I Am Setsuna seemed like a true return to the roots of jRPG – the experience we remember from the eighties and nineties. It’s something we fell in love with, and it was supposed to be reborn like a phoenix. The reality was a bit different, though. Among the many voices of praise and sympathy, there were also those saying that the game is decent at best.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of the game is… the person behind its music.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of the game is… the person behind its music. Tomoki Miyoshi – a very young composer who is not very experienced yet. He still has to make a name for himself in this industry, but he already has multiple professional achievements. He decided to cast away the nostalgia and create something that doesn’t try to resemble another Chrono Trigger. So, who is this “novice” and what was his career path? What can he tell about his dynamic debut as a standalone composer? We talk with him about all those matters and many more, plus of course about I am Setsuna OST.
gamemusic.net: Before we move to I am Setsuna, let’s talk about you for a while. When has your adventure with music begun?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I began to take serious interest in music at the age of 15 while living in Sydney, Australia. I’ve always loved to listen to music, but I had never imagined that I would ever play a musical instrument, let alone compose symphonic music! I fell in love with the music of the many great masters of composition in the beginning stages such as Beethoven, Chopin, Bartok and Prokofiev, but later became greatly inspired by masters of film and video game composition such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nobuo Uematsu, Joe Hisaishi, and Thomas Newman.
gamemusic.net: You’re a man of three continents: born in Japan, raised in Australia, educated in USA as well. Did all of it bear an impact on yourself and your creativity?
Tomoki Miyoshi: Having had the incredible opportunity of being introduced to various cultures, philosophies, art, and the people of many different countries in my youth has definitely had an enormous impact on how I approach life, especially in my creative endeavors. What I learned is that even if we were born in different countries, speak a different language and have different views of life, we are all human beings and we want to share and be kind with each other. I believe music is an amazing form of deep human communication beyond traditional language, and my goal is to be of help to the world through the beautiful language of music.
I believe music is an amazing form of deep human communication beyond traditional language. – Tomoki Miyoshi
gamemusic.net: Having travelled around the world since your early years, you surely notice certain differences between the Eastern and Western styles of music better than a typical musician. Are you fonder of any of them, or do you perceive them as equal?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I have loved the traditional and contemporary styles of both the Eastern and Western styles of music very much, and there is definitely a difference in the approach and functionality of many different types of music, but as you may have noticed in video games and film music, many of the beautiful pieces of music nowadays are fusion styles between Eastern, Western, and even otherworldly sounds. I do think that the most beautiful part of music is the union, unity and harmony that comes from it, and I am always interested in music of all genres, backgrounds and styles.
gamemusic.net: During my own education, I kept in mind names of people who inspired me and to whose careers I aspired to pursue, like many students do. Was it similar for you, in terms of artists or composers? Perhaps there was a specific genre that you wished to specialize in?
Tomoki Miyoshi: As I mentioned previously, I generally like all artists, musicians that create great art, but I did particularly love certain styles of music such as electronica, traditional Nordic music, Gagaku and the music of Bjork. I was also a jazz piano and composition concentrate while I attended Koyo Conservatory, so I also love and appreciate jazz, fusion, and bossa nova very much. The composer that truly inspired me to become a film and video game composer was Joe Hisaishi, and the music of master film composer Thomas Newman has always been incredibly dear to my heart. After listening to countless numbers of musical compositions, my favorite composers are still J.S. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.
gamemusic.net: Your career began quite rapidly; right after finishing your studies, someone asks you to compose songs for Soul Calibur V. Your name appeared next to some well-known artists, including: Junichi Nakatsuru, Hiroki Kikuta, Andrew Avers, Cris Velasco, Inon Zura, Jillian Aversa, and Jesper Kyd. And you weren’t even twenty years old by then! How did you end up there?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I still can’t believe how unbelievably fortunate I was to be a part of this amazing project. I completed my share of the music for this project actually during my studies during my summer vacations at the age of 16. I owe all of my gratitude to Hiroaki Yura that I continue to work with to this day. Without his support and guidance, none of this would really not have been possible. As well as his tireless support, I also have deep gratitude toward all of the teachers, fellow music students and family members who supported my passion to compose music. My involvement with any project has been the result of the help of so many people, and I could never have done this alone.
gamemusic.net: I hope I won’t offend you by saying that you were unexperienced by then – and we are not talking indie games here, but a renowned series. Weren’t you scared?
Tomoki Miyoshi: There’s definitely no offense taken, and you are right! I am still inexperienced and I am very much a student of composition still, but during Soul Calibur V, I absolutely had no idea how anything worked. I didn’t even know how to write orchestral music properly, but I also had to sync/time it with professional level cinematic scenes. Honestly, I cried every day for a month because of the pressure during the project. I learned so many things during those pressuring times, and I am now very thankful for those days.
I completed my share of the music for this project actually during my studies during my summer vacations at the age of 16. – Tomoki Miyoshi
gamemusic.net: Another look at your discography reveals you also worked with Nobuo Uematsu on Project Phoenix and with Yasunori Mitsuda on Skygalleon. Could you tell us how it was to collaborate with them? Did they somehow affect you and your works?
Tomoki Miyoshi: It is such an honor to have been able to contribute my music to projects with these incredible composers, but even though it is the same project, masters of composition are very busy making more masterpieces, and they seldom have time to truly collaborate of meet in person. For Skygalleon, I was writing a completely different section of the BGM’s in the game as Mitsuda-san, and for Project Phoenix I’ve yet to discuss any collaborative works with Uematsu-san, but being a part of a project with the masters who continue to inspire me very much is an experience I could not express in words. I hope to one day truly collaborate with right beside these masters on a musical album/OST!
gamemusic.net: You also created some arrangements for Monaco: The Gentleman’s Private Collection by Austin Wintory, as well as Steins;Gate Symphonic Reunion by Takeshi Abo. How was it to work on some original material?
