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Masashi Hamauzu :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Totz and Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on August 27, 2008.

Square Enix's leading composer Masashi Hamauzu has received considerable acclaim as a result of recent Final Fantasy and SaGa scores. Born on September 20, 1971 in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria, his mother was a Japanese piano teacher and his father was a German opera singer. While growing up in Germany, Hamauzu received piano and singing lessons from his parents and, at high school, created his first original compositions. During his adolescence, he begun to explore music independently and came to appreciate compositions in a wide range of styles; he became especially fond of the works of animation composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hiroshi Miyagawa, but experienced a struggle to appreciate classical music. After moving to Osaka following the birth of his brother, he reflected his strong musical background by majoring in classical vocal music at the eminent Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. While there, he joined a student ensemble as a pianist and met his future wife, with whom he later had a daughter. During these years, he also developed his appreciation for classical music after years of perseverence, acquiring particularly fondness for the impressionist compositions of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

After graduation, he debated with the prospect of becoming a classical musician. However, he decided that composing game music would provide more reliable work and, though an unusual transition, would still provide a vector for self-expression. Biased by his enjoyment of Final Fantasy games, he decided to apply for a job at Square and, impressed with his resumé, Nobuo Uematsu employed his as a trainee in 1996. Hamauzu's first title was 1996's Front Mission: Gun Hazard with Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Junya Nakano. Assigned four action themes in total, including an arrangement of Mitsuda's music for the final battle theme, his harmonically exuberant creations were dark and engaging. He subsequently composed four tracks for the Mitsuda-directed multi-composer score to Square's 1996 brawler Tobal No. 1. Embracing the technical freedom offered by the novel PlayStation console, Hamauzu created four experimental compositions that carefully reconciled electronic and acoustic instrumentation. However, the final results were different from what he had intended as all in-game music was arranged by Guido, also responsible for the Electrical Indian Remixes. With both of these projects, Hamauzu gained admiration for his long-term collaborator Junya Nakano's musical style and the pair became friends. This concluded his modest but promising years as the trainee at Square's music team.

The PlayStation's Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon marked Hamauzu's first solo project. He was enthusiastic about composing for the Chocobo's first spinoff, having loved the mascot's theme since its Final Fantasy II debut when he was a teenager. He mixed a variety of arrangements of the theme, including ambitious opening and ending themes for 50-piece orchestra and a festive remix for the limited edition soundtrack special disc. He also reflected a subtle French impressionistic influence in his original compositions, though his creativity was curtailed in places due to necessity to reflect the light mood of the game. Shortly after the release, he showed the audacity to create the striking orchestral arranged album Coi Vanni Gialli with Yasuo Sako, combining impressionist, flamenco, jazz, and minimalist music while emphasising the melodies and and mood of the original score. Despite the game being a failure, Hamauzu's well-rounded soundtrack and arranged album attracted much praise. Also in 1997, Hamauzu had a minor role as a performer on Final Fantasy VII; he was the synthesizer operator for the rendition of Haydn's "The Creation", played during the FMV when the Sector 7 plate falls early in the game, and was a bassist in the eight person chorus used to perform "One Winged Angel".

On 1999's SaGa Frontier II, he was given the freedom to assert his musical identity. After spending an agonising period conforming to the expectation to emulate the conventional game music Kenji Ito had established for the series, he realized in the final months of the project that expressing his own unique character to the utmost would alleviate his worries. Within a bright and magical impressionistic setting, Hamauzu explored a variety of settings, moods, and scenarios. Despite their idiosyncrasies, his compositions fitted the game, contrasting the powerful and majestic music for Gustave's scenarios with an explorative rich character for Wil's gameplay. A large proportion of the pieces integrated the game's main theme while remaining unique due to imaginative arranging. The project also introduced him to Square Enix synthesizer operator Ryo Yamazaki, whom he has developed a close working relationship with on all his subsequent soundtrack works; Hamauzu is in admiration of Yamazaki's brilliant technical expertise and complimented by Yamazaki's appreciation of his harmonic style. On behalf of the arranged album Piano Pieces "SF2" ~ Rhapsody on a Theme of SaGa Frontier 2, Hamauzu enjoyed creating a series of short impressionistic piano variations for solo, duet, and, in the final six arrangements featuring synthetic orchestration, concertino performance.

Masashi Hamauzu was drafted with Junya Nakano to assist Nobuo Uematsu late in the score's production of Final Fantasy X. He aimed to enhance the musical colour of Spira through making each of his compositions stylistically unique. They included the jazz-based meditative fusion "Besaid", energetic techno mix "Blitz Off", two-tiered string-led elegy "People of the Far North", Stravinsky-esque piano concertino "Decisive Battle", and dazzling cinematic underscore "Attack". He felt the game (which he actually enjoyed playing unlike his other projects) was only a medium for musical expression and used it as an opportunity to widen his stylistic repertoire. Though some fans were indifferent to his contributions, the critical reception to Hamauzu's work was exceptional. He also created the Piano Collections album for the project; he described it as his most challenging work due to his desire to reflect his own integrity while appeasing fan's needs after they selected the track listings. He resolved to create a double-edged sword by blending musically profound and beautifully coloured interpretations of his own compositions with more conventional but still sophisticated arrangements of Nobuo Uematsu's. In addition, on behalf of Final Fantasy X's tribute album, he created "feel", a downtempo electronic remix of "Song of Prayer" sung by Yuna's Japanese voice artist.

