The Inverse Interview

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s Wildest Song Was Inspired by Run-D.M.C. and Ice-T

A soundtrack for the ages.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Scotch
Square Enix

Nothing can prepare you for the moment in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth where the debaucherous Don Corneo and his henchmen break into a rap diss track ripped right out of the ‘90s. It’s a ludicrous high point in a game filled with absurd moments, perfectly capturing the kinetic spirit that permeates Rebirth.

“This song is what hip-hop calls beef,” says Rebirth composer Mitsuto Suzuki. “Run-D.M.C., Ice-T, Art of Noise, and other old-school influences I grew up listening to are all strongly present in this song."

Rebirth is a massive game that tries, and mostly succeeds, to re-create one of the most influential games of all time, while still providing something new and exciting. It’s an ambitious entry that treads new ground for Final Fantasy, including a staggering soundtrack of over 400 songs.

Rebirth’s soundtrack is an eclectic mix of wildly different genres of music.

Square Enix

The eclectic soundtrack bounces between genres and styles, from sweeping orchestral epics to pop songs about dogs and rap diss tracks. It’s weird and wild, just like the rest of the game, but the extra layer here is the expectations of fans who grew up on Final Fantasy 7. On top of that, music supervisor Keiji Kawamori says those expectations rise even higher when you’re playing with one of the most beloved video game composers of all time, Nobuo Uematsu.

“One point I have been very mindful of is to include arrangements using melodies from the original works that do not betray the expectations of the fans, and to treat Uematsu-san's original melodies with care, Kawamori tells Inverse. “But also, when Uematsu-san was creating music for the Final Fantasy series in the past, he incorporated new ideas in his music creation that challenged the status quo, so I think it is important to keep that spirit in mind when creating the music.”

There’s a lot that goes into such an expansive soundtrack, and in the wake of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, Inverse talked to Kawamori and Suzuki about bringing the game’s music to life. And yes, that includes the bizarre rap interlude from Don Corneo.

Rebirth’s piano minigame was initially much simpler, before the development team decided to make it more complex.

Square Enix

Tell me about the Piano Minigame. How did you design the songs, and how was the music team involved in the minigame’s creation?

Kawamori: The Osaka sound team took the lead in arranging the music and adjusting the difficulty of the minigame. At first, we were thinking of making a simple piano minigame, but as we worked on it, more and more ideas were added, such as making the arrangement more lavish when the player plays successfully and allowing complex chords to be used during free play, and I think we ended up with quite a lavish minigame.

The music the players get to play in the minigame was selected by co-director Toriyama.

Rebirth’s soundtrack is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen for a game. When in development, did you know you were going for such an expansive soundtrack? And why did you make that choice?

Kawamori: In the same way as with the previous game, I asked Toriyama to create a list of how the songs should play in the game in the early stages of development (at that point, there were already over 500 songs specified), and I used this list as a basis for applying the songs to the actual game while adjusting the number of songs needed.

I believe that the care taken in creating each song and adjusting the way it plays in the game is one of the unique characteristics of this game that no other has. Switching songs according to how the game unfolds, such as during quests, was often challenging due to the specifications for game implementation, but I believe the change in music contributed to the rich atmospheric variety of the quests.

Rebirth’s regions often feature new renditions of the game’s main theme, like Cosmo Canyon adding a country-esque twang.

Square Enix

Tell me about the musical themes of each region. How did you try to evoke the personality of regions like Cosmo Canyon and Junon through their music?

Kawamori: The main theme is probably the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the world map music for Final Fantasy 7, but this time, instead of using the same main theme for all of the maps, we have created arrangements of it that are tailored to the specific area.

For example, Cosmo Canyon has a bit of a country feel, while Nibelheim uses the latter half of the main theme, and so on, to match the atmosphere of the areas in the world map.

On the other hand, for areas such as Gongaga and Junon, which were not featured as much in the original title, we have created them in the hope that the audience will enjoy the fresh feel of the new songs.

In Chapter 12 there’s a rap song with Scotch and Kotch. Could you tell me about its creation, and if there was anything that inspired it?

