In the game music business, one can find many talented composers representing the eastern style. Not many of them, however, have achieved an absolute leadership position in the field, being free to dictate their own provisions to other composers. Hamauzu, however, has certainly accomplished this. Made famous by popular game music records such as Saga Frontier 2, Final Fantasy X and Sigma Harmonics, his signature sound includes keyboards (piano) and string instruments (violin, cello).

Masashi Hamauzu about his process in creating the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack.

But this uncommon composer is always willing to incorporate new ideas into his artistic vision. In this interview, had the opportunity to speak with Masashi Hamauzu about his process in creating the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack, his post Square Enix plans, his thoughts about today’s game music market, and more! If you don’t mind, I’d like to start by talking about your studio – MONOMUSIK. How did this project come about?  What circumstances caused you to consider creating your own company?

Masashi Hamauzu: MONOMUSIK is not yet a company. It still is a name, rather than a company with employees. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that I would like to found a company in the future – but I do not have any ideas for it yet. Nowadays, no one is surprised when composers establish their own studios after quitting their jobs. Was your resignation from Square Enix a result of any particular issue, or did you just decide to spread your wings after some time?

Masashi Hamauzu: I always imagined that I would leave this company for some reason someday, when I started working here. I decided to leave some time ago because I felt that I was old enough to set up business on my own, and I wanted to do something different, something I hadn’t done before. In recent years, there haven’t been many young gifted composers with the potential to change the face of game music. How do you feel about this? If you did happen to discover a fresh talented composer, would you offer such a person placement in MONOMUSIK?

Masashi Hamauzu: I am sure that, for a while, I won’t be able to hire other composers. I also don’t know so much about game composers of the recent younger generation. I think that the composers of the new generation are trying to maintain their identities, but at the same time, they are desperately trying to promote themselves among the players. Somewhere along the way, they lose their wit and that breath of fresh air that they could introduce to the games. I also have heard this from my colleagues.

The biggest reason for that is that the budget for game music is constantly being reduced. – Masashi Hamauzu As an independent creator of game music, what do you think about the state of the game music industry today?  What would you change?

Masashi Hamauzu: I think the situation of Japanese game music has worsened. The biggest reason for that is that the budget for game music is constantly being reduced. A few years ago, the game music market was expanding, but now we’re witnessing changes. Composers no longer have copyright status, and we need to change that as fast as possible. Let’s talk about your most recent project – namely, the music for Final Fantasy XIII. Let’s go back to the moment in which you were offered the opportunity to compose the score for this Final Fantasy project. Why did you decide to take on this large task? What was your motivation? Do you have any regrets today?

Masashi Hamauzu: When I was asked to be the music composer by the director, I accepted this job without hesitation because it was my dream to make music for such a big RPG. When I’ve done this kind of job for other projects, I always have felt unsatisfied. But with FINAL FANTASY XIII, I didn’t feel like that at all. During the production of the soundtrack for Final Fantasy XIII, you chose to feature the Polish and Warsaw Symphonic Orchestra.  What was your reasoning for this choice? What other orchestras did you consider at the time?

Masashi Hamauzu: I was looking for an orchestra that would reflect my way of expressing my own music, and we chose the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Actually, I wanted to record the music for DIRGE of CERBERUS -FINAL FANTASY VII– in Warsaw, but that didn’t work out. Although you weren’t present during the recording in Poland, did you find yourself pleased with this collaboration with the Warsaw Orchestra? Are you looking forward to working with them again?

Masashi Hamauzu: When the recording was taking place, I traveled to Poland and we worked together there. I was really satisfied and I’m looking forward to recording with them again. During the process of composing the music for Final Fantasy XIII, you worked with the singer Mina. How did you meet this talented singer, and why did you decide to work with her? Any final thoughts about this collaboration?

Masashi Hamauzu: I met Mina a few years ago, when I was giving a music lesson, and in time, we began to play together. I think her voice is really close to my musical ideas, so I let her sing a song for FINAL FANTASY XIII. However, once the recording started, she ended up singing not just one, and helped me with a couple of songs.

I forget what kind of inspiration helped me to make this music, but I remember making this part and thinking. – Masashi Hamauzu What inspired you while composing Final Fantasy’s XIII – Born Anew. Did you know, from the very beginning, what this song would be like?

Masashi Hamauzu: The most important part of the song is the tenor solo part at the end. I forget what kind of inspiration helped me to make this music, but I remember making this part and thinking, “I haven’t heard anything similar!” In Final Fantasy XIII, there are many songs where you mix orchestral music with the sounds of synthesizers. Are you a fan of this type of combination, or do you enjoy using other methods more?

