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Interview with Hitoshi Sakimoto (RocketBaby - April 2001)

The following interview was carried out by RocketBaby.net, a sadly defunct site that once interviewed numerous game composers. Square Enix Music Online is hosting the interview to avoid it being lost forever.

RocketBaby: At what age did you become interested in music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I'm not sure, but I think I've been involved with music since the early age of elementary school. I was in brass band club and some rock band activities at my school. At 17, I wrote my first work even though nobody taught me how to compose. 'Cause it was just fun! It was background music for a shooting game made by my community.

RocketBaby: How did you get in to the game business?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I was already making games by myself in junior high school. You might think it's incredible, but game programming was a personal operation at that time. Right after entering high school, I started to work for a game maker as a part time programmer. I simultaneously wrote some articles about music for a PC magazines. Soon I found myself in charge of the music for each project. I became a pro just because I graduated high school.

RocketBaby: Vagrant Story has such a dark yet hopeful sound. How did you create your melodies?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Early in the project, I prepared some bright and cheerful tunes like Final Fantasy Tactics, but Yasumi Matsuno, the director of Vagrant Story told me "Forget about Final Fantasy Tactics. I want it more deep and heavy". Then I made a big concept change for the game. I dared to regulate the number of main melodies for important character themes and draw distinctions for some demoniac characters by changing instrumentals / code replacement. Tough but baring the deep sorrow behind Ashley and Duke Bardorba relationship appears in the themes. And there still remains a glisten of hope for every human character.

On the other hand, I had certain images in mind for the themes of monsters. Human's logic is not acceptable to other creatures. You can find these battle themes as you play the game... As for the background music when players walk around dungeons, which includes environmental sound effects in the first dungeon, I followed the flow of the story. At the introduction, players can understand and feel the circumstances relying on their perceptions. But later and later, they become more doubtful of their own perception. So they have to try hard to keep up self-identity and going on approaching to get at the truth. I expressed such hero's struggles in music.

RocketBaby: What influenced your work for Vagrant Story?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: The advice of Mr. Matsuno has big influence on me as I explained earlier. I remember his comment "...Now you are composing Indiana Jones, but you know, what I need for Vagrant Story is The X-Files". That made me realized my big mistake. The music was actually just great but was totally out of synch with the game's concept. I ran and got soundtracks including The X-Files, and learned from these environmental scores.

RocketBaby: Certain musical passages of Vagrant Story have a very James Horner and Hans Zimmer feel? Were they an influence and how do you feel about their music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Of course I am a big fan of their work! I love Horner's Battle Beyond the Star, Aliens, and Star Trek scores. I love Zimmer's Backdraft and The Rock. These soundtracks never get boring, even today.

RocketBaby: What memories do you have of Vagrant Story?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I think we had an excellent group of people for the Vagrant Story development team. I remember they did remarkably good jobs; scenario, game designing, polygon modeling, visual effects, motions, shooting works, programming, and effective sounds. I would get very excited when I would preview the game. I felt so uneasy to see how the music can contribute to such a great work. That was the greatest memory of heaven and hell at the same time of Vagrant Story.

RocketBaby: How did you get the job for Final Fantasy Tactics?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I had worked with Yasumi Matsuno on Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. Later, I heard about Final Fantasy Tactics from him when he got the project going at Square.

RocketBaby: Did you feel any pressure doing the music for a game with a Final Fantasy title?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Even though I had a lot of pressure creating the music was a great pleasure for me. Yasumi Matsuno and Nobuo Uematsu advised me not to be obsessed about being within the Final Fantasy world. Then I was able to relax and create my music freely. Actually I used a Final Fantasy theme in the score (a little bit).

RocketBaby: What inspires your Final Fantasy Tactics' music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Indeed such passions surface, but I can feel certain themes inside; real love and hope to human beings. I am helping him send these messages to all players through my music. I hope I could even interpret unseen parts of the stories which Yasumi Matsuno told me for explanation of each characters and backgrounds. In Final Fantasy Tactics, I tried making music easy to understand and listen to for everyone. That might be one of main policies of whole the game.

RocketBaby: How do you and Masaharu Iwata collaborate?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Many people have a misunderstanding the way Iwata and I collaborate. We each compose our music alone. Actually we worked together but composed most of the music individually. In some cases, we have meetings for some projects, though we know each other not to argue so much. I feel safe with him, but we still have good stimulation for creating fantastic sounds.

RocketBaby: How did you meet Masaharu Iwata?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: As I told previously, when I was making games in the community, we happened to meet in a game plaza, maybe 14 years ago. We were just nuts at that time.

