Kenji Ito and SQUARE-ENIX talk to CocoeBiz - Inside ~Romancing Saga -Mistrel Song- ~Special (Part 1)


Interview for Music Side To Japanese page, click here.

Mr. Kenji Ito: Music Composer
Mr. Hirosato Noda: Synthesizer Operator (SQUARE-ENIX)
Mr. Tsuyoshi Sekito: Music Composer (SQUARE-ENIX)
Mr. Kenichiro Fukui: Music Composer (SQUARE-ENIX)
Mr. Yoshitaka Fujita: Sound Director (SQUARE-ENIX)
Mr. Michio Okamiya: Publicity Producer (SQUARE-ENIX)
Mr. Kensuke Matsushita: Music Publishing Devision Producer, General Manager (SQUARE-ENIX)

...Work on Romancing Saga Minstrel Song is now finished and it's on sale, so...

All: Cheers everyone!

Ito: Now that the project's over, we'd like to hear how you feel. How about Mr Fujita, the sound editor, first?

Fujita: Feels like it took a very long time to complete...

Ito: Yeah, it sure took long. I guess it's been 2 years since I joined the project, so it took 3 years total?

Fujita: No no, we asked you for the music right when we started, so we spent the same amount of time as you did. Right after the last title, we'd already decided to go with Kenji Ito as composer for the next one.

Ito: Oh, really...?!

Fujita: Yeah, it's a secret though... No no it's not a secret. (laugh)

Ito: How was it determined by Mr. Kawazu that I'd take that role?

Fujita: Hm... I'm not sure of that...

Ito: Really?! But there were so many requests for music from me, so how come you had all those ready without knowing I'd be involved!

Fujita: Umm.. well Mr. Kawazu just told me " I leave it all to you!"... (laughs)

Coco: How did you go about starting, basically?

Fujita: Wellll.. first we signed a contract.... oops, that's not what you meant, right? (laughs) First I had a discussion with Mr. Kawazu, the producer, about doing a remake of the SFC Romancing SaGa, then I drew up a list of music tracks from that game to be redone. After Mr. Kawazu (The producer of this game title) gave me the OK, I had a meeting with Mr. Ito.

Ito: There were many requests for the battle tracks, like "Make it sound like this" so... did those come from Mr. Kawazu or were they based on your tastes?

Fujita: Ahhh... Well I showed him lists of ideas and asked him "How about this?", then he gave me the OK, so I started adding more things that weren't in the SNES version. That's what I did at the beginning.

Coco: Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song has a unique world with Multiple Scenarios, doesn't it?

Fujita: Yes, the progression of the story is up to the players, so there might be a lot of music tracks that players won't happen to come across, too...

Sekito: It's possible for the player to go to the last dungeon without hearing any music except the hero's theme.

Fujita: Players won't hear all the tracks if they only play the game once, because they can finish the game without seeing every part of it.

Ito: So that means they might miss the arrangements Mr. Sekito kindly did for the city themes?!

Fujita: Um... Ah, well... I don't know...

Coco: How about... buying the soundtrack album and listening to all the tracks..?

All: Yes, that's right! Please buy the soundtrack!

Ito: Hahah, please buy and listen to it for my sake. (laughs)

All: ... (Silence... and laugh)...

Coco: Why are all of you so quiet!? (laughs)

Fujita: That's also one of the "Multiple Scenarios" (laugh)

Ito: Oh well, getting back to the subject, I guess you feel a sense of fulfillment when you look at all you've done for this title?

Fujita: No...it was just painful...

Ito: Huh? Painful???

All: ???

Fujita: My stomach. Well, that was the worst one, at least. But it was interesting.

Ito: Oh, your stomach.... but it was worth it in the end, wasn't it?

Fujita: Well, I only managed to get this far thanks to the great help from all of you! It felt like I was an intermediator between Mr. Kawazu and Mr.Ito.

Coco: You usually work on Sound Effects, right?

Ito: Oh yeah, you went to various places to record all the sounds, right?

Fujita: Yes, I traveled all over the country to record the "environmental sounds".

Coco: Are you serious?! All over the country?!

