"FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE" (FFXIV) is an MMORPG developed and operated by SQUARE ENIX. With a wide range of gameplay and deep storyline that go beyond a simple MMORPG, this title is still gaining users all over the world, and one of its major attractions is the music created by Mr. Masayoshi Soken.
This time, I was planning to conduct an interview with Mr. Soken just to listen to a full story about Audio-Technica "ATH-R70x," which is used as the reference model (legitimate device for all staff members) in the development of the game......However, I also wanted to know about Mr. Soken's intension for sound creation and the sound itself of FFXIV! Thus, in this article, we'll bring you an interview with Mr. Soken about behind the scenes of music production. The interview covers a lot of information that will be of interest to developers and FFXIV fans alike, including Mr. Soken's devotion to sound creation, the development environment, and “FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker.”
The sound creation for FFXIV and its importance of equipment can be better understood by reading the interview article on Audio-Technica ATH-R70x which supports the production of music. Please take a look at it as well.
Please introduce yourself.
Mr. Soken (the following, honorifics omitted)I'm Masayoshi Soken from the Sound Department at SQUARE ENIX. I've been involved in the sound creation of various titles, but recently I've been mainly working on FFXIV. The game sound creation covers a wide range of tasks, such as creating sound effects, recording and editing voices, implementing various sounds on game consoles, developing sound engines, and creating background music. I do all of these tasks evenly. I'm also in the official band for THE PRIMALS and we've toured worldwide.
Thank you very much. I have my own personal feelings about it, but as a fan of the "FF" series and Mr. Soken, I am very happy to see you back on the front stage. Looking back once again, how was the creation of FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Shadowbringers?
SokenThank you. Yes, in general, FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Shadowbringers was my favorite, or rather the field of creation I am good at, and I think I was able to express my own sounds. Also, the last 12 to 18 months have been very dramatic and a valuable life experience, with the world going through the pandemic and my own health issue. In addition to the internal changes of myself, I have the impression that the production environment itself has also changed dramatically, as my working style used to be outside of my home, either at outside studios or my own production booth within office, but now I work more in my hospital room or at home.
Did you originally have a work environment at home?
SokenNot at all. My home was just to sleep when I got home (laughs).
Did you basically produce your work in the office?
SokenI occasionally did my paperwork at home, but rarely my production stuffs. I did take notes on melodies at home for composing music, for example, but I didn't have a chance to make a full 2 mix of music or 5.1ch environmental sound at home.
So, you have set up a new environment at your home?
SokenIndeed. There was a space that had been left unused, like a storage (laughs). I cleaned it up a bit and turned it into a production space.
It's really like a corner of your home.
SokenYes, it really is.
Could you tell us about your equipment environment there?
SokenThe equipment I use for music production and for sound effects is completely different. For music production, I use a Windows desktop, an RME audio interface, an 88-key keyboard, and three monitors.
Do you have near-field monitors there?
SokenI use GENELEC. Actually, I wanted to bring home a pair of musiques (musikelectronics, a high-end German speaker manufacturer) from our production space in the office, but I couldn't because playing them at home would sound like a nuisance to the neighbors (laughs).
Rather, it's a noise, right? (laughs)
SokenIt really is (laughs).
By the way, do you also use speakers for your creation?
SokenWell......home is......the best relaxing environment for production, isn't it? The bathroom is close, and no one complains if the sound is on. In the office, working booths of other sound staff members are nearby, so of course I can't have the sound on all the time. There are even times when the person next to me say, "I want to mix, too, so can you please turn down the speakers?"
So, it happens sometimes.
SokenYes, it does! In the production booth at the office, such problems would occur, so it' s great to be able to produce sound at home without worrying about the surroundings. But the way of thinking is quite different between sound effect creation and music production. For example, for sound effects, we need to clarify the sound localization, where the sound exists in relation to the visible object. So, when I'm creating sound effects, I often work with 5.1ch sound or stereo headphones.
On the other hand, as the name implies, music is background music. Thus, it is surprisingly important to listen to it once in through the air in order to sway the player's emotions with a certain degree of control, without causing conflict with the sound effects which are clearly positioned. Of course, it's better to use headphones with good resolution to adjust the detailed sound of individual instruments, but when it comes to monitoring stereo music in the end, it's more important to listen to the music with my body, including my ears, through the vibrations of the air. In other words, to see the whole picture. So, I rather leave the speakers on in music production.
Even though it's a game, would the finish be better if you listen to it through the speakers properly?
SokenThat's right. For music, I think it's important to feel and listen to it from the bass to treble with my body to check it with a yardstick.
I've heard a lot of people say that since games are often played using headphones, speakers are not very important.