RocketBaby: What is it like working with Masaharu Iwata?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: He used to bring me rare Japanese games when I am right at a deadline for a job. As you can easily imagine, the game leads both of us to utterly die. (Thanks Iwata!) He is a person who is always enjoying something and shares it with his neighbors. Especially we meet so often when working together. He is really good to me.

RocketBaby: Will you and Masaharu Iwata be working together again?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I can not declare the details, but we are working together now for a new game that will be released this year.

RocketBaby: What was it like working on Ogre games?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queenwas my first orchestral work. Because I've only experienced making techno and progressive music everything was new and every moment was succession of discoveries. I really appreciated Yasumi Matsuno giving me the chance as it was one of the big turning points of my life. I think many people misunderstand me and think that I am based on classical music. Actually Ogre Battle was my very first step in that field. I've still got a lot to learn.

RocketBaby: How did you overcome the limitations of the early game consoles?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I think it is not so much related with music expression, but trying to make good use of sound chips and challenging the limitations are enjoyable action by itself. I believe the passion for expression takes over any obstacles of limitation. So I never felt that was difficult. One's workmanship will be more apparent operating cheaper sound for better or for worse. It happen to kicks me down to the hell in some combinations. In that case, it's better changing the way you approach it and try to develop new skills to take it over.

RocketBaby: How difficult was it to port your music to the Nintendo 64?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I don't know about the Nintendo 64 at all, I have never operated it's sound chips.

RocketBaby: How important is music for an arcade game like Radiant Silvergun?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Basically arcade music is not much different from home video games. Quick groovy music is fine, because in arcades the player can enjoy the experience with friends.

RocketBaby: How does the arcade music for Radiant Silvergun differ from the Saturn version?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: The ST-V arcade machine and the Saturn's sound are almost the same, but the Saturn can play CD sound. Arcade games require using louder sound against noise other machines and people. But I was free from this requirement and made the music of Radiant Silvergun like a home video game. The two versions of Radiant Silvergun are totally same musically. I just added some CD music to the Saturn version.

RocketBaby: What are some of your thoughts about working with the people at Treasure?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Mr. Iuchi, the director of Radiant Silvergun has a clear vision for his productions, so his opinion is clear to understand. Normally it takes a lot of time for the game staff to reach an agreement, but Mr. Iuchi is different. He is really good at expressing himself, I felt we already shared the same vision. Treasure's people are so excited about making games. I was glad to find many friends there.

RocketBaby: With each developer, how much freedom do you have creating your music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: One of the frequently asked questions I get "Would you get disgusted when you have to compose music against your tastes?" Actually it doesn't matter, because I understand that games need suitable music just like we need music for the different occasions in life. This is really the only regulation for creating game music, otherwise I think I have total freedom when creating music.

RocketBaby: How long do you work on each game?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Normally it takes one year for me to meet all the requirements for the game. I usually work on several games simultaneously.

RocketBaby: What is the process you use to compose music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: First, I gather up all the data of the game to get the image. Then I talk and talk with directors to define the structure and melodies. I keep on looking for any hints and thoughts for good a solution. Even when I struggle all I can do is just pray. After all, You know, good music will be descended to a good prayer.

RocketBaby: Do you have a favorite console to work on?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I do not endorse any style or environment. I just love my music and my job, no matter what the scale.

RocketBaby: How will game music evolve?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I think there will be no more booby sound chips, and the music will get closer to movie, TV, and stage music. Still game music has variations to follow and must react to the player's action. I think this field is attractive enough to get heated in the future.

RocketBaby: Who are some of your favorite game composers?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I have a lot. Miki Higashino, Tamayo Kawamoto, Shinji Hosoe, and Yuzo Koshiro are composers that making great music when I was just a game player. I am happy that such pioneers keep on making great music today.

I was really excited when I found Tim Follin's name on Ecco the Dolphin (Dreamcast). He is well known as the composer for Solstice on the Nintendo Entertainment System. I haven't heard his music since X-Men on the Super Nintendo.

RocketBaby: How did you get involved with Ten Plants?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: I got a good recommendation from Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Sasagawa to join the project.

RocketBaby: What advice would you give to people who want to create game music?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Just do it! Just keep on creating, you will find your way and direction. I hope you will join us.

RocketBaby: Any last words?

Hitoshi Sakimoto: Well, Hello fellows who loves music and games, Thanks for your patience reading this article. I've been working on Square's Vagrant Story project for two years. Now I have became a freelancer again. That means I will create many of my own works ahead. I am making my own Home Page on the net, and it'll be available by first half of this year. Please visit there and see you then! Ciao! XXX