Hitoshi Sakimoto has been in video game music composition a long time. He is best known for his work on Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, and the Valkyria Chronicles series. In 2002, he started his own independent music and sound production company called Basiscape. He and a team of other arrangers, composers, and sound designers work on such digital mediums as video games, television, and film. Find out more in our interview with the veteran game music composer and be sure to follow us on Twitter @gs_soundbyte for a chance to win the Tactics Ogre original soundtrack! Oh, and if you haven't played the game yet and have dozens of hours to kill, you should check our review, the game comes highly recommended!
GameSpot: Could you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your musical background?
Hitoshi Sakimoto: Growing up, I think I had more opportunities to experience and play instruments than usual, but I've never been formally educated about writing music. My music experience was just learning the piano, and I belonged to a brass band and played the drums in a rock band at school.
GS: What was the first instrument you picked up?
HS: Hmm, I think it was the piano, but I'm not so sure.
GS: Is there an instrument you wished you knew how to play?
HS: There are lots! I'd like to try bass clarinet the most. I wish I could play double-reed instruments. I still want to play keyboard instruments better, too, and also the uilleann pipes.
GS: What is your fondest memory when it comes to music?
HS: Although it's hard to choose, when I was playing in the brass band, I kept thinking how beautiful this world is. Looking at the band playing music from the back (I was playing percussion, so I could see the back of everybody), I saw it like one creature. Everybody moved like the wind blowing through a grassy plain and the flowers all moving in harmony. When I saw it, I thought I couldn't stop this. I think this experience is still supporting me now.
GS: How did you get into making music for video games?
HS: I always wanted to make games, and I actually used to make games myself. Since the scale of making a game was getting larger, my role shifted to overall sound, including programming and sound effect production. Now I'm devoted to writing music, managing my sound production company, and bringing up budding writers.
GS: What was it like working with the technology that was available back when Tactics Ogre first came out?
HS: It was the first time we wrote orchestral-style music. When we began studying this style, I think it was a big turning point for us. It went beyond the limitations of the game console sounds. Of course, I didn't use live music. I was using a synthesizer to compose at the beginning, but learning about how to play and generate the characteristics of the classic musical instruments was really new and fun. I remember I was very excited to exchange information with Iwata.
GS: How did it feel to revisit the soundtrack using today's technology and rearranging those classic tracks? HS: Since there is not much limitation to game console sounds these days, it's the same as normal music production. But I was distressed about whether I should have left it with a classic taste or changed it to something more modern. In charge of sound direction of Tactics Ogre was Iwata. We decided to go with the direction of "leaving the classic taste and expanding the musical range."
GS: How do you approach individual tracks for a particular game?
HS: I read the scenario first, and then I grasp the flow and the background of the story. With that in mind, I make a map of the flow of the feelings and the drama. Then I write theme music to symbolize the view of the world. Once a client says OK to that theme song, I start writing the rest of the music then and there.
GS: Do you have a favorite track from Tactics Ogre?
HS: I like the theme of "Black Knight." I committed to making an orchestral atmosphere in "Ogre battle." I tried to do lots in Tactics Ogre, but I made this song from standard tactics.
GS: Do you enjoy collaborating with other composers?
HS: It's stimulating and fun. Everybody understands the title. So I look forward to everybody's approach. They don't fall short of my expectations.
GS: How does that affect your workflow?
HS: I don't feel it's particularly different from other work. When I work by myself, I still assume a virtual rival. I don't know why, but I got into the habit of it.
GS: How do you work with the sound team? Are you working closely together or are they separate teams?
HS: When I work with the sound team in our company, basically, I take final responsibility. Team members will change depending on the project, but usually, everybody works on multiple projects at the same time. The work places are different for each person. Most of the time, I work from home.
GS: Where do you see video game music heading into the future?
HS: I think the entertainment in VR won't change. But it has become diversified, hasn't it? I think the things we recognize to be a game will be retained, and this technique will be combined into all kinds of areas in the future.
GS: There's not a lot of recognition for video game music in the mainstream, but that is slowly changing. Why do you think that is?
HS: I think it's simply a market scale problem.
GS: What other artists in the game music industry do you admire and why?
HS: Tim Follin writes great music, but he seems to have moved away from the game industry. Once you listen to his music, I'm sure you'll know why it's great.
GS: What kind of music do you listen to now?
HS: I always listen to a wide range of music genres for study. But, personally, I like techno or jazz fusion.
GS: What are your biggest influences?
HS: On music, it would be the old arcade game music.
GS: What projects are you currently working on?
HS: Sorry! I can only discuss the work that has already been published.
GS: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
HS: Simply put, the best thing you can do to progress is to keep writing lots of music and releasing it. Now there are lots of places to release music for amateurs. Just keep releasing music that you're passionate about. Then surely your future will open. Stick it out!
GS: Thank you for your time!