Tomoki Miyoshi: Takeshi Abo and Austin Wintory, as many of the fans know, are incredibly talented and masterful composers, and it was really an honor to have the chance to arrange their original works. The piece I worked on for Steins;Gate Symphonic Reunion was purely an orchestral arrangement of the original work, and with Austin’s Monaco: The Gentleman’s Private Collection album, I had the opportunity to extend and recompose the original work. It’s always an incredible opportunity to be able to discuss the intent and structure of their works.
gamemusic.net: You were in the spotlight during Video Games Unplugged: Symphony of Legends. Can you please share your thoughts on this event?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I don’t know if I was in the spotlight for this project (haha) but being able to contribute my composition and orchestration next to the works of the top level composers in video games was an unbelievable experience. Being able to work with such an amazing orchestra like Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and hearing your own worked played live at a concert hall was a truly transformative experience.
gamemusic.net: I am Setsuna. How did it all begin?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I am Setsuna, similar to Soul Calibur V and almost all projects I’ve been involved in was made possible through the help of Hiroaki Yura. He introduced my music to the team when they were recruiting composers, and they happened to really enjoy the music I had composed, which is now the main theme (Winter Journey’s End) for the game.
gamemusic.net: Both the media, and the Tokyo RPG Factory team kept emphasizing that I am Setsuna will be a back-to-the roots experience, i.e. regarding the golden age of jRPGs from the nineties. Many comparisons to the Chrono Trigger were made. But what was your insight concerning the new project? Did you plan to relate to the jRPG classics in terms of music?
Tomoki Miyoshi: The concept of creating a modern game in the style of golden age jRPGs was very much part of the vision of Tokyo RPG Factory from the beginning, but personally speaking, I wanted to create my own version of jRPG music as a way to show respect and love toward the classic jRPGs. I did spend the first few months trying to really understand what some of the essential elements are in jRPG music, and then it was just a matter of trying to construct a whole soundtrack in my own new style.
gamemusic.net: Why was the piano chosen as the main driving force of this soundtrack?
Tomoki Miyoshi: Piano was chosen as the main instrumental choice in the first meeting with the director, Atsushi Hashimoto, and was purely an artistic decision. In fact, I had even written and sent orchestral compositions as a demonstration, but the team and I felt that piano was a more fitting sound for a game based around the Japanese word ‘Setsuna’ (English: sadness, sorrow).
gamemusic.net: You wrote the music, however the execution was up to Randy Kerber. He is a professional who achieved almost everything during the course of his career: he worked with the greatest music stars, also as a studio keyboardist on many Hollywood films including Forrest Gump and Titanic, plus was nominated to the Academy Award for The Color Purple. Please tell us about the origins and the progress of this cooperation?
Tomoki Miyoshi: This choice and delivery was also organized almost entirely by the music director, Hiroaki Yura. Of course when I heard that this arrangement was confirmed, I was very excited to hear that such a wonderfully renowned pianist would be performing my music! Randy Kerber’s performance was impeccably brilliant to say the very least, and I am simply so grateful to have worked with an artist with such mastery and vastly broad experiences.
gamemusic.net: Could you describe your creative process regarding the soundtrack of I am Setsuna in more detail? Was it split into distinct phases?
Tomoki Miyoshi: The soundtrack for I am Setsuna was actually divided into two distinct phases where I wrote about 20 pieces of the music which would be playable on a single piano by Randy Kerber to be recorded live in Los Angeles, whereas the second phase consisted of me composing and performing the rest of the tracks on my computer. It was difficult to match the sounds of my computer-generated piano sounds with the live-recordings, but with the skillful help of Audio and Mastering Engineer Daniel Brown, it turned out quite unnoticeable!
gamemusic.net: The game has been released not long ago. When you listen to your own music within the game and beside it, is there anything you’d like to change, add, or remove?
Tomoki Miyoshi: There are certain moments in the game when the solo-piano sound doesn’t seem to give enough energy or functionality to the scene, and perhaps I might’ve done things differently if I were to re-do the soundtrack, but I can confidently say that I gave my 120% into this project, and I am very happy with the soundtrack for what it became.
Piano was chosen as the main instrumental choice in the first meeting with the director, Atsushi Hashimoto, and was purely an artistic decision. – Tomoki Miyoshi
gamemusic.net: Three more questions. What are your plans for the near future?
Tomoki Miyoshi: My plan has always been to continue to create new and original music for video games, film, and anime. I am also interested in creating a solo-artist album purely for the love of music in the future, but my main goal is to continue to create more and more feelings and experiences for video games and motion pictures through the power of music.
gamemusic.net: Is there any video game soundtrack that you would call your very favorite?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I have been saying that my favorite soundtrack has always been the music of the NieR series created by Keiichi Okabe and his composer team at Monaca, but another favorite would be the music from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft series. I absolutely love the music from the opening cinematics in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King!
I absolutely love the music from the opening cinematics in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King! – Tomoki Miyoshi
gamemusic.net: You have begun your career early on. There are many young persons among our readers who would also like to start their careers in this industry. Do you have any advice for them?
Tomoki Miyoshi: I don’t feel that I am in a position to teach others yet, as I am still a student, but if I had to share one thing, I would remind others to remember why we wanted to pursue this path to begin with. At times, it becomes so overwhelming and stressful, we suffer greatly and we want to just give up, but we suffer because we care and love this art form so much. We started because our love of creating experiences was stronger than our fears! When you truly trust and love your art, it will love and reward you back. Let’s create beautiful experiences and share it with the world!