The Games That Made Us: LIVE A LIVE’s Takashi Tokita and Yoko ShimomuraProducer Takashi Tokita and Composer Yoko Shimomura reveal which games made them the creators they are today… and which mean the most to them.
There aren’t many games like LIVE A LIVE.
This one of a kind RPG forgoes the typical epic story in favor of an anthology - eight digestible adventures set across different eras of history, each with their own setting, characters and mechanics.
It’s ambitious, experimental and utterly brilliant… and it has an incredible soundtrack too. But this isn’t surprising when you consider its heritage. The original LIVE A LIVE, on which the new HD-2D remake is based, was directed by the talented Takashi Tokita (CHRONO TRIGGER, PARASITE EVE), with music from the legendary composer Yoko Shimomura.
Both have returned for this version, with Tokita-san acting as producer and Shimomura-san supervising the stellar new arrangements of her original tracks.
Along with the full development team, they’ve created an incredible game… but we wanted to find out about the games that made them.
Watch the video to see their answers, or read on for an extended interview:
What was the first game you ever played?
Takashi Tokita (Director of LIVE A LIVE and Producer LIVE A LIVE HD-2D REMAKE): The first game I've ever played. Let's see… In terms of a video game... it must have been before Space Invaders…
I don’t have much recollection of "Pong" but the game after that (and I had to look this up on the internet) was TAITO's "Western Gun".
Basically, it worked like a game of tennis. There were two gunmen that moved around and you had to take aim. That was my first video game, and I remember playing it on the rooftop of a department store.
Incidentally, I feel that LIVE A LIVE having a Wild West chapter may be because of the influence this game had on me!
Yoko Shimomura (Composer LIVE A LIVE and LIVE A LIVE HD-2D REMAKE): My first gameplay experience was really a long time ago. There was a sort of baseball game at this shopping mall.
There weren't any human characters, even. It was a green screen with a ball and a stick. I've forgotten the name, but it was an arcade game. That was the first video game I played.
My Dad has always been a fan of baseball, so while I didn't play actual baseball with him, I did play his favorite sport through a video game.
And my Dad was so happy about it, asking: "Do you want to do it again?" I remember that fondly. It's a fun memory of my family.
Everyone's experience seem to be on the rooftop of a department store! Tokita-san, what’s your fondest memory of playing a Square Enix game?
Tokita-san: Before the Square Enix merger, I used to work part time as a pixel artist at Square and during that time I played DRAGON QUEST II.
In the original DRAGON QUEST, you were the sole player, and so combat was a routine of attacking and recovering that I wasn't too fond of at the time. I enjoyed action games more.
But then, when I played DRAGON QUEST II, there was a moment towards the beginning of the game where I needed to find the Prince of Cannock, but I couldn’t find him, no matter how hard I searched.
Just when I thought "I'm so tired, I'm going to the inn to sleep," I saw the guy at the inn. He was all: "I looked all over for you" and I was like "that's my line!"
Afterwards, when we encountered a battle, he had a Heal spell, so he was extremely dependable. That's what it feels like to play a game. Unlike watching a movie, unlike watching a drama, unlike reading a manga, it could move a person emotionally so much.
I got to experience that first-hand, so I thought if I can make RPGs my main line of work, it would be fun.
“Yes, I'm going to create games, create RPGs." And the game that made me think that was DRAGON QUEST II. So, I'm truly grateful for that.
Above: DRAGON QUEST II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line on Nintendo Switch. Get it here
Which one Square Enix game could you not live without?
Tokita-san: Pick just one SQUARE ENIX game...that's a tough one. That I "could not live without," to boot!
But this has got to be LIVE A LIVE for me. After all, this is the first game I directed. At the time I was in my late 20s and almost 30 years after that came the possibility for a remake!
It has truly been my life. Most of the time I've spent at SQUARE ENIX has been poured into that title, so LIVE A LIVE is a special game for me!
Shimomura-san, what was the first videogame soundtrack you remember hearing?
Shimomura-san: What made me aware of music in a game was definitely Super Mario Bros. - at least from the perspective of being memorable.
I think everyone who hears the music probably thinks the same thing, but it made me realize that there can be background music to a game and that it can be so wonderful.
That thought was etched that into my heart by this game. By this soundtrack.
So, what’s your favorite piece of music?
Shimomura-san: Again!? It's always so difficult to pick "one favorite." I can't choose a favorite piece!
Ok, my favorite piece… I grew up with Classical music, so what should it be?
I’m really overthinking this, I’m sorry!
I pick Chopin's Ballade No. 1. It made me really conscious of my feelings toward music and helped me pursue my own path in music. It's a piece that means a lot in my life.
If you could only listen to one Square Enix soundtrack again, what would it be?
Shimomura-san: I can never pick just one favorite! (laughs)
It was hard enough to pick a favorite Classical piece - and besides, even if it’s my favorite now, in three days that might change!
I keep thinking unnecessary things like that and…no, I can’t choose! I really can’t! There are so many wonderful game soundtracks out there that I’m just going to make a mental note of the numerous titles that come to mind!
Tokita-san: This too comes at the risk of tooting my own horn, but it would have to be LIVE A LIVE for me.
Whenever I'm creating a game, the biggest impact - and of course artwork has this effect too, but the music amplifies the image in my head and expands the world. I’m sure this applies to the players as well.
Because this was my directorial debut, I created different worlds and listened to different music, and packed in everything I wanted to do. We were fired up when creating the sound too - that’s the impression I got.
