Music in visual novels

February 13th, 2011 by Mixtape

Hey there, Mixtape speaking.

Today I thought I’d talk about music in visual novels, as the title says. Eastern Starlight Romance is the first VN I’m making music for, and so far it’s been a fun, but difficult experience. I’ll just line up the problems I’ve run into first, and discuss them afterwards:

  • Looping
  • Timing
  • Arrangement

Those are the major ones.


A problem that most video game musicians have to face. The music you make has to loop well, so it doesn’t kill the immersion. Some solve this by having several tracks for an area, and changing between them to keep it fresh and less intrusive. I don’t think this would work well in a VN environment, though.

Others solve it by having a big sound right at the start of the song, kind of “covering up” the end so it seems like it’s one track that just keeps going. You can also do the opposite, give the piece a weak intro and outro. The general idea is that the song has to begin and end with the same thing.

In ESR there’s a mix of both.


In a visual novel, you can never know how fast the player reads. It’s not like a movie, where you can have a key change right when the main character confesses his eternal love. Some video games can replicate this in a cutscene, but we don’t have that either.

How do you solve that? Well, let’s just say I have a few surprises left for you.


This problem is very specific to our case, and possibly other Touhou games. I decided that as this takes place in Gensokyo, most of our music should really be arranges of ZUN’s music. He’s a great composer, but this post is about problems. “So what is it this time?”, I hear you cry.

Most of his songs are truly battle themes. They’re flying around in the sky shooting bullets at each other after all. Our game is called Eastern Starlight Romance. When arranging some themes to sound cheery, romantic or sad, it just comes out creepy. Is there a solution?

If there is, I haven’t really found it. I try to pick the right originals, select the right instruments, and highlight the right melodies. I’m still learning how it works. Hell, I’m still learning how music works.

Well, that’s that. I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone for their feedback, especially on the music side. I’m keeping all of it in mind.

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6 Responses to “Music in visual novels”

  1. Aposke says:

    Hey, I’m happy to see that this is still being worked on, even though you might not have found a CG artist yet. I’m especially interested in how the music part of the VN will turn out, since I also know a thing or two about melody, harmony and so on.
    Without doubt, arranging the right pieces in the right way is the most challenging of the problems you’ve described, but from what I’ve heard in the Demo, you’re doing a really good job with the arrangements so far.
    I have a question though, how exactly do you make these arrangements? Do you simply modify the original .midi file of the songs you want to use or do you actually build them up from the ground?

  2. Mixtape says:

    Thank you for the compliment.

    It’s different from piece to piece. Some I know already and just go for that, but many Touhou tracks are still kind of unknown to me. That’s when I find either a midi or some sheet music. Just slapping on instruments would be boring though.

    I try to always change things up, sometimes to the point where you can hardly recognize the original. Key change is an easy one, while changing the time signature is a bit harder, but it’s still fun to do. From time to time I even bring in multiple pieces, if they work together.

  3. Des says:

    Keep up the nice work Mixtape, you silly polar bear.

  4. Rainy Daze says:

    I quite like the arranges. I wish that it was possible to download them on their own, though… 😉

  5. Mixtape says:

    When the full version is released, I’ll release the soundtrack along with it. If there’s a certain arrange you like, throw me a PM on the forums and I’ll send it to you.

  6. Pache says:

    You’ve done nice work with this game. I like the arrangement a lot, you really did turn these manic battle themes into something completely different. The arrange of Koi Iro Master Spark I found especially soothing, it was the part of the VN that lulled me to sleep many nights up late playing ESL. I can’t wait for the full release and more of your music!

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