Never has a musician moved my heart so much as Hamauzu Masashi. Video game music has long been the life-blood of gaming for me. It has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember, and its place has had a profound impact on my musical taste.
Looking back, many of the games I played growing up were mostly from Japanese developers such as Nintendo, Squaresoft, Capcom, Sega, and many more. For an individual with a stormy childhood like mine, video game music gave some kind of meaning or structure to my life.
Squaresoft, in particular, has established a tradition of producing top-quality music that has even gained the respect of those in the classical music community. Like how the AAA game industry prioritized video gaming as a visual medium and pushed for photorealistic graphics, Squaresoft pushes for excellent video game music.
It is no exaggeration to say that Squaresoft has had a profound impact on the development of people’s lives, especially for the game that they’re most known for, Final Fantasy 7, which Hamauzu worked on as a synthesizer programmer. I’ve seen those around me play the game in the early 2000s but never actually played myself.
A great game tied to great composers that I never played, this point will remain relevant throughout this whole post. Here’s a fun fact for you, I was actually born on the day Final Fantasy 7 was released in Japan, January 31st, 1997!
Anyways, my first exposure to Hamauzu’s work wouldn’t come until some time in 2007, when my Mother took me and my older Brother to Blockbuster to rent some games. One of those games would act as a red thread of fate, that game would be Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy 7. 2007 marking the 10th anniversary of FF7 as well as the year I turned 10.
To clue you in, Dirge of Cerberus was literally the first Final Fantasy game I ever played. I remember watching the commercial for it in 2006 on Adult Swim and knew that it would be a spinoff, but little did I know what I was in for.
Dirge of Cerberus, I believe, has one of the best soundtracks in any video game ever. I was swept off my feet by its dark and melancholic tone. The aesthetic, story and soundtrack came together to what felt like a moving painting. This is no surprise when considering that Hamauzu’s style has been heavily influenced by the likes of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Both of which to their dislike have been attributed to the Impressionist Movement.
Dirge of Cerberus gets a bad rap for being a mediocre FF game to which I pay no mind. Especially when producer Kitase Yoshinori said himself that the game would provide a challenge for the devs to improve their skills because they’re not experienced in making shooters.
In fact, Dirge of Cerberus shouldn’t have been a FF game in the first place, it could’ve just been called Dirge of Cerberus. It could’ve been a cult hit if not for being a FF game, it had its charm because Hamauzu was the composer and its “Devil May Cry” aesthetic.
Which leads me to what I call the Hamauzu Paradox. The Hamauzu Paradox is what happens whenever Hamauzu composes for a video game that is considered mediocre. Unlimited Saga, Musashi: Samurai Legend, Dirge of Cerberus, Saga Frontier 2, and Final Fantasy 13.
What all these games have in common is that they were composed by Hamauzu Masashi and have had a fairly average reception. However, all these games, especially Final Fantasy 13, have unbelievably remarkable soundtracks.
Now I love all these games, and if it weren’t for Hamauzu I wouldn’t admire them as much. I got Unlimited Saga for about $2.00 at Gamestop in a bargain bin but was simply taken away by its unbelievably beautiful soundtrack. I’ve known about Musashi: Samurai Legend since 2005, listened to its soundtrack for 8 years before finally playing it.
Hamauzu is an immensely talented composer and I’m grateful to the bottom of my heart that I was able to listen to his work. His music alone is what draws me to a new video game, not graphics and gameplay mechanics. His work demonstrates the power of video game music to not only impact people’s lives but to also market video games. One day I’d love to see developers find new ways for players to interact with music in video gaming, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another time. I wish him the best in all his future endeavors and if you’re reading this Hamauzu-san, thank you very much for all that you’ve done.