I was honored with the opportunity to interview Masashi Hamauzu, creative composer behind Final Fantasy XIII. Hamauzu, working alongside Arnie Roth and Susan Calloway, made a guest appearance in Houston during the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert tour. Masashi has worked with Square Enix for quite a while and alongside other creative masterminds such as Nobuo Uematsu. During the interview, I asked him several questions regarding his experiences with Square Enix, his journey into how he became such an established composer, and his thoughts about the gaming industry in general.
The full interview can be read in its entirety by clicking the link below.
Williams: Hamauzu-san, it is a pleasure to meet you. You are a well-respected individual both from a professional and aspiring musical standpoint. Your peers such as Nobuo Uematsu, look highly up to you, and other aspiring musical geniuses want to become who you are in the video game music genre. From what I understand, you come from a talented musical family – can you tell me a little bit more about your earlier years and sources of inspiration that convinced you to head toward a career in music?
Hamauzu: Well…my father was a singer and my mother played piano. When I was little, I thought the musician (profession) was hard work so I didn’t want to become one. However, I began to understand that music was very fun, and it made me happy. With that knowledge, I started working on my musical career.
Williams: Awesome! So from what I’ve learned, you particularly became involved with music in the gaming industry when you first started playing Final Fantasy in high school. What were some of the musical elements you loved most about the games? More specifically, what did you think were some unique elements from the Final Fantasy games that set them apart from other music?
Hamauzu: Yes…so, gaming music is very different from anime. The player becomes the main character…such that the music supports the player.
Williams: Can you tell me a little bit more about your experiences that led you to apply to Square Enix in the first place? What was your initial journey and some factors that led you to apply just to them versus other game companies?
Hamauzu: While I was in high school, I wanted to always go work for Square Enix. I knew that the company was well established and was very interested in working for them.
Williams: Specifically when you went to Square Enix, you were taken under by another very famous composer – Nobuo Uematsu. What was Nobuo’s musical influence on you during the compilation of your pieces? How was it to work alongside him, specifically when you were co-composing with him for Final Fantasy X?
Hamauzu: Although I worked with him (Nobuo), we didn’t work in depth together. To make video game music, it’s not just only to make good music…you have to connect it with the developer’s part, too. Those kinds of matters I learned from Mr. Nobuo.
Williams: What was your reaction when you first learned that you’d be the sole composer for Final Fantasy XIII?
Hamauzu: I wanted to be in the role to create such great music…I was very privileged and so happy to have done so.
Williams: So following that up – is there any sort of musical structure that sets your composing apart from Nobuo’s?
Hamauzu: At the time when I first began to create game music, there was already orchestra music that was used (for the Final Fantasy series). There was a need for me to study the instrumentation and chord work. In that regard, mine (the music) is different from Nobuo’s.
Williams: Diving deeper into Final Fantasy XIII, was there a particular theme you were trying to achieve when composing the game’s music? What are some of the main differences in scoring this game that sets it apart from olderFinal Fantasy titles?
Hamauzu: I’ve always loved Final Fantasy…enough to think about how to make music changes from what it was originally. I wanted to make the best Final Fantasy game…one that was similar to Nobuo’s.
Williams: What was your favorite Final Fantasy title you played when you were in high school?
Hamauzu: Final Fantasy III!
Williams: From the gamers I’ve talked with, a favorite song that they have in mind from FFXIII is the Fabula NovaCrystallis. There was so much feeling and emotion that goes into that song in such a short timeframe (2 minutes 41 seconds). The listener really experiences what Final Fantasy is all about in this song. What feelings were you trying to invoke in this musical piece?
Hamauzu (Laughing): To tell the truth…when the game was being developed, they needed the piece immediately. They (the developers) had limited information (scores) to look at.
Williams: How did you get involved in Distant Worlds and how has it been working with talent such as Arnie Roth and Susan Calloway on this hugely successful concert series?
Hamauzu: I am very fortunate to have been a part of Distant Worlds. I haven’t gotten a chance to work much with Arnie on other projects other than Distant Worlds, so it’s a privilege that I get to work with him. These types of gatherings are what deepen our relationship with each other.
Williams: Outside of FF, you have composed a lot of titles. What was your favorite piece in particular that you’ve composed outside of the series, or even out of Square Enix that you have a particular liking to?
Hamauzu: Ahh…SaGa Frontier 2. It was the turning point of my career when it came out.
Williams: I know you run your own studio called Monomusik. Do you do any sort of freelance work for Square Enixcurrently?
Hamauzu: Yes, of course. I am working on Final Fantasy XIII-2
Williams: …Are there any particular tracks you are working on that you can mention?
Hamauzu (Laughing): Haha… I unfortunately cannot say. You’ll have to wait until it comes out.
Williams: Haha, it’s quite alright. I can’t thank you enough for the amazing interview so far – I do have one more question. A lot of my friends who are trying to break into the industry (video game) are having trouble figuring out what it is they need to do next. If you had any advice to give to aspiring gaming music composers and performers, what would it be and why?
Hamauzu: To explain that question would require to get too deep…but let me see if I can be brief (with a saying):
‘Without wandering, go straightforward’
Williams: What a great saying. Thank you very much for your time, Hamauzu-san! I really appreciate it.