Score of Tsushima: The Soundtrack of Ghost of Tsushima

Hey everyone, along with the rest of Sucker Punch, I am SO thrilled that Ghost of Tsushima will be in your hands soon. A lot of people have been asking about the game’s soundtrack and it is something the whole studio is really excited to share, so I wanted to talk a little bit about the music, the composers, and the process of creating this amazing score.

As is customary, when we first started fleshing out the world of Ghost of Tsushima, we would pull temporary music from film, TV, and other games that inspired us and presented the feeling and tone we were after. There were two composers whose work really stood out that we kept coming back to as we fleshed out more of the world and the story — Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru “Ume” Umebayashi. As we continued to be moved by their music during early development, we knew we wanted both of them to compose for Ghost.

You may be wondering why we chose to have two composers score the game. First off, Ghost of Tsushima is BIG. There is a lot of content and we knew we would need a lot of music to fill the world and support the evolution of Jin’s journey from samurai to the Ghost. Secondly, when done properly, having multiple voices sculpting the score can weave a more diverse and elaborate musical tapestry for the game’s story and action to sit upon. Ilan and Ume both brought something very special to the score that we used to craft the emotional backbone of the entire world: from the story to combat to exploring the island.

In our very first prototype, we created a small mission where you got on a horse, rode across a scenic expanse, and fought a mongol warlord inside a Japanese fort. We used a track from one of Ilan’s film scores for the horse ride section and the entire studio reacted to it electrically. This relatively mundane action took on an epic, emotional quality in large part due to this beautiful piece of music. Ilan has written scores for movies including Coriolanus, 47 Ronin, and Stardust, video games like The Sims franchise, and other cool projects including the European Space Agency’s Principia mission. The thing that struck us about his music was its strong melodic content and often unique instrumentation choices. We knew our score had to be heavily melodic and emotional to properly convey the story of Jin Sakai and the people of Tsushima, so Ilan seemed like a natural fit. We asked him to focus on crafting the character melodies and themes, and he immediately immersed himself in traditional Japanese instruments and musical scales. 

To tell you more about his music, we wanted to invite Ilan to share some words about his creative process in composing for Ghost: 

From the first moment of the first meeting, I realised that Ghost was about a very powerful emotional journey. The team at Sucker Punch and PlayStation were inspiring and generous with their creativity so I immediately knew that I was going to love working on the game.

Jin’s theme, “The Way of the Ghost,” was one of the very first pieces I wrote. Usually productions are ready for music after everyone else has been working on the game. As much as you might understand the story, it always takes time to really get under the skin and appreciate the depth of well written characters and story. While some of my first sketches evolved, this theme really stuck. It’s all about how the people of Tsushima see him. He is their hero: strong, infallible, inspiring and full of hope, but what really fascinated me about Jin is the contrast of what is going on inside him. In order to save his home and the people he loves he must go against everything he was taught to believe in and break the code of the Samurai. Throughout the game, Jin is a character in deep emotional conflict and this, above all else, is what drew me to Ghost.

The historical setting is fascinating. I began to study ancient Japanese music, folk songs, court music, sacred music and taiko, as well as the different pentatonic scales used in Japanese music. It is a very rich world full of a lifetime’s worth of exploration. In the game’s score I used Shakuhachi, Koto, Shamisen, Taiko Drums and Chants, and my favourite discovery, Biwa. The Biwa is an instrument that Samurai used to play and the art of it was almost lost — there are now only a few players in the world! Luckily, I was able to find one of them to play on Ghost. It’s a really special sound and you can hear it on “The Heart of the Jito.” 

I wanted to create an emotional world that would not only support the narrative and action beats of the game, but I hope it also completely draws the player into the heart and soul of Jin’s emotional journey.    

Taiko ensemble – Photo by Peter Scaturro

As for Shigeru Umebayashi, his catalogue of work is too immense to list, but some of his scores include House of Flying Daggers, True Legend, and The Grandmaster. What we continually got when pulling from Ume’s past scores was that sense of place. His music helped transport us back in time and halfway across the globe. It was truly magical and we knew that we really wanted him to help craft the sonic landscape of our world. We asked Ume to start sketching some themes focusing on the natural beauty of the world we were building. He really dug into the emotional arc of the world and developed a suite of themes based on some key words which were representative of the gamut Jin would experience: Serenity, Occupation, Exile, Haunting, and Sanctuary.

To share a little bit more about how he approached the themes for the open world, here is Ume:

I was born in Kita-Kyushu city, which is physically close to the island of Tsushima.  However, I have never been there personally, and I was not very familiar with the history of Tsushima before working on this game. Having joined this project, I think it would be a great opportunity to visit.

When I was composing music for the game, I was inspired by Japan’s nature, climate, traditional lifestyle, and classical Japanese music. My compositions feature various Japanese instruments, including shakuhachi, koto, and Japanese taiko.  But the instruments are nothing without the players.  For me, I view musicians as crucial avatars of myself. They materialize the music that I envision and want to tell, delivering it to the listeners.  Without this collaboration, I would merely be a street musician who nobody listens to.    

When listeners hear the music for the game, I hope that they feel the hearts of the people of Tsushima – those who love the land, living and plowing with the natural bounties it offers, and those of the warriors who take their katanas and follow the way of the samurai.

Recording at Abbey Road Studios – Photo by Peter Scaturro

Recording was truly a global undertaking, combining input from the composers, Sucker Punch and PlayStation’s internal music department. We recorded strings and brass in London at Abbey Road and Air Studios in addition to soloists and traditional Japanese instruments like koto and shakuhachi. We recorded additional solo traditional instruments including shamisen, percussion and shakuhachi and a taiko ensemble in Tokyo, as well as Buddhist monks from the Honjyuji and Myounji temples who provided chanting for the score. In Los Angeles, we were fortunate enough to enlist the talents of famed Tuvan musician Radik Tyulyush to record Mongolian chants and traditional instruments, and Doctor Osamu Kitajima helped us with recording even more Japanese solo instruments including biwa.

Shamisen, Sound City, Tokyo – Photo by Peter Scaturro

The last steps were for our wizards on the music team to take the score and deconstruct it into layered chunks which they then implemented into our music system to handle playback in-game based on player action, difficulty, and intensity.

The end result is a powerful, evocative score that brings to life the world of 13th century Tsushima and Jin’s difficult path from samurai to Ghost. Check out the short excerpts below and we really look forward to bringing you the rest of the score and the game on July 17. 

The official game soundtrack will be released by Milan Records on July 17 on all digital platforms and as a two-CD set. You can pre-order here, and all pre-orders of the digital soundtrack include an instant download of the track, “The Way of the Ghost (feat. Clare Uchima).” A vinyl edition will be coming in the future.

Thank you for reading and listening. We hope to share more exciting details about the sound of Ghost of Tsushima in the future! 

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