SokenIt's true that gaming headsets are becoming more and more popular these days, so I think the best way to create sound effects and voices is to adapt them to the users’ play style and environment. However, as for the music, again, I believe that there is a difference in the ability to transmit the power of emotional control if it’s through air or not at the checking process. In fact, when monitoring, there are some aspects that are a little difficult to communicate if it’s with headphones, so the step of checking with speakers is essential. I’m not saying which is better. I don’t mean that speakers are superior, and you don’t have to use headphones at all. I use headphones a lot to check the left-right balance and the balance of bass and treble. However, since I started working outside the office, I've been using speakers for most of my work.
So, you mostly use speakers at home and started to check the details with headphones.
SokenThat's what I've been doing recently. When I was composing music at the office more often, I used to make music based on headphones, and when I finally checked it on the speakers, I was like, "Wow, that's totally different," and I had to fix it.
So, it’s like the style of monitoring has become the exact opposite.
SokenThat's right. I feel like the entrance and exit have been reversed (laughs).
You have composed most of the music for FFXIV. Is there any particular point that you have been very conscious about when composing music that goes along with the title?
SokenI suppose we could take each game sound and judge it as good or bad, but for me, game sounds are strongly tied to the game experience, so I am very conscious about whether or not they match the game experience and the content. For example, if the content is connected to a story line and there is a connection between before and after, what kind of expression should be used to make the sound match the story line, or if it is an individual battle, the background and timing of the battle, these are what I am conscious about.
I also think it's very important to know how to use music to liven up a memorable game experience......for example, during "Time Stop" (RISE, Alexander - The Soul of the Creator's 4th level BGM, which has a time stopping gimmick and is also famous for THE PRIMALS' performance during their gigs when all members freeze to pretend if the time stops). The final answer to the question whether it’s good or bad is not derived from the music itself, but rather from how well the sound matches the game experience. That is what I have been continuing to strive for in our productions.
Because you've done such a good job of expressing those things, the boss themes played by THE PRIMALS are so popular.
SokenIf so, I'm very happy (with shy face). The backgrounds and lyrics are all created from scratch for each battle content. My goal is to provide an experience that deepens the player's emotional attachment to the game.
I can’t help nodding so hard, my neck would fall off (laughs).
SokenI see (laughs). I love music, as much as I love games, so I always think that's important. I myself play games every day, too.
Are games essential for you?
In FFXIV, we can play musical instruments in “Bard,” but do you casually play them yourself?
SokenI do, but I'm really bad with a controller. My FC friends play really well, so I always wonder how they do it. But the best I can do is to use my computer’s keyboard like playing the piano. Even then, I'm not that good (laughs).
When explaining the music for the 7th 14-hour Live Broadcast the other day, you said, "Arrangement is like making Katsu curry into a slightly curry-flavored vegetable salad," and I was laughing because it reminded me of something related to myself. Recently, the music you've produced is more like arrangement or remix with an original music or motif. In the production of new music, do you receive any directions from Ms. Natsuko Ishikawa, the lead story designer, or Mr. Naoki Yoshida, the P/D, for retakes that would change the music completely?
SokenThere are very few course corrections in the direction of the arrangement.
Do you brush up what you create?
SokenIt's like that, 80-90% of the time. However, as the quest progresses, there are emotional changes in the story line. If the BGM placement is inconsistent or doesn't match the changes, I get feedback directly from Ishikawa, Yoshida, or others, saying, "I want you to do something about it because it doesn't match the way we're going to do it.” In such cases, I either rework or redo.
Does this mean that you could create almost no rejections?
SokenOh, but there are times when I make a bad shot at the mock-up phase, when people think it's totally different (laughs). But once we've agreed on the direction of the mockup, I never go far wrong.
Can you tell me about your latest mockup where you made a bad shot?
SokenA bad shot.......Yes, I'm working diligently on FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker, and I put out a couple of PVs the other day for the Digital Fan Festival.
I made new BGMs from scratch. As I thought that it wouldn't deviate too much from the core framework of FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker, I naively thought that the ones I made for the PV could be used somewhere. But when I saw the actual order list, I found out that none of them were on it......
SokenWhat is this ......? Does it mean they don't need them? What......? Like that (laughs). I thought I'd earned a few songs (laughs).
I knew you've been through a lot (laughs)
SokenRight. I actually had a harder time than I thought (laughs).
It's not easy to coordinate.
SokenWell, but I can say that’s what this is all about. We can't include anything that's apart from the game experience, and I think it's essential to make it coherent with the game, so I redo it, thinking that's the only way.
Since we're talking about music production, I'd like to ask you something. You said that you have a complete image of the music in your mind at the time of ordering. How long does it take you to type it into a DAW (music production software)?
