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Final Fantasy XIII Sound Director Tomohiro Yajima Interview

April 22, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Final Fantasy XIII Sound Director Tomohiro Yajima Interviewon Twitter

Tomohiro Yajima may not be a widely known name among Final Fantasy fans, but he’s been on board with the series since Final Fantasy XI, and also has been credited on both Vagrant Story and Xenogears. As Final Fantasy XIII’s Sound Director, he was responsible for all aspects of audio in the game, including dialogue, sound effects, and implementation of the game’s music, working hand-in-hand with composer Masashi Hamauzu and Director Motomu Toriyama to ensure everything was just.

Yajima joins us now to discuss his role on the project, how he was selected to work on it, his approach to the game’s soundscape, how much of the sound effects he was responsible for recording, and also some background about how he came to work at Square Enix. Sound design is often under appreciated among fans and critics alike, so take some time and find out why Yajima thinks it’s one of the most important elements in the game.

Hit the jump for our exclusive interview!

OSV: Hello Yajima-san. It’s great to get the chance to speak with you. Can you start by telling us what your role on Final Fantasy XIII involved as the title’s sound director?

Yajima: I did anything and everything related to sound, including the sound system layout, playing out the image concepts for sound effects and making the appropriate decisions, sound effect approvals, managing the development schedule and staffing, balance checks and debugging, etc. I was responsible for the final sound and balance of the BGM, sound effects and voice.

OSV: How were you approached to take on this role? I know Square Enix works on a large number of titles at any given time, and with such a large sound department, how were you selected among the team to handle Final Fantasy XIII?

Yajima: I had been involved in planning the sound system for the Crystal Tools engine, and the sound design for FINAL FANTASY XIII was a natural extension of my work on the project. I officially joined the team when Toriyama-san approached me with a formal invitation, as it seemed like it would be a lot of fun.

OSV: We recently spoke with Final Fantasy XIII Director and Scenario Writer Motomu Toriyama, and he noted that he was responsible for approving music, while you were responsible mainly for sound design. Did you have any interactions with Masashi Hamauzu while working on Final Fantasy XIII, and did the two of you work together to create a cohesive sound for the game?

Yajima: Our work areas are very close, so Hamauzu-san and I held weekly meetings. We debated about sound balance and exchanged thoughts on staging, working together to produce the best possible results.

OSV: What were your interactions with Motomu Toriyama throughout the game creation process? Was he responsible for approving all the final sound effects for the game as well?

Yajima: I was the decision-maker on matters pertaining to sound effects and staging for the most part. Toriyama-san would check the game and let me know if he felt anything was out of place, and I’d make adjustments based on his comments.

OSV: The world of Final Fantasy XIII is definitely unique, so I’m wondering what your approach was to the sound design. Were you mainly working on creating futuristic, foreign sounds, or did you also try to go for organic sounds in some of the more natural settings in the game?

Yajima: As I mentioned during the GDC 2010 session, my goal was to create “real” sounds based on physics, but with a very expansive feel. As for the futuristic areas, I relied on existing, cutting-edge technology to imagine sounds of the near future. The command and cursor sounds are based more on my personal take on magic and fantasy.

OSV: How much of the sound effects were you responsible for recording? How many hours were recorded overall for Final Fantasy XIII? Did you find yourself using any stock sound effects from sample libraries, or was it all original sounds?

Yajima: I can’t remember exactly how many hours were spent recording since we held sessions whenever the need came up. I just know that we recorded and mixed a ton of sounds. We did use existing sounds to put together some of the sound effects, but ultimately all sounds are original unique to FINAL FANTASY XIII. We used a variety of methods to create these sounds, including recording and overlapping different sounds or utilizing the effector and synthesizer.

OSV: Does Square Enix have a Foley stage set up for this kind of work, or was one created specifically for this title? Do you have any interesting stories about how you created a particular sound effect in the game with something unusual?

Yajima: We have a Foley stage set up in our building, so we definitely made use of that for the sound effects in FINAL FANTASY XIII. I’m not sure if this is anything out of the ordinary, but my directions on footsteps are extremely specific, so when we were recording at our Foley stage the staff were running non-stop to get as much out of the session as possible. Our staff ran a very long distance for this project. We had them jump dozens of times for the jumping sounds, so everyone was very tired towards the end of the recording session. I could actually tell how tired they were from listening to the sounds of their jumps.

OSV: Were you responsible for any of the other sounds in the game, such as the voice over work in the game? Was it difficult to mix music, sound effects, and voice over work to make a balanced sound environment?

Yajima: I was in charge of balancing the overall sound system with space control and sounds. In battles, up to 80 different sound effects and voices could be activated depending on the player’s controls, so it was challenging to create a system that could automatically regulate the overall balance, including the BGM.

OSV: How big was your sound design team on Final Fantasy XIII? Were certain people responsible for recording, and others for editing and implementation?