Fujita: Just kidding. (laughs)

Ito: Hahah! He's always like that. You get used to his personality eventually. (laughs)

Fukui: You can just ignore him when he jokes like that. (laugh)

Fujita: I stand with a microphone and record the environmental sounds surrounding me, such as rivers, forests, the sound of snowy paths.

Ito: The idea of "Surround" has an important implication for this project. So the music and sound effects in "Minstrel Song" utilize a surround system.

Okamiya: To be accurate, we call it "Pro-Logic II" The two "I"s are read as "2". Is that in italics?

Fukui: It's not the mathematical "2", it"s letters in italics.

(Dolby Surround Pro-Logic II is a system for reproducing 2 channel stereo sound in 5.1 channels)

Coco: I see a lot of effort went into the sound creation!

Ito: What were the most memorable places you saw or sounds you heard while traveling around?

Fujita: .... . "Jukai "was scary... (* Jukai)

Coco: Oh no! You went all the way to Jukai?!

Fujita: Yes. It was scary. I saw weird stuff there...

All: Really!? What did you see?!

The conversation here turned into a fearful story~

(~ Aokigahara Jukai occupies about 3000 hectares at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Jukai is a magnificent virgin forest that was created by the eruption of Fuji' s volcano, "Mt. Nagao" in the Jogan 6 era. However, many people commit suicide in the forest... In addition, many psychic phenomena are reported. In Jukai, geomagnetism is disturbed by the lava flow, so magnets don't work. It's impossible to find a way to return once you've lost your way. And escaping from the forest is completely impossible at night if there's no light at all.)

Ito: OK, next is Mr. Noda, who is the Synthesizer Operator.

Coco: What kind of work does the Synthesizer Operator do?

Ito: First I give him my demo, and if, for example, it uses a trumpet, he chooses an appropriate trumpet sound. I give him my requests, and he matches sounds and timbres to them.

Okamiya: He creates synthesizer sounds, or uses a sampler to determine the final sound an instrument will have. For example, strings have soft and hard tones, and he works out the best sound to use from within that tonal range, or creates his own.

Noda: Yes, that's what I do.

Okamiya: Uhh, kind of weird that I just explained what he does. (laughs)

Fujita: Hahaha, that's right. You're very disagreeablecaren't you? (laughs)

Okamiya: Wha..! Why am I disagreeable?!

All: (Laugh)

Fujita: Mr. Noda also determines the timbre of the music and the instruments.

Ito: How do you feel now the project's completed?

Noda: For this game, there were so many music styles and such variety...it wound up being really hard work.

Fujita: An answer with no honor! Hehehe. (laughs)

All: (laugh)

Okamiya: It was terrific to hear all of the variations during the mastering!

Ito: The engineer at the studio had a pained smile on his face!

Coco: Why is that?

Ito: Because of the 4 discs worth of music and the amount of variety he had to deal with. He had this wry smile all the time, like "There's still more to do!?"

Okamiya: Normal music albums usually follow a set course. If you have a hard rock album, well, the music's all hard rock. So during the mastering, you just come up with the sound that suits that style. But this album was filled with a variety of music, so it was hard work for them. They had to deal with acoustic, rock, so many other styles...

Fujita: Yup yup, it was tough work.

Okamiya: But look, I admire him for his versatility that covers all genres.

Ito: Oh yeah... I like the way this interview' s going now! (laughs)

All: Cheers! (laugh)

Sekito: Hmm... now we know the real purpose of this interview.

All: (laugh)

Fukui: Yeah, raise him up with flattery, then bring him back down.

Ito: Hey, eat more, drink more, everyone!

All: (laugh)

Fukui: So that's what's going on!

Ito: Yeah yeah, this is how you guys can make me feel good!

Fujita: Ok, now I'm going home! (laugh)

Ito: Oh nocdid I ask for too much?

Fujita: Still green, aren't you?

All: Here we go! Time for some harsh opinions!

Ito: I'm sorry! I'll train myself more, master!

Noda: So... what were we talking about again?

Coco: About how this title is filled with a variety of music.

Noda: Oh, that's right. The variety made this title very much worth working on.

Ito: The volume of work!

Noda: ... The volume of surplus...

All: (laugh)

Ito: But this title had a lot of symphonic music, which you'd never dealt with before, right?

Noda: That's correct, I'd never had this type of work before, and it was also my first time working with Mr. Ito.

