Norihiko Hibino Interview: The Composer Talks About Why He Didnt Return For Bayonetta 3

"The production of Bayonetta 2 was quite tough for me"

Story Highlights

  • Norihiko Hibino is a Japanese video game composer.
  • He is well known for his works in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Yakuza 2, Bayonetta 2, and others.
  • We interviewed Norihiko Hibino over an email Q&A session.

Norihiko Hibino is a Japanese video game composer who’s been working in the gaming industry for over two decades. Starting his journey in 1999, Hibino has become well known for his work in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Yakuza 2, Bayonetta 2, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and many other titles.

After receiving critical acclamation for his contributions, the composer started his own company, GEM Impact, and since then, he and his team have exhibited their expertise on countless games, anime, and other projects, thereby elevating them to the next level thanks to the quality of music on display. 

While we’ve seen many video game composers come and go, Hibino remains fairly relevant in this sprawling industry. To learn more about his journey and experience from Japan to worldwide success, we spoke with the songsmith over an email interview

Norihiko Hibino
Norihiko Hibino During One of His Concerts – Image Credits: Norihiko Hibino Official Facebook.
You have said before that you didn't play many games as a kid, so what inspired you to pursue a career in music composition within the realm of video games?

Hibino: When I was at Berklee College of Music, I was lucky to be able to learn PC-based music production, as well as music synthesis and jazz composition. I thought the possibility of applying jazz composition skills to PC-based music production would be unlimited. Videogames would be the most challenging opportunity in terms of using and implementing live sounds, especially in PlayStation 2-era development.

Your compositions blend various genres and styles seamlessly due to the range of projects you have worked on. Could you tell us how you infuse your own personal style into each project?

Hibino: I listened to all kinds of music while I was a kid. Many vinyl records were in my house, from country western to classical music and jazz. All of these memories help me respond to a diverse range of requests concerning arrangement.

While recording for the Prescription for Peace Charity Album, you had temporary deafness in your left ear. How did you manage to work and deliver the album in such a short time?

Hibino: My left ear still cannot hear well; it feels like I am having a broken headset. So, I could not discern stereo sound and clipping noises. However, thanks to Frank van Ôt Ende, our great mastering engineer, I could rely on finishing the sound just right. Since I played all instruments (sax, piano, guitar), it was fast, as I remembered how I played one instrument and just followed the same flow in my second take on a different instrument.

Metal Gear Solid 2
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Was Released Over Two Decade Ago – Image Credits: Konami
Hibino Sound Therapy Lab focuses on using music as a tool for health and wellness. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind this initiative and how music can positively impact mental and emotional well-being?

Hibino: Music lives between the conscious mind and the unconscious soul. Our soul is originally empty, like a black hole, and we want to fill this hole by possessing whatever exists in this world. If they are from good spirits, such as love, caring for others, and doing something good for our society… then it really heals our whole self, but if the hole is filled by envy, anger, jealousy, or suspicion… then our whole self gets worse. Unfortunately, we do not realize what we are tied up in our soul, as it is in an unconscious state.

However, music helps us be in a better state by creating a bridge between the mind and soul.

Sometimes, the songs we know (such as game music arrangements) give comfort to our conscious mind and also help our soul when the music is played in peace, sincere prayer, love, etc. I’ve experienced this many times when we play therapeutic music at nursing homes and hospices in Japan. When the person’s body and mind are not so strong anymore, the soul can catch on to the music and be affected by the music more easily. When we deliver some peace through their well-known music, then that really gives them comfort, and sometimes that gives them readiness to leave this world.

You have collaborated with artists from various cultural backgrounds. How do these collaborations enrich your creative process, and what challenges do you face when blending different musical traditions?

Hibino: I have never experienced challenges in working in cultural versatilities. Rather, it is quite difficult within an environment of some fixed cultural traditions, such as religious gatherings, that reduce room for allowing people to be just as they are. The melting pot model is always a source of creation.

From the numerous video game soundtracks you have worked on, which ones hold a special place in your heart?

Hibino: Working with Koshiro Yuzo-san is always fun. His musical talent and versatility are always amazing. Also, the soundtrack of Go Vacation I created with Shinji Hosoe and the SuperSweep team was really fun, including all styles from Hawaiian, soul, funk, jazz, etc.

Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta 2 Was Highly Praised For Its Combat System – Image Credits: PlatinumGames
How was your experience working on the Metal Gear Solid series? Any instances or lessons from back then that have stuck with you? Especially alongside Harry Gregson-Williams, whom you have called your biggest mentor.

Hibino: Through my experiences with Hollywood, I really learned how to create “layers” in music. Since movie sound is always created in a 5.1 surround sound setting, even a simple drum loop or pad has to be multiple-layered so that some go to the subwoofer and some go to surround channels. That also creates “depth” on the screen.

Since most Japanese game soundtracks were based on a 2D approach at that time, where there was no depth, to me, that was a big challenge. I transcribed, programmed, and mixed Harry Gregson-Williams’s works so they can exactly sound the same. Those experiences gave me lots of insight.

Speaking of MGS, which game in the series is your favorite? And are you looking forward to Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater?

Hibino: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was my favorite. There were still some limitations with the hardware in the PlayStation 2 era, and not perfectly free, but that also gave us a lot of challenges. Utilizing and reusing sound samples and drum loops to create something different was fun.

Your work on Bayonetta 1 and 2 is unforgettable. Is there a reason why you didn't return for Bayonetta 3?

Hibino: The production of Bayonetta 2 was quite tough for me. PlatinumGames did a great job, but maybe I was not good enough to catch their whole concept.

As technology continues to evolve, how do you see the role of music in society and its potential to shape our experiences, whether in gaming or other forms of media?

Hibino: Anyone in any country can play music in some way. We can connect beyond our native language. We can even connect with the vibration the performer produces. This is something only living beings can do.

So, we want to be more careful when we produce sounds. How we think and how we create and perform music affects the whole environment around us. That even causes happiness, comfort, peace, and sometimes anger, hatred, or rage.

YouTube video

Norihiko Hibino hasn’t been as active in the gaming industry as during his prime, but he has left a great legacy that continues to inspire new composers and gives a whole new perspective on the compositional process. We thank Norihiko Hibino for answering our questions and Jayson Napolitano for helping us.

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Mudassir is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories behind our favorite virtual worlds. Armed with a trusty notepad and a keen curiosity, he dives headfirst into the gaming industry's most exciting personalities. His knack for insightful questions and his ability to connect with developers and gamers alike makes his interviews a must-read. While on the lookout for the next person to interview, Mudassir keeps himself busy by writing news surrounding the gaming universe. Experience: 4+ Years || Senior Journalist || Education: Bachelor's in Psychology.

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