Masashi Hamauzu: In the field of game music, it is common to work with keyboards. I still feel satisfaction from making music this way. It is not a secret, however, that whenever I have the opportunity to work with an orchestra during the recording, I try to make the most of it. When composing, we mix the compositions with the work of other branches, which makes recording with a full orchestra very hard. But I like to compose that way, after all. During production, did you consult with Nobuo Uematsu, in regards to arranging the Final Fantasy’s series’ main theme songs (eg. chocobo theme, preludium)?

Masashi Hamauzu: Of course I contacted him, and I could always count on his help, like in the case of the Prelude song. Do you agree with one of your fans’ statement that the music for Final Fantasy XIII composed by you is so good, that it could be created even without the game?

Masashi Hamauzu: Basically Square Enix has the deciding vote in matters such as releasing CDs, because they have the copyrights. I have an idea for a second piano collection of FINAL FANTASY XIII-, but it is up to Square Enix, as well as your voices, whether we will do it or not. And now, for the last question regarding your involvement in the Final Fantasy XIII project. Now that you have composed the music for Final Fantasy XIII, do you feel that you are more popular and memorable among game music fans?

Masashi Hamauzu: I hope so. I still think FINAL FANTASY XIII is one of the big game enterprises, and hope that lots of players will have the chance to play this game.

I was in elementary and junior high school, I was influenced by anime music such as Hiroshi Miyagawa, Kentaro Haneda, a little classics, Yellow Magic Orchestra. – Masashi Hamauzu Let’s go back a few years in time. I’d like to know about your first encounter with music, as a composer. By any chance, do you remember what your first composition was before you started to create game music?

Masashi Hamauzu: When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was influenced by anime music such as Hiroshi Miyagawa, Kentaro Haneda, a little classics, Yellow Magic Orchestra, which my father managed, and similar musicians. These are strongly connected to what I am making today. Could you reveal some more information about IMERUAT, this new project on which you cooperate with Mina? What exactly will this album be like?

Masashi Hamauzu: I hope to express myself  in IMERUAT. I don’t want to limit myself only to music, but to show more in terms of vocal arrangement.  For sure, these will be songs that weren’t presented before. You will listen to my favourite instruments, such as piano, violin, harmonica and many other string instruments. The most important thing for me is to express what I feel, deeply in my heart, through IMERAUT. Last July the reissue of your Piano Pieces SF 2 Rhapsody on a Theme of SaGa FRONTIER 2 album was released. This CD is one of your best works. Would you like to release a similar album in the future?

Masashi Hamauzu: Of course. I have a few ideas for similar albums, with use of piano. When I can realize them, I’ll try to let you know. In a previous interview, you were asked whether your children show any interest in playing musical instruments. You answered that they are not particularly interested in musical education. Do you think that playing Final Fantasy XIII can encourage an interest in music? Are the melodies powerful enough to encourage an avid player to learn the game songs on the piano?

Masashi Hamauzu: That’s true, I was once asked a similar question. I answered that this was because I wanted to give the kids more freedom. I want to help them, but only if they show some motivation. Obviously, time passes, and since then, they have become interested in my music, and have started to learn to play the works from Final Fantasy XIII on piano.

At present, there are many good musical notations available. I encounter many well-edited issues, including songs from Final Fantasy and other game series. However, if these were sold only to play for pleasure, and not for learning, they would be useless for musical education. It is really important that the scores are checked by composers, and that the core of the music is transmitted. Many parents buy books for their children to enjoy music, thus we have to offer good quality books. Do you think that game music is exclusively for people from gaming circles? If it isn’t, then how can other people become interested in game music?

Masashi Hamauzu: I think it is necessary to try to find the really good songs, musically, among those that are not as outstanding. It is important to reveal not only the famous tunes, but also the lesser known ones. People who are not into the games will then judge the music itself. By the end of 2010, you were taking part in the Distant Worlds music from FINAL FANTASY Returning Home concert. How do you remember this? Do you support promoting game music this way?

Masashi Hamauzu: Lots of people who didn’t work in the field of game music, but liked classical music in particular, were surprised by my music. They said, for example, “I didn’t know there were such a kind of music”. I was talking with Aki Kuroda, who is a pianist and played as a guest during the concert, as well as on my record, and we both think that there has been a barrier between game music and classics, even though they are the same music. But I hope we can break it down some day.

I have been interested in world geography since my childhood, and I really like Poland. – Masashi Hamauzu Lastly, if you were invited to participate in a concert of your music, organized in Poland, would you accept the invitation?

Masashi Hamauzu: Of course I would, I’d be very happy. I have been interested in world geography since my childhood, and I really like Poland, especially for its natural features and culture. I’d be glad to come here. I’d like to thank you for this interview, and to and to wish you further success on behalf of all your Polish fans!

Masashi Hamauzu: Thank you very much. I hope that lots of Polish fans will read this interview.

Editor In Chief

Mariusz Borkowski

For many years he’s been continuously sharing with others his passion for melodies from video games.