|Square||Game Developer||1998 - 2003||Synthesizer Operator|
|Square Enix||Game Developer||2003 - 2005||Synthesizer Operator|
|Square Enix||Game Developer||2005 -||Composer|
Takeharu Ishimoto is a synthesizer operator turned composer who created a sensation with his work on various Final Fantasy spinoffs. For many years, the question ’Who is Takeharu Ishimoto?’ brought only mysterious and controversy, but some details are gradually emerging about him. Born on May 29, 1970 in Nichinan, Ishimoto developed a love for hard rock music while living in the countryside during his youth. He became particularly passionate about playing the electric guitar and purchased a range of Fender and Gibson models. One of millions of gamers that played Final Fantasy VII during 1997, he decided to apply for a role in the music team of Square the subsequent year. To his disappointment, the administrators thought that his rock sound would be a bad fit for the company. Instead he was employed as a synthesizer operator, responsible for optimising music samples and manipulating sound sources. Nevertheless, he continued to assert that he be given scoring assignments during his initial years at the company and became notorious for his aggressive attitude among the sound team.
Ishimoto implemented several scores during his initial years at the company. He learned about the various musical and technical demands of his role as the lead sound manipulator of the PlayStation’s Legend of Mana, between handling some of the implementation of Front Mission 3. He subsequently supporting Hitoshi Sakimoto throughout the production of Vagrant Story; programming the vast majority of the music, he helped to define the sound of the score with dark orchestral samples and heavy percussion parts and was also responsible for a industrial rock remix of the "Opening Movie" featured at the end of the soundtrack release. Now an experienced manipulator, he subsequently implemented the three instalments to Square Enix’s Japan-only All Star Pro-Wrestling series, principally composed by Tsuyoshi Sekito and Kenichiro Fukui at the Osaka team. The rock basis of these scores allowed Ishimoto to work with his preferred style and also embraced the opportunities offered by the PlayStation 2’s improved hardware. He also continued to compose his own rock pieces in his spare time, with the hope that they would one day feature on a game score.
In 2001, Ishimoto served as one of three synthesizer operators on Final Fantasy X. Using his knowledge of the PlayStation 2’s hardware, he streamed several recordings and selected samples for a range of other pieces. Through this project, he also received a small taste of professional composing, when he was asked to compose and write "Spiral" for the game’s vocal collection; the resultant work blended a monologue from Auron’s Japanese voice actor with rock rhythms, guitar mastery, flashy piano runs, and fragments of the final battle theme. A year later, he also received the opportunity to create a rock score for the soccer game World Fantasista alongside sound editor Masayoshi Soken, but the game sold too poorly to widely expose his name among fans or, indeed, his own company. He was also responsible for implementing the scores for Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II, blending reprises with new compositions. He made many compromises to optimise memory utilisation on these titles — the former written for a primitive handheld, the latter requiring simultaneous loading of field and battle music.
Ishimoto received his big break when his talent was recognised by character designer Tetsuya Nomura. Despite losing in-house competitions to score two previous projects, he submitted samples to be considered as the composer of the mobile phone game Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII. He impressed Nomura by conveying an aggressive rock spirit with a remix of the Turks’ theme and, despite protests that he might be difficult to work with, was given a chance to prove himself with a full score for a modest project. Throughout the development, he impressed his superiors with his timely treatment of requests and sometimes directly inspired them with his fresh depictions of the protagonists. He was also asked to score the music for the original animation video Last Order: Final Fantasy VII packaged with the ultimate edition of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. His angular guitar-driven sound proved a tense and compelling background to the ever-shifting flashback sequences. The music was packaged together with an enhanced score for Before Crisis for an album release at the end of 2007.
Having impressed his colleagues with these works, Ishimoto was asked by Nomura to score an altogether larger project in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, the PSP prequel Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Ishimoto composed the soundtrack without hesitation, feeling his rock sound was a perfect fit for the rebellious protagonist and action-packed gameplay. Feeling a strong connection to the game’s story, he conveyed a sense of the protagonist’s tragic fate with a range of pieces — spanning dark riff-based ambience, dramatic thematic reprises, and externally produced arrangements for piano, strings, and orchestra. Highlights of the score included the acoustic main theme and numerous adaptations of themes from Final Fantasy VII and Before Crisis. When the game was released in 2007, the soundtrack received considerable praise among gamers and Ishimoto finally became a well-known name. He nevertheless continued to work on some more humble projects — offering a J-Rock song for the Square Enix Music Official Bootleg Vol. 1 and a homage to old-school game music on the mobile phone’s Monotone — between his major scoring activities.
