What do Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics have in common? Yes, they are all set in Ivalice, but they also feature soundtracks by the same great Japanese composer. We are talking of Hitoshi Sakimoto, who is also the composer of the OSTs of Tactics Ogre, Valkyria Chronicles, Odin Sphere, Astria Ascending and many other video games. Thanks to Richter, an Italian composer who collaborates with Sakimoto’s company, we had the great opportunity to ask master Sakimoto some questions about his work, and to get to know him a little better. You can read our interview below.
Omnia Crystallis: Master Sakimoto, thank you very much for this interview. Please, introduce yourself to our readers who don’t know you yet.
Hitoshi Sakimoto: Hello, very nice to meet you. Thank you for this interview. I am Hitoshi Sakimoto. I run a sound production company called Basiscape and I am a sound creator.
OC: When you have to make the soundtrack of a video game, what material is provided by the client? Do you have to know the plot and the characters in detail, or are styles and moods established only in general?
HS: Well, in most cases, the first documents we receive from the client are mostly game proposals or concept designs related to the game. And then, if there is a story, the plot of the story, and then the background of the world, the land, and then the history. I try to get as much information as possible about that. I also often talk to the game director to decide on the concept. That’s because I want to know the most important features of the game, and I also want to know what I can do as a sound to make use of those features. So we discuss such things in detail and make sure we are aligned.
OC: Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you have some sort of ritual before starting work?
HS: Where I get my inspiration from… I think mostly from the background of the setting or from the characteristics of the main characters. And when I imagine in my head what the characters are like in that world, how they talk, what they do, etc., then the sounds start to appear in my head.
OC: And how do you react when you have a creative block?
HS: Well, in that sense, I’m not one of those people who can easily come up with a main melody without spending a lot of time on it, so I guess you could say I have a creative block every time… Well, when nothing comes out for a long period of time, I think it’s basically because I’m doing things the wrong way or I’m trying too hard to do something that I can’t do. So I go back to that and rethink things.
OC: How is the musical theme of a character composed? Does something change or is it like creating any other piece?
HS: As for character themes… I’m often asked to create character themes. I think the intention is to play that melody when the character is talking or something, but if the theme is a bit sad, for example, it can’t be used as it is in a very happy scene, can it? So, I just use the melody and change the arrangement to another music or something. I often use them in that way. The key is its melody. I think the trick to making the melody work with the characters is not to have too many melodies. First there’s the main theme, then the protagonist, then three or four main characters, and I think that’s probably the best I can do. So there are five. Including the world view, I feel like it’s about five. Other melodies can also be written, but they may not be identified properly. I create a bit of difference between the main melody, which I want to be properly recognised, and the other ones. It would be like a less melodic approach, or something like that. Less melodic means, for example, it can be divided into different instruments, compositions, sound qualities and so on.
OC: Final Fantasy XII is still one of the chapters of the saga among the most appreciated by fans of the series, and in a big part the merit is also of its soundtrack. How did you feel at the time when you were given the OST of a numbered Final Fantasy? Did it influence you in any way that the music of all previous FFs had been composed by Nobuo Uematsu?
HS: As for Final Fantasy XII, I started on the project relatively late. When I start a project like this, I usually hear about it from a very early stage. But XII wasn’t the case, so I felt like I was joining in the middle. I’ve answered this in an interview some time ago, but when I was working on the Final Fantasy XII, the first thing that came to my mind was the music Uematsu had created until then. So at first I thought I had to create music like his, and I tried my best to write it, but after struggling for a while… I struggled a lot, maybe for a week, or more. I don’t know… After struggling that much, I decided to do what I could do properly, instead of trying to do what other people were doing, and I started making things that were unique to me, and since then I haven’t had so many problems. But there were a few songs I like that Uematsu-san wrote, for example, the FF theme, the Chocobo theme, and “Clash on the Big Bridge”. I like all of those pieces. Well, I like all three songs a lot, but I think I particularly like the Chocobo song. I did some rearrangements of it in the FFXII style. At first I tried to make a bigger rearranged version, but it still didn’t work out well. So it should have been pretty close to the original. Also, Uematsu-san’s music as well is used in FFXII.
OC: What was it like going back to recording live songs for “The Zodiac Age” edition of Final Fantasy XII?
HS: For “The Zodiac Age” edition of Final Fantasy XII, the original music was all synth, except for the opening and the staff roll, but we replaced all of the synth music with live songs, not entirely, but almost all of them. It was quite a big job as there were a lot of songs. We recorded a lot in Boston, USA, and then in Australia, mainly brass and woodwind. Also in Japan – we recorded all the instruments in Japan as well. So it took quite a long time just to record it, maybe a month. It was tough then. The mixing afterwards was also challenging, though. I think it is hard when there are a lot of components to assemble. Normally, we record the music in several parts as the project progresses, so I felt it was very difficult to do it all at once.
OC: Among the songs you wrote for the Square Enix titles (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII etc.) which one is your favorite or the one you are most proud of and why?
HS: Which is the one I’m most proud of… Of all the songs I’m making, the theme song is definitely the one I’m most careful about. So if it was Final Fantasy XII, it would be the FFXII theme. Final Fantasy Tactics also has a theme song, and I carefully made the melody for that as well. Vagrant Story as well. So I think the first thing is the theme song.
OC: Speaking of your most recent works, what were the inspirations for the OSTs of the highly acclaimed 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim and Astria Ascending?
