An interview with Tomoya Ohtani

Tomoya Ohtani is a sound composer for SEGA. He produced soundtracks for multiple Sonic the Hedgehog games.


Sonic Forces’ identity can be attributed, in a big part, to its musical direction. What was your inspiration for the synth-based soundtrack?

A large part of the reason that the songs feature a lot of synthesizers is from the story where the plot revolves around the power of the Phantom Ruby. Another reason would be the characteristics of the Avatar character. His / Her customizable features in the game led me to an image of “Composed with various parts = Not sounds performed by instruments, but more dance music like approach”.

Further, there was the appearance of Classic Sonic in game. As the recent Classic Sonic appearance in Sonic Mania was accompanied by a refined synth sound, I limited the music in Forces to use only FM used in the Genesis (Mega Drive), and teamed up with a composer well versed in this area, Hataya Naofumi, whom knows very well about the past.

The (Modern) Sonic stages are recorded with a live band, but partially integrate synth melodies and sequences. I felt this sound fit the story more, with a sense of urgency in the trance type synth sound, rather than with a guitar playing the melody. I composed “Sunset Heights” first as a template of sorts. The main theme “Fist Bump” and Infinite’s theme “Infinite” are played by a live band, but have synth sounds integrated as accents. I felt that this would present more of a modern rock sound.

On the topic of Sonic Forces’ musical direction, the amount of vocal tracks in the game is quite large compared to previous entries. How did the decision come around to make the Avatar stages’ music vocal-centric?

Avatar has no dialogue, and doesn’t speak in game, but his / her emotions change as the story progresses. I felt that it would be interesting to let these changes be expressed in the vocal parts of the Avatar stage soundtrack. This approach may be similar to the Rap parts in the Knuckles stages for Sonic Adventure 2.

Also, I felt that these fragmented vocal parts would be a good match in the Drum’n Bass, EDM type music in the Avatar stages.

An acrylic keychain of Tomoya Ohtani. (Booth.pm)

Sonic Runners’ soundtrack is a personal favorite of mine. Was your approach to composing music for a mobile game different than from a console game?

There are many personal favorites in the Sonic Runners soundtrack for me too. Since Sonic Runners was a mobile game, it was decided to be more casual and approachable, and more pop oriented band sound that fits Sonic well. I remember having simple fun when producing them.

The big difference with console games is that, since it is a live service with seasonal events, the songs are not produced in one big batch, but are finished one by one, incorporating feedbacks including ones from SNS users too.

I think “Spring Emotions” from the Easter event, and “End of the summer” for the summer event, really captured a Japanese pop sound, and I’m happy that overseas fans liked it as well.

Your compositions for Sonic Adventure 2’s Knuckle stages are some of the highlights in that soundtrack. Were you asked to compose these tracks for the purpose of having Hunnid-P rap along to the music, or was the decision to introduce rap to the songs made after you composed the music?

The sound tracks for the Knuckles stages in Sonic Adventure 2 was my first job as a composer for the Sonic Series. Production started after agreement of an initial pitch I made to the development team to have rap in the stage songs. The songs were created first, and through a coordinator looking for a rap artist, we were able to meet Hunnid-P.

Tomoya Ohtani pictured in a recording studio in 2000 alongside Naofumi Hataya. (Tomoya Ohtani)

Many fans would love to hear instrumental renditions of your compositions in Sonic Adventure 2, especially since A Ghost’s Pumpkin Soup’s instrumental was released via Sonic Runners. Would the release of official instrumental versions be viable in the near future?

I do notice there are many requests like that, but there are no plans as of now.

Sonic The Hedgehog (2006)’s soundtrack is quite a showstopper, mostly due to the sheer variety of musical themes. What was composing for that game like compared to, say, Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Heroes?

At the time, Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) was the first title in the series aimed toward a next generation console (PS3, XBOX360), and there was call for large scale differences to be made also in terms of music. There I was assigned as the sound director for the first time.

I remember in the initial phases of the project, Yuji Naka, the founder of the series was still at Sega, and he suggested an epic, heavy soundtrack like in a Hollywood movie. I was thinking that the soundtrack should be an extension of what the series had built upon, but introduce new elements and impact, and epic scale.

Tomoya Ohtani in a concert in 2012. (Twitter)

Speaking of Sonic The Hedgehog (2006), His World is one of many main vocal themes you’ve composed throughout the years. Is there any specific vocal theme you have the fondest memories of composing?

“His World” was difficult in it’s conception, going through numerous trial and errors. On the other hand, the theme song for Sonic Unleashed, “Endless Possibility” came to me through an intro guitar phrase, then was just finished itself to the end of the song. My style of composing theme songs always incorporates a different singer every time, so every time is full of refreshing memories.

While the first entry in the Sonic Rush series had Hideaki Naganuma as the music composer, Sonic Rush Adventure had you take the helm. Was it difficult to compose music in a similar style to Mr. Naganuma’s?

The sound track for Sonic Rush Adventure was done by several composers including myself. The “Naganuma sound” in Sonic Rush was very impressionable, but there were no propositions to create similar music in Sonic Rush Adventure.

Like Naganuma, a big part of my musical influence comes from the sampling music like Hip Hop, House, Breakbeats, Drum’n Bass etc. and the Bigbeat movement and dance music of the time, represented by the likes of Fatboy Slim.

A recording studio that Ohtani-san worked in, pictured in 2019. (Twitter)

To create beats, I used AKAI MPC2000 or E-mu Sp1200 which I owned, so while preserving the flow of the Rush series, I felt free to add the essence of what I like, and felt no stress in composing. “Sky Babylon” and “Blizzard Peaks” are some of my favorites. I like, “A NEW VENTURE (Surfin’S.R.A Remix) too. The difficulty in composing came from the data size limitation for the Nintendo DS.

Expect more to come in the future for Sonic series music!

Tomoya Ohtani

In terms of sound, Sonic Lost World’s soundtrack sounds extremely vibrant and colorful. Would you say you had the most fun composing Lost World’s soundtrack? Or does that description fit another video game soundtrack you’ve composed?

For Sonic Lost World, I prepared a lot of colorful music unrestrained by genre, themed with a pop instrumental sound. I made quite a variety of songs based on the stage atmosphere, the game play, and level design. I was surprised myself that I would compose a tango (“Mindnight Owl”) or a 3 beat waltz (“Snowball Waltz”) for the Sonic series. Rarely seen instruments such as steel pan drums are used and recorded too.

A badge donning a drawing of Tomoya Ohtani. (Twitter)

For any game title, I either set a theme so I can have fun composing and/or design a creative approach to the music, so I don’t think I can name a single tile for this question.

Lastly, if there was one video game composer you’d most like to work with in the future, who would it be?

Recently I played DELTARUNE Chapter 1 on Nintendo Switch, and like UNDERTALE, the music was fantastic; I would like to rearrange music composed by Toby Fox. Talking about collaboration, I made an arrangement of Splatoon’s “Bomb Rush Blush” in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so if you haven’t heard that yet make sure to check that out.


This interview was originally published by EmerlForgotten on 16 March 2019.

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