We’re barely four months into this year and we’ve already had a lot of great games come out, but among some of my favorites have been the recent Capcom releases of “Resident Evil 2” and “Devil May Cry 5.” During Wondercon weekend I had the opportunity to speak with composer Jeff Rona who worked on both games, so I obviously had to jump on it.
For “Devil May Cry 5” Jeff composed “Crimson Cloud”, the battle theme for V and then produced Dante’s battle theme “Subhuman.” Over on “Resident Evil 2” he produced the true ending song “Saudade.” During the interview we got to talking about the differences between creating music for a game versus working on television and film projects and how the respective songs were formed. Check it out below and thanks to Jeff Rona for taking the time to talk to us.
Jason: “So I know you come from mediums like TV and movies so when you go from that to video games, how do you approach that?”
Jeff Rona: “You know, ultimately music is music, right? And I get called upon to dive into something emotionally. When you’re working on a film, the film’s already finished. The scene is there. I’m there to guide the emotion of a scene, but there are edits and there’s dialog and it’s set. So, musically, I’m there to . . . my music has to take a shape that’s already been determined for me. With games, all of that loosens up. In a way it’s much more pure. I get to just write music that expresses something and it might be fear, dread, or action, or monsters, or winning, or losing, or might win/might lose. I don’t have to function at that level of where in seven seconds it’s gonna cut to the next moment so I have to stop there. You can get into little things cause it’s interactive. So the process is a little different, but it’s not as different as you might think.”
Jason: “So when you go into the process of “Devil May Cry 5,” for example, that’s an interesting game where you’ve got three main protagonists with Dante, Nero, and V and each one has their own aesthetic and style. So how do you reflect that in the music? Is that a challenge to come up with those three different ideas?
Jeff Rona: “Well there were three composers and each one did one character and then all the music related to that. Cutscenes, everything, came from the core of that character. So I produced the music for Dante and V, but I scored V in the form of a battle song called “Crimson Cloud.” And out of that spun two hours of music. Honestly, it was about contrast especially with Dante. Dante and Nero are both kind of rock. They’re badass. I mean, everyone is badass. It’s a game about a bunch of badasses battling other badasses and monsters. But musically there was a difference, especially between Dante who is just death metal hardcore and guitars, that kind of aggression. Whereas the character that I focused on, V, I made the decision: no guitars.”
“Number one was how am I gonna stay out of everyone else’s sonic world? So Casey [Edwards] and Nero had guitars, but a slightly different feel that’s not as aggressive and Dante was hyper-aggressive and guitar driven. I stayed away from that. I used a lot of electronics, synths, vocals, and distortion. I think the word we used was industrial, just because that felt like a really clear path. And I think it gives the game a lot more contrast and it makes the gameplay stronger.”
Jason: “When you approached V, did you see footage of him first or just concept art?”
Jeff Rona: “Oh man, I was given so little. I was given a two paragraph description of this character, cause unlike any other character from the game, this is a new character. He never had a theme before, so I was the only one that had a totally clean slate. But what I was given was a short email from the director saying ‘This is what I think V is about. V has this internal struggle, there’s a strong side and a weak side. And those two sides don’t so much fight each other as he needs both in order to survive. He needs a weak side and he needs a strong side, so think about that.’ So that was one thing. And then they sent me a one or two minute loop that was so badly rendered. He didn’t even have the cool clothes yet, just like kid’s stuff from Target. So it was just the beginnings, because this was a long time ago. This was like over a year ago that I got started, maybe a year and a half ago, that they started talking to me about it.”
“I was given a short clip of this character fighting a couple of monsters with his panther and his raven. Which sort of represent parts of his internal being, but were also just how he rolls. So I was actually given really very little. But, I gotta admit, as I was writing sketches and giving ideas to the director he was coming back to me with ‘Well, you know I think there’s something you didn’t understand about V that I want to explain because you might do this a little differently.’ So I kind of dug that. Every time I wrote something I would learn more about this character and then I could dive a little deeper into this or that.”
Jason: “So going from that to ‘Resident Evil’ where you had . . . I’m gonna pronounce this wrong . . .”
Jeff Rona: “‘Saudade.’ It’s Portuguese.”
Jason: “‘Saudade,’ okay. What does that mean?”
Jeff Rona: “You know . . . the game is twenty years after the original “Resident Evil 2.” There’s this whole thing about nostalgia, because the city started off full of hope and now it’s in a state of despair. So there’s a thing about missing what used to be there. And they didn’t like the word ‘nostalgia.’ Now, the word ‘nostalgia’ actually means the pain of remembering which is one of the lines from the song that we did. It’s actually a line I came up with, but they came up with this word. The director of ‘Resident Evil’ had this idea . . . ‘Saudade’ isn’t a painful thing, it more translates to the love that is left when something is gone. In a way it’s a little more all encompassing emotionally, it’s not just about sadness. It’s about what you’ve missed when something is gone, but it can be a feeling of love too. There’s a sense of reunion in this game, and a sense of nostalgia, but they wanted it to have a real emotional resonance. It’s a very emotional game and an emotional piece of music even though it’s zombies and the undead and shit.”
Jason: “And it’s the true ending song . . .”
Jeff Rona: “You have to play the game twice to unlock that song, you have to beat it with two different characters.”
Jason: “Yeah so you really get that strong emotional ending with the second ending and that song accompanies it perfectly. It fills that feeling out.”
Jeff Rona: “Yeah and in fact the style of the music, the reference that we took, was that we listened to music from exactly twenty years ago. So we’re listening to ’98 and ’99.”
Jason: “I very much got that vibe.”
Jeff Rona: “And what was big then was grunge. That was Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and a lot of other bands and a lot of flannel. When we were thinking about who was going to sing it we checked out some artists who were into grunge and it kept sounding like a cover band and it made us a little crazy. The minute you went for an authentic ’90s sound it was going to turn into a parody. So we found this Australian singer who really got us. He really understood and he had a grungy voice, but it wasn’t like an homage at all. Although, I did use the guitar player from Porno for Pyros. That was my tip of the hat to ’90s grunge rock. He’s also a good friend.”
Jason: “Is there anything you’ve worked on coming up in the near future that we can talk about?”
Jeff Rona: “My next game . . . I did another game! It’s a brand new company, it’s an indie game and it’s their first game. It’s called ‘Dance of Death: Dul Lac & Fey.” It’s set in Victorian, London on a search for Jack the Ripper. It’s historically accurate and it’s told through a female investigator’s perspective, but it has a supernatural aspect to it. It’s ultra trippy, it’s very hip. The company is Salix. You should check that out. That comes out next week. . . . I better finish it.”
Once again, thanks to Jeff Rona for taking the time to talk to us. It was a blast talking to him. If you want to check out the trailer for his next project then journey down below to see “Dance of Dead: Du Lac & Fey” which releases on April 5th for PC.