Music and Composition Across the Decades: A Chat With Yasunori Mitsuda

Discussing Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Torna - The Golden Country, and Episode Ignis

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For JRPG fans, the name Yasunori Mitsuda may ring a few bells. For others, he might as well be a household name. The acclaimed music composer of Chrono Trigger and Xenogears fame, and now a memorable name for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and its DLC sequel Torna – The Golden Country, was gracious enough to answer some (a lot, now that I’m editing this!) of my questions about producing and composing music for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and other titles such as Final Fantasy XV, and how music has changed since he started out.

Brandon Bui: When you started out as a musician, you also found an almost-calling in golf, but later re-discovered music after inspiration from Blade Runner and The Pink Panther, with the major step being taken after Railman. What was it about Railman that convinced you that you should pursue music, full time?

Yasunori Mitsuda: I truly love movies. Without movies, I would not be doing music work. Railman, for me truly had the best music, and it stole my heart.

Brandon Bui: You used to do a lot of work as you were discovering the Japanese music industry; did any of those experiences carry over and influence the kind of musician you are today?

Yasunori Mitsuda: One thing that does happen nowadays, young musicians often say to me, “I’m a huge fan of yours”. That makes me feel very glad.

Brandon Bui: What are some of your biggest music influences nowadays?

Mitsuda: I have been heavily influenced by jazz, classical, world music, and the music in old movies.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review

On Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Brandon Bui: A big point I would like to state here in your Xenoblade 2 work is that this game is one of the very few games in which I’ve actually had to set down my controller, and just listen to the music. I deeply enjoyed the work you did for the ending theme.

Yasunori Mitsuda: Thank you very much. I’m so glad.

Brandon Bui: That being said, can you explain your musical composition process for this game? How did you come to be involved in the production of the music for this game?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Actually, I refused to participate in this game twice. I felt that, because the newcomer composer was already composing music and I felt it wasn’t necessary for me to work on the game. However, Mr. [Tetsuya] Takahashi (Editor’s Note: Executive Director of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and head of Monolith Soft) asked me many times, so I decided to participate after all.

Brandon Bui: Did Takahashi-san give you instructions on how you were to compose the tracks in Xenoblade 2 or did you have major creative freedoms?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Mr. Takahashi let me compose freely. Working with him is always a worthwhile experience.

Brandon Bui: What was your biggest challenge in creating the soundtrack?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Among all the games that I have participated in, Xenoblade 2 was the biggest project so far. There was so much to do. But, to be honest, I do not want to work again in the standing position as a composer & producer.

Brandon Bui: What piece of the Xenoblade soundtrack are you most proud of?

Yasunori Mitsuda: My favorite song in Xenoblade is the opening. All stories start from there. Regarding the soundtrack as a whole, the sounds of five composers were beautifully unified into one soundtrack. If each composer worked selfishly, the product would have collapsed completely.

Brandon Bui: One of my favorite tracks from the game was Elysium in the Blue Sky [played in the opening moments of the game] – seeing how the piece was applied to the various scenarios was phenomenal. How did this theme end up coming to be?
Yasunori Mitsuda: I thought of and created a melody that was both bright and dark.

Brandon Bui: You’ve stated that your music compositions are representational works. How has your music developed from Xenoblade Chronicles back in 2010 to, now, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 here in 2018?

Yasunori Mitsuda: I think that maybe nothing has changed. But, I do think my music has become more delicate.

Brandon Bui: Who was your favorite Xenoblade character (or species) to write the music for? My personal favorite character theme was Jin [song title The Power of Jin]!

Yasunori Mitsuda: I loved writing music for Praetor Amalthus [Editor’s note: song title The Acting God]

Brandon Bui: Can we expect a Xenoblade concert series anytime soon? I’d love to attend one of those.

Yasunori Mitsuda: I think it would be quite difficult. I haven’t made any plans yet.

