So, Sakaguchi-san wanted you to make music with a completely different approach from what you’d done before. What sort of things did you have in mind as you approached this task?
Well, the first thing to mention is that there is a kind of curse that is attached to music for RPGs. There are basic assumptions about what an RPG is supposed to be. For this title, I discarded all of these and focused on other things, such as elements used in film soundtracks, and the texture of the music. Of course, it’s still me making the music, so there isn’t such a huge difference in terms of the melodies between this and what I’ve done before, but I was aiming to create music that was totally different from what I thought of as the standard type of RPG music.
I think that the relationship between standard RPGs and music is rather similar to when you listen to music while jogging. So if playing the game is like running, the point of the music is to give you a certain feeling, or a certain sense of rhythm.
So you’re saying that the function of music in an RPG was to not get in the way when you’re running – in other words, to give the player a lift while they are playing the game.
That’s right. In contrast to that, music in films tends to be a little more emotional, creating space in which the viewer can be moved. As it’s created to fit with the emotional content of each scene, it utilises a wide variety of different music. But with the battle music for this title, you don’t know what is going to happen, so the music can’t be integrally linked to the scene in the same way as music in a film is. But having said that, I do think we’ve managed to achieve a comparable effect.
What I find curious, Uematsu-san, is that you were able to create music that was in line with the vision Sakaguchi-san had for the game, in spite of the fact that all you were told was that your initial efforts were ‘all wrong’. How did you manage that? Did you have your own ideas about how this might be achieved?
There was something that Sakaguchi-san had said a long time ago which I always had stored at the back of my mind. We were discussing ideas for music when we were working on FFIII9, and he asked me to think of ways to use music to express the emotions in the game in real time. I can still remember that clearly. 9 Final Fantasy III was an RPG released in Japan for the Famicom in April 1990.
So the words Sakaguchi-san had said to you more than two decades before stayed with you, coming back to you once again during this project.
Yes, I think that may be true.
It must be incredibly difficult to come up with something completely different within the space of a single month, so you found yourself in what could be described as an extreme situation.
It was certainly difficult. I wanted that real time element to the music, but the last thing I wanted was to lose Uematsu-san’s melodies. I knew it would be meaningless to just shoehorn songs into emotional scenes into the game. The difficulty of expressing emotions through music is an issue we’ve been struggling with for over twenty years.
It certainly is.
I think that, ultimately, there’s no simple solution. But the two of us spoke from time to time about how the nature of video games allowed us to attempt certain solutions to this problem, in the sense of using clever programming to achieve the effect we wanted.
I see. So even though you didn’t exchange emails for a month, Uematsu-san was conducting a kind of dialogue with Sakaguchi-san inside his head.
It wasn’t that I was trying to write songs that Sakaguchi-san would like. But I was constantly thinking of how I might create something that would reinforce the vision for the game that he had. I also knew that Sakaguchi-san and I shared a love of film, and with music too…well, I think we know what the other likes and what they dislike. (laughs)
You’re saying you can read me like a book? (laughs)
So you were always trying to come up with ways to support or expand Sakaguchi-san’s creative vision. Listening to you speak, it sounds like it wasn’t just a matter of exchanging emails or having discussions: it seems like you were also conducting a dialogue about your tastes inside your heads.
Also, when something is rejected and you go back and rework it, the end result is bound to turn out to be better than what you originally had.
Rejection is a necessary part of the process, if you think in terms of the final result.
At the risk of sounding like I’m boasting, I really think the final song in The Last Story is exceptionally good. (laughs)
That is a really good song! (laughs)
Uematsu-san also managed to find a great singer.
Do you always look for singers that fit your own vision for the particular song?
Well, it depends on the nature of the game, I suppose. I have to consider the vision that the director or the lyricist have for the game world, as well as factors such as the quality of the voice. After that, it’s a matter of meeting the singer, and seeing whether something clicks.
There are a lot of factors which interact to determine whether or not a song works. For the closing song, I thought the recording went really well, with the bass notes coming across very strongly. I wrote the lyrics for this song, and in the verses it’s mainly just humming, with lyrics in the last section.
Right! There aren’t any lyrics in the verses! (laughs)
I was a little uneasy about it all, so I ran it by you, didn’t I?
That really took me by surprise. It’s not the way things are usually done… It really is rather…irregular, isn’t it? (laughs) But the fact that there were no lyrics allowed us to use the theme for a certain feature in the game.
We were able to work in songs in conjunction with features in the game. For instance, there is the part where you chase after a song.
If anyone wants to know more about this mysterious feature, I recommend they buy the game and check it out for themselves! (laughs)
Can I ask you something? In the final song, there’s a key change10, isn’t there? Then, just when you expect a big climax to kick in, it actually suddenly gets really quiet, doesn’t it? 10 A key change or modulation is when the key shifts, for instance, from sharp to flat. It is often used just before a climax in the music.
Yes, you’re right.
What’s the idea there? Was that some kind of message directed at me? (laughs)
It sounds like it was pretty effective, wasn’t it? (laughs)
Ha! You really got me with that one! (laughs) When the key changes, you’d normally expect it to build to a crescendo, but it actually just drops away quietly… I felt you were sending me a message, and so I really wanted to ask about it. (laughs)
Well, you did reject my first effort and make me redo it from scratch, after all! (laughs)
(quietly) I’m so sorry… But I had to rewrite the lyrics, didn’t I?
Yes, thank you for that! (laughs) But that doesn’t change the fact that the song got rejected… (said with a sigh)
(insistently) Your first effort was good too, you know!
But you rejected it! (laughs) Well, I’ve got no doubt that the readers of this interview will be dying to hear the song in question.
Well, if you want to hear the song, you’ll need to finish the game… (laughs)
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