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School of Rock: Interview with Squaresoft Composer Ryuji Sasai

September 29, 2009 | | 9 Comments Share thison Facebook School of Rock: Interview with Squaresoft Composer Ryuji Sasaion Twitter

When I first set out to write about my passion for game music I immediately had three interview goals tucked way in the back of my mind. I wanted to interview Kenji Yamamoto at Nintendo, Koichi Sugiyama, and Ryuji Sasai. While I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenji Yamamoto when I was over at M4G, I can now mark Ryuji Sasai off the list as we’ve finally tracked him down and tortured him with our relentless list of questions.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. His work on Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Rudra no Hihou is some of my favorite from the SNES era, and I’m honestly shocked by his recollection of pieces that he wrote over 10-15 years ago. We also discussed his work in our recent review of the SaGa Premium Box, so he should definitely sound familiar even if you don’t know his music.  While his responses are brief at times, there is some great stuff here, and for me, at least, I am fully content! From the sounds of it, he has a lot of music left in him, and hopefully we’ll see him writing new music in the near future.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy our interview with former Squaresoft composer Ryuji Sasai after the jump.

OSV: Sasai-san, let me start by saying thank you for being willing to talk to us about your past work. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen your name in the gaming world, and as a huge fan of your work, it’s really an honor to finally get a chance to speak with you. It’s hard to know where to begin, so let’s work our way back in reverse-chronological order. Please start by telling us what you’ve been doing since you left Square Enix in 1998. We know you’ve been performing bass with Queen Mania (congratulations on the band’s 12th anniversary) and Spiders from Cabaret, but have you been actively writing music for other groups or projects during this time?

Sasai: After leaving Square, under a pseudonym, I composed and arranged music for bishoujo games, pachinko machines, and bands.

OSV: Given your involvement in Queen Mania, I take it you’re a fan of the band Queen. What are some other bands that you enjoy, and is this your favorite kind of rock music?

Sasai: My favorite bands are Extreme, Judas Priest and Red Hot Chili Peppers. My favorite music style is metal/alternative.

OSV: As a rock musician, I’m curious about your progression through scoring music for the PC, Gameboy, Super Famicom, then finally the PlayStation, and how you felt about musical expression on these systems. As a long-time fan of rock, how was it creating this kind of music on the older game systems where the technology didn’t allow for realistic sounds?

Sasai: Besides composing, the time it took to program and write the MML (music macro language) to elicit sounds was difficult.

OSV: Bushido Blade 2 was your final work at Squaresoft, and since it was on the PlayStation, it allowed you to create a more authentic rock soundtrack. I’m wondering what went into your decision to leave Square and the gaming industry at this time, just when it was becoming possible for you to write true rock music with live instrumentation. Can you tell us about this?

Sasai: After Bushido Blade 2, I was supposed to take charge of two RPG titles simultaneously but due to circumstances with the company that didn’t come to pass. Since I didn’t have any other work I decided to leave the company.

OSV: Going back further to the Super Famicom days, I wanted to ask about Rudra no Hihou. This was the first time you were able to score a game on your own. Was it challenging creating an entire soundtrack yourself? Does this album have a special meaning to you, and do you have any stories about its creation that you’d like to share with your fans?

Sasai: The staff was very concerned about the direction of the music so thanks to that I had a lot of freedom over what I did. The album was going to be released on only 1 CD so it was difficult getting everything in within the allotted recording time. Of the songs used in the game, I had written over two times that amount.

OSV: As a bass player, I’m curious how difficult it was for you to write all the parts (guitar, percussion, bass, etc.) for your soundtracks. Do you have experience playing a variety of other instruments, or did you pick it up as you went while at Squaresoft?

Sasai: It was fun composing music while going over the images and designs. Since the time I joined with a band I’ve played the guitar.

OSV: I have to say that my favorite soundtrack of yours is Final Fantasy USA (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in the United States), which you worked on with Yasuhiro Kawakami. Tell us about this project, how you approached the score, and given that it was the first RPG created by Squaresoft USA, tell us about your interaction with the Los Angeles-based team. Do you have any stories to share about this project?

Sasai: First off, the ROM capacity wasn’t very large so that itself was a problem. At the same time the synthesizer was limited so I was forced to make compromises. However, back then I’ve had many happy memories being able to hear my own music on the Super Famicom.

OSV: I mentioned that you collaborated with Kawakami-san on this soundtrack. How was it determined that the two of you would be working on this game, and how did you decide up the division of the tracks between the two of you? Do you feel that the soundtrack would have turned out as well if you alone had created the soundtrack, and do you still keep in touch with Kawakami-san?

