『FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE INTERGRADE』 SONICWIRE SPECIAL INTERVIEW

Presented by SONICWIRE

Since its release in 2020, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE (henceforth FFVIIR) has been highly acclaimed for its beloved and unforgettable music with the soundtrack winning Japan’s prestigious Gold Disc Award for Soundtrack Album of the Year. In June 2020, FANTASY VII REMAKE INTERGRADE (henceforth FFVIIR INTERGRADE) came to PlayStation® 5 including better graphics with the brand-new episode.

SONICWIRE spoke again with Mitsuto Suzuki (click here to read his previous interview about FFVIIR) and asked about working on the FFVIIR INTERGRADE soundtrack. SONICWIRE also caught up with Masahiro Shinbo, the audio engineer, to talk about the project from the aspect of mixing.

  • Original Soundtrack PV

  • Mitsuto(Left)& Masahiro(Right)

SONICWIRE STAFF (henceforth "SW"): Can you tell us a little bit about yourself including your career as an audio engineer?

Masahiro: Sure, my name is Masahiro Shinbo and I am a recording and mixing engineer. After working at Delta Studio for four years, I am now a member of MIXER'S LAB. If I may introduce my work as an engineer, the artist I primarily work with is “GACKT”. I actually work with Square Enix on a regular basis, and I have recently worked on their mobile game called “School Girl Strikers 2”. I am also in charge of recordings for “NIJISANJI” (a Vtuber group). I’ve recently done a lot of projects related to voice actors, and been involved in instrumental music for “Yokai Ningen Bella”. I am also a part-time teacher at Nihon Kogakuin Hachioji Technical School. I do various works as a recording engineer.

ABOUT THE PLUGINS USED IN THE PROJECT

SW: Can you tell us about the effect plugins that you used in this project?

Masahiro: The one I used the most was "T-RackS Sunset Sound Studio Reverb" by IK Multimedia, which adds room reverbs. I used this plugin for Pt. I-IV of the track called “Runaround”

When I was shown a video of Yuffie running around the streets of Midgard beforehand, there was stylish and jazzy music playing in a scene. As I was watching videos on Facebook of the bands that were playing in that scene having street sessions, the two images came together for me and I decided to create a sound that incorporated elements of street jazz rather than traditional jazz.

For the recording studio, we used "LAB recorders A-Studio". We used a large main booth because we wanted the drums to be loud enough to be heard without feeling the wall. We wanted the wood bass and brass to be closer to the center of the room, so we decided to record them in smaller rooms.

However, when I actually recorded it, I found that although the sound spread of the drums reached a certain level, there was something lacking overall. So I ended up using the"T-RackS Sunset Sound Studio Reverb" that I had tried in the demo phase, and used the narrow but warm "Live Room Studio 3" for the brass and wood bass, and the spacious "Live Room - Studio 2" for the drums. I used the smaller but warmer "Live Room Studio 3" for brass and wood bass, and the more spacious "Live Room - Studio 2" for drums.

As for the drums, I wanted to mix the sounds of Sunset Sound Studio, so I inserted it directly into the Drum 2 Mix and adjusted the ratio of the sound of Sunset Sound Studio and LabRecorders by balancing wet/dry. It may seem wide because of the wide panning of the brass, but in terms of ambient sound, the drums are actually the widest.

By the way, if I hadn't seen the video beforehand, I think I would have made it sound like a jazz hall.

Mitsuto: We usually don’t talk in such detail, so I listened to Masahiro intently, haha.

  • Photo with the "George Kano Quartet", the sound recording members of "Runaround". From the left: Mitsuto, George (Drums), Hideaki (Sax),Mineto (Bass), Daisuke (Trumpet), Masahiro

  • George's drums used in the track "Runaround"

SW: What about other plug-in effects?

Masahiro: I like to use "SOOTHE2" by oeksound. This plugin has become a great help for my work. It's a dynamics compressor, but it's very similar to FabFilter's "Pro-Q2" in terms of operability, and I like the fact that I can search for the parts I want to cut just like using an EQ. It also supports solo mode, so you can use it to trim unnecessary parts while listening solo.

