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Interview with Masayoshi Soken on Final Fantasy XIV's Orchestra Concert

9 Nov 2017

Images: FFXIV Developer’s Blog

Towards the end of September, Final Fantasy XIV Sound Director Masayoshi Soken had an opportunity to do something that not all video game music creators get to do: feature his work in an orchestra concert. While this wasn’t the first time that his music would be performed in an orchestral arrangement (Distant Worlds has performed FFXIV music in the past), it would be the first time that a concert would play FFXIV music exclusively.

We know from talking with Soken-san a couple of years ago at PAX that an orchestra concert is something he’s been considering in addition to his already popular rock group The Primals, which have performed at all of the Fan Festivals, been featured on two albums, which then also feature piano arrangements of Final Fantasy XIV music. While currently working on music for upcoming Final Fantasy XIV patches, Soken-san is also working on the Blu-ray of the orchestra concert which releases at the end of next month. 

Somewhere in-between all of his work, Soken-san was able to find the time to respond to some of our questions about the first-ever Final Fantasy XIV orchestra concert, which you can read below.

Gamer Escape: When we talked with you at PAX in Seattle back in 2015, you said you were already thinking about an orchestra concert. How long have you been planning it?

Masayoshi Soken: In terms of preparation on a personal level, I started as early as the beginning of A Realm Reborn development. As for working on it as a collaborative effort with the team, I started around two years ago.

GE: Was it difficult to arrange each of these pieces for an orchestra?

Soken- the day before the first concert. Image: @SOKENsquareenix

Soken: I’ve worked on various arrangements in FINAL FANTASY XIV, but in creating each piece, there’s something I have taken great care to remember: the music is not the star, it’s part of the drama that the player creates as they live within Eorzea.

In other words, I could not possibly create an arrangement that could potentially trample upon the setting of Eorzea, which all of the players have lived in and experienced. The orchestra arrangement is no different—my thinking has not changed, and this allowed me to establish how I would like to tweak the songs in my mind straight away.

However, some phrases and range of notes produced in-game are not necessarily feasible to recreate when people perform in an orchestra, and simply copying the notes without any care would produce a score that can’t be performed. Therefore, I had to go in and make adjustments: changing which instrument played a particular part, modifying the melody without the listener noticing, and other adjustments similar to that.

I mentioned at the beginning, too, but I didn’t want to trample on our players experiences within Eorzea, and on top of that I needed to put together a score that the orchestra musicians can perform…it was quite the task to undertake.

GE: Did you have any personal involvement with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra?

Soken: This dates back to really long ago, but my father, before he joined the NHK Philharmonic, was a member of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

GE: You have so many pieces of music to choose from when doing a concert like this. How did you decide which pieces to perform? Were there any songs that you wanted to do, but for whatever reason they didn’t make the cut?

Soken: As this was the first concert for us, Yoshida-san and I racked our brains really hard for a few months to decide on the song list. We had a goal to make this like an orchestral suite, so while we did take great care to consider the FINAL FANTASY XIV story line, we also wanted to shape the history of our Warriors of Light in Eorzea through the music.

Both Yoshida and I had many songs we wanted to include in our set list this time. However, considering the time it would take to create the scores, as well as the length the scores of some of the pieces would have been, we decided to compact our vision into 18 songs that were performed at the concert.

Image: @SOKENsquareenix

GE: Similarly, when making the Orchestral Mini album, how did you decide what pieces to include?

Soken: We carefully chose eight (8) songs from the list of pieces we were going to perform at the concert. The CD was set to release prior to the concert, so simply put, we chose songs which were easiest to create scores for first.

GE: What was the inspiration behind having Oblivion performed with a quartet?

Soken: First, I had originally thought of wanting to do a ballad arrangement of this song. When I released the third soundtrack, Before the Fall, I went to various CD shops around Japan to commemorate the release of the album. When we stopped at a CD shop in Hokkaido for the event, I heard through the grapevine that there was a Warrior of Light who worked at the store, and that she was also a talented singer.

So, out of the blue I asked if we could have her sing Shiva’s theme while I played the piano. She agreed, and when we performed it, the store was packed with Warriors of Light who gave us an overwhelming ovation. That made me think that that kind of composition would make a cool arrangement. Based on that inspiration, I created a proper ballad version of Shiva’s theme in Duality, our arrangement album, which was received very well by the players.

Now, when doing an orchestra concert, I pondered about how I could best express Shiva’s ballad using an orchestra, and came to settle on a string quartet. I used the intertwining tone of four string instruments to express the thin strings of the Dragonsong War that entangles Ysayle’s life and the history it weaved.

GE: Was the pause during the Alexander theme “Moebius” influenced in any way by the reaction you received during the pause when you performed “Rise” at the Primals concert at Fan Fest in Frankfut?

Soken: Originally when we were brainstorming ideas for the orchestra concert, Yoshida-san had mentioned that he would love to have a dramatic moment where “time” for the performers’ stopped completely. The pause during the Frankfurt concert was based on that idea, so in actuality, the idea for the orchestra concert came first (laughs).

Naoki Yoshida, Nobuo Uematsu, and Masayoshi Soken walk out during the pause in Moebius, each playing an instrument. Image:

GE: Does Yoshida play a mad drum?

Soken: His performance was ”okay”! I’d like for him to try out Extreme next. Then he will have to practice a lot, huh!

GE: What was your favorite part of the concert?

Soken: The fact that the Warriors of Light left the concert hall with very satisfied expressions—we all got goosebumps when we saw all 5,000 attendees rise for a standing ovation. Having experienced that, it made me feel truly happy that I have been able to create sound and music for this game.

GE: Lots of merchandise sold out, the concerts sold out…it was very popular! How likely is it that we’ll see more orchestra concerts in the future?

Soken: If I think only about how difficult the preparation for even just these shows was, I feel like I might never want to think about a “next time,” but considering the applause from so many Warriors of Light…I really would like to do another one.

GE: With the popularity of this concert, has there been any talk yet about bringing it to North America and Europe?

Soken: FINAL FANTASY XIV is a global title, so we do not intent to end it with just Japan! We will work hard to bring this to as many locations as we are able, but it really is hard to execute a concert at this scale while still working on development of the game.

However, we are FINAL FANTASY XIV, and we will do our best to make it happen! If and when we get to do an overseas concert, we want all of you, the players, to please come to listen!

Image: FFXIV Developer’s Blog