Yajima: The team’s size shifted throughout development, but the core team consisted of around 10 staff members. We created task forces with the composition, sound effects and programming teams to tackle sound programming, sound system development, composition, manipulator, sound effect creation, mixing and recording.

OSV: I really liked how the game’s treasure chests made a whirring sound that made the player aware of their presence. Were you involved with the decision to have treasure chests generate this sound, and are there other interesting uses of sound effects in the game that we may have missed?

Yajima: Of course! I was the one that said “let’s go with this sound!” As for other sound effects, the shop selection sound effects should be interesting – we created sounds that match the different shop styles.

OSV: Looking back at your work on Final Fantasy XIII, would you say it’s your best work to date? What has the title meant to you and your career as a sound designer?

Yajima: Yes! I am completely satisfied with my work on this project. FINAL FANTASY XIII was a project in which I was not only able to pursue the highest quality, but could also explore new ways to streamline the development process as well as discover new technological possibilities.

OSV: Yajima-san, perhaps you can tell us more about yourself since fans in the United States don’t know very much about you. Can you tell us about your background in sound design, how you came to work at Square Enix, and what other titles you’ve worked on in the past?

Yajima: A sound staff from Square Enix (Square Soft at the time) approached me in 1996, and I entered the company as a sound engineer. My tasks involved the planning of sound systems as well as direction of sound effects. It was my first gig working on sound effects, as I had been doing some freelance composing prior to this. I worked on Xenogears, Vagrant Story, FINAL FANTASY XI and FINAL FANTASY XII as the sound effects director, and with Dawn of Mana and FINAL FANTASY XIII as sound director.

OSV: Fans often overlook the sound design in games. Would you like to tell us in your own words why the work you do is so important to the final product? Do you have anything inspirational to say to perhaps get more people interested in the field of sound design in the future?

Yajima: Sound effects are like air. You don’t really think about how important it is, but you can’t go without it… It’s never an element that’s front and center, but a very important factor that really affects a game’s story, visuals and players’ emotions in a big way. Sound effects don’t have to be in any particular shape of form, so one of its main appeals is that you are free to create whatever you can imagine. For example, magic sound effects are always very fun to take on, and it’s satisfying to be able to share the sounds that I imagine with players. Also, there are no set rules on creating sounds, so you can pursue realistic sounds if you want to, using a mike or Foley stage. I think it’s very satisfying to be able to create something that you are happy with, using whatever methods you think are right.

OSV: Are you able to tell us what you’ll be working on next?

Yajima: That’s a secret… But I’m aiming for an even higher quality than FINAL FANTASY XIII, so please keep an eye out for my future endeavors.

OSV: Thank you for your time, Yajima-san. Congratulations on completing your work on Final Fantasy XIII!

[Special thanks to Amelia Cantlay at Square Enix for providing translation and for allowing us to make this interview available in both English and Japanese]

OSV: まずは、FFXIIIの「サウンドディレクター」さんとしての役割について教えていただけますか?

Yajima: サウンドシステムの設計や効果音のイメージコンセプトを決めたり演出したり、効果音自体のOK/NGの判断や作業スケジュール管理、人員見積もりしたり、バランスチェックやデバッグなど・・・音に関することはなんでもやります。最終的なBGM・効果音・ボイスのすべての発音とバランスの責任を持っています。

OSV: どのような経緯で今回サウンドディレクターのポジションになったのか教えて下さい。スクウェアエニックスは一度に沢山のタイトルを開発していて、サウンドチームもとても規模が大きいものと理解していますが、その中からどうやってFFXIIIのチームに関わることが決まったのですか?

Yajima: もともとクリスタルツールスのサウンドシステムの設計を行っていたので、FFXIIIのサウンド設計もその延長上にありました。

OSV: 最近FFXIIIディレクター・シナリオライターの鳥山さんとお話する機会があった中で、彼が音楽のアプルーバルを担当し、矢島さんはサウンドのデザインを担当されていたと伺いました。FFXIIIに関わっている間、浜渦と一緒にお仕事をされることはありましたか?

Yajima: 浜渦さんとは作業する部屋も近いので毎週ミーティングしていました。音のバランスで議論したり、演出について意見交換して対応したりとか、お互い良いものを作る為に協力していました。

OSV: ゲーム開発のプロセス中、鳥山さんとどのようなやり取りをされましたか?鳥山さんは、SFXのアプルーバルも担当されていたのでしょうか?

