RPGFan Exclusive Interview #5: Kenji Itou, Composer
Conducted and Translated by Chris Winkler
Following last week's interview with Hitoshi Sakimoto, we are proud to present, to you, an interview with another high profile composer of game music today. Having played the piano from the age of four, Kenji Itou joined Square (Square Enix) in 1990. Eventually, he would stay with the Final Fantasy makers for 11 years before going freelance in early 2001. During his tenure at Square, Itou composed some of the most memorable soundtracks, including Final Fantasy Gaiden: Seiken Densetsu, Romancing SaGa 1-3, SaGa Frontier, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon 2 and Chocobo Racing. Even after becoming a freelancer he continued to work on Square Enix titles, such as Sword of Mana and most recently Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song and Hanjuku Hero 4: 4-7nin no Hanjuku Eiyuu, together with Nobuo Uematsu. In addition to his impressive track record as far as game music is concerned, he has also composed songs for theater performances and artists. Today, he will cover a wide array of topics for us, ranging from his involvement in Square Enix's upcoming PlayStation 2 remake, Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, to being a freelancer and influences on his work.
Q: Mr. Itou, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus, which made you enter the game industry?
A: When I was a student, I thought I would like to make composing music my primary occupation after graduating. So, I talked to one of my lecturers, and just at that time Dragon Quest III was a huge hit in Japan. Hence, I received the following advice, "How about becoming a game music composer?" After applying at various game companies, I ended up working for Square (currently Square Enix).
Q: How did you enjoy your work on Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, which will be released in Japan on April 21st? If you compare it to the Super Famicom version, how has the music changed since then?
A: It was partially nostalgic and partially painful. Thinking about the many fans who have played the game back then was important to me, and I did not merely want to re-arrange the music I composed back then, so I had to re-make it, which I thought was a huge responsibility. Because back then the music was generated by the Super Famicom's internal sound source, while currently with the PlayStation 2 [entire] orchestra performances can be recorded, I think it will be possible to enjoy the music by itself as well.
Q: Mr. Itou, you have not only been involved in game music but also in various other music projects. What is your favorite [kind of] work?
A: ...well, that is a difficult question. Each [work] has been enjoyable, and because you seriously make me think hard [about that question right now], I can, by no means, come up with one [particular] thing. That being said, because I like studio recording as a job, I would like to continue composing and recording normal songs as well as songs written for orchestras.
Q: Mr. Itou, you have already been involved in game music for 15 years. Among all the soundtracks you have created yourself, what is your favorite song or soundtrack?
A: That is a difficult question as well. Because various memories are connected to each title, I definitely can't pick out one [specifically]. I'm sorry about that :).
Q: The music of Saga Frontier is critically acclaimed, so why is it that no arrange album has been released?
A: Thank you very much. Obviously, I also wanted to create one at that time, but... Anyone, please become my client!
Q: Is there a musical style or genre you have not done so far? If there is, what style or genre would that be?
A: If we are talking about genres, it would probably be hip-hop and punk. Since I have not composed music for TV commercials, movies or animation yet, I would like to try and do that at some point.
Q: Do you listen to other composers' works a lot? What is your favorite soundtrack, and who is your favorite game music composer?
A: I really like the music of Star Fox, which was released for Nintendo's Super Famicom, very much. It goes without saying that the music of various series such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, as well as Wizardry and Nobunaga's Ambition is good as well.
Q: Recently, not only you, but also Hitoshi Sakimoto, Yasunori Mitsuda, Youko Shimomura and Nobuo Uematsu have become freelance composers. What do you think is the reason behind this tendency? Is it because of the greater freedom, a freelancer enjoys?
A: Yes, because there are probably various thoughts, I can't say this unconditionally, but for instance I also do work outside of game music. Since I had this idea of wanting to broaden the scope of my music, I became a freelancer. In case of the other composers, I suppose, they became freelancers because of similar thoughts.
Q: Are there any works that have influenced your work?
A: The stimulus that triggered my love of music was Japanese popular music and songs composed for animation titles. Furthermore, easy listening music such as Paul Mauriat inspired me. I always loved the sound of strings, since I was a child, and even today I think, at some point I would like to do music like Paul Mauriat or Richard Clayderman.
Q: Mr. Itou, what games are you playing yourself? A: I almost never play games :) Even when I was working for Square, I did not play my company's titles, such as Final Fantasy or Romancing SaGa. I'm content with watching the opening movie. I don't like playing RPGs, but I like sports games, such as baseball and tennis titles.
RPGFan would like to thank Kenji Itou for his cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.