In Depth: Square Enix's 2011 TGS Music Booth

What exactly does a Square Enix music sampler say about the Final Fantasy publisher's future plans? Gamasutra contributor Jeriaska picks apart the collection, track-by-track.
For the sixth year in a row, Square Enix released a music sampler at this year's Tokyo Game Show. The compact disc previews the company's slate of upcoming releases in audio form. In anticipation of Final Fantasy's 25th anniversary in 2012, an album treating composer Nobuo Uematsu's 8-bit Famicom compositions to solo piano renditions is in the works. For the 20th year of the Mana action RPGs, the franchise is currently being commemorated with arrange album releases by three artists. Gamasutra spoke with Soushi Yoshida, Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishi of Square Enix Music on their selections for this year's sampler. The lineup chosen for the trade show in Chiba, Japan offers insights into the company's strategies this coming winter and in early 2012.
Shinji Hashimoto, producer of Front Mission (Super Famicom) and Final Fantasy Versus XIII (PlayStation 3)
Below are descriptions of music tracks from Square Enix's Tokyo Game Show Sampler Volume 6, and how they reflect the publisher's future plans: Final Fantasy Type-0: Composer Takeharu Ishimoto has in recent years been tasked with finding a new sound for Final Fantasy, retaining some continuity with what has come before. Starting with the Japan-only Final Fantasy VII mobile title Before Crisis, the artist arranged melodies appearing in the PlayStation RPG, while deriving new approaches to the game's dystopian urban setting. The results were the meld of electric guitar and classical orchestration found on the PlayStation Portable's Crisis Core. Shiraishi at Square Enix explains that Final Fantasy Type-0 began with comparatively humble origins, envisioned as a spin-off of the Final Fantasy XIII Fabula Nova Crystallis universe for cellphones. Then called Final Fantasy Agito XIII, the game gradually took on an ambitious scope during development and hopped platforms from mobile to PSP. Type-0 became the new title as the game expanded to fill two UMD discs and will likely become an alternative action-RPG franchise for the publisher, along the lines of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for Nintendo consoles. Type0wallpaper_tgs.jpgThe story appears to transition from a Hogwarts-esque boarding school to war-torn battlefields, with familiar summoned creatures like Bahamut making appearances along the way. The elements of downbeat guitar track "War-The Quiet, Fierce Fight" from the TGS sampler will sound familiar to players of Crisis Core. A five-track demo EP also on sale at the trade show illustrates that areas of the score will quote melodies from the original series, though not as overtly as Ishimoto's music for Dissidia Final Fantasy. Brief glimpses of Uematsu's "Prelude" crop up in two separate tracks, on strings and piano. Samples from Ishimoto's score can be heard on the Type-0 soundtrack website. A three-CD release is due for October in Japan, bundled with a trailer DVD previewing upcoming Square Enix games. ReBirth / Seiken Densetsu Kenji Ito Arrange Album: This year the Mana series turns 20. While in that time the epic sequel to Secret of Mana has never seen an English-language release, every game featuring music by composer Kenji Ito has made it overseas, beginning in 1991 with Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy. Re:Birth, an album of acoustic renditions of Mana tracks, will build on the live performances that have taken place at Kenji Ito's yearly Gentle Echo Meeting events. Six tracks from the first portable title published in the early '90s will be included, along with one track from its remake Sword of Mana for Game Boy Advance, as well as two pieces from Dawn of Mana for PlayStation 2 and a single track from Nintendo DS title Children of Mana. The TGS sampler includes an arrangement of the "Battle 2" theme from Sword of Mana, which is streaming on the Re:Birth album website. Announced at the Tokyo Game Show, an additional two Mana arrange albums are currently in the works. Yoshida of Square Enix says that Hiroki Kikuta's Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 retrospective is currently on track for a winter release, while Yoko Shimomura's arrangements of Legend of Mana and Heroes of Mana will follow some time in 2012. For more information on the music of the composers, see our interviews with Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta and Yoko Shimomura.