Ito: That's true. This project was our first time working together, so I was unsure how best to convey my requests to him, and I bet Mr. Noda was also not sure what kind of music I would give him and what requests Ifd make, right?

Noda: I think we groped towards a common ground.

Coco: But it looks like the result turned out to be a great achievement.

Ito: Yes, he entered the company 4 or 5 years before I left, so because we'd known each other and had chatted before, it wasn't hard to communicate. Actually, he originally specialized in techno music, but our work went well anyway.

Matsushita: He likes techno music and schoolgirl uniforms. (laugh)

All: Schoolgirl uniform fetish! He loves school uniforms! (laugh)

Ito: Were there any difficult points?

Noda: The very beginning.... I was not confident I could meet the composer's requests. But our musical communications gradually became better and better.

Ito: At the beginning, well, it wasn't as if we were "confused", exactly, but there was a sense of uncertainty between us as we felt each other's sensibilities out. But our communications gradually improved, so eventually we were working with complete confidence together, like "Yes! This is exactly what I wanted, 100%!" . Well, that's why it took over 2 years to complete.

Noda: Oh, battle tracks were difficult, as we constantly had to redo them... they were always being changed to fit the game.

Ito: The battle music of Romancing SaGa 1 (SNES) provided powerful imagery, somehow the real guitar tone sounded weaker, and the synthesized tone sounded much stronger. So it was hard getting the live guitar to approach the sound of the previous battle themes. I thought it was an oddly contradictory situation.

Okamiya: That reminds me, I was asked to play the guitar... I just remembered that.

Fujita: Ohh, we were in Meguro city at that time. That was for a demo, from the beginning of the project.

Okamiya; Oh yeah, you suddenly came to me and asked me "Could you do this by tomorrow?" or something like that.

Fujita: I wanted to use a real guitar sound then, and I knew you played the guitar, so I asked you to play it to use as a test.

Coco: So, that track used what was intended as a "test performance"?

Fujita:So, then I thought "Real guitar might be ok afterall"...

Okamiya: Then, you asked Mr. Sekito to play it....

All: Really--!? (Laugh)

Fukui: What the hell was that--! (laughs)

Sekito: No no, I was guided by Mr. Okamiya's original track, then I made some changes here and there according to my whim...

Fujita: First I asked Mr. Noda to try out various guitar plug-in sounds, but then I thought a real guitar sound might be good, so I just casually asked Mr. Okamiya "By tomorrow ---Ok?"

Fukui: Yeah, so casually!

All: (LOL)

Sekito: But, listen, really, there were some parts where I followed the original track exactly.

All: (LOL)

Okamiya: It's ok, I'm alright, really (laugh)

Sekito: It's true, listen, I'll tell you now, there WERE some parts that I only followed.

Okamiya: Really? (Smiles) Programmed guitar sounds are different from real ones. Guitars actually have an analog-like sound; it changes when the strings are picked up and down. So it's really difficult to get a convincing programmed sound.

Sekito: It's like Mr. Okamiya's original sound set the course for the battle tracks.

Fujita: Battle tracks must be ROCK! Mr. Okamiya is the person who decided that. And Mr. Sekito arranged and performed them.

Ito: Mr. Sekito, who helped me out with arrangement support and even a bit of composing, was primarily involved as the performer for all the live guitar parts. The first time we worked on the same title was "Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon 2" but we didn't actually collaborate together, we wrote our own tracks separately. This time, it was a real collaboration, with you
arranging my music. This was the first time I'd experienced that sort of collaborative style.. Could you give us your thoughts on it?

Sekito: I'd never had the experience of working on a game title where I could simply play the guitar as I wished, so this was incredibly enjoyable. Mr. Ito would say "It's all up to you after the chorus!" and I'd try something out and say "How's this sound?" When we started out, we'd respond to each other's ideas like "Yeah, thatfs good, that sounds nice", but then we
began getting really excited and would yell stuff out, so it wound up as a pretty crazy experience.

All: You were yelling out?! (laugh)

Sekito: Yeah! Stuff like "Ad-lib something over that repeating chord progression!" That's how we worked.

Ito: As a result, I was really satisfied with the work, and I think we worked in a way that hasn't been done on other titles before. This new Romancing SaGa could be the first case of it, don't you think?

