RPGFan Exclusive Interview #4: Hitoshi Sakimoto, Composer, Basiscape
Conducted and Translated by Chris Winkler
Following three weeks of executives and developers, we bring you an interview with one of the industry's most renowed veteran composers today. Hitoshi Sakimoto has been involved in the creation of games since the late 1980s, however only since scoring the epic soundtrack of Square's 1997 strategy classic Final Fantasy Tactics have fans outside Japan took notice of the talented composer. Since then, Sakimoto has shown no sign of slowing down, working on Vagrant Story, Sony Computer Entertainment's Legaia: Duel Saga, Capcom's Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, the Final Fantasy Tactics gaiden Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Gradius V and Atlus's strategy RPG Stella Deus. During the official Final Fantasy XII press conference in November 2003, Sakimoto was introduced as the game's composer alongside Nobuo Uematsu, thereby becoming the sixth composer to work on a main series installment of Square Enix's flagship series.
Today, he will speak about his career and Final Fantasy XII, but also about being a freelance composer and his long working relationship with the head of Square Enix's fourth production team, Yasumi Matsuno.
Q: Mr. Sakimoto, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus, which made you enter the game industry?
A: It depends on the definition of the term "to enter the [game] industry," but if I should write the entire story, at first I worked as a writer for a computer magazine named Oh!FM during my senior high school years. I did not do any compositions back then, but put the data of existing songs being played on a computer into the magazine and wrote a few articles. At the same time, a computer-based shooting game, titled Revolter (which was not for regular sale, but instead was sold at Comiket (editor's note: Comic Market)), was developed by volunteers and there, for the first time, I was in charge of composing [a game's music]. Due to my work on Revolter, game developers who had seen the game approached me about work. I handled arrangements, programming of music and sound effect data, and the programming of music drivers for a few games, which went on regular sale. Until then, this was the story of my student years, but since it was after those years that I eventually began doing this work as my principal occupation, I guess one could say that was the impetus [that caused me to enter the game industry].
Q: How is the development of Final Fantasy XII progressing? Have you already completed the recording of the music?
A: The game's development is still a work in progress. I can't comment on the status of the development, but as far as the music's recording is concerned, that was entirely completed last April. Regarding the songs which are created with the sampler (synthesizer), this work is not yet completely finished.
Q: You have already known the head of Square Enix's fourth production team, Yasumi Matsuno for years before entering Square (editor's note: now Square Enix). How did you first meet? What kind of person is Mr. Matsuno?
A: There was a company named Quest that created Ogre Battle. There, I was doing the music for a game titled Magical Chase, which was created by Mr. Minagawa and his development team, when I first met Mr. Matsuno. As Mr. Matsuno was directing another title at that time, the first time I directly had anything to do with him on a professional level was Ogre Battle. You could say he appears to be a slightly fragile person, but in fact he is a very helpful person and very considerate in a friendly way. These characteristics are also reflected in his games, I think. As far as music is concerned, he also gives you very clear directions. It is very easy to work with him, because he trusts me a lot.
Q: Do you think Square Enix will develop a sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics?
A: I'm not in the position to know whether the development has been decided on, so I can't comment on that. However, I believe the possibility of a side story, a la Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, being released is fair enough.
Q: Mr. Sakimoto, you have already worked on the music for more than 100 games. Among all the games in whose development you have been involved, which song or soundtrack is your favorite?
A: The number of projects I have been involved in is probably large, but due to the fact that at the beginning I was often doing arrangements and manipulations, I think the number of titles where I was in charge of composition is not that large. Regarding my past works, because I rarely look back myself, basically I like the songs I'm currently working on better. If I'm forced to mention something, Vagrant Story is a title which I have deep memories of, for various reasons. It was also the only title which I composed as an employee, and the only one which noticeably reflected my personal preferences when it comes to music.
Q: Mr. Sakimoto, you have already created music for famous RPG series, such as Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy Tactics, Breath of Fire, and Final Fantasy. Have you ever thought, "If I could, I would like to compose the music of this game?" If that's the case, what game would that be?
A: As far as Shin Megami Tensei is concerned, because I was only doing the manipulations on the Super Famicom version, I have not composed any music [for that series]. I can't say which title in particular, but I would like to try and write more songs for genuine love stories. But in the field of game BGMs, there is little demand for those, I guess.
Q: Recently, not only you, but also Kenji Itou, Yasunori Mitsuda, Youko Shimomura, and Nobuo Uematsu have become freelance composers. What do you think is the reason behind this tendency? Is it because of the greater freedom a freelancer enjoys?
A: This is my personal opinion, but if you want to work as a composer, you won't have enough freedom if you are an employee at a game company. However, there are different standpoints, because if you want to be involved in making games as a composer, you should stay closer to the development team. Hence, in this case it is better to be an employee of a game company.
Q: Mr. Sakimoto, you are a very busy man, but when you have some time at your hand, what games do you play yourself?
A: Recently I have had no time to play games, and have lived an unwilling life. Because I like shooting and war games, I currently like first person shooters such as Half Life 2 or MMOGs which allow you to engage in PvP. Because I particularly like network-enabled first person shooters featuring those two elements, I really loved Half Life 1's network-enabled Team Fortress MOD. Together with colleagues I formed a team, and every weekend we played a session. This is a fond memory.
Q: What music are you listening to?
A: Basically, I listen to [music of] all genres, but when I get away from work, I often listen to jazz/fusion.
RPGFan would like to thank Hitoshi Sakimoto for his cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.