Sasai: Each of us wrote sample tracks and through that process I believe it was then decided that the harder tracks were done by me while the softer tracks were done by Mr. Kawakami. I don’t really think that if I were to have composed it all by myself that the soundtrack would have been better. I think the tracks that Mr. Kawakami wrote were really good. I have kept in contact with staff I’ve worked with in the past but I am not sure what Mr. Kawakami has been up to lately.

OSV: Please excuse me while I geek out a bit with the Final Fantasy USA soundtrack. I realize that you wrote the music a long time ago, but I was hoping to get your thoughts on some of the music. There were two remix tracks at the beginning of the album, called ”Mystic Re-Quest.” Do you feel these tracks allowed you to escape the technological constraints of music in games at the time? Did you have fun creating these tracks?

Sasai: After the soundtrack was completed, I recorded these tracks at home on my days off. It was a lot of fun. The guitar parts were all played by me.

OSV: There’s a funny track on the album titled “Rock’n Roll.” It’s short, but it’s classic rock music. Did you have fun writing this track?

Sasai: Personally, this track was my favorite.

OSV: My favorite track from the album (and a big hit among fans) is “Mountain Range of Whirlwinds” with its epic buildup and powerful melody. Do you remember this track at all, and would you like to comment on how you went about writing it? Is there a story behind it?

Sasai: I like the sound of the french horn. I used it because of its ability to really carry the length of the tune. My image of the mountains is represented by this song.

OSV: The two other most popular tracks “Last Castle” and “Battle 3.” These are particularly rocking. Do you have any interesting stories to share about these songs? As the final moments in the game, how did you approach them? Were they challenging for you?

Sasai: The track, “Last Castle” was written in a relatively short period of time. Given all the music from the other scenes and the graphics and scenarios themselves, I figured I would go with something that would represent a finale of sorts but when I wrote it I utilized the imagery of a field instead. I realized I would have only a small amount of space left in the ROM for writing “Battle 3” so within those conditions I did what I could. There wasn’t anything particular difficult in writing these songs. I recall that they came off rather naturally.

OSV: Lastly, I noticed you had a special thanks to Chihiro Fujioka in the credits. What is the story behind this?

Sasai: When selecting the tracks, each time I would go to Mr. Fujioka and have him listen to the the samples and give his opinion on them.

OSV: On the topic of Final Fantasy USA, I wanted to let you know that it is a highly sought-after album among game music collectors, even in the United States. It currently is sold for upwards of $60.00 USD! How does this make you feel, and when you were writing this, did you have any idea that fans nearly 20 years later would still want to hear your music? Do you receive fan mail regarding your work on videogames?

Sasai: After the game came out in the US, it soon came out in Japan as well. However, the game wasn’t very valued at the time and thus there wasn’t much interest in the music as well in my opinion. I am surprised that to this day there does seem to be a lot of interest in it. Given the circumstances, I felt that this was my best work. Since I don’t have a homepage of any sort, there hasn’t been any real contact with fans.

OSV: Your first project at Squaresoft was SaGa III on the Game Boy with Chihiro Fujioka. You had already established yourself as a rock musician by that time, so I’m curious what it was like working with the musical constraints of the Game Boy. Was it difficult to get your musical ideas across?

Sasai: Before I did work with game music, I was an avid gamer. I realized that with the PSG (progammable sound generator) that you could only produce 3 sounds at a time so I had to think about what was the best way to present my composition style. It’s possible that my experience as a bassist in a band might have proved useful.

OSV: Tell us about your interactions with Fukioka-san for this project. Did you work closely together on this project? Do you still keep in touch with Fujioka-san? I believe he is still performing rock music in Japan.

Sasai: I’ve worked with Mr. Fujioka long before entering Square so any song I make he was rather familiar with it. I think the collaboration at work between the two of us went smoothly. I do still keep in touch with him.

OSV: Regarding the team dynamics at Square, can you tell us who all was working there when you were employed there from 1991 to 1998? Did you work directly with a lot of the team, or were you left mostly on your own? As one of the eldest composers on the team with Uematsu-san, was there any sort of company hierarchy or seniority at the company?

Sasai: The projects I was in charge of involved hard-style music and new concepts during the hardware transition were numerous so perhaps my value compared to the current generation of composers is not as high. It seemed to me that the individual ability of a software title to sell was more important than seniority itself. I think that is the case even today.

OSV: When you joined Squaresoft, you already had a strong foundation in rock music, while many of the other composers at Square were self-taught and had little experience with live performances. Do you feel your background allowed you to bring a unique sound to the games you worked on?

