Stardew Valley remains one of the most unexpected and delightful indie success stories of the last decade, in part because so much of its creative magic came from the same person, Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone. The art? Barone. The design? Barone. The code? Barone.
That also includes Stardew Valley's music, which nets a fun collaboration later this month with Prescription for Sleep, a collection of relaxing covers meant to help people snooze. It's a partnership with composer and frequent Hideo Kojima partner Norihiko Hibino, who's Prescription for Sleep albums have covered music from Undertale and several other games.
Hibino, who composed the music for games like Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders while working at Konami, eventually left the video game industry. But he still loved games.
"The reason why I stopped creating game music was because I personally got tired of creating something that draws people into a negative mindset, such as killing, fighting, hate, etc." said Hibino in an interview with Waypoint. "Music is supposed to bring peace and joy to people. However, this kind of approach can reach out to gamers to tell them there's another way to enjoy your life. Moreover, as gamers are getting older, and who knows if someone is enjoying game music lullabies in a nursing home?"
Stardew Valley, a game about building a quiet farm and learning to be part of a community, certainly fits Hibino's mindset these days. The most fighting you do is bonking cute monsters in a mine. Other Prescription for Sleep albums have included Celeste and Shovel Knight.
Before it was a series of albums, Prescription for Sleep was an iPhone app about relaxation, with a swirling combination of visuals and music. The positive reception prompted Hibino and his collaborators to think about extensions of this idea, and games came to mind.
"Their music is deeply relaxing and beautiful to me, and hearing the video game themes I love in that style makes it even more special," said Barone. "I think a part of it is the emotions bound up in the video game themes themselves."
It's easy to imagine Hibino approaching Barone for a chance to work together, given the massive popularity of Stardew Valley, but the opposite is true. Barone has been following and listening to the Prescription for Sleep albums for years, notably its chill covers of Square Enix's JRPG Secret of Mana. This led Barone to reach out to Hibino and pitch the project.
That part ended up being pretty easy: everyone wanted to work with one another. But just as it was unique that Barone reached out to Hibino, it was also unique that Barone wanted to be personally involved in picking the tracks that would receive their new relaxing arrangements.
"The reason why I stopped creating game music was because I personally got tired of creating something that draws people into a negative mindset, such as killing, fighting, hate, etc."
"I do not have time to play entire games these days," said Hibino, "but I can look up the visuals and gameplay videos and share with pianist AYAKI what kind of mood we should aim for in the arrangement. We rather talk about the real experience, such as if it is summer night, what sound do we hear, what do we see, temperature, and what we feel, rather than talking about the game itself."
Hibino called Barone's work on the original Stardew Valley soundtrack "quite well done."
"In the same way I redid all the art for Stardew Valley many times," said Barone. "I rewrote most of the music several times. The original songs sounded more 'video-gamey,' using more synthesizers and prominent drum beats. For the final version of the soundtrack, I went with a more atmospheric, natural approach. I tried my best to capture the feeling of each season, not only with the compositions, but with the instruments I chose. Winter, for example, uses 'colder' sounding instruments like bells and piano."
At one point, Stardew Valley was not a big deal. It's hard to fathom now, but there was a time when it was just a tiny indie game that Barone had been working on by themselves for a very long time. And as the world discovered it, they also started to riff on what he'd made. That included watching other people take things, like the game's music, and make it their own.
"I don't remember the very first, but there were many good covers on YouTube in the months after Stardew Valley came out," said Barone. "I really enjoyed listening to them, and it's kind of hard to describe the feeling of seeing others play off my songs. It kind of feels like they are understanding part of the way I think, which feels good. It feels like a meaningful connection, even though I don't know these people in person."
The process of translating Stardew Valley's music into the style of Prescription for Sleep, according to Hibino, involved him listening to a track and noting its melody, rhythm, and change over time. Then, he added his style and flourish, before then speaking with AYAKI. The rest is a series of improvisations n during the recording process, though Hibino noted the goal is not "go too far from what the original arrangement was trying to capture."
"Every time I do the mixing on these albums I fall asleep," said Hibino. "That is enough for me to prove they work for relaxation, or maybe I work too hard."
Prescription for Sleep's Stardew Valley album will be released on May 19.