HS: For 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Vanillaware’s work comes out of discussions with Kamiya-san, who is the CEO, a scenario writer and also an illustrator. I think we started talking about it about 7-8 years before the release of this 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, actually. I think it’s a bit of an escape from reality, but we often talk about the next project after the one we’re working on now, or the next next project. And I’m really struggling with the project I’m working on, and then I often wonder if it would be fun to make the next one like this. That’s how it all started and, well, anyway, the concept of Juvenile hasn’t changed since the beginning. So we’ll make the most of those areas, but there are also areas that will change a lot when the game is finished, so we’ll change those areas at once toward the end. Well, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is totally that juvenile.
Astria Ascending is a game that used to be published by a company called Kobojo. It is not a sequel… ah but maybe it’s a sequel, I guess. I’m not sure about that, but it has carried over the world view. There was the groundwork for a game called Zodiac, and a large proportion of what we do is carried over from that. Just the storyline, before, was quite bright and positive, and I had the impression that it was very righteous, but Astria Ascending is more like a science fiction world, which I like. The scale of the proportion is unusually large, and many things are driven by a larger reason, by a larger worldview than just a little bit of human feeling. So it’s the kind of game where people get played around with and try to do their best, and that’s where the drama comes in. So I wanted to get more of that kind of atmosphere, so that’s why I went in that direction. That’s why it’s a little bit different from Zodiac. That’s what I’m thinking about.
OC: During your career you have composed songs mainly for video games. Would you like to dedicate yourself more to the world of cinema and, if so, to which genre of films in particular?
HS: As for things other than game music, you may not know much about it, but I do films, dramas and animations, and I even do educational programmes as well. So I enjoy doing those things very much. Yes, I work a lot on games, mainly games. When it comes to games, there are a lot of battle music, fighting songs. But there is a proportionally small amount of romantic scenes and things like that. So in drama scenes, I don’t often write about the ups and downs of human feelings that go as far as fighting or being very sad, so I’m very happy when I need to write about these things. It’s quite fun when I write about the subtle emotional swings of adults, or complex feelings, which can’t be as easily described as sadness. I enjoy doing this because I have little experience of it.
OC: Can you tell us about Basiscape?
HS: And, Basiscape is a music production company. It’s been 20 years. It has been a whole 20 years. First of all, we are a music production company, so we often provide music, sound effects and voice for some entertainment production. The reason why I created this company is that game sound production wass becoming larger and larger, and it was no longer something that could be done by just one person, and I also wanted to take full responsibility for the whole sound project. We wanted to make all the audio tracks properly as much as possible, not just the music, not just the sound effects, not just the voice, because we wanted to use everything to control and express ourselves. Several specialists have gathered here. We have people who are strong in audio, of course, and we have people who are strong in sound effects and mixing, and that’s what we do.
OC: We are very happy that a composer from Italy like Richter works with you. Richter told us that working with you and Basiscape is exciting for him and he feels lucky to be able to learn and improve day by day thanks to you and your advice. What’s it like working with Richter for you?
HS: Gabri-san.Richter-san. I don’t know which one I should use publicly, but let’s me say, Richter-san. I had the opportunity to work with him recently, and until then I thought he was a very good musician when I listened to his music. But after working with him, I strongly felt he was of course a very talented composer and at the same time he had a very different style from mine. So, his approach to many things is different from mine, and it’s really fresh, and I want to be able to do more of what these people and Richter-san are doing, I’m sure I can do it that way. After all, when you keep working with a similar group of people for a long time, it often becomes similar. Therefore, it is really important for me to always have the opportunity to come into contact with people who are different from me. But it’s not often that you can really use that as a job, so I’m very grateful to Richter-san for giving me that opportunity. I’m looking forward to keep working together. And we are already planning to do so.
Click here to listen to a special piano rearrangement of “The Dalmasca Estersand” from the Final Fantasy XII OST by Richter.
OC: We can’t wait to hear your new soundtracks soon and see you in Italy!
HS: Yes, definitely, I would be very happy to meet you in Italy. Please let me know if you have such an opportunity. Thank you very much for your time today.
Born in 1969 and active since the 1980s, Japanese composer Hitoshi Sakimoto has so far worked on over 180 projects that include video games and animated series. He describes himself as a video game and technology enthusiast from a very young age. At just 16, he worked on the Revolter shooter, gaining the attention of the music industry. He also created Terpsiphorean, a synthesizer driver that was implemented in numerous Japanese games in the early 1990s. From that moment on, he began his career as a composer. The attention of the Japanese video game industry towards him led Sakimoto as a freelance to the creation of soundtracks for video games such as Vagrant Story, Ogre Battle, Gradius V, Legaia 2: Duel Saga, Tekken Advance, Radiant Silvergun and many others. Its first major global hit was Square’s Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack, which was followed by OSTs for various sequels and other games, including Final Fantasy XII. After working on the twelfth chapter of the Final Fantasy series, Sakimoto founded his own company, Basiscape, in which he recruited other famous composers, such as Manabu Namiki, along with some young promises. The goal was to meet the now incessant requests for new compositions. Basiscape is currently considered the largest independent video game music production company in Japan and includes some of the best young composers. Since the founding of Basiscape, Sakimoto and his team have worked on several high-profile titles such as Odin Sphere, ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat, the Valkyria Chronicles series, Tekken 6, Dragon’s Crown Pro, and the remake of the classic Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.
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