Sekito: Yeah, I agree.

Ito: "Streaming" sound made it possible!

Coco: How many battle tracks did you work on, and how many were there in total?

Sekito: I was involved with 10 out of 12 total battle tracks. Oh, there was also an orchestral battle track ("The Battle With Death"), but I wasn't involved with that one.

Ito: Mr. Kawazu requested the battle music be real rock, not fusion or anything like that. He wanted as pure a rock sound as possible. Did that make it difficult for the organist, Mr. Fukui?

Fukui: Hmmm...I think it did.

Sekito:I particularly like music with guitars. Doesn't matter if it's orchestral, solo guitar, or fusion; if there's a guitar in there, I'll listen to it. On the other hand, I'm not too interested in music without guitars...

Coco: What artists do you all normally listen to?

Sekito: Papa Roach, Dream Theater, basically bands that focus on guitar.

Okamiya: You're influenced by Van Halen, aren't you?

Sekito: Yeah! I like Van Halen! I prefer uptempo American rock, like west coast rock. I'm usually listening to that kind of American rock.

Fukui: I like energetic American rock as well, but I prefer the lighter L.A. Fusion style. Stuff that feels like a refreshing morning sea---refreshing, but with a sense of drive.

Okamiya: So, you should listen to his music at sunrise. (laugh)

All: (laugh)

Fukui: Fusion sounds just come out naturally when I write music.

Sekito: I am ....a diligent salaryman leading a lawful, well regulated life...

Okamiya: Tell me what diligent salarymen writes in his blog at midnight?!

All: (laugh)

Sekito: "A rock n' roll spirit" ... I regret to admit it, but I don't think I have one. ... I can't drink alcohol, you see. Someone like Van Halen, he makes music while chugging down beer with the tape recorder rolling. .Then in the morning, he listens to what he came up with and is like "Whoa, this sounds great!". So I hear. But I've never had that kind of experience.. if I make noise at night, I'll disturb all my neighbors, you know, andc

All: Hooray! Here comes his "Story"! (LOL)

Sekito: No no it's not one of my "Story". I wish to achieve my dream of a Rock n' Roll lifestyle... I want my whole way of living to be rock.

Fukui: Talking about the rock lifestyle, you used to have a beard.

Coco: You did? You kind of have a beard now, actually.

Sekito: Ah...it's growing a little now. But I have to grow it down to my waist.

All: (Big laugh)

Okamiya & Ito: Like ZZ Top, right?! Wild, massive beards down to the waist!

All: (Big laugh)

Coco: So, your aim is to be like ZZ Top, huh?

All: (Big laugh again)

Okamiya: You know, there's a Square office in Osaka as well. Mr. Sekito and Mr. Fukui got hired there, so I didn't know them at first. The first time I heard the demo of "THE BLACK MAGES", the music was so hard and energetic, I thought "That Osaka office has got some serious hard rockers!", imagining them as young kids with dyed hair down to their waists. So I said to myself, I can't be outdone by them! But when I met them... they were all polite, saying "Hello---!" and had the same outward appearance you see now...There was a big gap between how I'd imagined them and how they really were, you know?

~The conversation goes on, with the story leading to "Mr. Sekito is a swindler who's good at playing the guitar" (A mystery) , and concluding as "Mr. Sekito is a salary man who wants to live with a rock n' roll spirit".

Ito: OK now, Mr. Fukui, I think you participated as a keyboard player and did several tracks.

Fujita: He did "Boss 2 (Chaos Labyrinth), Sherah (~The Battle with Sherah~) and Saruin (~ Final Battle with Saruin~), I think?

Fukui: Yes, I worked on those 3 tracks. When I was playing the organ, Mr. Ito told me "It's all up to you. Please play as hard as you can, as crazy as you want, just ... run wild!" However I wasn't sure how just how wild it would be good to go, so I banged out stuff like....Bang bang bang, Bang Bahh bam bam bam... .

Ito: There weren't any separate recording booths at that time, right? Only partitions...

Fukui: Yeah yeah, we only had partitions around each workspace, so people around me could always hear the clicking sound of me playing the keyboard, like takatakatakam, bambam.... I never knew how it sounded because I had my headphones on, you see.

Coco: Did you break your keyboard?