Brandon Bui: What were the unusual/uncommon instruments that you included in the orchestra that were necessary to create the musical experience you wanted for the game? What was your favorite instrument to use?

Yasunori Mitsuda: I didn’t use any particularly rare instruments this time. However, ANÚNA’s choir was truly amazing and had an unprecedented sound. [Editor’s note: ANÚNA is Ireland’s National Choir, founded in 1987 by Michael McGlynn, who composes and arranges the majority of the group’s works. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, ANÚNA sang several pieces that are in the overworld themes for the Indoline Praetorium’s day and night themes, as well as for the Kingdom of Tantal’s capital city of Theosoir].

About Torna – The Golden Country

Brandon Bui: The sound is a lot more acoustic! How did you come up for the theme of Torna? What was the biggest influence in that theme?

Yasunori Mitsuda: I talked with Mr. Takahashi from Monolith Soft about what kind of sound Torna would have. Torna’s theme is a human drama. So, we decided to build it with an acoustic sound. The influence stemmed from the overall scenario of Torna. [Editor’s note: Torna – The Golden Country is a prequel set 500 years before the main game, focusing on a major conflict outlined in the game as the Aegis War, a war which saw the sinking of three Titans.]

Brandon Bui: Are there any new instruments that you used in this update that you didn’t use in the main game?

Yasunori Mitsuda: The newly used instruments were the darbuka, conga and recorder.

Final Fantasy XV Episode Ignis

Brandon Bui: How did your work on the game come to be?

Yasunori Mitsuda: I was contacted at the time by the director of Square Enix via e-mail.

Brandon Bui: Did your process creating the theme for Episode Ignis change compared to, say, your process when you wrote the Xenoblade music? Does the fact that you were working on a Final Fantasy game, a big step up from Xenoblade, change anything at all in your musical process?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Of course, if the characters are different, the world view is also different. In the same way, the creative process changes completely. It does not matter whether I am doing a big job or doing a small job. I love all of them. The production process does not change based on size.

Brandon Bui: How did you manage to create pieces that did not overshadow both Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura, both of whom are incredible composers in their own right? What’s the secret?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Their music style and my music style are different. So, we aren’t affected by each other. SQUARE at that time was really wonderful. 

With Xenoblade 2 and Final Fantasy complete…

Brandon Bui: What would be your dream project?

Yasunori Mitsuda: It’s to make a new album using instruments from around the world.

Brandon Bui: Would you do anything differently in your music if you listened to your old works again?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Some of my old works couldn’t be expressed well due to technical problems. So, there are plenty of parts I would like to change if I can do a remake. Otherwise, I think the music at that time is perfect.

Brandon Bui: When you see fans covering your own music, how does it feel for you?

Yasunori Mitsuda: That makes me very happy, I want to make music that everyone can enjoy.

Brandon Bui: With technology and music compositions getting as advanced as it is, are there ever times where you reminisce about having the simpler sounds back? Where do you see video game music, and music in general, heading? 

Yasunori Mitsuda: I think so. But, my music is always made by subtraction.
I think part of the concept behind music being both “Beauty and Art” is to not use useless sounds. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think there will be a grand evolution of games music in the future. I think that it can evolve further by using an acoustic sound.

Brandon Bui: From the Chrono series to the Xeno series, to every other body of work you’ve since created, what is your hallmark composition that will stand out to you the most as the occasion where you felt that it was your best work ever?

Yasunori Mitsuda: Hmmm……This is a difficult question. All the songs I made are important. So I cannot choose just one. Sorry!

Acknowledgments:

I’d like to thank Mitsuda-san for the opportunity to interview with Gamer Professionals, and for the coordination efforts provided by Mayu Nozaki at Procyon Studios, Ltd. in making this interview happen. (Interview translation provided by Procyon Studios, Ltd.) Thank you so much! 

In the meantime, if you want to get more hands-on time with the OST for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, you can get more information directly from Procyon Studios, or you can check out their iTunes Store release for the soundtrack here.