This time, I mainly used it for wood bass. I often use it for basses, but basses (especially wood basses) have a tendency to have one note that jumps out. If you EQ it out, you lose their fascinating boxy sounds, and the bass can't play its original role. So until I came across this plugin, I'd been writing automation using volume and other tools to turn it down by myself. It took a lot of time, and sometimes it didn't go smoothly.

"SOOTHE2" has solved the problem for me. Operability is important when mixing, and this is very helpful because it allows me to intuitively recreate my own sound image.

I often use "SOOTHE2" for vocals as well, since it can remove the unpleasant low frequencies.

I have one more plugin - I used "OVOX VOCAL RESYNTHESIS" by WAVES for the vocals of "Give In To The Riptide". When I heard this track, I wasn't sure how to mix it. So, I asked Mitsudo to send me the overseas version and found out that the overseas version was ‘very much’ death metal, haha. So I thought it wouldn't be fun if the Japanese version was also in a death metal arrangement.

Though I planned to make it close to metal to some extent, I was still thinking about how to handle the vocals. I first tried distorting them with WAVES "BUTCH VIG VOCALS", but it sounded like a half-measure.

After trying various plug-in effects, I came across "OVOX," which I hadn't used much before. Its "Whisper" preset was really amazing which adds whisper voices to the left and right sides of the vocal. It was such a good fit for me that I ended up using this preset as it is.

Mitsuto: Isn’t it convenient to be able to create an effect with just one plug-in?

Masahiro: Absolutely. I've been using "Whisper" a lot in my work lately as a "secret ingredient" even for songs that are not in the metal genre. It also works well for hip-hop raps.

SW: How do you usually use different effect plugins in your work?

Masahiro: I usually use plugins instinctively. But the plugin that immediately comes to mind is "Pro-Q2" by FabFilter. I use this plugin for adjustments because its effects are very natural.

When I want the highs to come out, I often use “API 560” by UAD , which makes the sound Hi-fi at the moment it's plugged in, without adjusting the EQ. It works so close to the actual machines, and I often use it for drum snares and mixes.

I also use "Oxford EQ" by Sonnox when I want to improve the release of vocals or add overtones.

RECORDING AND MIXING VIDEO GAME MUSIC

SW: Are there any differences in recording and mixing processes between music for video games and music for artists?

Masahiro: For video game music and incidental music, the images come first, and then the music is created to match them. For music with artists, on the other hand, the music comes first and the images (music videos, etc.) come later, so that's by far the biggest difference between these two.

It's difficult to say which is easier to do, but for me, it's better to have the images in advance. If I hadn't seen the images of this project before I started working on crafting, it would have been something completely different.

SW: What kind of things were you careful of for the music that crossfades interactively as the characters move, like the three tracks that change depending on where they are in the Wall Market (a town in the game)?

Masahiro: At first, I thought it would be better to make three tracks similar to each other, but then I imagined that would be a bit boring. It's an exciting setting with the theme changing as the character walks through the city, but I thought that if the themes blended together so well that you couldn't tell the shifts, they wouldn't have to be different.

So I decided to mix them as different themes. I believed that as long as the beat was the same, the rest would work out.

Mitsuto: I leave the mixing parts to Masahiro, but I would say that the timing is very important when it comes to crossfading. Especially in "Runaround," the theme of the pillar dungeon in FFVIIR INTERGRADE, which was recorded entirely with live instruments, if the loop point is shifted even slightly, multiple tracks will not loop properly. I was very careful to keep the heads in multiples of 8, since the drum player was moving.

SW: Are there any particular tracks that you have a deep attachment to?

Masahiro: For me, it’s "Runaround" and "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper". The Shamisen in "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snappero" is really cool, so please give it a listen.

Mitsuto: I would also choose the same tracks. "Runaround" is the field BGM used in the scene where you chase a character named Zija, and "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper" is the BGM used in the subquest. I also like all the other "Kame Doraku" related tracks.

For "Runaround Pt. I-IV," I was asked to give the track the feel of a live performance. So, I told my co-writer, Sekido (Tsuyoshi) from the sound department that I wanted to bring in the same groove that you would hear on the streets.

