Shota Nakama Interview: Bridging East and West

Shota Nakama’s Video Game Orchestra has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2008. Developing their so-called ‘rockestral’ sound, the group have performed numerous concerts, released a crowdfunded album, and even started their own recording division. Following a well-received performance at PAX East 2014, the Video Game Orchestra will next perform concerts at Boston on October 2 and Taipei on October 11.

In this second part of the interview, Nakama discusses his recent concerts, including why he has expanded the ensemble and how he approaches his arrangements. He also previews the upcoming Boston and Taipei shows, revealing special guests and set listings. In the first part, Nakama gave an insight into producing the soundtracks for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix.

Interview Credits

Interview Subject: Shota Nakama
Interviewer: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening
Editor: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening
Coordination: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening

Interview Content

Patrick: I recently attended your concert at PAX East. You went all out with this one in terms of having a choir, extra strings, etc. That really differs from last year where it was pretty much just the band. I wanted to ask you, how did that come about? Going forward, is that the kind of show you’re looking to put out, from now on?

Shota Nakama: My goal is always to make the group as big as possible. I love huge sounds. Just a rock band is not enough for me anymore, especially after doing all of those full orchestra shows. This year, I was thinking about how many people can I fit on this stage. Or how many people can I have on this stage without bothering other bands? We can do choir, because they just need stands, so you don’t have to do as many setups. But then I thought, “that’s not enough.” So, let’s have strings too. Because we pre-released our Live at Symphony Hall just for the PAX attendees, I wanted to give as big of an impact as the CD to the audience. It’s PAX, you’ve got to give them the best time. PAX has always been really, really nice to us and I’m thankful for that. This is a way for me to show my appreciation.


Patrick: A bit of a Linked Horizon influence, maybe? In terms of having a big set like that? I know they did that Bravely Default concert way back, and they just went all-out.

Shota Nakama: I actually didn’t know about the concert until recently, but this is the style I like. That’s why I do this.


Patrick: One of the highlights at PAX was your radical interpretation of Skyrim‘s “The Dragonborn Comes. What inspired this one?

Shota Nakama: In the game, it’s a very simple, kind of medieval song. And Malukah did an awesome cover version of it with acoustic guitar and vocals. But then I thought, let’s take it to the next… well, I wouldn’t say “next level” because her version is really awesome, but next “wall of epicness.” So we decided to make it into a gorgeous ten-minute epic, combining heavy metal stylings, strings and choir work, and even a dragon language theme, “Dovakhiin! Dovakhiin!” It was actually one of the guitar players who’s playing tonight with us requested it last year.


Patrick: In terms of set list selection, how do you go about deciding which games to cover for a show?

Shota Nakama: That’s a good question. For PAX, I take requests and people always come up and tell me “OK, I want to hear this and that.” So I take it into consideration. But certain pieces don’t really work well in our style, so unfortunately I can’t do those. Also, I have to decide pretty much everything, because I have to arrange all the songs. For fans reading this, if you can send me a message on Facebook or Twitter, I will actually read them. I listen to all the soundtracks, too.


Patrick: Even for games you’re not super familiar with?

Shota Nakama: Yeah. I mean, I haven’t even played Skyrim yet. There are so many games in my bookshelf. There’s so many games I haven’t even opened. I’m trying to finish them one by one, but some games take too long to finish.


Patrick: Any specific games you’re playing through right now?

Shota Nakama: I just finished the 3DS Zelda, A Link Between Worlds. I’m going to play Bravely Default, and then I’m going to go through the Tales titles. I have three Tales games that I haven’t finished on PS3. Also, there are so many games I’ve played up into a certain point and I stop playing, and I need to finish them. I used to do this weird habit of going up to the last boss, and I stop. I don’t know why I do that!


Patrick: Are there any particular game soundtracks that you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?

Shota Nakama: For the Video Game Orchestra, I’d love to do a lot more Western soundtracks than Japanese soundtracks. I mean, Japanese soundtracks are great, but there are as many great soundtracks in the West as well. So, I would love to start playing more of Skyrim, Halo, Warcraft, and things like that. I was talking to some Western composers at the PAX autograph session, and I told them “look, I would love to play your music”. Hopefully they’ll hook me up.


Patrick: I’m still holding out for a Breath of Fire medley. I hope it happens someday.

Shota Nakama: I did play the games. I played Breath of Fire II on Wii, and I beat the game on there too.


Patrick: What do you think of that English translation?

Shota Nakama: Honestly, I can do a better job. But it’s OK, the really wacky translations make many Japanese games stand out.


Patrick: Your next performance will be this Thursday (October 2) at the Berklee Performance Center. What can we expect from it?

Shota Nakama: Thanks for mentioning our Boston show. The biggest difference from our past show is that we are projecting the actual game footages for more than half of the concert. It took me a while but finally the companies are supporting us on that level — we are very happy about this because that means our show experience will be much more than before. We adjusted the tickets to be very affordable ($8 – $23) because Boston is a student city and Berklee Performance Center is really where things all started taking off. Also we would really like everyone to be able to come listen to great music! Here is the link to the ticketing site (please feel free to use the 10% discount code VGORocks).


Patrick: What can we expect from the music to be played on Thursday?

Shota Nakama: The concert will feature the music from Final Fantasy XIII, Kingdom Hearts, Mega Man 2, Dragons Dogma (world premiere!), God Eater 2, D4 (another world premiere!) and much other great video game music. The creator of D4, SWERY-san, will be attending the show and we will try to do something interesting.


Patrick: You’re also coming to Taiwan next month. Can you provide more details?

Shota Nakama: The Taiwan show is totally crazy. We are performing more or less the same setlist but with a bigger group… that is like over 100 musicians on stage! We are flying the core musicians and having a local orchestra and choir to join us. We will also have Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Shimomura, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masashi Hamauzu, SWERY, and Tadayoshi Makino as our special guests. It is going to be really great.There “were” 3000 seats but most of them are gone already. Thanks to the fantastic promoter we are working with. This will be such an amazing show – we will make sure to film it so everyone can watch.


Patrick: Thanks a lot, Shota for taking the time to do this interview. And rock out with VGO. Any final thoughts?

Shota Nakama: Come and see the show, and also check out our CD, awesome T-shirt and great designs. I think that is it! Thanks for the interview!

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on September 29, 2014.

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About the Author

I'm a Rutgers University graduate with aspirations of joining the game industry. I have a strong love for videogames and their music. When not serving as a contributing writer for Game Music Online and Gameranx, you'll see me working on my game music drum cover project "VGdrum" and managing my Breath of Fire Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube fan pages.

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