Interview: Yasunori Mitsuda

Yasunori Mitsuda is well known for his brilliant soundtracks to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears and Xenosaga: Episode I. In June 2012, he visited Stockholm to attend the Symphonic Fantasies concert. In our interview, Yasunori Mitsuda tells us about his love of cats, his interest in collecting instruments and reveals that he prefers the music he composed after leaving Square.

How was it to grow up in Japan and how did you get interested in music composition?

In the beginning, I wasn’t very much into music really. Sports were my big interest back then; swimming, kyudo (Japanese archery) and baseball more specifically. In the late elementary school years, I got very interested in motion picture and soundtracks.

You had a dream of becoming a film music composer. Do you still have that ambition?

Yes, definitely. I have made music to some anime productions and I’m dreaming of one day getting the chance to compose music for a foreign movie. You could say that I am slowly approaching that dream.

What are your memories from your first day at Square?

I remember being surprised the first day. No one told me what to do! However, later on I got handed over a copy of Final Fantasy IV with instructions to play it from beginning to end. I got very surprised. Was my task to spend dozens of hours playing an already released game?

You have in a previous interview revealed that during your job interview, you said that you hadn’t played any of the Final Fantasy games.

Yes, that’s correct! During the interview, I was asked if I had played any of Square’s games. And I said no. I wasn’t very familiar with video games back then.

So how did it go, did you finish Final Fantasy IV?

Yes, I made it. And really liked the game.

You have also previously mentioned that you’d like to make a solo album. Is that something you still consider?

Actually, I’ve already released a solo album: Kirite.

Ah, yes. True. However, that was a bit different since you composed the music for another purpose: to make a score to Masato Kato’s (Chrono Cross director) original story. Do you have any future plans of more solo works then?

Currently no plans, but maybe one day…

One of my colleagues at made an interview with you about ten years ago. Back then you told him that you seldom go on long vacations; only a week or so here and there. Is that still the case today?

Unfortunately I have to admit that it’s still the same situation! I seldom go for any long vacation. I get so many queries from fans to record albums, produce new soundtracks to specific games and so on all the time. I really don’t have much free time, but yes: I definitely need more vacation!

At least you’re on a short trip to Stockholm now. What are your impressions of the city so far?

I love northern Europe and I really wanted to visit a country like Sweden someday, so I’m happy to finally be here. I get very excited walking the streets and get to experience such a beautiful and different place compared to my life in Japan.

I’ve heard rumors about you buying a hurdy-gurdy while here. Is it true?

Not really. However, Thomas Böcker (Symphonic Fantasies producer) and I were looking at one that was being sold second hand. I got a bit anxious due to it being second hand, so now I’m wondering if there is any place to buy a new one. Let me know if you find one!

My photographer David Saulesco (also a game music composer) later on tried really hard with all his contacts to find a new hurdy-gurdy, but it seemed to be an impossible task with such a short notice.

Are you collecting instruments?

Yes. From all over the world.

Tell me about the latest video game you played.

In fact, it was Battlefield 3 on PS3! I got overwhelmed by the quality of the graphics and I feel that Japanese developers will have a hard time to catch up.

Are you especially interested in a specific genre of games?

Strategy games.

Any specific game?

I love Age of Empires III.

What was the latest album you listened to?

One made by Norwegian folk musician Annbjörg Lien, who plays hurdy-gurdy.

Yasunori Mitsuda immediately brings up his phone to demonstrate a piece by Annbjörg Lien.

Do you have a special interest in hurdy-gurdy?

No, not really. But since I’m visiting Sweden, I’d like to listen to music that has some connection to the country.

What was the latest movie you watched?

Battleship. My impression of it is that it’s a very American movie. I cannot say that I like the type of genre of this one. There was too much of everything. I prefer European movies, which are often more down-to-earth and about human nature.

The arranged Xenogears album Myth was released a while ago. Are there any plans for a similar project in the future? Maybe for another game series?

Well, maybe! What would you like to hear?

That’s an easy one: Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross orchestral arrangements!

Considering I have not had the opportunity to make such an album, I would really like to in the future.

Yasunori Mitsuda turns to Thomas Böcker and whispers “Kickstarter”. Böcker looks enthusiastic and reveals that in fact he had discussed this matter with Mitsuda the day before. Böcker told Mitsuda about a successful Kickstarter campaign for the Turrican Soundtrack Anthology with music by Chris Huelsbeck. In fact, Thomas Böcker even suggested specifically to make a Kickstarter for an orchestral album with music from Chrono Cross and to record it in Stockholm.

So, it this officially confirmed then?

- No, but we are seriously considering it.

Unfortunately this did not happen, or have at least not happened when this interview is published now in 2016.

The album Drammatica was released to celebrate composer Yoko Shimomura’s 20 years in the games industry. Would you like to be part of something similar?

Yes, considering that I’ve been working close to 20 years now. But the collaboration with Square Enix in the case of Shimomura’s album would be hard to replicate for me due to my relations with the company not being the same as in the past.

An alternative would be to make an album solely with music you already have the musical rights to.

Truth be told, I actually prefer the compositions I made after leaving Square. I was very young when writing the music to Chrono Trigger and I’m now considerably more experienced.

Isn’t it hard hearing all the fans screaming for more Chrono Trigger even today then, while you have moved on and prefer your later works?

In one way, yes. When all these fans played Chrono Trigger, a lot of them were quite young and thereby have many fond memories of it. At the same time, there are many others who are playing my later games like Inazuma Eleven, so it’s possible that I will get the same response from them sooner or later. The problem may be to connect these two generations of gamers and to balance what I’m doing nowadays with what the older fans would like to hear.

You’re now working on the soundtrack to the PS Vita game Soul Sacrifice. How’s it going? Which type of music are you composing together with Wataru Hokoyama?

The recording is scheduled for August and so far I’ve written about half of the 32 tracks I’m planning to do. I’m in the middle of a hectic schedule right now. The style in this game is considerably darker than in any other game I’ve previously worked on. Among other things: the main character is literally fighting with his guts. I see this as a human drama. I’d like to reflect this in the game with a dark theme and a soundtrack partly influenced by Hollywood and horror movies.

Another of your latest projects was Kid Icarus: Uprising for Nintendo 3DS. Which was your part of the soundtrack production?

I made the main theme and fighting theme. It was also my task to oversee the recording of 90 tracks together with my colleague Natsumi Kameoka. We also did the orchestration together.

I’ve noticed on your Twitter feed that you’re posting a lot of cat pictures. Are cats one of your hobbies?

You know, they are so cute that you cannot resist them! And yes, it’s one of my hobbies. Japanese people love cats.

You have a cat at home, right?

That’s right.

Maybe it’s even joining you in the studio?

No, you have to have some rules!

But … I found a picture of a cat standing on your piano.

Ah, that’s true. The cat loves being on top of the piano and on the computer keyboard. In fact, my cat sent an email the other day!

I read that long time ago you had a dream of becoming a professional golfer. What happened?

You’ve certainly done your homework! But yes, it’s correct. It was an ambition and dream, but I later on realized that even if I had practiced all my life, I wouldn’t have had a chance. I therefore decided to give up that dream.