Square Enix's Tokyo Game Show CD shop
Cafe SQ: Cognizant of there being a market for new arrangements of classic game scores, Square Enix created a line of official compilations to serve that purpose. Beginning with Love SQ, the SQ series has sought to spotlight popular indie artists offering their own spin on retro game melodies. Shiraishi says that since the first release, the company has scoured Japan's independent labels and even the Nico Nico Video website to license new entries. Cafe SQ was first conceived of as a mix of lounge and chamber orchestra pieces, but has since expanded to include electronic music. An acoustic recording of the Troia theme from Final Fantasy IV appears on the TGS sampler, courtesy of Schroeder-Headz. As with previous SQ albums, care has been taken to strike a balance between novel performance styles and retaining the essence of the source material. Music from the SQ series will be performed live in a series of events planned for the 2.5D Lounge. SQ Party Level 1 occurred shortly after the Tokyo Game Show, with DEADBALLP, RE:NDZ, DJ OMKT and SEXY-SYNTHESIZER playing to a full crowd. SQ Party Level 2 will have remixes of NieR by Go-qualia and world's end girlfriend as its theme. Taking place October 28, the show will be broadcast live on Ustream via the 2.5D website. cafesq_tgs.jpgA release date of November 23 has been set for the album, and samples of the Final Fantasy IX "Over the Hill / Melodies of Life" remix by yuxuki waga and other tracks are streaming on the newly renewed Cafe SQ site. Final Fantasy XIII-2: A release date announcement coincided with this year's Tokyo Game Show for Square Enix's latest role-playing game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Looking back, the first Final Fantasy for a new console has tended to be treated to a direct sequel. The story of Final Fantasy IV for Super Famicom continued on WiiWare with The After Years, while Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation led to Dirge of Cerberus on PlayStation 2, and Final Fantasy X paved the way for Final Fantasy X-2 on PS2. The pattern appears to be continuing, with the English-language release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 scheduled for late January. Masashi Hamauzu, the composer on Final Fantasy XIII, scored the E3 2011 promotional video, heard on the TGS sampler and streaming at the associated website. Building on melodies like "Blinded by Light" from the previous soundtrack, the trailer intimates a return to the original's sophisticated compositional style. However, Hamauzu has since founded his own studio and is at work on an original album called IMERUAT, a collaboration with Final Fantasy XIII vocalist Mina. As a consequence, two additional in-house composers will be contributing most of the score for the sequel and lending their own personal interpretations. Also included on the sampler, "Missing Link" is by Mitsuto Suzuki, whose original albums In My Own Backyard and Neurovision were published on the Square Enix record label. The song title has some connection to the storyline, which sees protagonist Noel transported from the future to save humankind from extinction, aided by reluctant heroine Serah and her ass-kicking sister Lightning. Last week composer Suzuki announced, via the Japanese-language Square Enix Music Blog, that Russian vocalist Origa contributed to the recording of "Missing Link," which is streaming online on the announcement post. Final Fantasy XI series composer Naoshi Mizuta provided the third track from Final Fantasy XIII-2 for the TGS sampler. "Song of Time's Poem" does not appear online, but his "Archylte Steppe - Trial Edition" is streaming on the Music Blog. Traditionally, Final Fantasy scores have been comprised of non-vocal music, outside of opening cinematics or ending staff rolls. Final Fantasy XIII departed from this structure, introducing vocals in unexpected places, and Shiraishi of Square Enix says the inclusion of songs during gameplay sequences will be even more common in the sequel. For further details on the techniques of the three composers contributing to Final Fantasy XIII-2, see our interviews with Masashi Hamauzu, Mitsuto Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta.
Hiroyuki Nakayama will perform on the Piano Collections Final Fantasy Iaƒ»IIaƒ»III album
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: The Gaming Intelligence Agency website once spoofed Final Fantasy X in one of their April Fools' Day announcements, claiming protagonist Tidus was to star in a rhythm game called Funky Fantasy, wherein memorable tunes from the series would be given the Beatmania treatment. Just over ten years later, the joke feels weirdly prescient, as an even more outlandishly titled rhythm game starring this and other franchise characters is making its way to the 3DS. A portmanteau word comprised of "theater" and "rhythm," Theatrhythm features super-deformed renderings of familiar Final Fantasy protagonists. During gameplay sequences, players interact with button prompts timed to the beat of source music taken from Final Fantasy series games. While navigating menu screens, arrangements created specifically for the game will be featured. Square Enix predicts somewhere in the area of ten of these remixes will appear in the finished build, fewer than tunes recycled from prior releases. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy's "Prelude," which incorporates sound effects from the gameplay sequences of the rhythm game, was included on the TGS sampler and is streaming on the Theatrhythm website. A trailer and preliminary track list can be found on FFWorld. Bravely Default: Flying Fairy: The score for Square Enix's new IP for the Nintendo 3DS remains shrouded in mystery. Speaking with Yoshida at the Square Enix music booth, it appears the company intends to invite speculation and build up buzz before revealing the identity of the game's composer. At this time what is known is that the soundtrack comes courtesy of a veteran of game and anime music. The Celtic-inspired main theme can be heard during the reveal trailer and on the TGS sampler. xiii-2wallpaper_tgs.jpgThose visiting the Bravely Default booth during the game show received an "AR" augmented reality card with an illustration by lead artist Akihiko Yoshida of DS title Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. Setting the card on the floor and viewing it through the 3DS game system's top screen revealed a life-sized, three-dimensional rendering of a damsel in distress, superimposed over video captured by the rear-facing camera. Tilting the 3DS, the CG character's movements could be followed left and right. Producer Tomoya Asano is betting that the apparition appearing in players' bedrooms and beseeching them to save the world will tug at heartstrings when Bravely Default goes on sale next year. Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack -PLUS-: At times Final Fantasy games have contained more music than can be squeezed into a four-disc soundtrack album. Final Fantasy IX for PlayStation was the first such instance. There, an additional "Soundtrack PLUS" hit record store shelves in Japan, containing full-motion video cues and alternate mixes of vocal themes. More recently, the PLUS treatment has been revived for Final Fantasy XIII, whose auxiliary compact disc contains unreleased trailer music, as well as the English-language Chocobo theme. Final Fantasy XI's Original Soundtrack Plus will be the first to span two discs (a consequence of the MMO's cyclical development cycle), containing previously unreleased music by Naoshi Mizuta. Background tracks for the Vision of Abyssea battle arena add-on are planned for inclusion. Battle theme "Luck of the Mog" can found on the TGS sampler, while "Melodies Errant" is streaming on the official site. Rounding out the album, Square Enix will be throwing in the PlayOnline viewer themes composed by Bahamut Lagoon's Noriko Matsueda. A special Vana'Con concert of orchestral Final Fantasy XI performances, celebrating the lasting appeal of the online role-playing game, will take place in Tokyo on 11/11/11. Chaos Rings I©: While many Japanese game studios have kept Apple's iOS devices at arms' length, Square Enix was among the first to jump at the opportunity to develop for the platform. Song Summoner for iPod launched in 2008, generating strategy RPG statistics based on keywords found in players' iTunes libraries. Chaos Rings has since demonstrated a firmer commitment to the premise of adapting the depth and nuance of a Final Fantasy RPG to phones and tablets. Replete with epic quests and dramatic voice acting, the franchise also features full music scores by Wild Arms series composer Noriyasu Agematsu. Chaos Rings I© is an interlude preceding a full sequel, whose soundtrack features eight original tracks, currently on sale through iTunes. The entire album can be sampled online (including the title track found on the TGS sampler). The vocal performance comes courtesy of singer Sarah Alainn, also heard in Xenoblade. Agematsu will be writing original music for Chaos Rings II, which is due out next year for Apple iOS devices.
The Mana arrange album series by Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta and Yoko Shimomura
El Shaddai & The Astrals: Composer Masato Kouda has been a significant contributor to the design of Devil May Cry and Monster Hunter, developing characteristic sounds for both Capcom series. However, it was not until the musician went freelance and began his studio Design Wave that he began to be broadly recognized for his work. El Shaddai is a collaboration with Design Wave's Kento Hasegawa, with Kouda responsible for developing an audio concept for the project. Catching up with the musician at the Makuhari Messe during the trade show, Kouda relates that Ignition Entertainment's El Shaddai made for interesting subject matter. The subject matter encouraged the musician to record with a choir and organ in an effort to match the ethereal visual quality of the action title. "The Astrals" was envisioned as an arrange album of live music performances based on the game, though the composer remains tight-lipped about who is in the band. bravely_default_tgs.jpgLikely the composer is himself responsible for the piano arrange demo heard on the TGS sampler, while snippets of a prog remix can be found on Square Enix's YouTube Channel. The Astrals could be staff at Design Wave, or fellow members of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI Star Onions band, but until they hold a live performance, Kouda says it's anyone's guess. Piano Collections Final Fantasy Iaƒ»IIaƒ»III: Square began the Piano Collections series back in 1991, with solo piano recordings of music from Final Fantasy IV bundled with a hardbound book of sheet music. Since then, the piano series has expanded to include every series installment created for the Super Famicom and Sony PlayStation, in addition to two volumes of Kingdom Hearts. Composer Nobuo Uematsu will serve as producer on Piano Collections Final Fantasy Iaƒ»IIaƒ»III, scheduled for release next year. The album is being advertised as the first in a series of products to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Uematsu's landmark collaboration with game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi and artist Yoshitaka Amano. Hiroyuki Nakayama will perform the pieces, having previously contributed to Piano Collections Kingdom Hearts and having joined Uematsu on his Dog Ear Records studio's Piacom II album. Nakayama's interpretation of the "Rebel Army" theme from Final Fantasy II appears on the Tokyo Game Show sampler. For Japanese audiences, the game is decades old, though it was not released in English-language territories until the PlayStation enhanced port in 2002. Final Fantasy III was only localized beginning with the Nintendo DS remake in 2006. However, at least a few of the themes on the album are liable to spark feelings of nostalgia among those who remember playing the original Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System when it was introduced just over twenty years ago.
Takeshi Nagai of SEXY-SYNTHESIZER performing at SQ Party Level 1
[For more information on Square Enix's music publishing division, visit the official Square Enix Music site. A French-language review of the Tokyo Game Show sampler is available at Musica Ludi. Images courtesy of Square Enix. Photos by Jeriaska.]

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