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SDCC 2011: Square Enix Music Interview with Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishi

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[Above: Akio Shiraishi (left) and Izumi Tsukushi (right)]

It’s that time of year again, and we’re here with our most anticipated feature of San Diego Comic Con. This year’s interview with Square Enix’s product licensing division head Izumi Tsukushi and music licensing division promotion’s manager Akio Shiraishi marks our fourth annual sit-down with the two (see 2008, 2009, and 2010), and while we’ve been slowly trickling out tidbits from the interview of the past couple weeks, we’ve got the transcript here in its entirety with more information for your enjoyment.

We talk about many of the releases over the past year as well as some upcoming releases. We also follow-up on questions from previous years which offer some surprising answers. Anyone interested in that Piano Collections Final Fantasy I-III CD we suggested last year?

Find out what the two had to say about this and more after the jump.

OSV: Hello once again Tsukushi-san and Shiraishi-san! It’s great to see you here at Comic Con.

There’s a lot to talk about this year. Let’s start with an event that’s still ongoing in Japan, The United States of Odaiba 2011. Tell us a little about this event that’s hosted by Fuji TV and how Square Enix got involved with the festivities.

You’ve also released three CDs exclusive to the event, including sampler CDs of Ishimoto-san’s Final Fantasy Type-0 album, a preview of SQ Chips, and a CD of compiled sound effects from the Square Enix universe. How did this albums come about?

Izumi Tsukushi: We’ve been involved with the United States of Odaiba event for 4-5 years. But in the past, it was usually just to promote Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest is a popular family game in Japan, so in order to bring those families out to Odaiba, we thought it was a perfect way to feature Dragon Quest. This year we wanted to promote Final Fantasy Type-0, and they decided to pair up the game promotion with Square Enix Merchandise. So we wanted to try to sell these CDs for 500 Yen to test the sales of some of our upcoming albums.

OSV: The Sound Effect Collection CD was created specifically for this event. How did the idea for this CD come about and how did you select which games would be included?  Is there any chance we’ll see a follow-up with some 16-bit sound effects?  I’d really like to get my hands on the sound effects from Chrono Trigger!

Akio Shiraishi: The reason why we chose the Game Boy and Famicom sounds are because they’re the most recognizable and really define the sound of Square Enix. Recent games feature more general sounds that aren’t as identifiable as Square Enix. In regards to a follow-up CD of sound effects, we’ll consider it if this CD sells well.

OSV: On the topic of sampler CDs, will you be preparing your annual TGS sampler CD, and if so, any previews into the music it may include?

Shiraishi: We’re currently in the process of collecting the music for this CD. We’ll have ten or more tracks this year. We’ll have tracks from Type-0 and Final Fantasy XIII-2. There will be new titles announced at TGS and the music from those games may be featured. We’re also working on another unannounced NieR album, and a track may be included on the TGS sampler.

OSV: Let’s talk about some recent announcements. Regarding music CDs, I think the biggest news is the Seiken Densetsu Music Complete Book. This set is absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Tell us about the planning, design, and decision to include the two arrange albums in this set. The SaGa box did not include arrange albums. Was there a reason to include it this time? Will the orchestral medley be all new, or from the Symphonic Fantasies album?

Shiraishi: The medley is an all-new medley. The songs were selected based on the popularity of the tracks. We asked Kikuta-san, Ito-san, and Shimomura-san which tracks were the most popular, and we believe we’ve achieved a very high level of quality with this medley.

As to why we included the arrange albums, it’s because there were only two for the entire series, so it was easy to include. For SaGa, there was a lot more music to include. There will also be some unused music from the games as well.

OSV: Other big news includes a new NieR arrange album, the expansion of the SQ series, and a new Lord of Vermillion 2 album. Let’s start with NieR. Were the two of you surprised by the popularity of this soundtrack? It was OSV’s soundtrack of the year, so we’re not particularly surprised by the fact that music from the game is still being celebrated. Did you know early on that you had a hit on your hands, or do you feel like you’re still trying to catch up with the success of the soundtrack?

Finally, what can we expect from this tribute album? Will it feature artists from within Square Enix, or mostly external artists in the same style of an SQ series album?

Shiraishi: The music from NieR has always been popular, and with this arrangement album we have completely different artists featured. We’re excited to see what the outcome is. When we create these CDs, we always have the fans of the original music in mind. We have one song on the teaser site that was really popular, so we’re excited about it.

OSV: Will it be instrumental, electronic, or both?

Shiraishi: Various.

OSV: Kind of like a NieR SQ, huh? Regarding the SQ series, there have been new releases along with upcoming releases. Let’s start with Café SQ, which does not have a release date. What is the progress on this album, and will it be in the same relaxing style as Chill SQ?

Shiraishi: You’re right, it is like Chill SQ where it’s relaxed and calm like you could listen to at a café, but it’s even more relaxed. In terms of progress, two songs are finished, so we’re making progress.

OSV: There’s also SQ Chips which many fans are looking forward to. How did the idea for this album come about, and why have you reversed the series naming convention by calling it SQ Chips rather than Chips SQ? Can you give us a preview of what will be heard and who will be involved with the arrangements?

Tsukushi and Shirashi: [Laughs]

Tsukushi: I wonder why…

Shiraishi: I guess it just naturally became that way with the roll of the tongue, it sounded better.

OSV: How did the idea of this album come about, and can you give us a preview of what to expect and who’s involved?

