At the beginning of July 2019, and during the celebration of the 4th edition of the Movie Score Malaga – MOSMA festival, Tony Alicante Spain had the opportunity to interview the Japanese composer Yasunori Mitsuda.
In the interview that follows, they talked about his first soundtrack for the video game Chrono Trigger, his departure from Squaresoft to create Procyon Studio, the release of Chrono Cross Revival Soundtrack in August 2019, his collaboration with other composers, the Chrono Cross concerts in Japan this November 2019, the little presence of his extensive work on Streaming platforms such as Spotify, or his recommendations for people who want to compose music for video games, among many other things.
Yasunori Mitsuda is a Japanese composer with almost 25 years of musical career composing for documentaries, anime, and mainly RPG adventure games. He started with his work at Squaresoft in the 90s, and he continued after the creation of his own music company Procyon Studio with half a dozen employees.
In his first video games, he surprised with his beautiful and magical compositions of Celtic, ethnic, folkloric, celestial, and mix of world music, something that he has combined with the orchestral sound. He is a composer who, even if you don’t like videogames, you will find that has a very interesting, genuine, and original sound.
Yasunori Mitsuda was in Malaga (Spain) during the last MOSMA 2019 festival, where a thematic concert was offered as a tribute to his work on July 3 (with music from Chrono Cross, Xenogears, and Xenosaga), and he also had several Xenoblade pieces in a second concert on the 4th of July.
Tony Alicante Spain had the great pleasure of interviewing him for SoundTrackFest on Friday, July 5, 2019, where he received us in a wonderful, humble and friendly way, and he did not hesitate to wear the SoundTrackFest t-shirt that we gave him, just one second after receiving it, posing for the great photos of Rafa Melgar.
First, let me tell you that I admire your work very much and that I’ve followed your career since you started as a composer in Chrono Trigger (1995). It is difficult for me to interview you when I have followed you so much and I have read several interviews, especially from a site so specialized in video game soundtracks as the web VGMONLINE (http://www.vgmonline.net/ – former https://www.squareenixmusic.com/interviews.shtml, to which from here I send a greeting, especially to Chris Greening). Therefore, it has been difficult for me to have something new to contribute 🙂…
Thank you very much, let’s go for it!
As I said, your first soundtrack was Chrono Trigger. I know that you asked the company (Squaresoft) that either they let you compose music (till that moment you had only created sound effects for Final Fantasy V and Secret of Mana)… or you would leave the company, is that true?
Yes, that’s right, I was young and what I wanted in the company was to make music.
Tell us about your beginnings… What were you doing in your adolescence and early youth?… What brought you to work at Squaresoft with 21-22 years? I think you came from studying at a music school in Tokyo… How did you get into the world of sound and music?… What would you have done if you were not a composer?
In my adolescence, I liked sports very much, and I thought I could live practicing them.
Any sport in particular?
Baseball, athletics, and golf. I could have been a professional golfer.
Oh yeah? Do you still practice those sports?
No, lately I do not… I do not do anything at all (*laughs*)
Well anyway, you’re in good shape (*laughs*)…
I do hiking, climbing mountains, walking, and that kind of things…
That’s fine… As I was saying, before becoming a composer you took care of the sound effects of other Square games… How was your relationship with composers a bit older than you and who were already great figures in Square such as Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Shimomura, Kenji Ito or Hiroki Kikuta?… How was your relationship with them?… Anything about work, or any anecdote that you can tell us about those years?
It is usually said that music composers don’t get along well, but it was not like that in Square. In fact, I’ve gone sometimes on a trip with Yoko Shimomura and we also hang out… I can tell you that when I was doing the sound effects of Final Fantasy V, Nobuo Uematsu (with whom I also went drinking after work) listened in the distance a sound of crying I was creating for one of the characters, and ran to me so that I would not modify anything; he wanted to keep that sound as he had heard it. I also confess that for the recording in the studio of ‘Chrono Cross – Scars of Time’, I had been the previous night partying and drinking with a friend, and I was dizzy and sleepy, but I was confident that the studio musicians would play my composition perfectly (*laughs*).
I do not know any soundtrack that has more versions, covers, and ‘doujin albums’ than Chrono Trigger… there are also many from Chrono Cross… There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds… Before you got down to work with it… the ‘fan-base’ has done even Rap versions!!
Hahaha… it is very difficult to follow them all and I did not know that they had done even Rap versions. I feel praised. When I wrote it in 1995, there were hardly any people who had Internet, but later I realized how many versions of my themes have been made, and I think it’s great when it’s done with the intention of having fun and learning.
Let’s continue with your work. Being Chrono Trigger your first job as a main composer… Did you have compositions already created before starting?
Yes, the ‘Ending Theme – To Far Away Times’. I wrote it before the game existed; it’s a very special piece for me.
Very interesting, I was very excited, especially the first time I heard it at the end of the game and it stuck to me instantly.
At the end of the 90s you quit Squaresoft and you become a freelance, creating at the same time your own company, Procyon Studio… What changed in your way of working from having a payroll to be called for new projects?
For Chrono Trigger or Xenogears I had a year and a half to compose the music, but when I became freelance the deadlines to deliver the music of the games were much shorter and that was very hard. When I left Square, I had the intention to work on my own, so I mentioned it to several companies to see if they proposed me projects… and they proposed me more than I could cover! I felt overwhelmed with so much work and in the end I had to create a company (Procyon Studio) and over time I hired composers, and now we are a good team, which I’m glad of!
Yes, for example, in the 2 parts of ‘Another Eden’, which I really like, where you have delegated a large part of the work to Sunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounassr…
(*Laughs*)… I can see you know everything!