Sasai: My experience in a rock band proved to be very useful. When working on the ensemble for a song, I was able to apply a different approach over those who were self-taught or those who studied music in college.

OSV: How was it that you came to work at Squaresoft? Were you looking into games in particular, and did you go through the traditional interview process? Do you remember your interactions with Uematsu-san and the other composers on the team at the time? Did you enjoy working there?

Sasai: I liked playing video games. I figured if I worked at a game company I would have an opportunity to play the games I liked. It’s a rather simple motive. It was actually through Mr. Fujioka that I was invited to apply to Square. I recall not having an interview for the position. I met Mr. Uematsu and the others after I joined with Square.

OSV: Even before your work at Squaresoft, you worked on a couple PC titles called Xak and Xak II. We recently had the pleasure of hearing these soundtracks, as they were re-released online over at EGG MUSIC in Japan, and I was very impressed with the intense energy of the early PC scores. How did you come to work on these games?

Sasai: At that time I was a freelancer and wasn’t attached to any particular organization. Around that time I would send my demo tapes and resume to every software house and game company listed in the PC-specialized magazines. From there the one response I got was from MicroCabin who would go on to make Xak.

OSV: There was a CD release back in 1989 for Xak, but I mentioned that EGG MUSIC recently re-released the soundtracks online. Are you at all surprised that fans still want to hear your music from all the way back from the 1980s? Do you have fond memories of working on these titles?

Sasai: I am surprised. I don’t know what is on the CD but I wonder if the arranges I recorded at home are on there or not? Back in the day, a PC called the Fujitsu FM-TOWNS was launched. On the FM-TOWNS version of Xak and Xak II, the music was all CD audio. The arrangement and recording was all done by me.

OSV: Is there any chance we’ll see you getting back into the gaming industry in the future? There are a lot of opportunities for rock musicians like yourself to get into games, and now that live music can easily be implemented into games, it seems like it’d be a good fit for you.

Sasai: If there’s a necessity I’ll return.

OSV: There unfortunately isn’t a whole lot of information available in English regarding your work before you joined Squaresoft in 1991. Would you be willing to tell us a little about the influence rock music had on your childhood and teenage years, and discuss your various musical experiences you had leading up to your time at Squaresoft?

Sasai: From when I was 15 I started playing instruments and formed a band. I’ve listened to a lot of hard rock and I’ve also begun to listen to things like progressive rock as well. When I started working in the game industry at around 25, I listened to a lot of film and classical music.

OSV: Can you tell us what you’ve got planned for the future? We’re likely to see more performances from you with Queen Mania and Spiders from Cabaret, but what else can we expect to hear from you moving forward?

Sasai: Performances take a lot of endurance and it’s not something I can keep doing forever. Composing music as an occupation isn’t really restricted by age like other jobs so beyond game music I will just keep trucking along.

OSV: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans who have been faithful fans of your music over the past 10-20 years? Do you have any thoughts to share looking back at your time in the gaming industry?

Sasai: I am rather grateful and at the same time I am very surprised. I never would have imagined I would be talking about my work from 10 years ago in this manner. I don’t really like talking about the past. However, I do recognize if the circumstances of those times did not happen the way they did I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing right now.

Thinking about the memories that remain from playing games as a kid and how much everyone values my music really makes me happy. Thank you very much!

OSV: Sasai-san, it was an absolute pleasure hearing from you. Excuse our lengthy list of questions, but you’ve been away from the gaming industry for so long that there was a lot of material to cover! We wish you luck in your future endeavors, and look forward to hearing your music in the future.

[Translation by Chris Ling]




笹井:好きなバンドは ”Extreme” “Judas Priest” “Red Hot Chili Peppers” 好きなスタイルはMetal/Alternative です。




笹井:「ブシドーブレード弐」の後 RPGを2タイトル同時に担当する予定でしたが、会社側の事情でなくなりました。



















OSV:クレジットに「Special Thanks」の部分に藤岡千尋の名前見ました。裏話とかありますか?



笹井:アメリカでの発売の後 日本でも発売したのですが、当時ゲームそのものの評価が低かった為、音楽もあまり話題にはならなかったと思います。驚きますね、今も話題にしてもらってるなんて。与えられた環境のなかでベストは尽くしたと考えていました。

















昔、fujitu FM-TOWNS というパソコンが発売されていました。 FM-TOWNS版「サーク」と「サークII」は全曲CD音源でした。アレンジ、録音はすべて僕がやっています。











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