Ishimoto also surprised the team of Square Enix with his music for the simultaneously developed The World Ends With You (aka Subarashiki Kono Sekai). The ever ambitious composer submitted contemporary vocal themes for the project despite the ROM capacity of the DS and the usual norms for RPG projects. Nevertheless, the director felt the demos were such a good fit for their portrayal of Shibuya and decided to reallocate the memory capacity for compressed movies to the music instead. The final score featured numerous energetic songs, integrating techno, pop, hip-hop, and rock influences, as well as some brief instrumental cues. Ishimoto streamed samples from twelve vocalists including SAWA and, with assistance from operator Hirosato Noda, convincingly integrated driving beats and dense instrumentals. In addition to inspiring Tokyo residents, he captured the imaginations of international players with English recordings and new arrangements. The soundtrack release, while strongly criticised by some collectors, sold thousands of copies. Its success inspired Ishimoto to produce an arranged album, a rock music video, and, most recently, a chiptune fusion project dedicated to the score.
Propelled to centre stage with his game scores, Ishimoto established two independent projects for his personal satisfaction. He pursued his distinctive rock sound with the project HIZMI and an entirely different electronic sound with the project yugmi. He freely released several original and covers he created for both projects on MySpace and other websites throughout 2008. Under the alias HIZMI, he also reunited with lyricist and vocalist SAWA to create a rock unit with two others. The artist took a leading role on their studio album 333 as a producer, composer, and arranger; he created rock songs were much more aggressive and topical than those in The World Ends With You, driven throughout by his grungy guitar performance. He subsequently developed the unit’s sound on the EP Figure and Shadow, capturing the attention of listeners on his Gibson Les Paul. Despite achieving some popularity, the short-lived unit disbanded at the end of 2009 due to artistic differences. Ishimoto nevertheless continued to pursue original music, exploring gospel and R’n’B influences with a contribution to Music for Art.
Despite his independent activities, Ishimoto has mostly focused on scoring new Final Fantasy titles in recent years. In a further collaboration with Tetsuya Nomura, he was appointed the music producer of another hit project, the crossover brawler Dissidia: Final Fantasy. Ishimoto complemented the game’s menus and storyline scenes with rousing anthems and epic orchestrations. He also efficiently arranged a wide variety of Final Fantasy favourites for the main gameplay, ranging from a pumping rock rendition of Final Fantasy’s dungeon theme to a nostalgic new age version of Final Fantasy X’s main theme. Continuing to be influenced by mainstream rock acts of the West, he also worked with Your Favourite Enemies on the theme songs for the project. In his final work for the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, he also created a short score for the original animation video On the Way to a Smile: Episode Denzel, packaged with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. He portrayed the young focal character with several soft piano ballads and also offered modest arrangements of two Final Fantasy VII favourites.
In 2011, Ishimoto returned in a lead role with Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy. Throughout, he built on the sound of the original with new orchestral compositions and rock remixes. The score climaxed with his final battle theme, which transitioned from an epic Latin performance by the FILMharmonic into a hard rock song featuring Kidneythieves. He simultaneously created the entire score for the PSP’s Final Fantasy Type-0, combining his hard rock staples with striking cues written for orchestra and chorus. Spanning some three discs, the score is his most expansive effort to date and received widespread acclaim. At sudden request, he also contributed six tracks for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep — aided by his previous experiences as a synthesizer operator on the series, he captured the distinctive sound of Kingdom Hearts while pushing boundaries with some pumping battle tracks. Brought back for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, his key responsibilities included arranging the crossovers from The World Ends With You and creating electronic compositions to portray the Grid.
Ishimoto has focused much of his recent energy into further developing his pop-rock style. Having impressed subsidiary Taito on The World Ends With You, his services were also requested on the arcade rhythm game Music GunGun! 2, where he contributed the energetic vocal theme "Dreamer", later reused on Groove Coaster Zero. He also used an album release inspired by Sengoku IXA as an opportunity to release another energetic song, "Shake Down". With The World Ends With You returning to the forefront in 2012, Ishimoto wrote several new songs and remixes for its iOS release. He subsequently took centre stage at a live concert dedicated to the game — held at Shibuya O-West on November 26, 2012 — performing favourites such as "Twister", "Calling", and "Three Minutes Clapping" on guitar alongside vocalists SAWA and Stephanie. As part of this event, Ishimoto held auditions to find a vocalist to feature in a future title, indicating a sequel may be on its way. With this event, Ishimoto completed his big journey from being a backstage programmer to a rock star.
- Various Game & Album Credits
- Liner Notes Translations
- Official Profile (Japanese)
- Personal Profile (MySpace)
- Interview with J-Pop World (English, January 2009)
- Interview with Famitsu (Japanese, March 2011)
- Interview with 4Gamer (Japanese, June 2011)
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on December 30, 2012. Do not republish without formal permission.