He is known as the self-titled Corgi King on the Internet and officially as the Editor-in-Chief of Destructoid, but you can now add another title to Dale North’s resume: videogame music composer.
North is no stranger to music, having done a fair assortment of arrangements for OverClocked ReMix over the years. His biggest breakout to original game scoring came last year with the release of Dragon Fantasy Book II, a 2013 indie RPG developed by Muteki Corporation for PlayStation 3 and Vita that serves as a throwback to classic 90s JRPGs. The digital and physical versions of the official soundtrack were released via Scarlet Moon Records in early January.
Since his busy schedule involves constantly traveling all around the world, he needed to get a little inventive with managing his time composing the soundtrack. This included drilling a hole into a miniature keyboard that he could in his carry-on luggage so that he could write during a flight.
Curious about how one manages to juggle a big-name gaming site with composing and remixing videogame music, I decided to reach out to the traveling composer/editor to find out a little more about his work.
How did you come to be the composer for Dragon Fantasy Book II?
I met [Dragon Fantasy Book II creator] Adam Rippon at PAX East — we were both panelists at the event. Coming off of some musical work for the last Penny Arcade RPG, I told Adam that I was dying to do an entire score for an RPG. Luckily, he had one in the works.
Did you have any involvement in the game’s development aside from the music?
I only provided music.
I sensed a tinge of Dragon Quest’s “Intermezzo” in the opening menu track, “Onward to Adventure.” Are there any other particular videogame scores that you were inspired by? What about non-gaming related ones?
My head is a swirling mess of videogame music, so I’d expect that if one listened close enough, dozens of nods to my favorite soundtracks and composers would be found. While I never sought out to match the sound of any one videogame song, I thought about a lot of my favorite JRPG series soundtracks and tried to incorporate their feel into Dragon Fantasy Book II’s soundtrack. I kept my focus on sounding something like a blend of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Secret of Mana, but I can’t shake my love for Yasunori Mitsuda’s works, like Chrono Trigger and Xenogears.
What were your main musical tools when crafting this soundtrack?
I have a project studio with several synths, rack mount gear, and software packages, and all were used, though I prefer to write away from any musical instruments, while walking around. The main themes were written this way, and they were sort of applied to styles later in the studio.
Were you given any specific direction with the soundtrack or did the developers give you free reign?
I was pretty much free to do what I wanted, but I think I work better under some kind of guidance, so I continually asked for preferences. I hope I didn’t annoy with my constant requests.
One can pick up on a recurring leitmotif within the first couple of tracks. How challenging was it to come up with a general melody that could be applied to the various tracks in the game?
I wrote several themes to fit into the game’s many scenes, and I crafted specifically so that they would be easy to modify for whatever use was needed.
There’s a really neat, almost vocal-sounding effect in the track “Ramblin’ Rock.” I was curious to know how that effect was achieved.
I ran guitars through a wah pedal simulation that I could control digitally. By assigning it to one of my synth’s mod wheels, I was able to track the part and modify it at the same time.
Like many game music fans, I have a specific fascination with battle themes in RPGs. What was your approach when crafting them for Dragon Fantasy Book II?
I too love battle themes, but I tend to gravitate towards the odd ones over your standard rocking beat. Left to my own preferences, I think my battle tracks would be slower and more ambient. Because of this, I asked for specific guidance on how the battle themes in Dragon Fantasy Book II should feel. That kind of driving rock sound was the guidance, so I stuck to that mostly. “Anesidora’s Lament” was the only exception to that. I kind of ignored the guidance and went with a feeling, hoping they would like it.
What’s your favorite JRPG battle theme of all time?
“Fuse” from Xenogears.
You have the rare privilege of being a part of both sides of the spectrum in the videogame industry. Not only have you appeared on the credits list of a videogame, but you’re also the Editor-in-Chief of Destructoid. When it comes to both working on games and covering them, how do you divorce the two? Do you find that to be a challenge?
I’ve only contributed to three games so far, and only two of them took place during the time I’ve been running Destructoid, so it hasn’t been much of an issue yet. I’ve had to clarify both times that my outlet will not review the game I’m working on. There hasn’t been an issue with this yet, thankfully.
Before setting out on this path, I talked to a few of my respected peers and sought guidance. All of them seemed to agree that if I steered clear of review, there wasn’t much to worry about. I’m glad that it has been fine so far as I’m quite happy playing on both sides of the fence.
Finally, what other projects do you have lined up?
I am contributing music to two more videogames this year. It’s too early to be able to talk about either, but I’m very excited for both.
I’m also releasing both original and arranged music on a monthly basis — one each. My YouTube channel will have all of my videogame arrangements, and iTunes, Amazon, and other digital music stores will have my original songs. At the end of the year I will release a collection of my original releases as well.
Finally, I’m currently seeking more videogame music work.