PAX Prime 2015 Interview with Masayoshi Soken
After a great panel and sing-along, I got the chance to sit down with the Sound Director of Final Fantasy XIV, Masayoshi Soken.
Gamer Escape: In A Realm Reborn, the music in the zones would play in parts as you traveled through the zones. In Heavensward however, the music plays constantly. Why did you make that change?
Soken: We did try to cut the tracks into smaller pieces for 2.0, but we didn’t feel it was very successful.
To give more context, in A Realm Reborn, there are a lot of quests that involved different zones and so you’d travel to other areas throughout the quest process. In Heavensward however, there are more and more quests are within one area and so there’s more of an opportunity to listen to the music as one solid chunk so we decided to keep it as a loop rather than have it in pieces.
I’m sure you’ve played the game and experienced when you encounter an enemy it would cut out in the middle of the song and switch to the battle music. What’s your impression of it if the song gets interrupted?
GE: Because the song is always playing in the zone, it doesn’t bother me as much.
S: That’s good to know!
Japanese players sometimes get annoyed with the interruption of it switching to the battle music so some have complained because they want to listen to the field music.
GE: I agree with that for the ARR field music because you’re traveling and you get that little snippet of music that starts playing but then it gets interrupted by the battle music.
S: That’s good to know! I’m glad it doesn’t bother you as much in Heavensward.
GE: The Gaius battle track was changed in Heavensward and I was wondering what made you want to go back and make those adjustments?
S: You have a really good ear!
In the background of that track is a violin and we actually changed that to a live violin. During A Realm Reborn there wasn’t enough time to go into details and so we utilized DTM (Desktop music) but with that it’s difficult to bring out the nuance of an actual person playing the instrument.
For Heavensward we needed to test the song and they used it during the development process. You may not normally notice something with a lot of sound effects, but the scene we tested it in didn’t have a lot of environmental sound and so the battle team noticed that there was something wrong if we used just the DTM. So we scrambled a bit, we wanted to have a live violin actually play for that track.
But it’s amazing you noticed that!
GE: I remember you tweeted something about it so I had to go and check it out. It sounds nice now. I like it.
S: Thank you!
GE: I really liked the From Astral to Umbral album and I was wondering if you had plans to do another album with The Primals?
S: We would love to make a new album. Before that though we want to do live performances as The Primals. In Heavensward there are more Primals, but those tracks aren’t all rock songs. We’d love to perform live, but that would require arranging more songs into rock… so it takes a lot of time.
Question for you! Which would you rather hear? Another Primals rock band live concert? Or an orchestral arrangement.
GE: That’s a hard question! I Like both. For me I think of Primals and a fast paced fight and for me the rock music makes more sense. But I’d also like the orchestrated stuff at the same time.
S: I’m torn about it too.
GE: I’ve gone to many Distant Worlds concerts and I really enjoy the orchestrated music and the Piano on From Astral to Umbral was great too. Whatever you make I’ll listen to it!
S: Thank you very much!
GE: I was wondering, there are a lot of different types of music in Final Fantasy XIV. Is there a genre of music you’d like to try out that hasn’t been included yet?
S: I put in a song that’s close to what I want to do, but I wanna do like the bossa nova genre, or jazz in general.
GE: I was wondering if you could talk about what it’s like to arrange some of the classic themes from previous Final Fantasy games such as the Crystal Tower or Matoya’s Cave?
S: For Heavensward we have Matoya’s Cave from the first Final Fantasy. It’s used in a very important part of the game so I made sure to keep the integrity of it. The development team also felt it was very important and they ranked the priority of it as high as some of the primal tracks in Heavensward. Of course there’s not too much time I can spend on it so I rushed though it a bit.
GE: Are there any more tracks from the series that you would like to arrange for Final Fantasy XIV?
S: Of course there are tracks that I’d love to take on the challenge of arranging, but I would rather the tracks are influenced by what the fans want. My personal policy is that the music has to match the gameplay experience. There’s no point in creating a track that would break that experience. If the narrative leads itself to using a previous track than I’d love to use a track from a game to fit that experience.