SokenI can make a mockup in almost a day. If all goes well, it can be done in three to four hours. In my case, if you say that the completion of the music is 100 %, I can probably make 70 to 80% of it instantly.
That’s pretty fast, isn’t it?
SokenHmmm...I don't know. In my case, when I come up with an idea, I do it with lightning speed. Well, I'm old, so I guess I tend to do things before I forget (laughs). If you ask me whether I've ever got good results by fiddling around for too long, my batting average is low.
Oh, I fiddle around and fail a lot, too.
SokenThat's what I am saying. I don't really have experiences where I was able to compose a good song by sitting at my desk and fiddling around. I guess that's why I have a habit of composing quickly. It's more like momentum.
Like, while there are still passions left?
SokenYes, yes. It's like I make them while I still have motivations.
I'd like to ask you about the sound aspect of FFXIV. Are there any vocalists you'd like to use for the contents after FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker?
SokenI can't name them at this point, but yes (laughs).
So, we might find them in some tracks sometime in the future.
SokenThat's right. I would like you to check it when FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker is released, but I can't say for sure, since I haven't even started to make it yet (laughs). Of course, it's also a business, so it's important to make sure it stays within budget (laughs).
I'm personally curious. Is there any chance you'll be bringing back some of the vocalists who have graced the story in the past, such as voice actress Yoshino Nanjo?
SokenIf there is a matching game content, it might be possible. I often receive requests from players for me to arrange themes from the past FF series. I appreciate it very much, but personally, I think it is not very effective to compose music first and then put it on the game content. I believe that the best way to create game content is to have the game first, and then compose music that best fits the game.
You think that the game itself is the main thing.
SokenThat's right. Maybe it's because I'm a gamer at heart, but I think the story and the reason for each piece of game content is important. I think that changing the story or content just because of my preference of themes or sound expression is not exactly what a game experience is all about.
By the way, what is your favorite track in FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Shadowbringers?
SokenI guess it is "Shadowbringers." It's the one that sets the tone for the worldview of the “First world.”
Now I'd like to ask you a bit more about the music in FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Shadowbringers. "To The Edge," the BGM for the Warrior of Light battle, has an orthodox rock style in 4/4, right? In the intro, the guitar with Mr. GUNN's delayed phrases is impressive, and if I’m not careful, I might lose track of the beat, but at the same time, the solid 4 beats coexist. How did you come up with the arrangement for this?
SokenWell.......I can't really describe it well, but it sounded like that in my head. To tell you the truth, I just put it down. So, it's quite difficult to put the process into words.
So, you're saying it's done because it's done?
SokenThat's right. There is a story that leads up to that point, isn't there? Of course, I had already figured out what kind of situation the player would be put in before production, and based on that, I was asked to quote the melody of "Amaurot" and create a song with a non-orchestral approach to the battle that would lead to the big ending. So.....I traced the song in my head and came up with To The Edge. As you mentioned earlier about the guitar delay, I'm not very good at playing it, and that's why I included those phrases. I put in a lot of delay effects and was playing it roughly because I couldn't do it well. But Mr. GUNN (the lead guitarist and bandmaster of THE PRIMALS) played it exactly right.
You were able to play it after all! (laughs)
SokenMine was wobbly and not so cool.......I told Mr. Gunn, “Play it right, please!” and he did it perfectly.
His play style is ‘crisp,’ isn’t it?
SokenYes, it is. He plays the game and understands what kind of sound is needed for FFXIV. I think that's why he is able to put in that kind of guitar sound.
The song "What Angel Wakes Me" from the Titania battle reflects Titania's feelings and the Pixies' desire to play around. The song itself is filled with excitement, fun, and elegance, but I imagine it must have been difficult to record the vocals.
SokenThe lyrics were easily written by Koji (Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, the FFXIV localization supervisor and vocalist of THE PRIMALS). Speaking of the story behind the vocals, there is a female staff member in our localization department who can sing very well.......actually, she also sang Lakshmi (Beauty's Wicked Wiles).
Oh, I didn't know that!
SokenShe's a dexterous staff member who can use a variety of vocal sounds. For "What Angel Wakes Me," I requested her to try singing in falsetto with a bit of a whispery voice, and she worked hard to obtain the skill. We recorded the song in about one take, so it was almost effortless.
SokenBut she said she couldn't hold her breath, so it was hard for her (laughs). Of course, I've done a lot of processing, though.
The subdivision is quite fast, isn't it?
SokenIt is. I can't sing it though.......Oh, I did it at the live concert, so I can sing.