Suzuki: This song is what hip-hop calls "beef" towards Dio, and I had a clear musical direction shared with co-director Toriyama: Run-D.M.C., Ice-T, Art of Noise, and other old-school influences I grew up listening to are all strongly present in this song. The best part is that I incorporated the world's best scratch play by DJ IZOH, who won the DMC World DJ Championships, and pressed analog records for the scratches to achieve the exact sound I envisioned in my mind without any deviations.

I created this song from the perspective of both a game composer and fan, thinking, "If there was a live stage like this, I'd love to see it," and, "If I could participate as a beat maker, I'd like to create a song like this." I usually compose from an objective perspective, but the whole process was so fun and interesting, and I have so much respect for everyone who was involved. Of course, DJ Corneo and MC Scotch & MC Kotch, too.

Boss fights in Rebirth will often have different renditions of the same song, in order to make each phase feel different.

Square Enix

How did you approach the music for the final boss sequence in Rebirth? That’s a massive sequence that goes through multiple playable characters and their themes. How did you design the music around that?

Kawamori: The boss battles have phases, and the series of battles for the last boss is also divided into many phases, with music for each of these phases. The battle against Jenova starts out with the lingering echoes of the sad events, but as the battle progresses, a bit of an eerie atmosphere comes into play.

The tempo then picks up in the middle to raise the heat of the battle, and the arrangement follows the original "J-E-N-O-V-A" song. After that, the Sephiroth Reborn battle song was handled by Hamauzu and it consists of an arrangement of "One-Winged Angel" that no one has ever heard before and new song elements, which I think makes for a very impressionable piece of work.

Were there any songs or pieces from the original FF7 that were particularly tricky to update, or gave you trouble?

Suzuki: Chocobo race. Since the Chocobo theme is played at random, we needed to prepare tons of arrangements. Initially, the order was for only one song, but we increased the number of songs in order to give more variety to the stages. There may be some songs that you can't listen to until the end, but I think it will be fun to find your favorite Chocobo theme arrangement by playing the minigame over and over again.

Final Fantasy has built up such a rich legacy of music. How important do you think music and sound are to the franchise at large? Is it ever intimidating trying to add to that legacy?

Kawamori: I recognize that music is a very important element in Final Fantasy, and believe that fans have always looked forward to the music as the series progressed since we have never failed to meet their expectations towards the music.

The Final Fantasy 7 remake series is different from the pure mainline titles, and I felt some pressure at first, wondering if we would be able to produce music that would not betray the expectations of the fans of the original game. Once we started working on it, however, I was eager to remake the wonderful music from the original Final Fantasy 7I with the talented arrangers and composers in the modern age, and have both the long-time fans of the game and the new fans who discovered and played the game listen to the music. I'm also delighted to have fans go back to listen to the original soundtrack, after experiencing the great song in the remake and wondering what the original music is like.

I'm also looking forward to the responses to the new music, which includes not only arrangements of music from the original, but also brand-new songs that are ambitiously crafted.

I hope that the new songs that we will create in the future will keep people saying that the Final Fantasy series has great music, forever, too.

There’s been some talk in recent years of video game music becoming too “film-like.” What are your thoughts on that, and how do you think Final Fantasy manages to stay unique?

Suzuki: This is an interesting question. It is true that many cutscenes and trailers with a clear time axis may have a more "film-like" approach. In terms of sound, there is no denying that many of these musical aspects have already become methodological, such as the combination of orchestras and synthesizers, and the extensive use of light motifs. However, in recent years, the unique expressions and ways of presenting and listening to game music have evolved considerably, so I think it's a different matter to single out a particular part and claim it to be "film-like".

I believe that the music of the Final Fantasy franchise is unique because of the delicate, careful craftsmanship of its techniques and ideas. I think that it is very meaningful to create this game music from Japan and to present it to the world, and even if new methods of expression emerge in the future, the uniqueness of this music will continue to live on and spread further, passing the baton to the next generation. At the same time, I can say it is one of the roles I can fulfill now.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is available on PS5.

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