So, we started with rehearsals to put our images together before actually recording. In the rehearsals, we just made some outlines of structures and narrowed them down to four tracks. However, I didn't want to make things complicated in this phase, so I just decided the order and structure of the tracks and went ahead with the recording. The drum part was very exciting because it required improvisational techniques. I couldn't imagine what it would actually sound like until the final form was recorded. This is a little different from composing, but I went through a lot of trial and error. And after the mix was done, I added tracks with just drums while matching them with the images. I didn't know how it would turn out until the end, so I was thinking of interesting combinations until the very last minute.

For “The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper”, we created it in both Japanese and English. There were only 4 variations needed in FFVIIR, but 18 variations were needed for FFVIIR INTERGRADE. So, there's a possibility that that number will continue to increase.

As Masahiro talked about the death metal story earlier, different languages mean different vocals, and sometimes different arrangements. So, after playing the Japanese version, I would like you to play the international version as well, haha!

  • The vocal scores of "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper"

  • Paolo Andrea Di Pietro, the vocalist of "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper

  • A scene of vocal recording

  • Chie Hanawa played the Tsugaru-shamisen in the track "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper"

SW: How much time do you typically spend mixing a single track?

Masahiro: When I worked on the project from the recording, it didn't take much time on mixing because I could make adjustments during the recording process. But, when I was involved in the project from the mixing phase, it took some time because I would need to analyse the track first.

If I think about time alone, I would say one track a day. However, I usually set aside time for simulating how I should mix the track as a whole, so it is never completed in just one day. It's like laying out the groundwork with plenty of time to spare. So basically, I don't work on it all at once, but divide it up into 2-3 hours over a couple of days.

Mitsuto: Ah, I could say the same thing for composing.

Masahiro: This is by far the most efficient way for me to work. Thoughts and emotions change from day to day, so taking a few days to create a piece will give me a satisfying result any time I listen to it.

SW: How many tracks do you usually have in the mixing phase?

Masahiro: The average number of tracks is around 40, but the largest number was 130 for "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper". The reason is obvious: there are 40 tracks just for vocal tracks.

Mitsuto: On the other hand, the instrumental tracks for "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper" are just a few, consisting of taiko, shamisen, bass, and some festival-like effects.

I recruited about 10 staff members from within the company to participate in a project to record their own vocals - some of them recorded at the Square Enix studio, some at home with microphones, and some on their own computers. As a result, the sound quality varied and some even had noise. So, iZotope products worked perfectly in these cases, sometimes I intentionally made clean recordings "dirty".

Because of the pandemic, I was not able to ask them to gather together and give instructions, so I decided not to make too many requests, rather I asked them to sing freely. I thought it was half an experiment out of curiosity, but then it turned out to be very interesting. It was like a happy miscalculation, or rather a big harvest.

SW: Who was involved in the project?

Mitsuto: It may be a funny story, but I sent an email to our sound department and asked if anyone would like to participate in the project. Thanks to the department, no matter how they changed their voices, I could tell which person was singing which part. There were many people who played multiple roles by themselves, as if they were real artists. It was like we were all making this together.

Masahiro: "The Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper" can be listened to in an interesting way, with the Square Enix staff actually singing the chorus.

LEVEL AND DYNAMICS

SW: How do you manage the level and dynamics?

Masahiro: Basically, I put a WAVES "VU Meter" in the master and set the reference to -16db, and leave it on the ProTools screen at all times. If I set the BASS to -4 to -5, the red light will rarely turn on when the overall balance is fixed. I use this setting for almost every track.

I don't have to use the VU of the actual device, and I feel this is enough.

SOFTWARE SOUND SOURCES

SW: What were some of the virtual instruments you mainly used?

Mitsuto: My go-to virtual instruments for this project are pretty much the same as the ones I used for FFVIIR. I used "ALBION ONE" by Spitfire Audio again for FFVIIR INTERGRADE, but I wasn't involved in composing orchestral music that much this time. So, I often used a lot of unusual techniques like distorting string sounds.

