Too often when we play a videogame we over value how good the game looks. Just as important, however, are the sounds and music that support that game. Sound effects, ambient sound, and the overall score play a lot into how we feel about a world. One such franchise that is renowned for its music is the Final Fantasy series. From the open world background music, the victory fanfare, to the chocobo music, most of us would instantly recognize it, no matter from which game in the series, as uniquely Final Fantasy. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to. I asked Masayoshi Soken about that and more at PAX 2015. This is what he had to say. (Note: Some of the answers have been slightly edited for clarity. A translator was used for most of this interview).
MMORPG: Sound is is an interesting dynamic in media because it can invoke such strong emotional reactions from people. What was your process in an expansion like this to start to set the tone with the sound direction of the game?
Soken: First and foremost with A Realm Reborn there was a request from Yoshida that this was going to be a more traditional fantasy. With Heavensward Yoshida thought more about making this a dark fantasy. He had already set the concept there. So I had to think about how do I differentiate this from A Realm Reborn? One example is with the city state of Ishgard. Since this was more of a religious capital, this was something new introduced into Heavensward. So the music is different in that we are incorporating church organs, and then there is also piano, and we are bringing out the sound of the organ more prominently than the piano.
MMORPG: Did you use a lot of live instrument recording for creating the score?
Soken: Yes we did. More than we did with the last one. In the Heavensward trailer we actually had an orchestra and chorus that consisted of over 160 people in that one. With other songs we had someone do a solo violin on one track. We did several different things with live instruments on this one.
MMORPG: Are you also the conductor?
Soken: They record each part separately. In Japan they refer to this as dumping. The instrumentalists will listen for their mark while they are watching the score. I’m not literally conducting but I do direct how they record and we use multitrack recording. It’s a pretty complicated process because of all the instruments and there were some weird ones in there too.
MMORPG: Okay you have to expand upon that. Tell me about one of your weird ones?
Soken: There was this one guy in Japanese garb that looked like a delinquent from a motorcycle gang with long pants that almost appeared like a dress. I was surprised that he was going to play a violin in that. But he was so good he ended up being our first chair violinist.
MMORPG: Is this the first Final Fantasy you have worked on?
Soken: In terms of creating music scores for the game this would be the first one. In terms of sound there are several aspects I have done on previous titles such as sound effects and voice over work.
MMORPG: What is it like to work on such an iconic franchise?
Soken: Right now my focus is on getting the work that is set down in front of me done. I try to create as the work is demanded. I haven’t had the chance to step back and look at it like that. But when I attend events and participate in interviews like this I realize the series has such a history and weight to it and I realize, “Wow i’m actually on this title.” It is such an honor.
MMORPG: What was your favorite moment while working on the score for Heavensward?
Soken: It all started when I was to start working on the theme for the opening cinematics. I needed to turn around a lot of songs in a short period of time. It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite moment in time. I’m so busy trying to create and make more songs, it’s hard to recollect and and think on it. I forget.
MMORPG: What’s next?
Soken: In the immediate future we have our patch updates. Next is 3.1 and I’m working on that. There are other tasks too but I can’t get much into detail on that.
MMORPG: Do you play?
Soken: XIV? Oh, of course! I’m on savage Alexander. Turn 2. White mage.
MMORPG: Going back to music. Do you still play?
Soken: Piano, Guitar, Trumpet, and come to think of it I play the drums a little bit.
MMORPG: What do you play for fun when are not composing?
MMORPG: Thank you.
Image courtesy of VGMO.net
For a little extra background on Masayoshi I’ve included his bio from Square Enix.
MASAYOSHI SOKEN: SOUND DIRECTOR
Masayoshi Soken first joined Square Enix (formerly SQUARE Co. Ltd.) in 1999 as a sound engineer. Soken is now the sound director who oversees everything related to the game sound source, from sound effects to composing music for FINAL FANTASY XIV: Heavensward.
Soken continues to adjust the sound in a way that suits the title the best by playing one sound at a time in a game environment on a daily basis.
Soken has worked on other projects including Drag-On Dragoon 3 (currently in development for Japan), Nanashi no Game, Front Mission 5: Scars of the War, etc.