Yajima: 基本的には効果音の演出や決定権は私が行っていました。鳥山さんからは、ゲームをチェックしている際に違和感を感じた部分を連絡してもらって、こちらで対応していくといった感じです。

OSV: FFXIIIの世界はとても独特なので、サウンドデザインはどのようなアプローチで進めたのか、気になるところです。未来的な、「聞いたことの無い」音の使用を重視しましたか?それとも、大自然の風景に合った「オーガニック」なサウンドを追求しましたか。

Yajima: 基本的にはGDC2010のセッションでも話した通り、物理に基づいたリアルな音を目指していますが、イメージとしては「壮大さ」を重視しています。未来的な部分に関しては「近未来」というイメージで現実世界にある最新テクノロジーをイメージした音を作成しました。また、コマンドやカーソルの音とか魔法などのファンタジーな部分は私のイメージするファンタジーの世界の音になっています。

OSV: SFXにはどれだけ関わっていましたか?合計何時間ものサウンドがレコーディングされたのか教えて下さい。すべてオリジナルのSFXを作られたのですか、それともライブラリなどでストックされた音もしようしましたか?

Yajima: レコーディングの時間はその都度行っていたのでトータルだと覚えてないですね・・・。とにかく沢山の音を収録してMIXしています。

OSV: スクウェアエニックスは、SFX専用のサウンドステージを持っているのでしょうか、それとも作品に合わせて作られるのでしょうか?何か、一風変わったSFXをレコーディングしたときの面白エピソード等あれば是非教えて下さい。

Yajima: もともとフォーリー録音が行えるスタジオが社内にあるので、FFXIIIの効果音もフォーリー収録しています。変わったレコーディングではないかもしれませんが、私は足音などについてはとても細かい指示を出していて、フォーリーの足音の収録の際も多くの素材を収録するために、ずっと走りっぱなしで音を収録します。

OSV: ボイス等、サウンド関連で他に関わった部分はありますか?音楽・SFX・ボイスを上手くミックスし、バランスのよい環境を作るのは難しかったですか?

Yajima: 全般的なサウンドシステムと、空間制御や音のバランス調整は私が行っています。バトル等では一瞬で80個以上の効果音や声がユーザーの操作で発生するので、BGMも含めたトータルバランスを自動的に制御する仕組みを作るのはとても大変でしたね。

OSV: FFXIIIのサウンドデザインチームはどのくらいの規模でしたか?チーム構成としては、レコーディング、編曲や実行等の担当に分かれていましたか?

Yajima: 時期によってスタッフの規模は変わっていますが、今回はコアな部分はだいたい10人位が常に関わっています。サウンドプログラム、サウンドシステム設計、作曲、マニピュレーター、効果音作成、ミックス、収録といった作業を、作曲チーム・効果音チーム・プログラムチームでタスクフォースを組んで行いました。

OSV: プレイヤーの注目を引くための、宝箱の「ウィーン」という音がとても好きでした。この音を使用するかどうかの決定には関わっていましたか?また、他に「こんな音もあるよ!」という面白いSFXがあれば教えて下さい。

Yajima: もちろん!「これでいこう!」という決定をしたのは私です。他にはそれぞれのショップを選択した時の音は、お店の雰囲気に合わせた音を作っていますので聞いてみてほしいですね。

OSV: FFXIIIでの作業を振り返ってみて、今までで一番良い仕事をされたと思いますか?矢島さん個人に、そしてサウンドデザイナーとしてのキャリアに、FFXIIIという作品はどのような意味を持っていますか?

Yajima: はい!最高に満足しています!FFXIIIという開発はクオリティーの追求だけではなく、作業の効率化や新しい技術への可能性を見ることが出来た作品だったと思います。

OSV: 北米の、矢島さんのことをあまりよく知らないファンのために、簡単な自己紹介をお願いします。サウンドデザイン業での背景や、スクウェアエニックスで働くことになった経緯、今まで関わった作品などを教えて下さい。

Yajima: 私は1996年に弊社(当時は株式会社スクウェア)のサウンドスタッフに誘われて、サウンドエンジニアとして入社しました。当時からサウンドシステムの設計や効果音のディレクションを主な仕事として行っていました。ただ効果音の業務を行うのは始めてで、入社する前はフリーで作曲をしていました。

OSV: ユーザーは、ゲームのサウンドデザインにあまり注目していない場合が多いです。そういったファンのために、矢島さんのサウンドデザイナーとしてのお仕事が作品にとって何故重要なのか、説明していただけますか?サウンドデザインのお仕事は、どういったところが面白いのか、今後サウンドのフィールドでの仕事を検討している人たちにむけてのメッセージをお願いします。

Yajima: 効果音は空気みたいなもので、普段はあまり重要性を感じませんが、実際に無ければ困る・・・。そういったものだと思います。地味ですが、ゲームという中でストーリーにも、絵にも、ユーザーの感情にも大きく影響する非常に重要な存在だと思います。効果音は形の無い世界ですので、自分の思うように自由に作ることが出来るのが魅力です。

OSV: 次のプロジェクトについて、教えていただけることはありますか?

Yajima: 内緒です・・・がFFXIIIよりも更に良い作品を作っていきますので今後に期待して下さい。

OSV: お時間ありがとうございます。FFXIIIの完成、おめでとうございます!

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