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Square Enix Composer Series: Shimomura on Kingdom Hearts and Career

Square Enix Composer Series: Shimomura on Kingdom Hearts and Career

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This is the last interview in our series of interviews that were conducted with current and former Square Enix composers at Square Enix’s offices in Tokyo. We had a great time talking to Yasunori Mitsuda, Mitsuto Suzuki, and Naoshi Mizuta, but of everyone we talked to, it was curious to note that Yoko Shimomura had the most bubbly personality of all.

In our interview we discuss her work on The 3rd Birthday as well as the soundtracks contained in the Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep / 358/2 Days combined album. We learn about her interactions with Tetsuya Nomura on the series, and how she comes up with her character themes. Finally we talk about drammatica in relation to the recently released MYTH, and discuss Shimomura’s overly busy schedule.

Join us for all of this and more in our interview after the jump.

OSV: Regarding The 3rd Birthday, many of your themes written for the first game were arranged by others. Are you happy to see these themes still living on after this long? Would you like to be more involved with the series moving forward if Square Enix is indeed planning on doing more with the franchise?

Shimomura: I’m very happy and feel honored with what others have done. If there are any more games in the series, I would definitely be interested in participating.

OSV: You’ve come to be known for your work on Kingdom Hearts since the launch of the original Parasite Eve. Does this music still resonate with you, and do you feel you’ve changed as a composer and as a person?

Shimomura: I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I feel like I’ve changed a lot, but on the other, I know it’s still a part of me.

OSV: You weren’t as involved with the development this time around. You simply wrote themes in a “Parasite Eve” style. Was this difficult for you?

Shimomura: I had no idea what the story was about at first. But as we went on, I got scenarios and the storyline. It was not as challenging as I would have thought.

OSV: How closely do you work with the KINGDOM HEARTS team when preparing the composition? Particularly related to the character themes: there are new characters with every KINGDOM HEARTS game. Do you often speak with Tetsuya Nomura when working on the music?

Shimomura: Since I’m an outside contractor, there’s basically a bit of distance compared to back when I was a company employee. But if I have any questions or any scenes that I want to see, I go on the offensive [Laughs]. Even though there’s some distance now, I don’t really feel inconvenienced thanks to the help of the excellent production managers.

I really don’t talk directly with Tetsuya Nomura much these days, but I always get answers to my questions very quickly through the production manager.

OSV: The Birth by Sleep / 358/2 Days soundtrack was just released in Japan. Tell us about these soundtracks, why they’ve been bundled together, and perhaps your most memorable experience working on these scores.

Shimomura: Well, I think there just wasn’t enough music in 358/2 Days to release it on its own. If we added three titles (four titles including BBS FINAL MIX), there would have then been too much music [Laughs].

As for a memorable experience, hmm… Well, there were a lot of sad and serious pieces that made me feel pretty blue. One track for BBS FINAL MIX, while I was arranging the original piece—I was still part of the company when I made the original—I remembered, “This song was added just before mastering, wasn’t it… Ahh, I was worn out back then, too (then, too!)…” in a nostalgic, I-gotta-get-outta-here kind of way. It was a very powerful memory.

OSV: We’re greatly looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Can you tell us what you have in store for us musically? How much music are you writing for the game, and can you comment on what you’ve been able to accomplish differently with the 3DS hardware?

Shimomura: I’m sorry, but that isn’t something I can talk about yet.

OSV: We’re really excited about Mitsuda-san’s upcoming MYTH album. We noticed that it seems to be somewhat of an extension of what you accomplished with drammatica. Have you listened to MYTH, and are you excited for Mitsuda-san given your experience working on drammatica? Would you like to see a follow-up to drammatica?

Shimomura: No, I haven’t heard MYTH yet. Please let me have a listen, Square Enix [Laughs]! I personally think Mr. Mitsuda’s songs are fantastic, so I’m looking forward to his work.

Is it similar to what I set out to accomplish with drammatica? I like to follow all the latest trends, and with drammatica, I piled up all I could to try and give it a stuffed-full feeling. But I don’t think Mr. Mitsuda is the type of person to do that sort of thing. I think he’s a lot more polished. So what he’s working on now is probably quite different from the experience we had with drammatica.

If I get the chance, I would definitely like to make a follow-up to drammatica. In my “Stuffed Full” series [Laughs]. Square Enix, what do you think?

But, even saying that, I’d also like to make the exact opposite kind of an album, something extremely simple. I guess I want to make a lot of different things [laugh].

OSV: In the last year you’ve done a lot of music for games for Square Enix and others (Last Ranker, Radiant Historia). How do you balance all of this work? It seems like a lot for one person to handle!

Shimomura: I’m not balancing it at all! It is too much for one person to handle!! I feel that I’ve been causing so much trouble for so many people… sorry about that. Once I get involved in something, I forget everything else and just immerse myself in it. There are times when that’s a good thing, but there are also times when I really should learn to demonstrate better control. I’ve got to do something about this uncontrolled immersion and reckless abandon…

OSV: Mistuda-san has a number of composers at Procyon Studios, but Midiplex only has you, right?

Shimomura: Yeah. I’m looking for somebody good to come help me out!

OSV: Can you tell us about what you’re working on currently, and what we can expect to hear from you in 2011?

Shimomura: Nothing is at a stage I’m able to talk about right now. Sorry. But I can say that I’m working hard to compose music that meets my own high expectations, as well as those of my clients and all my fans supporting me.

[Special thanks to Emi Uesako at Square Enix for translating]

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