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Phil Larsen
06 Nov, 2006

Hitoshi Sakimoto Interview

PALGN Interview | PALGN's exclusive chat with the acclaimed composer of upcoming blockbuster Final Fantasy XII.
Welcome to PALGN's latest feature in our series of interviews with some of Japan's greatest video game composers. Previously, we chatted with Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame, and today we have a special interview with Hitoshi Sakimoto, composer of the soundtrack for the critically acclaimed RPG Final Fantasy XII. Our friends at Eminence are hard at work preparing even more concerts, some of which Sakimoto will be attending personally. Now, onto the details from the musical master himself!


PALGN: When did you start playing music, and how did your musical education evolve?

Sakimoto: I've learnt to perform with the piano and electone and I’ve belonged to a Brass Band since elementary school, but I haven’t had specific lessons for composition. Also, I didn't go to a music school and wasn't taught by a teacher. As for music study, it’s been necessary to practice it during work since I’ve became a professional.


PALGN: Can you give a brief overview of your work, and pieces which may be recognisable to the Australian video game fans?

Sakimoto: I guess my most recognised works are Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics etc, as Square games are generally sold well abroad. As with other companies' products, it would have to be Gradius V, Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, etc. If in any case you are interested in more details, please visit our company’s webpage www.basisscape.com.


PALGN: Do you credit any musical pieces or composers as being inspirational to your own work?

Sakimoto: You might not expect, but even though I’ve listened to a lot of classical music, since I’ve learnt a few instruments as mentioned above, I have an impression I was just forced to learn. Instead, I'm rather influenced by old techno and progressive rock I actively listened to, such as YMO [Yellow Magic Orchestra], Kraftwerk, ELP and King Crimson. Indeed, for a personal preference, I often listen to Jazz/Fusion and techno music.


PALGN: Were you ever overwhelmed by the scope of a project or the almost certain popularity of a game such as Final Fantasy Tactics?

Sakimoto: As you point out, there is a lot pressure to work on already popular titles or series'. However, I always worry if I should respect the previous composer's intentions, especially when there are previous games. I always work hard within my ability.

All smiles for Sakimoto.

All smiles for Sakimoto.
Close
PALGN: Are there any other projects which are particularly memorable for either good or bad reasons?

Sakimoto: There are too many memorable moments to share amongst our game projects. As every industry might be, it's a really comfortable place if many true professionals who love video games are there, even when it's a hard or particularly unpleasant time.


PALGN: Of the games you have scored, do you save your 'best' work for the 'best' (or likely to be popular) games?

Sakimoto: I compose different music for specific reasons. Other than that, I don't think there are any other purposes of the music. So, I never store my music or recycle unused tracks in any cases. If some tracks are rejected, I ask developers to use them anywhere in the game. If they are still rejected, I release them on the soundtrack as unused tracks. If they fail to be on the soundtrack, sadly, they get put aside forever and we don't hear them.


PALGN: Have you ever felt let down when you considered that other elements of a game didn't live up to your work?

Sakimoto: I still believe the sound can dominate the impression of the game, which was my reason to start this profession. Even if the game isn't that enjoyable, I'm not disappointed because I believe players can continue to play the game for a little longer to hear the music and the sound effects. Also, as everybody would think after working for a long time on a project, the popular works are just a small portion of one's activity. There are many procedures in order to successfully sell many copies of a game, but when naturally composing music, we don’t really need to follow these critical guidelines. For the same reason, I never think a game doesn't live up to my work just because it's boring or it doesn't sell well.


PALGN: When creating a soundtrack, at what point during development are you called in? Does this vary depending on the genre of game or developer?

Sakimoto: There are many variations, but I'm usually offered the job when the casting of developers is determined. I could even join at the early stage of the project and start the work right before the end of the development.


PALGN: Do you create a melody that inspires a setting, or are you given a setting to add a score to?

Sakimoto: I normally get a list and then compose music. I can give only tracks for a main title theme and an image theme and I can be asked to vaguely compose music by developers saying 'we need tracks like this' and then have them create visuals for the track, but these are rare cases.


PALGN: Obviously, depending on the player, your scores may actually be repeated and heard looping many times. Is the repetition factor something you are consciously aware of when writing the music?

Sakimoto: Of course, as it's music assuming to be looped and heard again and again. I make as much undulation as I can into one loop, and I try to create a composition where you aren't conscious of it so that you don't get bored listening to it for so long.

This is no small credit to the man's name.

This is no small credit to the man's name.
Close
PALGN: Your work on Radiant Silvergun and Gradius V (though many years apart) seems to differ from the last decade's trend to create mainly thumping techno soundtracks to 'manic action' games. Was this a conscious decision on your part or that of those game's overall planners?

Sakimoto: As for Radiant Silvergun, it was a complete request from the developer, but regarding Gradius V, I used orchestral instruments to make the whole work consistent.


PALGN: Are there any projects you have worked on which you are especially proud of? Perhaps your favourite soundtrack from all your work?

Sakimoto: I basically like my latest works the most, but Vagrant Story is very impressive because I remember composing the project free-willingly. There was a strict limit on the synth, but I stuck to my musical taste. I'm hoping someday I encounter that kind of project again.


PALGN: Do you also play many video games? Which are your favourites?

Sakimoto: I was just a gamer before, but I've not made much time to play games these days. However I like FPS very much, and I had a match at the end of every week, making a team with my friends on the game Team Fortress Classic, which supports online gameplay. Half-Life 2 was also very impressive.


PALGN: Are you eager to be involved with various live concert events - both in Japan and Australia?

Sakimoto: I make myself attend as many concerts as possible! Also, since I'm actively talking with Eminence to hold concerts in various countries, please look forward to hearing more about it!


PALGN: Do you have a favourite composer or soundtrack you admire?

Sakimoto: I have too many favorite composers to list here, but among those I've heard recently, Sheryl Crow was good.


PALGN: Can you give us any information about current or future projects you are working on?

Sakimoto: I’m currently working on 9 projects, but as I'm responsible for non-game products as well, I really hope you can hear them if you find my name. Also, since I'm going to attend the Eminence concerts in December this year and April next year, I'm looking forward to meeting everyone! Best wishes!


Eminence's next upcoming concert is entitled Passion. Dates and venues are as follows:

Sydney
16th Dec 2006, 3:00pm / 7:30pm
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Macquarie St, Sydney NSW

Melbourne
9th Dec 2006, 3:00pm / 7:30pm
Merlyn Theatre, The C.U.B. Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC

Singapore
23rd December 2006, 8:00pm
Victoria Concert Hall


________________________________
PALGN would like to extend its thanks to the Eminence Group for supervision and translation, and of course Hitoshi Sakimoto for taking the time to answer our questions.

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4 Comments
7 years ago
You know I've read a lot of people say FFXII's soundtrack isn't as strong as the other titles, but as a Final Fantasy Tactics fan, I think the music really suits the game and world (I'm only 15 hours in).

Nice interview btw, top stuff.
7 years ago
Great interview. I espescially liked all the questions I wrote icon_biggrin.gif
7 years ago
I have been ignoring everyone's comparisons to previous FF soundtracks actually. I'm not really the type of person who compares music and I've found that ever since doing so, I have enjoyed some albums and the like a whole lot more than what I would if I made comparisons. So yeah what is my point exactly?

Don't have one but meh, all I know is that I will indeed be buying this soundtrack to continue my collection and I will be judging it on its own merits and nothing more. Now I wonder what I will get first, the soundtrack or the actual game?
7 years ago
I thought the music was good, suited the game well. I definatly think the soundtrack was just as good as the other FF's.
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