Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - Moongazing, July 7th, 2023 (Original Article)

Simply For the Story - Imaginary Music Dedicated to Final Fantasy XVI

Kenshi Yonezu released his new song Moongazing for streaming on June 26th.

Moongazing was written as the theme song for the PlayStation 5 action RPG Final Fantasy XVI. For one like Yonezu who has been familiar with the Final Fantasy series since childhood, he considered this an unparalleled opportunity, and created a song to deeply match the game's world and story. conducted an interview related to this song in two parts. In the first half, Yonezu discussed what memories of the Final Fantasy series have stuck with him, exchanges with FFXVI producer Naoki Yoshida, and the direction he took in writing the theme song.

— You've stated in the past that you like the Final Fantasy games, but could you formally tell us about your first encounter with the series?

Around first grade, a PlayStation arrived in our house, and while I don't remember what I myself bought then, some time later, I noticed we had Final Fantasy VII. I thought "if we have it, I'll give it a try," and that's how it began.

— What were your first impressions at the time?

It was scary. I was just a kid in first grade, so on top of the darkness of the story, there was this time limit when fighting a boss where you had to beat it in however many minutes or it was game over. Having to frantically defeat the enemy within that time limit was really scary. I struggled a lot with that, so that memory's really stuck with me.

— So experiencing FFVII had a really major impact on you.

Thinking back on it now, I feel like this game had a large impact on me having the kinds of tastes I do. The story is serious, the towns have this steampunk-ish style... Even now, seeing something of that sort makes my heart dance. Looking back really makes me suspect it had a major influence on the formation of my personality.

— I take it you played later games in the series as well, not just FFVII?

I was always excited whenever information about a new one came out, with my particular favorite being FFXII. I was in high school when that was released, and they were running huge amounts of advertising. They had "Potion" drinks at convenience stores, plus the game's key visual was very striking. FFXII is an entry in the "Ivalice" series, which is a world with a variety of species. Seeing the key visual, which just has this deep blue clear sky with airships floating in it, a beautiful, fantastical scene with a sense of depth, I was like "wow." I spent that whole summer break playing FFXII, never coming back home. I think that was a major experience. Final Fantasy's battle system is always changing, especially the later in the series you get, but FFXII adopted this battle system akin to what they would call an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online RPG). I really liked that, too. In that way as well, I have an affinity for the series.

— What exactly is this "affinity"?

I've really liked online games since I was in grade school. I kind of feel like getting into Ragnarok Online sent my life off the rails. I got a similar feel from FFXII as well. There's this feeling of freedom in an MMORPG-like sense, where you can go anywhere in a huge world and advance how you like. That was really great. Also, the game has this feature like a dictionary, where it describes characters and monster ecology in great detail, and I would spent long nights poring over that. For a time in my high school years, I lived a life fully consumed by FFXII.

— Though the systems and stories differ throughout the series, what about the Final Fantasy series as a whole do you find appealing?

I'm sure it's partly because FFVII was the first one I experienced, but I'm charmed by its serious and weighty stories. It's often compared against Dragon Quest, and when I look at the two, I feel FF sticks more with me, being more fantastical and having more refined graphics.

— So then, how would you say the influence of Final Fantasy has shown itself in your expression as a musician and a creator?

Ever since I was little, kindergarten-age, I've really liked fantasy things. "Fantasy" is a space where things we can't possibly see existing in the ordinary world we live in can just unremarkably be there, so as a child I feel I was deeply drawn to such imaginary realms. Considering it now, I think it's one of the major pillars in my life. It's from there I came to like drawing, and making music... Even being on the side of creation now, many of the songs I make and the art I draw are indeed made from a fantastical viewpoint.

— I see.

I was always a person who really liked to play by himself. Reading books, playing games... I see my childhood as being one where I played by myself over and over, having various fantasies and imagining fantastic things. That continues to this day, and there's a lot I've learned from that sort of thing. Even if it's called fantasy, there can certainly be aspects of it that are a mirror of reality. Like two sides of a coin, fantasy reflects reality, and is ultimately inseparable from it. So I feel like there are in fact "truths of reality" that can only be seen through fantasy, through imaginary stories. In fact, I feel fantasy is packed with these expressions of how reality ought to be, that can only be expressed that way.

— Have many of the songs you've made in the past had their ideas come from imaginary scenes you pictured in your head?

Nearly all of them have. First, I picture a scene or some kind of situation. I have that image in my head, and I convert that into music. I actually realized recently that not everyone is necessarily like that. It even occurred to me that in a sense, I might not be a person who's particularly musician-like.