Of course, I check your website and the Facebook of Procyon Studio and I listen to your work 🙂
Since the beginning of your career you have created several albums in parallel to your soundtracks with the original sound produced by yourself, in which you have been completely involved, such as Chrono Trigger – The Brink of Time (1995) Xenogears Creid (1998) Xenogears Myth – The Orchestral Album (2011) and To Far Away Times: Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross Arrangement Album (2015). What is the reason to make versions of your own original soundtracks with these albums?
In some melodies, I was limited by the sound chip, so it couldn’t sound the way I wanted. The last one you mention “To Far Away Times: Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross Arrangement Album (2015)”… I had it on my mind as a concept for 20 years, and I definitely made it to analyze the evolution of my sound and the changes that I transmit when composing in my music.
It should also be noted that you have always been considered a great composer of songs and vocal themes. In 2009 you edited a compilation “Colours of light” with your vocal themes so far. I think it’s good and that it’s representative to have a song on any soundtrack… Keeping in mind that since that moment, you’ve composed a bunch of new songs and vocal themes… When will you edit “Colours of light 2” or whatever you decide to call it?
I was the first to propose songs in Squaresoft for Xenogears (1998)… I really like your idea because it is true that I already have many songs since 2009 to release a new vocal compilation album (*laughs*)
Have you thought about producing singers outside of your own soundtracks?
I have done it from time to time, and I am willing to that possibility if it is proposed to me.
What can you tell us about your future projects?… It has been revealed that there will be some concerts about your Chrono Cross music in Japan in November this year (which by the way… have sold out all the tickets)… Will it be a project similar to the one recently seen with Xenogears for its 20th anniversary? Is it going to be recorded and released in Blu-ray?… Even if we have to wait a whole year as it happened in ‘Xenogears 20th anniversary concert – The Beginning and The End-’ on Blu-ray …
Yes, all the tickets of the advertised dates have already been sold. I get along well with the musicians so I think it will be a great concert. There are 12 musicians who will perform it. Now we are preparing the audiovisual and light designs. For the Blu-ray with the concert ‘Xenogears 20th Anniversary Concert – The Beginning and The End’… I hesitated to get it out… I am very perfectionist, and even more with my own recordings, so may take some time to release them. I spend a lot of time on them. I hope that it will get to be released.
Promo videos for Xenogears 20th anniversary concert -The Beginning and The End- in Blu-ray
Promo video for Chrono Cross concerts
Luckily you released it! The Xenogears 20th Anniversary is one of my favorite concerts. Yes, I hope that the recording of the Chrono Cross concert on Blu-ray is also released… for those of us who live far away from Japan and cannot go to the concert, it is the only chance to enjoy it… What can you say of the new edition of Chrono Cross Revival Soundtrack that will be released next August 7, 2019?
It has been remastered and has a spectacular sound on Blu-ray. Do not miss it!
Promo video: Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack Revival Disc
You have worked with Miki Higashino in the jazz style soundtrack ‘10,000 Bullets’, with Wataru Hokoyama in the orchestral ‘Soul Sacriface’ or with Yoshitaka Hirota in the ‘Shadow Hearts’ … Which composer would you like to work and share compositions with?
I do not have anyone in particular with whom I want to work, but anyway I think I’ll work again with… Whoever comes up! (*laughs*) And he/she may or may not be Japanese. I could share credits with an English, an American or a Spanish composer.
That’s the attitude… be open to new projects and opportunities.
Yes! Everything can be negotiated. I am open to new possibilities and projects in the music market.
Currently, the vast majority of people (at least in Europe/America) listen to music through streaming platforms such as Spotify where Square-Enix has recently published original soundtracks and additional discs of the Final Fantasy saga… If we search for Yasunori Mitsuda in Spotify… Only one official album (An Cinniuint) appears, the soundtrack of the little-known RPG videogame ‘Tsuganai: Atonement (2001)’ … When will your albums be available on Spotify in order to reach a wider audience? … We can also find the soundtrack of ‘Another Eden’ created with your composers at Procyon Studio, Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounasr.
It’s a question of rights management, so step by step. Streaming music was not very popular in Japan until now, so I think that little by little they will be released.
In 2008 you produced with the Bandai-Namco composer Nobuyoshi Sano “Sanodg” (one of the composers of the Tekken and Ridge Racer series), as well as with others, the Korg Ds-10 synthesizer emulator to motivate music creation to users of Nintendo DS. What would you recommend to people who want to make music? To those people who want to be like you?
Not only you have to know about music and dedicate yourself 100%, but you have to do many things related to art. In my case, I read novels, I observe something that catches my attention when I’m visiting a city or when I walk in the mountains, I look at paintings… I have interest in many things, not only music… things that inspire me when I go to my studio to compose.
Yes, I agree that there are many musicians who, in addition to composing, develop other artistic interests… What about you?
I like to take pictures, walk, and I spend a lot of time inspiring myself by conceiving and imagining what I then transform into music in my workplace.
Where is your future as a composer going to? Is there something you would like to work on especially?
I have the ambition to create a personal disc, a few years from now, with what I’m thinking of; some personal creations. I already did a similar project published in 2005 (the Kirité album based on a book by Masato Kato).
I like that idea!
What happens is that when I want to do these things, they entrust me with new external projects and I do not have the necessary time that I would like to dedicate to it. But I have the intention to do it!
To finish, I would like to thank you for your time and your kindness, and take the opportunity to ask you… Is there anything else you want to comment to your fans in Spain, Europe, and the world in general?
I am very happy to realize the huge amount of followers I have. When there was no internet, I was not aware of it. I would like to return to Spain and try the paella.
Where I’m from (Alicante, Spain) the paella is very typical and also the ‘olleta alicantina’. You are invited anytime you want.
Who knows? I will travel to Europe again, that’s for sure!
Interview by Tony Alicante Spain
Photos by Rafa Melgar