‘Final Fantasy XIV’s Composer on Matching Music to Player Mood

Jeremy Ray
Games Fantasy
Games Fantasy PC Gaming

Final Fantasy games never skimp on their music. Hundreds of tracks will be shipped with a game — heck, even an expansion — all ranging from rock to classical.

Anyone who’s played Final Fantasy XIV, or attended a Square Enix concert, is familiar with the work of Masayoshi Soken. He’s been composing for the company since feel/Go Dream: Yuna & Tidus, and is the musical master behind FFXIV and all its expansions.

FANDOM got the chance to ask the longtime Final Fantasy composer and sound director some questions about making music that lasts for MMOs, technical challenges, and the Eastern influence of the Stormblood expansion.

FANDOM: What’s technically involved in weaving together tracks that have a more “combative” version of them, and changing back and forth according to the player’s situation?

Masayoshi Soken: What we place the most emphasis on when making the sound for FFXIV is the player’s gaming experience. The player’s mental state will obviously be quite different when they are in battle to when they are just walking around doing nothing, even if they happen to be in the same area.

Accordingly, creating different tracks for different situations will enhance that overall experience and make it more exciting. If we need sound to create that effect then we have no choice but to do our best and make it.

We also make frequent use of the Square Enix sound department’s unique technical knowhow in order to ensure that music transitions smoothly and those changes do not jar with the listener.

It is really exciting to be working in such an environment where technology and artistry come together to create new experiences for people.

MMOs are a style of game that people will log into every day for a long time. How does that factor in when designing the music? Are there techniques you use that help songs stand the test of time, and become memorable?

In MMORPGs from a little while ago, the time that players spent in a single area was often very long, but in modern ones the player will pick and choose what they want to play from a wide variety of different content.

In order to create the sound for a modern style MMO like this in a way that players will not get bored of, I strive to provide different music that fits with different situations and the player’s different psychological states.

This also links to what I said before, but in order to make something that sticks in a player’s memory, I think that you need to make clever use of the technology to incorporate the art, combining the graphics, sound and game experience together in an exciting way.

If you had to pick one track that you think best captures the character or place it’s attached to, what would it be?

For the exploration sections I would say it was perhaps “Azys Lla” for Heavensward and “Yanxia” for Stormblood? Stormblood has a very oriental taste overall, but I feel that even in that area, it is Yanxia that has the strongest sense of that far eastern atmosphere.

I think that I succeeded in portraying the image I was looking for very well in this track. Looking at the battle music I would perhaps point to the Ultima battle track from A Realm Reborn and Shinryu from Stormblood! Hmm, that is way more than one track isn’t it! Sorry about that!

To what extent do you think franchises like Final Fantasy and its live orchestra performances are getting younger people into classical music?

I really don’t think about wanting people to have a deeper understanding of classical music or anything like that (Laughs)! I work hard so people can enjoy games more, so if people have the time to take an interest in classical music then I would probably rather they used it to play more good games!

Having said that, as a sound creator I would obviously be overjoyed to hear that someone had learned how great classical music can be or how cool rock is from listening to something I have created.

Was there musically anything specific that you focused on in Stormblood? Any particular goal or theme you wanted to achieve in that expansion?

I only really thought about creating sound that fitted with the gameplay experience, so there was no special objective or anything. I just followed my inspiration and came up with whatever ideas that I could.

However, Stormblood did have the specific characteristic of an oriental theme, so I strived to express that as well as possible. Also, compared to ARR and Heavensward, Stormblood’s music uses a more compact range of instruments.

That means that the melodies tend to come to the fore a lot more. I limited the number of instruments for the exploration sections in particular and Yanxia was essentially just done with a harp and kokyu.

Our thanks to Masayoshi Soken for his time!

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.