Clock Tower 20th Anniversary Sound Collection: Interview with Hifumi Kono, Koji Niikura and Kaori Takazoe (2016)

*Taken from the leaflet included with the Clock Tower 20th Anniversary Sound Collection

The ‘Human’ approach to Sound in Horror

In the midst of silence, the solemn sounds of footsteps echo in the distance. A shiver-inducing melody begins to quietly creep in. This atmosphere is conveyed expertly within the sound and music of ‘Clock Tower’. The audio amplifies the terror being brought about by such a production, inviting you into the abyss of the game’s world and in the process creating a psychological horror which surpasses its own horror film roots. But how did this audio come to be?


Hifumi Kono

Kono joined Human Entertainment in 1992, where he directed the first Clock Tower and its sequel, as well as supervising other projects. After working at Human, he moved into independent development, directing games such as Steel Battalion (Capcom, 2005). Currently CEO of Nude Maker, Kono is putting all of his effort into the spiritual successor to Clock Tower, Nightcry.  

Koji Niikura

Niikura joined Human Entertainment in 1992, working in the sound department of the development team and handling sound production for over 20 different projects. He was the main composer for the Clock Tower series. Afterwards, he worked for AKI Corporation (currently known as syn Sophia Inc.) and Sony Computer Entertainment, where amongst other work he created the PSP startup sound. He is currently working freelance.

Kaori Takazoe

Takazoe joined Human Entertainment in 1994. She was in charge of sound effects for the first two Clock Tower games, and was the main composer for Clock Tower: Ghost Head. Since then she has worked freelance, contributing music to numerous titles such as Meteos (DS) and Hizumi no Kuni no Alice (Mobile).

Clock Tower: The Untold Origins

Kono: Niikura-san and I joined Human Entertainment around the same time, in 1992. I had just graduated from university.

Niikura: I graduated from the Human Creative School (1), and have been close to the company ever since.

Takazoe: I joined Human about 2 years after them, and had already been working in the games industry beforehand. I loved using synthesisers, and had studied the usage of them at technical college.

-When you joined Human Entertainment, what sort of things did you initially work on?

Niikura: The Creative School graduates got together to create ‘Septentrion’ and ‘Dragon’s Earth’. I was in charge of the BGM for both, which was how I drifted into that side of the industry.

Kono: I rather suddenly ended up working as a director, no later than in the second half of my first year. My directorial debut was with ‘Human Grand Prix 2’. Working on this game was also the first time I got to hear Niikura-san’s music. Following that, we made ‘Human Grand Prix 3’, after which the development team voiced their dissatisfaction with not being able to work on something more original, which is why I began working on a proposal for ‘Clock Tower’.

Takazoe: That was a little while before I joined the company. My first job was contributing a couple of songs to ‘Formation Soccer On J League’ for the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16).

Niikura: At that time, making use of the PC Engine’s sound quality was the best way for an industry newcomer to get noticed.

-Next, please tell us about the creation of Clock Tower. At the time, the survival horror genre had been popularised by the Alone in the Dark series, but the market for such games was still young.

Kono: I didn’t think my first attempt at a game would be a match for Alone in the Dark. The planning team learned about numerous point-and-click games, and it became clear that the genre’s mechanics were present in more Western games compared to Japanese games. There was a significant amount of opposition to using a point-and-click system during the planning stage, with worries that it couldn’t be used to make a particularly interesting game.

-When you proposed the game, did you already have a clear idea of its direction?

Kono: I did, the game’s features and content was completely decided on. I had already written the RSI System (Renda Sezuni wa Irarenai / Panic System) as well.

-Regarding the game’s horror value, the graphics really stood out in terms of creating the right atmosphere.

Kono: I had confidence in the head of the graphics team, who had experience as an anime background artist, to take charge of visuals. Much like with animated films, he would make requests about what kind of theme should be conveyed by the colours and underlying tones in each and every background. However, the amount of detail put into the backgrounds was challenging the system’s capacity, which the programmers started to complain about (laughs).

-Regarding the audio, how set in stone was the sound direction during the proposal stage?

Kono: Not very. Since I didn’t have any talent or experience with music myself, I left that work up to the others. Letting the Human sound team take care of things was perfectly fine.

Niikura: At the very first meeting, Kono-san gave me a Goblin (2) CD, saying he wanted a similar sound style to that.

Kono: Besides that, we didn’t have anything else to work from (laughs). Since we obviously didn’t want to plagiarise, we asked for a broader idea of what he wanted.

Niikura: At first I watched Phenomena (3), which was one of Kono-san’s inspirations for the game. The crashing, metallic music of that film left me uncertain about it, however, and it didn’t end up being much of a useful influence (laughs).

Kono: Yes, Phenomena wasn’t much of an inspiration in the music department (laughs). Despite this, I did wish for Goblin’s music from another film, Suspiria (4), to be a guideline for the feel of both this and Clock Tower 2’s soundtracks.

Niikura: I think the main theme of Suspiria was very well done. I felt the same about the theme used for The Exorcist, ‘Tubular Bells’. When it comes to horror films, those themes are some of the first to come to mind, so I thought that we should aim for that kind of thing. The first theme I worked on was the main theme; by focusing on making that as good as possible at first, the later work would fall into place much more easily. After that, I remember working on one of Scissorman’s themes.

