The turnaround from the original Final Fantasy XIV to the redone Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was nothing short of magnificent, and part of the credit rests at the hands of lead composer Masayoshi Soken. Soken's compositions paint an aural picture and set the stage for some of the biggest moments in FFXIV's narrative. Since A Realm Reborn's release, Soken has composed many of the game's most memorable tracks.
Soken has created so many songs for Final Fantasy XIV that the game set a Guinness World Record for the most original pieces of music in a video game. When the record was awarded to the team at Square Enix, FFXIV had 384 original pieces of music. And that was in 2017, ahead of the then-upcoming launch of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.
Soken's music also extends outside of the game itself. He performs songs from FFXIV with the Primals, a live rock band he established in 2014. The Eorzean Symphony, an orchestra concert featuring the music of Final Fantasy XIV, has entered its second year. This year, Eorzean Symphony will take place at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, California on June 15-16, 2018; and the Konzerthaus Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany on August 24-25, 2018.
Ahead of the upcoming concert, USgamer spoke to Masayoshi Soken his work on Final Fantasy XIV and bringing that work to a different audience with orchestral compositions.
USgamer: How does your overall process differ when working on the game compositions, with the orchestra, or a session for The Primals at one of the Fan Fests?
Final Fantasy XIV Sound Director Masayoshi Soken: All of the sound production that I work on begins by asking myself, "What can I do with sound in order to enrich the gameplay experience?" When it comes to the orchestra concerts and The Primals live shows, my focus is on making sure that the music evokes the memories of past experiences within our players.
USgamer: Out of those three types of work, which one do you find the most interesting and fulfilling?
Soken: Being a game creator, there's no doubt that I find it most fulfilling when I am able to create music that matches the gameplay experience perfectly!
USgamer: One difference in the composing work for the game is you can't see the reactions of listeners in real-time. How does it feel to be able to watch listeners react to your compositions live?
Soken: The passion of the guests—Final Fantasy XIV players—who attended the orchestra concert in Japan was so intense that the applause after each song was completely different from typical orchestra concerts. This intensity was conveyed directly to the performers, and they responded to that applause through the music, which in turn caused the audience to be moved even more. This unique experience continued and was amplified with each piece, and it just kept building.
I was standing backstage during the performances, but I could feel that interaction between the performers and the audience—it was so moving that I was quite literally shaking as I listened. It really was a stark reminder of the great support coming from all of our players.
USgamer: What song on the Final Fantasy XIV soundtrack was the most difficult for you to compose? Why?
Soken: Creating any song for Final Fantasy XIV requires a lot of hard work and concentration, so really all songs can be difficult to compose! Out of all these tracks, though, the Primal battle songs are particularly challenging. Each song has to follow the transitions in the phases of combat, and so it is extremely difficult from both a composition perspective and a technical standpoint.
The Sound team has to put in an extraordinary amount of effort to come up with new ideas for each new Primal to provide both an interesting tune that doesn't feel recycled as well as a fresh gameplay experience—it is definitely not an easy feat.
USgamer: Do you find it fun to remix so many of the classic Final Fantasy songs thanks for the focus of this expansion's raid content? Fans seemed pretty excited for your take on Kefka's theme.
Soken: My belief is that the music of Final Fantasy belongs to Mr. Uematsu. Naturally, taking any of Mr. Uematsu's songs and adding my own twist to it can be a bit nerve wracking, and on top of that I have to make it fit within the realm of Final Fantasy XIV. As I mentioned earlier, I also have to express the intricate relationship between combat and song, and doing all of this and keeping true to the original is a huge undertaking.
However, all in all I can say the process was fun... I think? *laughs* If people do enjoy the Final Fantasy XIV renditions of classic Final Fantasy songs, that is something that brings me great joy.
USgamer: On the album "Duality," you had hard rock tracks from the Primals and piano arrangements by Keiko. It was interesting seeing the heavy contrast between those two styles. Do you see room to experiment with other musical styles in future arrangement albums?
Soken: To tell you the truth, I always have a lot of ideas floating around in my head, but the work that I need to prioritize most is on creating game music and sound effects. I'm currently up to my neck in Final Fantasy XIV sound creation work, and I have hardly any time to try other genres. That doesn't mean I wouldn't love to, though! Perhaps some jazz with a horn section—that would be very cool. I would love to try.
USgamer: Are any of the new tracks for the upcoming Primals album going to find their way back to FFXIV?
Soken: Actually, we implemented a staggering three songs in the new Patch 4.3 Ultima (Ultimate) battle that are The Primals arrangements! We're going to be actively incorporating more songs if we see any other intense battle content that would fit the music!