A year after Final Fantasy X, Hamauzu produced the streamed soundtrack to the otherwise disastrous PlayStation 2 game Unlimited SaGa. The first disc of its soundtrack featured a variety of acoustic compositions, including vibrant battle themes, emotional character themes, and opening orchestrations by Shiro Hamaguchi. Many of these pieces were implemented through blending instrumental recordings with Yamazaki's sequencing using various libraries. The second disc abandoned the concept of a relatively conventional RPG soundtrack through offering a selection of electronic experiments. In many of these works, Yamazaki provided the initial sound materials and rhythmic patterns for Hamauzu to add melody and harmony to leading to the eventual finished effort. In others, they used their unique production method of working together to create the final character after Hamauzu produced a rough MIDI draft. The score was united by a delightful main theme and concluded with a conceptually interesting classical vocal theme, "Soaring Wings". Following Uematsu's October 2004 departure, Hamauzu became the leading composer of Square Enix's music team. While most of the team's management responsibilities are handled by others, Hamauzu suggested the concept of the Square Enix Music official website and even composed its background music.

In 2005, Hamauzu led the score for the long-awaited sequel Musashi: Samurai Legend (aka Musashiden II Blademaster) alongside Junya Nakano and the duo Wavelink Zeal. He mostly contributed light electronic compositions, warmly synthesized by Yamazaki, but also enticed with brief dashes of orchestration, small ensemble compositions, and more exotic fusions. In 2006, he composed the highly anticipated but critically unsuccessful sequel Dirge of Cerberus Final Fantasy VII. The award-winning soundtrack featured rich and emotional symphonic compositions that established thematic continuity through the regular integration of the powerful Fliker leitmotif and the melancholic Lucrecia melody. Many of the themes were orchestrated by Yoshihisa Hirano and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, but Yamazaki ensured the sequenced works fitted fluidly. Added to the mix were vibrant bass-driven fight tunes, moody ambient scene-setters, quirky light-hearted interludes, two Gackt J-Rock songs unrelated to Hamauzu, and fusions with rock, electronica, and jazz. Subsequently, he arranged the Sailing to the World Piano Score at request from Yasunori Mitsuda for the release of a sheet music book and accompanying album performed by Naoko Endo. The sublime score was well-received by pianists and confirmed Hamauzu's position as game music's leading piano arranger.

In 2007, Hamauzu released the solo album Vielen Dank (meaning 'many thanks' in German) after recording it in Leipzig. It included short impressionistic piano pieces that he composed for fun after the production of the SaGa Frontier II piano album as well as some piano and small ensemble arrangements of thirteen of his game compositions. Two pieces from the album were performed at the 2006 Game Conference Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig in honour of Hamauzu's attendance and received praise from the conservative press there. In 2008, he created eight nine pieces for piano and violin for the Internet simulation game Oolong Tea Story ~Searching for Delicious Tea~. He has also recently completed the score for the DS' murder mystery RPG Sigma Harmonics. The soundtrack offered fresh and uplifting soundscapes by combining Hamauzu's characteristic impressionist violin and piano work with a variety of electronic elements. Unusually, he did not collaborate with Ryo Yamazaki in favour of Mitsuto Suzuki, who demonstrated great competence with the DS and assisted with the electronic arrangement. The score was shorter than most of Hamauzu's other scores, but featured a large number of battle themes and numerous mememorable melodies.

Since 2006, Hamauzu has been composing the 2008 PlayStation 3 title Final Fantasy XIII, the highly anticipated first instalment of the billion dollar Fabula Nova Crystallis compilation. Some music has been specifically written for trailers, including a bright rock-punctuated violin-led composition and a rich orchestral cinematic overture. However, the majority of his work on the title will be created in coming months when all the cutscenes are finished and polished so he will be able to provide effective cinematic underscoring. He would also like to incorporate more voices and choral work for the project, which will cater to his extensive training in vocal composition. The project will declare Hamauzu as the new lead composer of the Final Fantasy series. He may face criticism from those who wanted a Nobuo Uematsu score, unwilling to explicitly emulate the style of a composer that has never influenced him. However, his previous works indicate he should be able to create a diverse, emotional, and rigorous score that complements the game's futuristic setting, action-packed core, and extravagant graphics. Expected to reunite with Ryo Yamazaki on the project, the score will also probably be the most technologically commanded Final Fantasy project to date. 2009 promises to be Hamauzu's biggest year to date with the release of Final Fantasy XIII.