Clock Tower’s musical roots

-Niikura-san, Takazoe-san, please tell us about your musical background.

Niikura: For 10 years, starting when I was a child, I played classical piano. In highschool I got an MSX and everyday I would listen to and play game music by ear, occasionally making my own pieces too. Afterwards I joined the company through the Creative School, but at that point I had never actually studied music theory. I was over 30 when I first began studying it properly (laughs). Honestly, when I was working on the Clock Tower series, I still didn’t really know how music theory worked.  

Kono: What!? (laughs)

Niikura: I would work off of my own intuition, thinking ‘this sounds pretty close to Goblin’s music, right?’ and going ahead with it (laughs). I had watched a lot of films as a kid, and I think that experience helped me comprehend and apply the right sense of drama. I didn’t go anywhere near a theory book at the time.

-Really? How about you, Takazoe-san?

Takazoe: Since I was a kid I had played the electronic organ, and in addition to performing I began to develop my composition ability. When I was a high school student I bought a synthesiser, and would tap out compositions every day. A lot of my work was techno-themed, so I really liked the sound quality of synths. I bought a V-50 (5) and got into FM (Frequency Modulation). I loved game music in particular, so when I saw a job advert from Human about recruiting an FM manager I thought ‘This is it!’. In reality when I joined the company I did much more PCM (Pulse-Code Modulation) than FM work, but I grew to enjoy working out what I could accomplish within these tough limits.

-At the time of developing Clock Tower, what difficulties did you come across?

Niikura: I can’t remember having much trouble myself (laughs). There was one thing that comes to mind. I was naturally concerned about the limitations of the Super Famicom, but I understood the console’s capacity well and was able to calculate how much space each song would need in order to fit. 

Takazoe: For me, I had to put a lot of effort into expressing the game’s world through the sound effects. Awareness of Niikura-san’s music was important for this too. I had to think about the synergy between the sound effects and music as they overlapped, and issue precise instructions to the programmers to ensure that the sound was correctly integrated with the game.

The Sound of the Sequels

-Now, let’s talk about Clock Tower 2. Niikura-san, you continued to work as the main composer on this title, isn’t that right? 

Niikura: This time, instead of Goblin’s work, I looked to my prior work on Clock Tower as a greater influence on this game’s music, thinking about what ideas I could develop further.

-Yes, there are a couple updated versions of old songs in this game.

Niikura: While there are enough different types of music to set it apart from the original Clock Tower, I also worked out ways to bring back old songs and develop them in different ways as they progressed. For the first game, since there were more limits which reduced the amount of songs that could be implemented I had to make the songs as minimal as possible, whereas with 2 I was able to make more subtle changes.

-Another aspect of 2 being more cinematic was the vast increase in voice acting.

Kono: Jennifer’s voice actress had a stronger accent than expected. The way she speaks to and about Nolan comes off as more sexual than it was meant to, almost making her sound like Fujiko Mine (laughs). As well as that, I remember there was the fairy tale sung by children. Helen’s voice actress was unwilling to do it, saying she ‘couldn’t sing this kind of cruel song’. I think it seems more graphic to native speakers than to us.

-Following on from this, we got Clock Tower: Ghost Head. What was the development of that like?

Kono: I had no hand in Ghost Head’s development. The company had asked for a continuation, but I had no more material for another game (laughs). I said it was ‘impossible!’, and Yutaka Hirata (6), a mid-career hire, took my place as the new director. Once that was decided, I didn’t want to get in the way of things so I told him to ‘do whatever you like’ with the game.

-It was here that Takazoe-san took over as head of BGM as well.

Niikura: It was very shortly before I resigned from Human, so I only helped with a few songs.

-There was more percussive music than beforehand, which really shook up the mood of the game compared to its predecessors.

Takazoe: Due to the heavy focus on story, I stuck to having film-style music. The increase in percussive music was to fit the greater amount of action used this time. For the more scary and mysterious parts, I took inspiration from both Goblin’s music and Niikura-san’s previous work.

-What with the huge amount of voice-acting, this game bears similarity to an anime.

Takazoe: I worked together with Hirata-san on direction for the voice recordings.

Nikura: I was around when Takazoe-san was directing, she was very strict (laughs). Since binaural recording (7) was also being done, the voice actors had to move to different positions while recording. When Akio Ootsuka, Saidou’s voice-actor, was recording, Takazoe-san had him do retakes over and over again.

Kono: That’s incredible. There’s no way I could direct somebody so famous like that (laughs).

Niikura: But Ootsuka-san was very into it as well. He would say things like ‘Let’s go one more time!’ and ‘Is this any better?’. It was truly an unforgettable experience.


(1) Human Creative School

Launched in 1990, it was the very first Games Development specialist school of its kind. Established at Human’s head office in Kichijoji, many Human employees worked as lecturers there as it grew.  

(2) Goblin

Italian progressive rock band formed in 1972.

(3) Phenomena

1984 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento.

(4) Suspiria

1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento.

(5) V -50

FM music workstation synthesiser released by Yamaha in 1989.  

(6) Yutaka Hirata

Best known for his work on ‘Dark Half’ (Enix) and ‘Art Camion Sugorokuden’ (Affect).

(7) Binaural Recording

Making use of ‘dummy head recording’, using two microphones to create a more realistic quality of sound to the listener.


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