For my money, one of the most interesting aspects of a game’s creation is the composition and orchestration of its music. With Final Fantasy, that’s doubly the case because for me, and I imagine for so many others, the music of this series is one of its best parts. Be it lo-fi channels, new arrangements, compilations, piano versions, or something else, Final Fantasy music makes its way into many of my playlists.
That’s why I was so excited to chat with composer Masayoshi Soken about his score for Final Fantasy XVI. You might recognize his name as he’s also the composer of Final Fantasy XIV. Still, if you don’t, there’s a chance it’s a name you come to remember following the release of FFXVI, because after more than three hours of hands-on time with the game in Square Enix’s Tokyo, Japan, office, I’m confident we’re about to get a banger of a score.
Final Fantasy XVI Composer Masayoshi Soken
In talking with Soken, I wanted to speak to him about some of the major themes and melodies of any Final Fantasy game – things like the Prelude, the main theme, the Victory Fanfare, and more – and he had plenty to say. In this four-part series, I’ll be breaking down different aspects of the music that excite me and hopefully you too.
The Music of Final Fantasy XVI Part 1 – Creating The Prelude
The Prelude is a piece of music, or rather a melody, that’s appeared in almost every Final Fantasy game in one way or another. It’s a relatively simple series of arpeggios that famed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu created in just 10 minutes for the original game. There’s no way Uematsu could have predicted the legacy of this melody in the 1980s when he created it, but he and many other composers have remixed, recomposed, reorchestrated, and composed new iterations of it for other games in the series and more. If you don’t recognize it based on the name – Prelude – there’s still a good chance you’ve heard it.
Check out the original Final Fantasy Prelude below:
I was curious how Soken created the Prelude for FFXVI, which some might have noticed is in a minor key. But before diving into its creation for this game, I asked Soken where he begins and how he charts a course toward creating what is now a 200-plus track score for FFXVI.
“Early in the project, I had a lot of back and forth with main scenario writer and the creative director [Kazutoyo Maehiro] and he would give me feedback on what he wanted in the game to fit his story,” Soken tells me within one of the recording studios where he works. But Maehiro grew too busy and FFXVI producer Naoki Yoshida, who is the same Yoshida that’s director of FFXIV, stepped in to help guide Soken.
“They wanted to have this very grand classical feel to the overall soundtrack,” he says. “What’s most important in the game is the game experience and what players are going to feel when they’re playing the game. It’s up to you [himself] to have music that fits that experience perfectly and enhances it and doesn’t feel like a separate thing. It has to fit the world, it has to fit the characters and the type of characters they are and what they represent. And because we have a very dark and heavy story, a lot of the music [that we end up creating] has that very dark, heavy, stoic feel to it.”
“All the samples that we got from him [Yoshida] were very, very serious and direct. Again, what you would call that classic, classical type of music and [he] really didn’t want us to have too much fun with it. I don’t know if that’s a good way to say it, but again, he wanted it very serious.”
Final Fantasy XVI Producer Naoki Yoshida
With that tone and direction in place, Soken was able to begin creating some of the must-have elements of a Final Fantasy, like the Prelude.
“This was one of the most difficult things I had to do on this project,” Soken tells me when I ask how composing a new Prelude went. “You have this very recognizable melody that Uematsu-san composed, but as you know, it’s in a major key. And because we were aiming for something that was darker, that major key didn’t really work. You have this wonderful major key melody that’s bright, like a crystal, but we need to make it dark, so the first thing we had to do is change that melody from a major key to a minor key.”
Soken teases that there’s “actually a lot of different music that we had taken from older Final Fantasies” and incorporated into the score for FFXVI. But like with the Prelude, many had to be reworked into a minor key.
While FFXVI’s official Prelude track has yet to be released (and admittedly, I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but most Final Fantasy soundtracks are readily available on streaming services today so I imagine it is), you can hear a taste of it in the background here:
This Prelude represents the darker, more mature tone FFXVI has displayed thus far (and it aligns nicely with the game’s M rating, a first for the mainline numbered franchise). If Soken’s FFXIV Prelude is crystalline, almost heavenly in tone, then his Prelude for FFXVI is infernal, and I can’t wait to hear it more in-game.
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