Fukui: !! No, I didn't break it this time! I broke nothing for Romancing SaGa.

All: Not THIS time! (laugh)

Ito: Thanks to your great work, the music turned out to be even better than I'd hoped. I was shocked and thought "T.. Terrific!"

Fukui: It was my first time participating in a game music work only playing somebody else's music, without doing any composing or arranging, and I found the experience extremely enjoyable. Adding my own style to the music with my performance made it feel like a battle between the guitar and the keyboard, so it gave me a fighting spirit. Plus, it was for the battle scenes for the game, so I really had fun.

Ito: Along with Mr. Sekito's guitar performance, I wanted you to express your own personality for this occasion as well. So I was looking forward to hearing what you would do to put your own style on the tracks. The results were better than Ifd hoped, and I think the tracks are superb.

Fukui: Wow, I'm honored.

Coco: I just listened to your work on the CD before I came here, and I felt your keyboard performance was a really powerful one.

Fukui: I played as if I were at a live concert.

Fujita: I think it was good to let them play as they wished. I also asked Mr. Sekito to play however he liked for the solos.

Sekito: I wonder if that'll turn out to be fortunate or unfortunate... what will the listeners think...

Ito: Well... receiving good and bad feedback can't be helped, since people have their own likes and dislikes, but I was personally very satisfied with what we did on this project. However, I've already received some bad feedback from people who disliked the music style and said "Kenji Ito has fallen". (bitter smile)

Sekito: I really admire your rock n' roll spirit though.

Ito: Oh no, I don't have one! I just like rock.

Sekito: That "like" expresses itself in your music.

Okamiya: Kenji Ito is a rocker, I bet you!

Ito: Ah... I'm afraid to accept that though...am I a rocker...? (laughs)

Sekito: Like the one underground at the Keio line?

Ito: That's a "locker", a coin-operated locker!

Fukui: I tried not to pay attention to that joke.

Okamiya: Everyone who got it wins!

Ito: That kind of joke usually comes from Mr. Fujita.

Fujita: Oh you think so, huh?

Okamiya: He wouldn't say something that witty. (laughs)

Fukui: Getting back to what I was saying before, Mr. Ito's rock music retains his style of melody.

Sekito: Yeah, his rock music never gets too muddy.

Fukui: Even when the rhythm is really aggressive, when the style is 4-beat rock, that "Kenji Ito" melodic signature always remains.

All: Yup, that's what we call "Kenji Ito Melody".

Sekito: His melodies have very distinct lines, all supported by the harmony and rhythm.

Fukui: Genre doesn't matter. Whether symphonic, rock, or fusion, the Kenji Ito melody is always there.

Fujita: Mr. Kawazu told me that he wasn't worried about my choices as long as the music had that "Kenji Ito Melody".

Ito: But, what did he mean when he said gKenji Ito Melody"...

Fukui: Well, when Mr. Kawazu says "So-and-so Melody", that means "So-and-so Melody". Nothing else but that.

Ito: Oh, there was one thing Mr. Fukui told me that made me very happy. I gave a demo to the players, and I requested them to play some parts a certain way, then said "The rest is up to you". One time, after playing a melody as I'd asked him to, Mr. Fukui told me "It felt so great playing that music". That made me really happy.

Fukui: That's right. For example, it's not exciting to play any melodies without good modulations, but playing Mr. Ito's melodies gives me momentum. I feel great, like I'm streaming along. I think, "Oh man, it would be such a great feeling if the melody took this turn right herec", then it does! And it's awesome.

All: You express yourself so well! (laugh)

Fukui: It really gives me a great feeling when I play stuff like this live, at a concert.

All: Yup yup. (nod)

Fujita: So, we all want to hear it at a live concert! What do you think, Mr. Matsushita!?

Matsushita: What? Did you say something? I didn't hear anything...

All: (LOL)

(Part 1 of this special interview ends here. Part 2 will contain the live concert information (?!) and some inside stories by the General Manager & Music Producer Mr. Matsushita, and the Sales Manager Mr. Okamiya.)

Interviewed & Interview Contents by Kahori Ezaki (CocoeBiz., L.L.C.) Contents Translated by James McCawley. Contents may not be reproduced or published without the permission of CocoeBiz., L.L.C.