SokenBut the original song is in triple time, so it's really fast because it's so tight. I think I also composed this one in a day when it popped out in my head.......The melody came out quickly, and the arrangement sounded vaguely in my head, so I just put them into Cubase.
So, the songs that are hit for fans tend to be made in about a day.
SokenWell, I cannot tell whether or not a hit song for players is also my favorite, but I guess you can say so, since there are hardly any songs that I fiddle around with too much.
Lastly, about “A Long Fall,” which encouraged so many memes overseas, did you expect they would go on viral that much?
SokenNo, not at all (laughs). I watched them and laughed, thinking they made funny things.
So, you think it was just one of the typical FFXIV songs from the beginning?
SokenThat's right. I heard from Ishikawa (Natsuko) that the dungeons there have various story backgrounds and are connected to each other in a certain way. So, we talked about it like, “If that's the case, quoting the melody we made around here would make the songs unique to each dungeon around.” I ended up quoting various melodies like that to make another song. That content is separate from the story line, so I was able to go on the loose.
SokenIt is a type of song that I was allowed to make as I like. It's not separate from the story, but it's different. I just did what I wanted to do. I think it's a "fun for fans" thing, just like memes, so if the players have fun creating funny contents inspired by the themes, we also have "fun," and then return it to the players on the music stage, or something like that. It's amazing that they made something like that, so we thought we'd give them something amazing in return. There is a good space between developers and players, and I think the FFXIV community is amazing. I thought it would be nice to give something back, so we did it at the Digital Fan Fest.
That was really good, wasn't it?
SokenI am glad if you enjoyed it. I hope everybody roared with excitement.
I think the songs of THE PRIMALS are basically put together in a set list that would be exciting......
SokenThat's because the game content of FFXIV is great, so I guess we just go with it.
The game experience comes first, after all.
From one of fans’ point of view myself, I think the excitement comes from the fact that you are making songs that go along with the game.
SokenThat's what gamers are talking about, isn't it? If you enjoy the game, you will like the graphics and the music, so I think that's important.
You mentioned earlier about "fun for fans." I guess that's why you created the music video and behind-the-scenes.
SokenThat's right. I knew there was a meme video earlier, so I thought it would be fun to use it in the music video, and it turned out to be surprisingly successful. It had a good tempo, so I wanted to add some choreos to it. To do so, I took inspiration from the meme culture, but we couldn't copy it as it was (laughs), so I asked a choreographer to arrange it to fit "A Long Fall," and it turned out great.
Was it hard to dance?
SokenWell, I danced in the music video, but not at the Fan Fest. To tell you the truth, we danced slower in the music video and fast forwarded it. So, even though I knew in my heart that they wouldn't be able to dance, I asked them to dance at the speed of the original song with the face indicating, “You can do it, right?” But in my heart, I was like “Actually, we didn't do that though” (laughs).
SokenThen, those four dancers practiced very hard.
I could feel that you were both trying to make the Fan Fest more exciting because of the situation.
SokenEven if they were amateurs, if they were going to do it, it wouldn't be cool if they didn’t do it full out. So, I made a seemingly impossible request to them for finishing it to the level of real dancers, and they got it. Well, I think they were half angry, but in the end, thanks to those four, it turned out to be a very entertaining performance.
I've been watching it over and over again, wishing I could see it again, too.
SokenI'd like to do it somewhere if the pandemic is over.
"YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse" is a crossover content with NieR series, which is another core of FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Shadowbringers. The music in FFXIV is arranged for FFXIV. Did you compose it, Mr. Soken?
SokenThat was all done by Mr. Okabe (Keiichi Okabe, in charge of music composition for the NieR series).
You were not involved in this?
SokenNo, I wasn’t. All I did was fixing the sound quality and making adjustments to the game. I may have said that I'd like it to be a little more “like this” kind of things (laughs), but I did almost nothing. Yoko (Yoko Taro) gave all the instructions for the arrangements.
The songs were done completely by the NieR team?
SokenThat's right. The NieR team created the songs, delivered them to me, and then I implemented them in the best possible way. But they asked us, the FFXIV team, which songs would be best for the arrangements, so we consulted with them about that as we implemented the game.
Is there anything you can tell us about the music for FINAL FANTASY XIV ONLINE: Endwalker?
SokenWe're still in the process of making it, so I can't go into details, but I'm sure the sound will be something that players will enjoy as always, so I hope you'll enjoy playing it all the way through. Also, the trailer has been released, and I hope you'll take the time to listen to it as it was made from scratch!
In the next article, with Mr. Soken continuing, we will welcome Mr. Hiroyasu Suzuki, the developer of Audio-Technica ATH-R70x open-type headphones, and I will reveal the appeal of these headphones.
※この記事の日本語版は こちら 。