For example, I distorted the string sounds in the track, "Materia Production - Battle Edit" on Disc 2. When most people hear the name Spitfire Audio, the first thing that comes to mind is "great orchestral music". I agree, but what I love most about Spitfire Audio is their incredible sound synthesis - it's absolutely crazy, in a really good way. Their products are easy to use, and I really like how the refined sounds and the more unique, unusual sounds can coexist together. For distortion, I used a compact effector usually used for guitar sounds. I first used software until it took shape, and then I replaced it with hardware.

SW: What other software did you use for the project?

Mitsuto: I use "PORTAL" by Output very often for my work. During the project, I used it for glitchy effects on vocals, and I used it for the acid techno-like track "Why Can't I Be a Turtle?" on Disc 3.

SW: Do you use the software instruments as it is for the actual tracks?

Mitsuto: Aside from guitars and such, 80% I use software, and 20% of them replaced with actual live recordings. I don't have any specific rules of how much I use software and how much I use actual live recordings, but as a result, I leave software sounds a lot in my work. As long as the sound is good, it's good. During the composing phase, I use a lot of software because total recall is possible.

Also, there was actually the opposite situation. I used "GOTH" by BIG FISH AUDIO for "Ascension! Kame DorakuThe Happy Turtle Jingle ft. Old Snapper” and I liked it so much that I started asking myself how many times do I use their guitar lead phrases. That's why I replaced the guitar parts with live guitar sounds (just like GOTH). The drums are programmed with "GOTH", but the guitars are live guitars, pretending to be programmed with "GOTH".

I often ask Tsuyoshi (Sekito), who works in the same sound department, to copy the guitars, and he always does a perfect job. When I listened to it, I thought it’s the richer version of "GOTH". I don't think Tsuyoshi himself realizes that the sound was originally made by a software, haha.

FINALLY

SW: Are there any new challenges in FFVIIR INTERGRADE?

Masahiro: I tried to record the drum ambience using the MS method. I had never tried it before, having only learned about it in a lecture at a vocational school, and even during my ten years as an assistant, I had only seen one person using it. Recently, as a part-time instructor at a vocational school, I was experimenting with the SM69 and found it interesting in many ways. So this time, I used this technique to make the drums so big that they stick out, and it worked well, making the cymbals sound slightly out of the speakers. This made me realize that it was possible to make the sound wider even in the analog era.

Mitsuto: Whenever I ask Masahiro to record something, he usually experiments with them in some way, and it's interesting for us to discover new things. There was one this time, too. When I asked him to record the Tsugaru shamisen, there was a boundary microphone on the floor. When I asked Masahiro about it, he said, "The attack sound is very important when recording shamisen”. When I went back to the booth a while later, the microphone was gone, and when I asked him again, he said, "It wasn't very good, so I stopped using it." Hearing that, I realized that he was challenging himself in many ways.

SW: Thank you Mitsuto and Masahiro for sharing such interesting stories with us.

SW: To everyone reading this article, thank you for staying with us until the end. Please listen to the soundtrack and remember the behind the scenes stories mentioned in this article.

Check the link below for purchasing the original soundtracks.

Mitsuto Suzuki (SQUARE ENIX)

A composer of SQUARE ENIX.

Representative works: "FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE", "LIGHTNING RETURNS FINAL FANTASY XIII", "MOBIUS FINAL FANTASY", "Schoolgirl Strikers".

Recently, he has been involved not only in video games, but also in many different fields demonstrating his talent such as the production of music for the TV anime "Schoolgirl Strikers Animation Channel," writing product reviews for music magazines, producing stage music and so on.

SQUARE ENIX MUSIC Official Blog "Suzuki's Weekly Blog"  »

Masahiro Shinbo

A recording and mixing engineer of MIXER'S LAB.

As an engineer, he has worked with artists such as "GACKT", "School Girl Strikers 2", "NIJISANJI", "Yuuma Uchida", "Kaori Ishihara", "Inori Minase", "Yui Ogura". He has been doing various works such as involving in instrumental music for “Yokai Ningen Bella", teaching at Nihon Kogakuin Hachioji Technical School as a part-time teacher and so on.

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* The product information and links associated with each product are the latest versions available at the time this article was written.

© 1997, 2021 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

CHARACTER DESIGN: TETSUYA NOMURA/ROBERTO FERRARI

LOGO ILLUSTRATION: © 1997 YOSHITAKA AMANO

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