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Spotlight: Masayoshi Soken

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This week, we discuss Masayoshi Sokens history within Square Enix. Enjoy!

Spotlight: Masayoshi Soken

By Joseph DeGolyer

 

Look, it’s hard to follow up after a huge success.

 

To every first generation of Saturday night live hosts, there’s always a second generation.

Like Irvine Kershner after George Lucas.

Like Jason Newsted after Cliff Burton.

Like Andrew Johnson after Abraham Lincoln.

Like Commodus after Marcus Aurelius.

 

Some, like Kershner, rise to meet the challenge. Others, like Andrew Johnson, do so terribly their effects sour generations. Even more are just forgotten with time.

 

For Example,

Can you name the musical composer for Final Fantasy 12?

How about 13?

 

For most of us, these names probably don’t pop so easily into our heads… (They are Hitoshi Sakimoto, Hayato Matsuo, Masaharu Iwata for FF12 and Masashi Hamauzu for 13 By the way—and yes, I did have to look those up.)

 

How can you possibly follow a legend like Nobuo Uematsu? With 12 main series Final Fantasy games composed primarily by him.

With pieces like “theme of Love” from FF4 being taught to schoolchildren in Japan, and having the second-highest selling video game single ever (Eyes on Me, yes I still hate it, although I won’t deny the accomplishment), how can someone possibly fill his shoes.

 

You’ve heard the rumors… Is the next Uematsu here?

 

HAS THE CHOSEN ONE ARRIVED?

 

On that, who knows?

 

But let’s talk about him anyway.

 

This is our special Spotlight on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn composer, Masayoshi Soken!!!

 

—————————-small musical interlude———————————-

 

Masayoshi Soken was born on January 10th, 1975 in La Paz Mexico. His father was a Trumpet Player in the NHK Symphony Orchestra for many years, as well as a professor at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Art.

Why was his pregnant mother in mexico at the time of Soken’s birth?

Who knows!

Because he went straight from Mexico to Tokyo, Japan.

There he grew to love music, learn piano, learn the guitar, and get into the Tokyo University of Science.

 

Now I’ve desperately been searching for what he got his degree in at University… There are departments there in Science, engineering, innovation studies, chemical sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, management, fire science, math, technology, and biology….

 

Basically, no music or sound design school.

 

Students are required to take some liberal arts stuff, according to the university’s website.

 

I figured, for fun, I’ll list off their principles on liberal arts-supplemented education:

 

“Leaders in science and technology are required to remain motivated to tackle, in cooperation with like minded people from different fields, cross-sectional and complex issues that transcend the borders of specialties, while maintaining a foothold in science and technology. We believe that cultivating such ability and supporting outstanding specialized skills are the role of liberal arts education.

For this purpose, organizing a curriculum for liberal arts education should aim to cultivate the following types of ability.

  • Ability to adopt a bird’s-eye perspective of nature, people, and society
  • Ability to think logically and critically
  • Communication skills
  • Internationalism (ability to understand different cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and international issues)
  • Self-management ability”

 

—————————-small musical interlude————————————-

 

Whatever it was that he learned from University, be it Biology or his skill in “Internationalism”, he was able to get an interview at Square in 1998 to work in the sound department.

 

Apparently, his enthusiasm for rock and roll is what got him the job, as well as his sick skills on the guitar.

 

And he put that guitar skill to work with his first video game soundtrack credit for the game “Gekikuukan Pro Yakyuu At the End of the Century” in 1999. The game features his punk rock music tracks, as well as some of his sound design… Let’s take a listen to one of his first video game scores….

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zyj_AjLK7E8

 

Soken would continue to work on sports games for Square, until Square decided that they were done making them. Before that time, would compose tracks for the games  Nichibeikan Pro Baseball: Final League and the soccer simulator World Fantasista…

 

Here’s a bit of sound from that game:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IphGvVxw9x8

 

—————————————————————————————————————-

 

Now, Soken stayed quiet after the Sports Team was dissolved at square. My only assumption was that he was just lurking in sound design for various games, and not given any more opportunities to compose any music until 2005. There is some confusion regarding his credits, as Soken often went by pseudonyms during this time. It is believed that he co-created the piece “Endless Love, Endless Road” with Masashi Hamauzu and Tsuyoshi Sekito from a Final Fantasy X Tribute Album called “Feel/Go Dream Yuna & Tidus”in 2001. I don’t see any proof of this anywhere, but if Wikipedia says it, you know it’s true!!!!

