Recently, we were lucky enough to sit down with Yoko Shimomura and talk about her inspiration and experience composing the epic soundtrack to Final Fantasy XV. Creating an original score for an open-world game has its own set of challenges, and Shimomura details her workflow and what she has planned for the future.
What was it like composing for an open-world Final Fantasy game? Have you had previous experience composing for FF or an open-world game before?
This is the first time I composed music for an open-world game. Given it is an open-world game, the music isn’t structured like usual where it simply switches between field and battle tracks, so I was particularly conscious of this during production. In the past, I actually worked on a game in which a particular character from the FINAL FANTASY series makes an appearance, but this is the first time I’m working on a title with the FINAL FANTASY name.
What were some of the major challenges associated with this project from a musical perspective?
Perhaps the system called “Magi”… The music changes depending on the player’s controls. It wasn’t necessarily the first time I was working in this fashion, but it was the first time it was systematized. The planners were quite keen on using it, so it was used in several instances.
It was evident there was western influence on much of the music in the game, specifically at rest stops throughout the world. Most people would describe this music as having a country/southern flavor. Did the game world itself inform this stylistic decision or did something else?
The country/southern flavor is only present in the earlier part of the game, so the overall composition isn’t limited to this style. “Road Trip” is a theme for FINAL FANTASY XV, so the music was composed to reflect the atmosphere of the local areas and towns. In doing so, players are able to travel through the game and get a sense of novelty unique to traveling, as well as cultural differences felt when visiting new locations. In broad terms, we intentionally changed the overall atmosphere of the music so that it would transition from the Americas to the European continent. Aside from the various locations and towns, as the protagonist’s sentiments and the situation encompassing the world itself becomes direr, the music in the latter half was created to reflect a darker tone.
It’s no secret that FFXV was born of years of tumultuous development. How did this impact your workflow and the game’s score, on the whole?
I must say it was difficult to control myself, such as regaining or increasing my motivation when the project restarted since there was a period of time where production was temporarily halted and I had been away from that process. That said, I think I’m emotionally stronger due to this experience [laughs].
Are you working on any projects now that you’re able to share with us?
There are few that I can speak about publicly, but there are several projects I’m working on from series-work to something completely new.
When you look back at the composition for FFXV, which track do you think resonates best with you? Which track really connects you to the world and places within the game?
It’s rather hard to select a particular track. That said, I’m quite attached to “Somnus,” the first track I composed for this title. I initially wrote the track during the Versus days and it was used on the title screen for FFXV. It also shows up as an arrangement.
Considering the amount of classic FINAL FANTASY music that’s available to listen to in the game while driving, did you feel like you were free to do your own original compositions for the rest of the game?
I wonder… I hadn’t given the feature much thought as I had taken it lightly, like a bonus or a little bit of fan service to allow players to listen to classic FINAL FANTASY music while driving. Therefore, I don’t necessarily think that the existence of this feature provided me more freedom in composing the tracks used in other aspects of the game.
How do you decide where music should fit into the game? Do you set out to create something for each town, or do you wait and see what type of setting and surroundings each town gives off before deciding where the music should go?
We [Shimomura is referring to her team] generally request composers to write music that matches a certain scene or location from the game. The overall impression of the song will differ between location, section in the game, character sentiment, and timing among other factors, so we try to define those elements clearly when communicating our vision to the composer to get music that matches specific instances. In addition to this, for FFXV, we selected several tracks in advance that would serve as themes associated with scenes or moments that could be key to the overall story. From thereon, we would also use those as motifs to expand on the tracks. For example, with “Somnus”, the song was only used in scenes related to the royal family of Lucis (whose prince is the main character). We also maintained a sense of unity by creating this type of connection between various themes and music.
The incredible dedication and skill it took to compose the FINAL FANTASY XV score shines through, as players dive into the open-world experience. Thank you to Yoko Shimomura for giving us an insight into her workflow, inspirations, and the challenges that go into composing a score for FINAL FANTASY.