Final Fantasy X marked a transition point for the venerable JRPG series when it debuted in 2001, moving away from cornerstone elements like turn-based combat and introducing a new leveling system. The first "modern" Final Fantasy ditched pre-rendered backgrounds for fully 3D environments and full voice acting. A popular and critical success, it was the first Final Fantasy title to inspire a direct sequel.
The game's 91-song soundtrack was also a critical transition point for the series. FFX was the first mainline Final Fantasy game not entirely scored by Nobuo Uematsu, with Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano joining the project with the goal of adding complementary, but distinct styles to the game. Hamauzu worked at Square Enix between 1996 and 2010. During his tenure with the company, he also composed and arranged music for Final Fantasy XIII, Dirge of Cerebus, World of Final Fantasy and the remaster of Final Fantasy VI. He took over the role of lead composer for Square Enix's music team after Nobuo Uematsu left the company in 2004.
Following the release of remasters of FFX and X-2 on Nintendo Switch, Hamauzu spoke to Newsweek about his time working on Final Fantasy X, the evolution of his musical style and reflects on some of the game's most iconic and best-loved songs.
The interview below has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Both your parents were musicians. How did each of them shape your interests and development as a composer?
When it comes to composing music, I did not receive direction from anyone, and my parents also did not give me any direct musical instruction. However, I learned about the depth and joy of music through my parents' attitudes towards it.
FFX was the first mainline Final Fantasy game to feature multiple composers. Were each of you given the freedom to do as you pleased, or was there an overarching vision?
We were given a great deal of freedom. I believe there was never a time where any particular melodies were specified. However, because Final Fantasy X is one single game, I feel that the music naturally had a minimum sense of unity.
What is your favorite track that you composed for the FFX soundtrack, and why is it your favorite?
I believe back then, I stated that "Beyond the Darkness" is my favorite track. Even now, as I take a moment to look back, I can confirm that this is still in fact my favorite song. Musically, I think it's the most well-constructed, while also allowing for freedom of imagination, and it also matched the world within the game.
To this day, "Besaid Island" and "Wandering Flame" are among the most chill, relaxing songs I've ever heard in a game. What kind of mood and emotion were you looking to evoke with these tracks?
I try to create music that I think is best for each particular scene, so I don't feel that I'm particularly working to evoke something specific in regards to players. Players will react in different ways emotionally, so I think it's always best that composers aim to present their best.
Have your feelings about the soundtrack changed since 2001? Are there tracks you appreciate more now than you did at first? Are there songs you wish you had approached differently?
My feelings about my past works haven't budged in the slightest – so much so that it surprises even myself. That said, I find that my technique and perspective have become more and more as time goes by, so it's become increasingly rare to feel that my older works outrank my more recent ones. However, that's only in terms of a simplified comparison, and doesn't mean I think my past works are clumsy or that I don't feel pride in them. For the Final Fantasy X tracks that I thought I did a good job on, my feelings haven't changed – I still think they were well done.
How do you feel your style as a musician has evolved since you worked on FFX?
I feel I'm able to produce with more freedom now, regardless of any restrictions that may be in place. One thing I can say that's remained consistent for me thus far, is that accommodating only serves to amplify failure.
The HD remaster of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 is available now for Nintendo Switch.