— Are there any compositions from Final Fantasy that stick with you?

It's a cliché, but I thought FFX's "To Zanarkand" was a really good song, especially coupled with the scene. I've been influenced by a variety of game music, like Chrono Trigger's "Wind Scene." Referencing music I heard as a kid, recontextualizing it from my own viewpoint to see what would result, is something I still enjoy doing.

— Let me ask about your new song, Moongazing. How did it feel receiving an offer to do the theme song for Final Fantasy XVI?

Truly, it's a series I've played since I was a kid, so I never would have thought I'd get to provide the theme song. I feel like I'm saying things like that all the time lately, but it was absolutely an honor. The producer (Naoki) Yoshida-san has long been involved in working on FFXIV, and I've played FFXIV myself, and thought it was a really great game. So I also had this conviction that if Yoshida-san was doing FFXVI, it would be good, making it an unparalleled offer.

— What sorts of discussions about the song were there from the developers' side?

At first, Yoshida-san talked passionately with me about the outline of the story and the feelings going into it, and afterward I received details about the entire scenario and characters in text format. It was an offer to make a song to be played at a particular scene in the game, so within that, I feel I was more or less given freedom to do as I liked, to just "make what you felt into a song."

— Did you have exchanges with Producer Yoshida while creating it?

Quite frequently, yes. He'd tell me "We've made it this far in development," or "This is how the battle system's looking currently," bringing me videos that would show steady improvements. Each time, he'd go "This is what we're doing right now, like this, and this, and this," discussing the game with pride and intense passion. Obvious as it may be, it got across to me "these people are really taking this seriously." So I felt I couldn't write a half-hearted song, either.

— Were there any particularly memorable quotes or moments in your exchanges with Yoshida-san?

It's not a specific remark or anything, but I was struck by the feeling that Yoshida-san and the whole team were "trying to make the thing we think is best." It wasn't a stance like "it has to be this way because it's FF," or "we'll compromise by meeting in the middle." They would play the game taking a fan's perspective, aiming to make something fans would find 100% entertaining. It was interesting and stimulating how they developed it as if looking through a child's eyes. I could tell they were really having fun making a game in that way.

— Where did you get started with your ideas for this song?

I thought a bunch about "what exactly is a theme song for a game like?" Games are things you can spend dozens of hours playing. Furthermore, you're immersing yourself as a player character via a controller to experience the game's world. So your admiration of and attachment to that world can be remarkably more deep compared to other types of media. So being tasked this time with making a theme song for one, I realized I definitely shouldn't make a song that gives a sense of "the sordid everyday."

— So you began with the idea of a song that wouldn't take you back to reality.

That's right. I've made plenty of songs at this point that get involved with the stories of various media, but this time I feel I put more weight than usual on the game's story. I'm a person who makes pop music, music for the general public, so of course they're songs suitable for their respective stories, but at the same time, I have to make something that will get through even to people unconnected to the story, who don't know it. I'm always mindful of how to strike that balance when doing collabs like this. But I feel the balance was especially poor in this case - like it's leaning way toward the game side.

— How did the way you created the song change as a result?

I had more of a sense of "selfless devotion." When I'm making a song, there are inevitably wicked thoughts that come about. Like "doing this might make it get across better to people who don't know the game," or "adding more of this kind of sound might make it more poppy." Those thoughts swirl in my mind, but this time I consciously tried to excise them. I would simply make a song for the story of FFXVI. It's clear I was headed in that direction more than usual.

— So your way of expression differed from when making a theme song for an anime or TV drama.

A TV drama theme song plays every episode, and plays over different scenes, and the situation differs each time. Given that, it simply has to be abstract in some ways. Making the song becomes a process of searching for what the core is across every episode of the show. Like asking "What would you name as the three most important elements of this story?", I push aside the leaves and branches to find what remains, and around that core, I redecorate it in my own way. In the case of this song, I felt I shouldn't take that approach.

— Even when it comes to the lyrics you're singing, it seems to be made such that if you listen to it after playing the game, many parts will remind you of something, or give a deeper understanding.

In fact, it's no exaggeration to say it's a song made for just that purpose. You finish playing the game, and for the first time all the pieces fit together. That's the sort of approach I had to take. Thinking on all the games I've played in my life, if I'd made any other choice, I don't think it would have been faithful to myself. Though in some respect, perhaps you could say it's extremely unfaithful as pop music. But I had the feeling that this would be the right answer in this case.

Interview continues in Part 2 (releasing at a later date)

Interview List