Last week at PAX I had the opportunity to sit down with Masayoshi Soken, best known for his Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn compositions, and discuss the importance of his music in video games and go over a few things involving Primal battles. Most of the interview was conducted through a translator, but here is what Soken had to say about his role in Final Fantasy XIV.
Nick: One of the things that Final Fantasy XIV is known for are the epic primal battles, and the unique themes are very important to those fights. Do you have any specific theme that is your favorite?
Soken: That’s a tough question. It’s always difficult to pick just the favorite piece. It’s all of them. Because it’s in the season, I pick Alexander turns one through three.
Nick: Heavensward saw us traveling to a new land and with it came a bunch of brand new musical landscapes. Are there any specific musical traditions that you hope to explore with new music as the expansion goes forward or with new expansions?
Soken: So first and foremost, when he creates music for games, or game sound in general, he considers the gameplay experience first as the highest priority. It’s not placing music on top of a game. You have the gameplay experience and then he fits the music to it. So in turns of taking a different approach, the gameplay experience of A Realm Reborn versus Heavensward were different even in the game content itself so if there is a situation where in an update or expansion there is a brand new element that’s introduced, or if there’s any sort of changes in the game itself, then the music will follow suit.
Nick: What is the significance of the primal battle themes and how does the music play a part during phase transitions?
Soken: So in battle themes, especially in the primal battles, the game design already incorporates different phases within the battles, so you know the transition of which phase you’re in. Each primal has their sort of special move that they execute, and in turns of the gameplay experience before and after that special move is executed the intensity of it is so different before the primal executes its special move and after. And so, as mentioned before, because the gameplay is so different between the first phase and the next phase he felt it’s very important to depict that with the game music as well.
Nick: A lot of fans really loved the fan festival and your role with The Primals band. Do you foresee another fan festival and getting together with The Primals in the future?
Soken: First of all, in terms of having a fanfest, or not, is not a decision that the sound team could make. But if we ever do another fanfest, The Primals band would love to perform there again. If we do get to perform at a fanfest it would be cool if we could do a Ravana or Alexander rock arrangement with The Primals band.
Nick: With the anniversary events for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn you now have your own character in the game. What’s that like for you?
Soken: It’s kind of weird looking at myself in the game. Throughout the quest, the dialogue was written by someone else, but when you get to the end it’s actually him who wrote the dialogue because he was told to write something for it.
Nick: What’s your favorite part of getting to compose music for such a major Final Fantasy game?
Soken: Definitely when players provide their feedback and voice their opinions if that’s on the forums or other aspects. Getting to get that feedback and sort of reaction from the actual players makes it all worthwhile to have worked on the title.
Nick: Are there any other music composers that have inspired you?
Soken: If he could answer in terms of musician he really likes Rage Against the Machine. In terms of movie score Hans Zimmer. And another popular one would be Antonio Carlos Jobim. He writes mainly like bossa nova kind of music.
Nick: Would you be able to give me any hints as to what is coming up for Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward?
Soken: The game needs to be finalized and solidified first before we can speak to the music and sound of it so there’s really not much we’re able to say. There has been some mention of content surrounding the Void Ark, but that’s as much as we can say.
Nick: Am I correct in understanding that game content is designed and then each musical score is created with that specific content in mind, instead of both being developed simultaneously?
Soken: So your understanding that it’s not simultaneous is correct. It’s very important for Soken-san to understand what kind of gameplay experience we’re going for so that he can place the music on top of it. There are many titles that do that simultaneous music being composed at the same time as the game being developed, but he feels you’re not going to have a successful gameplay experience and the music and the gameplay won’t mesh as well. Of course he doesn’t wait until the game is finalized in its polished state, it might be in a rough mock-up state, but he wants at least a general idea of what we’re going for in terms of how the game plays out and then kind of places the music to enhance that experience.
Nick: What are your favorite games of all time?
Soken: It’s a skateboarding game that came out on the Sega Saturn, Top Skater, and Crazy Taxi. Crazy Taxi would probably be his most favorite.
Nick: I really appreciate you taking time to speak with us and is there anything else that you would like our readers know?
Soken: We’ve just released a soundtrack for Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a blu-ray disc, it has 60 songs, and it also contains about 2 hours of live footage from the fanfest. Including all the content, it’ll total about 6 hours of content. On top of that, we’ve included the MP3 data, specifically mastered for MP3 compression of all 60 songs. There are also many songs that pay homage to previous Final Fantasy titles.Related: Final Fantasy XIV, Heavensward, Interview, Music, PAX Prime, PAX Prime 2015