrast, ‘Daisy Circuit‘ sets a more calming, autumnal tone through the creative use of airy piano sections and charming accordion riffs (this track would later go on to be re-arranged by the Sega Sound Team, giving it a distinctively more electronic and sporty overtones, whilst retaining Hayazaki’s distinct use of European-style accordions). It’s safe to say that both through arrangements of her tracks by other composers in later entries in the series, as well as in a stylistic sense, Hayazaki has strongly influenced the direction of music in the Mario Kart series, something that will likely remain present into the future of the franchise.
Hayazaki has continued her streak of excellent compositions into the current generation of consoles; she served as one of the lead composers on Super Mario 3D Land, working on a mixture of jazzy and more orchestral pieces that again set the tone for the 3D series of games, with some of her original themes such as ‘Snowball Park‘ from 3D Land receiving live orchestral covers upon returning for the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World. Her most recent projects include co-arranging the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD with the likes of Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai and newcomer Atsuko Ashai, updating the game’s instrument samples to give it a fresh yet faithful sound, contributing arrangements to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, specifically the series’ standout first re-arrangement of the ‘Sunrise & Onett‘ theme from EarthBound, putting a modern, upbeat spin on the familiar track whilst mixing in the iconic ‘Snowman‘ theme from the Mother series in her original composition ‘Onett Theme/Winters Theme‘ (featured above), as well as creating unique and quirky arrangements for Super Mario Maker‘s ‘Gnat Attack’ minigame, returning from 1992’s Mario Paint; working on such a title is surely a dream project for any self-professed Mario fan.
Twelve years on from her debut at Nintendo, it’s safe to say that Asuka Hayazaki has left her mark on the company’s fantastic musical catalogue. Her ability to effectively use a wide variety of styles and instruments in her compositions, as well as compose memorable, atmospheric tunes that keep the themes and settings of the games themselves in mind as much as they do the audio quality serve not only as testament to her remarkable talent and musical competency, but to the legacy she has created for herself at Nintendo; her compositions will no doubt continue to influence the tone and direction to be found in the work of the Nintendo composers of tomorrow. Hayazaki continues to be a key asset to Nintendo’s EAD Sound Group and likely will for many years to come.