GE: There are some music tracks like the Crystal Tower and Frontlines where it will change depending on if you’re in battle and I was wondering how hard it is to create those tracks where they swap in and out?
S: Yes, it is pretty difficult. It’s not just two tracks playing simultaneously going back and forth between walking music and battle music. Sometimes, when you switch over there’s another track to interject between the different experiences so it’s very complicated and complex.
It’s a very interesting system. In Japan I made a presentation explaining how that method is being used in the game at a conference kind of like a GDC in Japan. It’s not just two tracks playing simultaneously. In actuality there are up to 6 tracks. Not two streams, but six streams.
GE: Wow, I always thought it was just two!
S: By doing so, that’s what gives it that kind of natural transition between the different tracks.
GE: What is your process for creating a new track for the game?
S: First, the scenario team provides me with the narrative and I determine how many songs I’ll need for Heavensward. Because we create the narrative first for Final Fantasy XIV, that’s what dictates how the rest of the elements are created.
In terms of the number of songs and the requests by the scenario team, for Heavensward it was an insane amount. So among that wishlist, I go back to the team to discus which tracks are higher priority to see “OK we definitely want to have a dedicated theme to this narrative but maybe we can cut on those” and we can figure out which tracks are required for the narrative of Heavensward.
We get it down to as few tracks as possible and then I’ll think “OK maybe we should add something else here” so then I’ll adjust in areas that are maybe missing music where I want to add more. For one song, I’ll recompose sometimes 15-20 times. When a song is created, I submit it to the scenario team and 1 out of 5 times, the scenario team will come back and want it changed a bit. After that I do the same process 15-20 times and it’s just rinse and repeat from there.
The scenario team and myself work together and we decide on one song, and we deliver it to Yoshida and then he’ll go “no, I want it changed” and so we’ll start from scratch once again.
GE: The Ravana and Bismarck tracks were moved to Alexander as you told us in the panel. Did something like that happen with any other music?
S: For Heavensward it was pretty much just Alexander where that happened.
GE: The voice acting in Heavensward… I noticed a lot of NPCs have different voices now and I was wondering why those changes were made?
S: It’s a tough question to answer. When we’re thinking of the business of an MMORPG we would love to use the same voice actor throughout the series, but there are contractual obligations and sometimes it doesn’t allow for us to buy the rights to their voice for a perpetual amount of times. Sometimes there are other reasons that might come up and so we would have to sometimes recast the actors that are voicing our NPCs. Our intent is that we want to avoid having to recast them.
This might be because it’s a long running game, it might be out of the ordinary, but if a voice actor decides to leave the industry, it would be inevitable that we would have to recast them.
There are instances where within the development process that we would have to recast and have new actors record voices for certain NPCs. Our stance however is that we’d love to keep as many of them as possible from 2.0 moving forward, continuing to reprise their roles in upcoming expansions and the updates throughout.
Sometimes due to business reasons we have to change the voice actors. From the creative side of things however we want to keep them, it’s not a situation where we don’t like them or anything like that.
GE: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans in North America?
S: There are so many venues in North America that have great sound and acoustics. My dream is to do both an orchestra and Primals rock band and so any sort of support, feedback or encouragement is greatly appreciated.
There are great venues in Japan too, but we can’t book them very often. In America there are just so many different venues and great places to perform so we could probably squeeze in much easier than the venues in Japan, so again, your support would be greatly appreciated.
GE: I’d love to see you guys come to Chicago sometime!
S: We’d love to go! If there’s a great demand for it and a lot of fans voicing a desire for a performance to be done in that area I’m sure it’ll grab the attention of who needs to make that decision.
Or you can plan the event yourself and host us!
GE: I’ll send you an invite (laughs)
S: I’m a business man so if my work calls for me to go, I’ll go!
We also managed to get a Before the Fall Blu-ray OST signed by both Soken and Koji during our time at PAX! We’ll be looking to announce a giveaway for it and some other FFXIV swag soon. Please look forward to it!
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