Composer Masashi Hamauzu is the musician responsible for the score to Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII, released last year for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Hamauzu has been keeping busy following the release of the role-playing game, which was in production for several years.
Having gone freelance, the composer of SaGa Frontier II has recently founded his own studio, named Monomusik. Music by the composer can be heard in the reveal trailer for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and his arrangement of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy IV main theme appears in the intro to the forthcoming PlayStation Portable Complete Collection edition. Both titles were recently announced for release in English-language regions.
Outside of Square Enix, Hamauzu will be contributing to the soundtrack for Marvelous Entertainment's sequel to Half-Minute Hero for the PSP. A full-length album titled IMERUAT is also in the works, a collaboration with Final Fantasy XIII vocalist Mina. Hamauzu describes his current situation as an ideal mix of creative freedom and diverse opportunities.
We had the chance to sit down with the composer at a recent recital of Piano Collections Final Fantasy XIII, performed by Aki Kuroda. In this interview, preceding the musicians' sold-out May 22 Paris concert organized by Wayo Records, we hear from the composer and vocalist of IMERUAT on their past and present collaborations.
Mina, Masashi Hamauzu and Aki Kuroda at the Yokohama Final Fantasy XIII piano recital
Can you tell us a little about how you first met Masashi Hamauzu?
Mina: That was back in 2007. It was through a mutual friend who was hosting an exhibition of his Ainu printmaking. At the time I had been leading a performance group called Ainu Rebels and requested that Hamauzu-san write a song for our next performance. He accepted, and through that meeting we gradually became friends. He's provided me with all sorts of advice on music.
How would you describe your participation as a vocalist in the game score for Final Fantasy XIII? Is there a story behind the creation of the vocal tracks?
M: While Hamauzu-san was working out the melodies on the demo tracks, he asked if I would improvise lyrics for one of the compositions. Initially there weren't plans for several songs, but he felt my performance managed to fit the atmosphere of the game and that led to further recording. He was very open to new ideas and kept saying, "Try singing on this one, too."
My contributions as a singer were therefore somewhat spontaneous. Hamauzu-san composes very quickly, and by the time we were done, we had recorded four songs. Elsewhere, on the "Taejin's Tower" theme, I performed a traditional Ainu instrument called the mukkuri. I'm given the impression that Hamauzu-san is even more fully aware of the range of my musical ability than I am myself. I felt confident relying on his direction to guide the creation of these songs.
What languages did you decide on for these songs and what was the reasoning behind your choices?
M: "Sulyya Springs" and "Will to Fight" are in English. While we were preparing the demo track for "The Gapra Whitewood," I also sang in English, which seemed to match the tone of the piece. After receiving the final draft of the lyrics, however, I was so preoccupied with getting the pronunciation and intonation right that I lost track of the flow of the melody. Starting from scratch, we dropped the lyrics altogether and employed a fictitious language to regain the feel of the previous songs. If you listen to the last part of “Battle Results,” which plays upon the completion of each battle, you can hear me counting numbers in the Ainu language.
You've unveiled a teaser site for your next project, IMERUAT. How would you describe your plans for this further collaboration with the game composer?
For a long time there have been plans in the works, but not until very recently has there been the chance to see them through. To get a sense of what we have planned, it might be best to briefly visit our homepage for the time being. To put it simply, we would like to stay true to our creative instincts. Hamauzu-san has wanted to do this for a long time and the both of us are very pleased to have this present opportunity.
At today's piano recital, Kuroda-san performed your arrangements from the Piano Collections Final Fantasy XIII album. How did it come about that you first met and what are your impressions of her treatment of your music?
Masashi Hamauzu: I met Kuroda-san while working on Piano Collections Final Fantasy X, where I arranged all the music for the album. From the start she had been selected as the featured pianist and I became very impressed with her performance style. She understands the intentions behind my compositions very well. Beyond that, her performance is full of care. It's a joy to see.
What do you find to be the greatest challenges involved in arranging your music for the piano?
MH: Particularly when arranging for Piano Collections albums, you start with a composition comprised of numerous elements, and from there you are attempting to match that richness with the use of just one instrument. That makes piano arrangement truly challenging whenever it's attempted.
What has been the source of your interest in Ainu culture, leading to your working with the Ainu Rebels music group?
MH: For more than a decade I've been interested in Ainu culture. Around three years ago I discovered the Ainu Rebels, began writing songs for the group, as well as advising them on their stage performances. In my spare time I've studied what writings I could find. The culture is at once familiar and full of fascinating things to discover. I'd say that in investigating the Ainu culture I've been significantly influenced in my way of thinking.
Following your education in music there are any number of career paths that you could have followed. Why did you choose writing music for a game company?
MH: Back in junior high I really liked videogame music. I decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living. In particular, I listened to a lot of RPG music. I thought, "What a remarkable mood this music creates. I wonder what I would do differently were I the composer?" I had the records and cassettes of the Dragon Quest music, which came with little sheets of music with the score. I learned the music for Dragon Quest I through III as best I could. Koichi Sugiyama showed me the huge potential for game music.
While in college, I noticed there was this extraordinary emphasis on music in the games being produced by Square. I thought this attention to detail among game scores was extraordinary. Of all aspects of games I've played, music has left the best impression on me. By the time I was a sophomore, I'd already decided that following graduation I would go to work for Square. In my work now, in looking at gameplay movies for reference, it's always fun to find in the phrasing and timing a musical analog to what's onscreen. Viewing those images fills me with creative energy.
Are there requirements of writing music for videogames that you find to be unique to the medium?
MH: Compared with film or anime, when writing for games you're often involved over the course of the entire development cycle. RPGs can last upwards of 50 hours, requiring a larger volume of music. You're tasked with writing music that never strays from relevance to the title, and to that end you must be in constant communication with the game designers. These are facets that can make composing for games very different from other visual fields.
What are your impressions of today's piano recital? Did it please you to attend this performance of your music and to perform one of your compositions from SaGa Frontier II?
MH: Speaking of the atmosphere of today's recital, the audience members showed such warmth and friendliness. It really made things enjoyable for me. While it was nerve-wracking to perform one of my own pieces, because of their kindness I gained some confidence. I think it was a very good concert, overall.
In closing, as a freelance composer, are you currently looking for your work at Monomusik to branch out beyond the realm of gaming?
MH: While I've always been fascinated by games, I don't feel that my creativity is restricted to that medium. So long as I'm able to express myself through the kind of music that moves me, the particularities of the medium are somewhat inconsequential. From here, Mina and I are at work on a variety of new songs. We aren't sure what we will manage to accomplish, but we hope to share the results with you once it's completed.
[SaGa Frontier 2 Piano Pieces, (C)1999 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved. This content is available in Japanese on the Videogame Music in Context DVD, in French on FFWorld, and in Italian on Gamesource.it. Images courtesy of Square Enix. Photo by Jeriaska.]