KV’s Comments: Here’s an interesting one. Mr. Totaka is more known for a secret song he’s placed in various Nintendo games over the years than he is for some of his compositions. He’s kind of a cult idol among Nintendo fans from what I understand, which makes him a pretty interesting fellow. Despite that, I think he has done a lot of great compositions over the years that aren’t just limited to his 19-note jingle, Totaka’s Song.
His most notable contribution as of late is to the Animal Crossing series, where he has served as one of its main composers. In fact, there’s a little inside joke about him regarding the character K.K. Slider. In the Japanese version, the dog-singing character is known as Totakeke which, if you separate it, becomes Totake Ke. Pretend the last syllable is actually an initial and it becomes Totake K. Then make it K. Totake… K. Totaka! K.K. Slider is actually voiced by Mr. Totaka and is referenced to a lot at concerts since K.K. Song is one of the few instances where Totaka’s Song isn’t as well hidden as say, Luigi’s Mansion.
Totaka is typically a more background player when it comes to game development, working as a Sound Director for most projects he’s involved with. But just because he doesn’t help compose the music doesn’t mean he won’t slip his little jingle into some of the games he helps direct. He’s also one of Nintendo’s few long-stay voice actors, providing the voice for Yoshi of the Mario series and Professor E. Gadd from Luigi’s Mansion as well.
Totaka’s style when it is allowed to present itself in games is very atmospheric. It can be uplifting, or it can be very subdued and hidden. Music from Yoshi’s Story definitely hits the uplifting points, while music from Luigi’s Mansion is definitely a little more restrained and definitely atmospheric. I guess you could say, and get ready for a terrible joke, he writes “every day life music!" While that may seem lame, I believe that takes a lot of talent to really push the atmosphere of an area or a time and make it resonate with the player. This is why I think Animal Crossing is one of his best works since he does a great job incorporating what a person would feel at a time of day, and writes that as the music.
Take the first game that was released in the U.S. for example (the Gamecube one):
–One of the first things you are assigned to do is work for Tom Nook, which makes you perform tasks to meet the villagers and learn the town layout. This is the player’s first exposure to their new living place, and so the accompanying music makes the player feel welcome while also giving them the push they need to get the work done. It’s a great working song and I think I have even hummed it a bit when doing work myself. –After you’ve worked you butt off and are starting a daily play of the game, you might find yourself getting up in the early parts of the morning, just as the sun rises. The song that plays with you throughout the 7 a.m. hour I think perfectly symbolizes how everyone is doing in the waking world. The sun is now shining, time to get up and get to work or school. The day has just begun so don’t waste it. Soak in the morning sun and be off. It’s relaxing pace yet calm instrumentation really gives me a feeling of sunrise. –By the time 7 p.m. rolls around the day is wrapping up and you’ve probably just eaten dinner. You may still have some things you wish to accomplish before bed, but you know that sun is setting and the day is almost over. Was it a good day? This song really has a sense of self-reflection, being peaceful enough to relax, but still having a little beat that makes you wanna think. I loved playing the original Animal Crossing during this hour. –Of course, a lot of us these days like to stay up pretty late, so after Nook’s shop closes we go exploring a bit to see what nightlife might have. It’s the waltz of the evening finally sinking in, and there is a potential for fun out there if you try to search for it. This happy-go-lucky song really represents the hour pretty well: Some people are going to bed so lights go dim, while others are going to have a jolly party night on the town by themselves or with friends. The happy clown-like chords represent the people that stay up past the hour, while the calm marimba-sounding melody represents the sleeping world. –Then I have no idea where the hell this comes from. You could say it’s because those of us clowns that have stayed up super late have made it to this hour, the real party is starting. I’d imagine this song is more inspired by a Las Vegas-like atmosphere where when the night gets rolling, the real party starts up.
Of course, if I was jut talking about Animal Crossing all day that would get a tad annoying, but it does show that Mr. Totaka really knows how to write music to accompany an event, rather than music that makes a spectacle. It plays along with the player, and rather than intensifying their emotions, it reflects their emotions completely. Even special events we sometimes get our emotions up higher than they are, and even if it’s ChristmasEve, Mr. Totaka knows how to replicate those emotions.
Now I didn’t use any music from Wild World/City Folk (they’re the same soundtrack pretty much), but I think both of those games do a good job too. They’re just even more subdued and laid back. And it’s not like Totaka can’t make you emotional. This credits theme seems pretty inspired if you ask me. But I’d definitely say his key strengths are keeping things simple and in the background. Try playing Luigi’s Mansion without the music and it loses a lot of its charm and potential terror. There’s a lot to say about a recurring song that keeps a game going, and both Luigi’s Mansion and Yoshi’s Story are true testaments to that.
While it might seem odd that he isn’t as apparently accomplished as others out there, I think that’s what he aims for: the background. He is capable of great accompanying music and he wants to do just that. The fact that he keeps hiding that little song of his all over the place means that he is purposely trying to… I suppose troll you? He knows how to work in the background and does a great job of it. I look forward to hearing his jingle in more games, and I hope he continues to a great job at creating that atmospheric music. Once you hear one of his songs, it gets pretty addicting, I have to say. Rock on Mr. K.K. Slider!
Totaka’s Song is a 19-note tune that composer Kazumi Totaka hides throughoutalmost all the games that he works on. Usually he puts the composition somewhere incredibly difficult to find and in Link’s Awakening this is no exception. If you wait 2 minutes and a half in Richard’s Villa you will start hearing the melody play so if you’re dying to hear it then just wait out the length of time needed for it to kick into gear. Apparently an alternative method can be used revolving around the name-select screen as long as you have a Japanese or German version of the game.