Shiraishi: Last year on the NieR arrangement album there was an 8-bit remix that got a great reaction. Recently a lot of our music has featured a raw orchestral sound and has been moving away from traditional game music. So we wanted to get back to that traditional game music sound. In terms of a preview, I haven’t listened to all of it yet, so I can’t say!

OSV: We’re also very curious about the LORD of VERMILLION Re:2 FAN KIT album that’s being released. What’s the story behind this collection? Is the music actually featured in an updated version of the game in arcades in Japan, or are these arrangements made specifically for this album? We noticed that many in-house staff members are arranging old Squaresoft franchises.

Shiraishi: So as you know the new Lord of Vermillion is out, and the fan pack not only features music from Seiken Densetsu, Valkyrie Profiles, and others, but there’s also a medley being worked on by in-house staff.

OSV: There were several interesting releases over the past year. In particular, there was the Final Fantasy IV & The After Years Sound Plus CD. I’ve been bugging you both about a CD containing the music from The After Years for several years now, so I can’t help but feel partially responsible that it’s here now!

Tell us about this album and the decision to include it as a limited pack-in with the game. You even went through the trouble to issue this CD its own catalog number, and many fans were disappointed that it wasn’t released separately, even after trying to buy the limited edition that sold out very quickly in Japan. Are there plans to release it separately later?

Shiraishi: Your request had a little bit to do with it.

OSV: We’ll totally take credit for it.

All: [Laughs]

Shiraishi: Well, a lot of the music on the CD is from the DS version of the game. We didn’t want to charge people again for music that they already purchased. So we thought to add it in as an additional bonus for those who pre-ordered the game.

OSV: We understand that. But people were excited about The After Years in particular. They would be willing to pay 1,000 Yen, or 1,500 Yen, or even more just for the tracks from The After Years, but they haven’t been given that opportunity.

Shiraishi: Currently we want to think about the people who purchased the game and got this CD as an exclusive bonus. We can’t immediately issue it out on CD or on iTunes for that reason. We can consider it in the future.

OSV: It’s also very exciting that Square Enix published the El Shaddai soundtrack. How did this collaboration with Ignition UTV come about, and do you see this as opening the door for the Square Enix label to publish CDs from other companies more in the future?

Tsukushi: This was a special case. For Ignition UTV, we were already publishing some of their comics and books, but they really wanted to approach us to see if we’d publish the soundtrack. We said sure, let’s move forward. This is the first time we’ve ever done such a collaboration, so it’s in a very preliminary stage, but we definitely see opportunities moving forward. We can’t say we’ll start collaborating with everyone yet.

OSV: Now we have a few follow-up questions for you. What ever happened to that idea for a Front Mission soundtrack box from last year? It was the franchise’s 15th anniversary last year, so does this mean you’ll have to wait 5 years for the series’s 20th year anniversary?

Tsukushi: Front Mission has many soundtracks, but there isn’t any game-related activity at the moment and it’s not our most popular series. Maybe it’ll be the 20th anniversary or another game-related event. We’re not sure yet.

OSV: You released the Final Fantasy XIV mini soundtrack albums, but now that the game is out, are there any plans to release the full soundtrack to fans? People are excited to hear more of Uematsu-san’s music from the game!

Shiraishi: We’re still planning to release this CD.

Tsukushi: We’re still finishing up the game and adding and fixing things, so we’re trying to find the best time to release this. It’s a special case with online game music since it’s constantly evolving, so we’re waiting for the right time to release the soundtrack.

OSV: So when will the opportune time be? Are you guys actively wanting to release the soundtrack? Can you say whether it will be in 2011 or 2012?

Shiraishi: Perhaps when Final Fantasy XIV is released on the PlayStation 3. We really want to release this album, but have to wait for the right time.

OSV: Myth was finally released. This must have been the orchestral CD with Mitsuda-san that you’d been teasing us about for the last couple years! We had the chance to talk to Mitsuda-san about this album back in February where he mentioned wanting to do a Myth 2 album if the first album sold well. Did the CD sell well, and how likely is it that there will be a follow-up?

Shiraishi: Yes, Myth was really popular and sold really well, so Myth 2 is a possibility. But Mitsuda-san is currently busy with the Chrono Cross arrange album as you know, so until he finishes that, there probably won’t be a Myth 2. We have to work out the schedule for these CDs.

OSV: Have you had the opportunity to consider the idea we proposed last year for a Final Fantasy I-III Piano Collections CD? We still think it’d be a great idea!

Shiraishi: It really is a great idea. If you can wait a little longer, you might expect some good news…

OSV: We can definitely take credit for that one if it happens!

All: [Laughs]

OSV: Can you give us any exclusive announcements here at Comic Con this year about what you’ve got planned for the next year?

Tsukushi: Next year will be the Final Fantasy 25th anniversary. We’re working on a lot of different promotions, and while I can’t give you specifics, you’ll definitely want to look forward to it.

OSV: So we’re getting the 50 CD Final Fantasy soundtrack box, and Shiraishi-san gets to create all the music samples for it?

All: [Laughs]

OSV: Finally, which upcoming release from the Square Enix label are you most excited about?

Shiriashi: The NieR tribute album.

Tsukushi: I’m excited about Café SQ. Not only the music, but the graphic artists involved. Yana Toboso of Black Butler did the artwork for Café SQ and Atsuki Ookubo of Soul Eater did SQ Chips.

OSV: We’re looking forward to these as well. Thanks once again for your time.

[Special thanks to Emily Shoji at Square Enix for translating]

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