Checking the Score: Interview with Majula Frontier Composer Dale North

Checking the Score is a feature about video game music, composers, musicians and tools of the trade.

Released last month, Majula Frontier is a turned-based RPG with strategy elements based off the Ellen’s Friends book series. It’s a challenging fantasy RPG with town management components and dungeon crawling. Players choose four characters (of twenty) to take out into the harsh lands beyond town. Punishing dungeons and boss battles will test players’ strategy and management abilities. With so many different elements and areas within the game, a fluid soundtrack is necessary to bring these components to life.

This is where Dale North works his composing magic. Having done work for Wizard of Legend, Remixes for Final Fantasy music and having worked with greats like Hiroki Kikuta, Dale uses his personal sound to compliment the various twists and turns found in RPGs. Using his blend of synthesizers with orchestral components, North creates a unique sound for Majula Frontierto bring life and emotion to the title. Tracks like “The Town of Majula” with light piano and strings create tranquil and optimistic emotion for the space where constructing and rebuilding take place. Yet North is multi-faceted in his composition, as we can quickly go from a peaceful respite to a desperate struggle against bosses with hard percussion and cutting edge electric guitars. Hardcore Gamer had the pleasure to talk in more detail with Dale North about his music for Majula Frontier.

[Hardcore Gamer] I noticed that you utilize more synths in the battle themes versus home themes. What was your process behind that decision?

[Dale North] Other than strings, I can’t think of something that feels like it fits more in role-playing game battle themes than synthesizers. And for me, creatively, nothing is as pliable or flexible as a synthesizer. Everything from short, percussive arpeggios to roaring basses to searing synth lines can be done with one instrument by simply turning knobs. In explaining it I guess I realize that a simpler answer is that synths are more fun.

How did you draw inspiration from the game’s turn-based battle system? Does this type of gameplay require a different process than other titles you might have worked on (like how Wizard of Legend was a more fast paced dungeon crawler)?

I wouldn’t call it inspiration as much as a technical consideration, and on some level a privilege. Turn-based music seems best when it puts across tension on some level, but it doesn’t have to match any kind of pacing. So that’s nice creatively as you get to kind of do what you want. But, the opportunity is there for more melodic expression than you could in any other type of battle song. There’s more freedom and a more conducive tempo, so I used that chance to write something that adds to the overall musical expression of the soundtrack. I just try to fit the musical pieces together as much as possible, and the freedom available in turn-based battles is wide open for more of that. It doesn’t require a different process. It’s all the same for me in that I found out what’s needed and then go after it to the best of my ability.

Since Majula Frontier is another installment in the Ellen’s Friends book series, did you incorporate any of the literature into your creative process? What was it like to create a whole sound for something that has mixed media?

I didn’t necessarily work in other pieces of the Ellen’s Friends world in my creative process. But I considered it an honor to add to a piece of a bigger series of mixed media. I am a big fan of worlds and stories that use mixed media, and I wanted to contribute in my own smaller way to this piece of it with my music. I think that’s really neat.

You use an awesome electric guitar as the main sound for a couple of tracks (specifically the Danger Below and Into the Abyss), could you give some insight into why those particular tracks have such a prominent guitar sound while others have it sprinkled throughout?

The guitar came from guidance from the game’s creator for the most part, but I took it as an opportunity to have fun. And in planning the overall soundtrack, I wanted ties, both from a melodic/harmonic standpoint and an instrumentation approach, to be apparent. So, to unify things, I had guitar in other tracks, and they at least in some small way, helped tied other songs to the battle ones. Guitars, like synthesizers, have such a range of expression that they’re so fun to use in this way.

Did you have a favorite part about making this soundtrack? 

My favorite part of making this soundtrack was the freedom to use original musical ideas. So many times composers are sent after a sound, and ideas about how a game’s soundtrack will play out are at least somewhat formed in the creators’ heads. In this case I had a lot of freedom in how these songs would relate to each other as a full soundscape and I really enjoy that kind of work. Also, from lots of other approaches, from melody and themes to what instruments would be used, was left to me. That’s kind of rare in this work. I took it as a chance to express myself in more ways than usual and that made the whole process really enjoyable.

Having listened to the whole soundtrack, it’s apparent that North brings his diligence and style to Majula Frontier for a complete RPG experience. His ability to bring emotion to composition gives new life to gameplay and spaces within the title. A mixture of light, airy composition and hard, edgy sounds show that North is able to easily adapt to the changing situations found within the title. His fluidity and thoughtfulness make Majula Frontier’s soundtrack strong enough to stand on its own apart from the gameplay. We look forward to what Dale North has to offer next. Majula Frontier is now available through Steam for PC and the Original Soundtrack can be purchased from Scarlet Moon Records.