 

I think it deserves a bit of a listen though, don’t you?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqID7jQwnLQ

 

If you want more information on that album… It’s supposed to be songs about Tidus and Yuna… You can look up more if you want.

 

His next piece that we know of was the beginning jingle for the show “Square-Enix music TV” where Square’s video game composers would be interviewed and promote their music.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6hsXHXOEn8

 

On this front, in an attempt to promote himself, apparently he showed up at some kind of fan convention and fought some robots half-naked for Square-Enix players…

 

Perhaps this paid off, he got to compose one spoof soundtrack for Front Mission 5 called “Blue Stream”…

 

http://downloads.khinsider.com/game-soundtracks/album/front-mission-5-scars-of-the-war-original-soundtrack/321-blue-stream.mp3

 

And so his return to Composing was complete.

 

He would next go on to do the entire soundtrack for the Square/Nintendo collaboration Mario 3 on 3. Here’s a taste of that…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehAZmNS6BPI&list=PLBBD787E4AD05D073

 

Now, as you can see, a lot of this stuff is more poppy in tone, and far from anything you’d hear in let’s say Final Fantasy 6, but I think that soken was just going pretty much where he was told. He contributed a remix for The Bouncer’s main theme, and he worked on Square-Enix’s web-based games Elebest, Game Brain, and Zenobuster.

 

He was moving up the ladder.

 

In 2007 he got the opportunity to play second fiddle to Kenji Ito on the score of Dawn of Mana in 2007.

 

Here’s his biggest contribution to that game, a track called “Sanctuary”… Sit back and relax for this one…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDbxqrcxSkk

 

Now, that’s more like it, am I right?

 

Mr. Soken was still considered a mid-level composer in the company, and his next two projects “Nameless game” in 2008 would be a minor release on the DS, a Video Game adaptation of The Ring. The theme here, I think, shows that he can do more than pop, rock, and pretty piano pieces… He can create something epic…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_8YugTt-Bc&list=PLfSOLl6OGya6nIZomTmyNp7MZaPnkt2f1&index=2

 

The last major game he’d work on before Final Fantasy XIV would be the game “Mario Sports Mix” in 2010.

 

I’ll play a bit of one of the pieces that showcases Soken’s punk rock style the most from this game…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqjH20atoNE&list=PL8827B3786F638845&index=5

 

So, at some point he got hired on to do the sound direction for the 1.0 version of Final Fantasy XIV after this (Which, considering how huge the series is, that is still a massively important job in its own right). Nobuo Uematsu was making a one-off return to the series after going solo, and his shoes wouldn’t need to be filled until 1.0’s massive failure.

 

During the 1.0 to 2.0 debacle (you can listen to our FF14 review to learn all about that), Soken was given the double duty of directing the sound of both games. With no Uematsu, Soken had to fill in much of the soundtrack himself, eventually creating over 100 tracks for the new game, and later creating another 60 tracks for the Heavensward expansion.

 

Let’s go through a few of his most popular tracks from FF14. We’ll be putting up piano remixes these pieces, as I think that that may be the best way to truly appreciate the musicality of Soken–check the description for the links and check out the channels. For the true Soken audio, consult the game, or buy the albums.

 

This first one is called “Wailers and Waterwheels” arranged by Matt Fuss…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmZRCxdvSvU&list=PLBEaChoG50t4iyMscJ9mwMc0fCEK2MNh3

 

Here’s a pretty cool version of “Leviathan” from Husky By the Geek…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h37r9S0GdIs&index=13&list=PLpamuGhPkpi5sSydUiEYpP3FDpgeGdTP7

 

…and we’ll play one more by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. This is “A New Hope”…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p97GPoQDXfc

 

————————————————————————————————————

 

For our closing statements on Masayoshi Soken, I’d like to say that I think he’s got incredible potential as far as his future work is concerned. Many FF14 players have gathered around his music in particular, praising it over Uematsu’s work on the same game.

 

I think the Jury’s still out on this one, but I sense great things from Masayoshi Soken in the future.

 

Let’s fade out with my favorite piece from Heavensward that I’ve heard so far… This is “Contention”. A remix by Benjamin Antony James…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-9WEwgevEg


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