As for which tracks stand out, I believe the first song to be completed was ‘On Broken Wings’. I listened to it even while on my commute and it painted a mental image of Oersted being separated. I imagined his journey once he was alone.
As such ‘On Broken Wings’ became the backbone for LIVE A LIVE. When I say "backbone" I mean "at the center of" - truly, a core song of the game.
Shimomura-san: This is so difficult for me, but I’m going to cheat a little bit today. Since this is a LIVE A LIVE interview, my answer of course is going to be LIVE A LIVE here (laughs).
I know I always say this, but whether it’s my own songs or other people’s songs, I can never pick just one. Each piece, especially mine, are all memorable to me, like dear children of mine.
So, while I did say the LIVE A LIVE soundtrack, it's too difficult for me to pick just one song. They are all precious to me.
Which game composers do you personally admire?
Shimomura: This is such a hard question to answer, too. I have three people that I must mention, without fail. You might already have an idea of who though!
I have to mention Mr. Koji Kondo of Nintendo, for letting me take notice of game music.
Also, and this stems from my love for Classical music, Mr. Koichi Sugiyama (DRAGON QUEST series) showed me there is a path from Classical music to game music.
I should mention the one who showed me what kind of music I should write, once I started making music as my job. Of course, I used to listen to FINAL FANTASY music as a player myself, so Mr. Nobuo Uematsu - he took me under his wing.
I admire these three so much that I just want to gush about my love for them. That's how much I admire them!
Is there a game you wish you could have written the music for?
Shimomura-san: I could never answer this question! Well, how do I word this… it’s not that I can’t answer…
Tokita-san: Then what’s a title you didn’t want to write music for?
Shimomura-san: Am I supposed to say LIVE A LIVE here (laughs)?
No, I'll be truthful with my answer. I typically approach things proactively, but for titles I work on, or jobs that I take, I'm actually extremely passive. I wait for the opportunity to come to me.
As such, I always want to work on a game where the team says they want my music. If I didn't work on it, it probably means that they didn't want my music!
By the way, I'm just kidding when I say, "they didn't want my music" (laughs).
So I don’t really think about what I could have done. I’m not trying to pretend to be all good, but there was never a time when I felt: “I wish I was the one to do it.”
What one game do you think the entire world should play?
Tokita-san: There are a few games I thought were really well fleshed out: those are DRAGON QUEST V and FINAL FANTASY X.
In DRAGON QUEST V you start as a child and end after becoming a parent. It depicts such an epic drama in a person's life, in an RPG. If you play that one game, you can experience someone's entire life.
I was just blown away. I was like "I would expect no less from Yuji Horii!"
As for FINAL FANTASY X, Tidus enters the world of the game and he eventually departs that world. All that made me think: “Wow, they made good use of the structure of the game to build their world!".
I was envious that Kazushige Nojima did such a good job! Those two titles are very well mad…
…but a game everyone around the world should play is LIVE A LIVE!
Shimomura-san: Of course (shouts and gestures) LIVE A LIVE!
Tokita-san: (breaks into laughter) That was quite simple!
Shimomura-san: There is no other way I can say this! I should've kept it simple from the start!
Above: FINAL FANTASY X HD Remaster. Get it here.
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Tokita-san: I've had the opportunity to work in the game industry for a long time, and most of it has been spent here at SQUARE ENIX. I've been here since I was 20, so it's been 37 years.
So much has happened in the many years I've worked here, and seeing LIVE A LIVE resurrected after 30 years, was thanks to being able to work together with people within our company.
That includes people outside of our Japan office, too. There were people with whom I was reunited after a long time, or people from other divisions that came in to help during a pinch. There were those who provided alternatives when we hit a wall, and everyone brought ideas to the table, too.
So, honestly, having a long career at this company, and working together with everyone here is what I'm most proud of.
Shimomura-san: Oh look, another question that is difficult to answer (laughs)!
I think it boils down to the fact that I've loved music since I was a child, and being able to make music my career over these decades is definitely a blessing.
Tokita-san mentioned it, too, but there's a lot that happens while you're going through different things. I've felt like quitting so many times, and I've experienced near-crushing disappointment. In fact, I have been defeated and crushed at times.
But despite that, I never gave up my drive to continue writing songs, I pushed through consistently and continued to write.
I really feel proud of that.
Of course, this isn't just my own strength - many, many people supported me. When I say I’m ‘proud’, I don’t want to be boastful. I always want to be grateful to everyone around me as I continue on.
Finally, LIVE A LIVE is out now - how do you feel about the game now it’s done?
Tokita-san: This was my first directorial work and I planned it from the ground up, so it’s packed with what I truly wanted to do.
At the time of the original game’s release, it didn’t go that well, but people who did play the game were very passionate about it and continued to pass down the legacy. I’m very proud of that.
I’m also really proud that the game has been remade in HD-2D and now released on PS5, PS4 and Steam in addition to Nintendo Switch, which means even more people can play it. That makes me really glad I created LIVE A LIVE!
Many thanks to Tokita-san and Shimomura-san for sharing the games that made them. LIVE A LIVE is out now for Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4 and Steam:
You can hear Shimomura’s incredible music in the LIVE A LIVE HD-2D REMAKE soundtrack - available to buy now digitally via services including iTunes and Amazon, and physically via the Square Enix Store:
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on the Square Enix Store
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on iTunes
- Get the LIVE A LIVE HD2D REMAKE soundtrack on Amazon Music
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