Final Fantasy XV Interview — Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016’s Best Games

DualShockers sat down with the composers of Final Fantasy XV's score to reflect on the passion, energy, and work that went into composing its music.

on July 28, 2017 10:00 AM

When DualShockers ran our Game of the Year of 2016 awards, Final Fantasy XV won not only our staff’s Game of the Year, but also our Readers’ Choice Awards. The game excelled in all categories from battle systems to characters, but one thing is for certain: the music of Final Fantasy XV was amazing.

DualShockers had the opportunity to sit down with Final Fantasy XV composers Shota Nakama and Yoshitaka Suzuki to discuss their work on the game and their approach to composing a few of the tracks.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

Azario Lopez: How does it feel to be credited as a composer on what is arguably one of the best RPGs of 2016?

Shota Nakama: It feels awesome! This is a franchise that I grew up with and Final Fantasy XV is probably my favorite modern Final Fantasy. It’s just so different from the other games in every way: technicality, design, and music made it a huge challenge for everybody. This was partially because Tabata-san wanted the game to be on par or better than western games.

AL: There are culturally-different towns and areas throughout the game that each have its own mood and setting. Was it difficult to incorporate such a large variation of culture into the music?

Yoshitaka Suzuki: Yes, there are different scenes and environments, but what I focused on was the human relationship between the characters. So I tried not to focus so much on the setting, but create music attuned to the emotional side of the story.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

AL: What was it about video games that made you want to write music for them?

SN: Well let’s just say I love video games. In Japan, at any age you can’t avoid video games, so growing up everybody had Nintendo and Super Nintendo, and we played the s*** out of those consoles. I truly believe that I benefited from growing up in the golden time of video games and that is what brought me to want to compose for them. If there’s someone composing for video games that doesn’t love them, then they probably shouldn’t be in the industry.

AL: What assets were you provided to compose for Final Fantasy XV and how does that differ from other works?

YS: During my time working on Final Fantasy XV, I was given so much gameplay footage and cutscenes. So with that, I wrote music directly to the picture: usually though, I’d only have a script or screenshots.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

AL: Did writing music to the actual gameplay make it easier to express emotion in the scenes?

YS: The short answer is “yes.” Emotional expression is better if you are seeing what is happening, but I composed the music from the perspective of the game player. As I watched the footage, I attempted to compose in a way that reflected what the player was feeling. This is evident in my composition “Hellfire” (Ifrit’s theme).

AL: Switching gears: when it comes to playing with Video Game Orchestra, do you notice a growing interest in video game music during your live performances?

SN: You know, it’s nice to see the fans of music in general, but for us it’s a little different. In terms of the Zelda or Final Fantasy concerts, they cater towards that specific fanbase: those who played the games. However, we try to make the event approachable by the general public and not just video game fans.

Someone like me or you would enjoy a video game concert because we have played so many hours of video games. Those who have experience with games bring with them a certain emotion or feeling when listening to the songs. My question though is always the same: “How do you give someone that same feeling when they haven’t played the games?”

With the inclusion of our singers, I believe we can give casual listeners those feelings. We also incorporate video scenes to help guide them through the music. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy the music enough to give the games a try.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

AL: Out of the many games you two have worked on, do you have any particular favorites?

YS: Final Fantasy XV, of course. I’ve also enjoyed many of the songs I’ve composed for Final Fantasy XIV.

SN: I would say Final Fantasy XV is my favorite because it is figuratively our blood, sweat, and tears. We put our souls into that game and had many sleepless nights, but at the end of the day, we accomplished so much. We are so proud at how it turned out.

With the help of everyone else in my team, we all went through the same hell. [laughs]

AL: Will you take the lessons you’ve learned working on Final Fantasy XV and apply those to future projects?

SN: Of course, we learn something new from every gig and I think we learned a tremendous amount from Final Fantasy XV because it’s such a big production. Tabata-san wanted a challenge which had us seeking that challenge within ourselves to accomplish the best sound and quality.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

AL: I know this is a trendy question, but is there any inspiration that you bring with you when you compose music?

YS: I’m not technically inspired by anything, but I was able to be the primary arranger for the soundtrack on The Last Story, working with Nobuo Uematsu. I believe that after that game, I inherited the ideology that Uematsu-san has. I often reflected that experience onto the music that I wrote for Final Fantasy XV.

AL: Are there any Easter egg-type nods hidden in any of the music that you composed for Final Fantasy XV?

SN: We did add a few things. For example: in Ifrit’s Theme “Hell Fire,” if you listen to the end of it you can hear the Prelude in a minor key. If you’re a huge fan and you listen to the music, you’ll catch this easily. There are a few pieces like that, such as some that Yoko Shimomura wrote that implemented the Prelude, and I tried to do some as well.

Final Fantasy XV Interview -- Composers Reflect on Their Work for One of 2016's Best Games

AL: What would you say was the most difficult part of composing music for Final Fantasy XV?

YS: There’s a song called “Stand Your Ground,” and it’s a battle theme that is really fast and awesome. However, I was given ten hours to write the piece. I took on the challenge, orchestrated it, and recorded it the next day.

That doesn’t happen very often, but it was crunch time.

AL: So what are your goals for the future?

SN: The future for me is to do more concerts and tour. This is to expand the opportunities for fans to see our live performance. I’d also like to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western composers.

YS: My goal is to expand my career outside of Japan and compose for more games worldwide.

 /  Staff Writer
Azario Lopez has held multiple positions in the game's media industry. At DualShockers he focuses on providing coverage for niche and indie video games in the form of news updates, reviews, and interviews.