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Masaharu Iwata :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. Many thanks to PQTN for aiding the creation of this biography. It was last updated on April 25, 2008.

Born on October 26, 1966 in Tokyo, eclectic Basiscape employee Masaharu Iwata has worked on over 70 game projects in a variety of roles during his 20 year career. Though he lacked a formal musical education, external influences such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, Arabesque, and China Crisis inspired him to compose music and participate in some cover bands with friends during his adolescence. Thanks to the opportunities provided by the growth of music technology and the increasing availability of the synthesizer, Iwata was able to develop a distinct musical style despite initially producing poor experiments. Around the same time, he developed a lifelong love for video games and, after graduating from high school, looked to find part-time work that combined his enjoyment of games and music. In 1987, he became employed by games developer Bothtec and subsequently composed the ending movie for one game and the original score to Relics: Ankoku Yousai for the Famicom Disk System. Around this time, a timid Iwata was introduced to Hitoshi Sakimoto at a games arcade and, on behalf of the ASCGroup, the duo created the score to Comic Market PC-8801 shooter Revolter together. Iwata utilised Sakimoto's Terpsichorean custom FM synthesizer driver to enhance the sound of these compositions.

In 1989, Iwata became the principle composer of video game developer Quest following a merger with Bothtec. On their behalf, he initially scored a variety of rather elaborate scores for the Nintendo Entertainment System; he offered a foreboding sound to the dungeon crawler Dungeon Kid, a light-hearted adventurous feel for Yasumi Matsuno's first game Conquest of the Crystal Palace (aka Matendouji), and a more diverse accompaniment to the RPG Musashi no Bouken. In these works, Iwata built his music principally from chord progressions and combined electronic melodies, rock riffs, and slap basses to create unique fusions influenced by Motoaki Furukawa's Gradius II score. He also maintained a working relationship with Sakimoto and they worked together under pseudonyms on subsequent projects such as Starship Rendezvous, Verytex, and Metal Orange. Through these projects, Iwata acquired an affection and respect for Sakimoto's music and became a vector for the sequence of events that resulted in his rise to fame. Iwata also introduced Sakimoto to Quest with the frenetic shooter Magical Chase, one of the duo's most famous early achievements and Iwata's personal favourite. Considered the most technologically commanded use of TurboGrafx-16's synth, the score was quite light-hearted with high-speed arpeggios and distinctive slapped basslines.

Iwata's first ground-breaking project was the score to Matsuno's hit strategy game Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. The composer anchored its success by championing militaristic battle themes and exposed his straightforward but intricate orchestral style previously hinted at in the scores for King Breeder and Gauntlet IV. By requesting Hitoshi Sakimoto and Hayato Matsuo work with him, Iwata formulated the 'Ogre Trio' and greatly influenced the direction of his collaborator's careers. Its sequel, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, retained the idiom of the Ogre series but was altogether more emotive, intricate, and grand. It was a musical exploration ground for Iwata and Sakimoto and the first instance where they portrayed deep human emotion. The first two Ogre scores received soundtrack releases, complete with original and MIDI versions, and were also interpreted in an orchestral album arranged by Matatsugu Shinozaki that achieved considerable popularity. While the Ogre series received only a small amount of exposure overseas, given each game sold around half a million copies in Japan, it was responsible for popularising Iwata and Sakimoto's names in the games industry and was more significant than even the Final Fantasy Tactics collaboration. Iwata also appeared on two non-game albums featuring various game composers, offering the electro-acoustic "Cipher" to Synergy's GENERATE and the ethereal "Tide Graph" to Troubadour's 2197.

Between 1990 and 1997, Iwata's career was at its most fruitful. As a solo composer, he worked on Nintendo games such as Rush Up, America Oudan Ultra Quiz, Cowboy Kid, Over Horizon, Shikinjou, Robocco Wars, Ushio to Tora, and The Gorilla Man. While such works didn't receive album releases, an exception was Iwata's soundtrack to the NES port Might and Magic, adapted into an arranged album. Perhaps his greatest electronic collaboration with Sakimoto was Eighting / Raizing's 1994 shooter Shippu Mahou Daisakusen; one of the last scores that used the Terpsichore sound, its score was remarkably catchy, upbeat, and light-hearted. Other similarly styled works included Custom's Chip-Chan Kick! for the PC-FX and the relatively weak Dragon Master Silk II. In 1995, Iwata composed five tracks for the Super Nintendo's Treasure Hunter G, a collaboration between Square and Sting, establishing his relationship with two companies. In 1997, Iwata created 25 tracks for Final Fantasy Tactics after Quest's main members left to form a development team at Square. Here, he refined a dark symphonic style that shone in a series of dissonant battle themes and also created several lyrical location and event themes. Iwata subsequently maintained a relationship with Eighting / Raizing on the Arcade's fighting game Bloody Roar (aka Beastorizer) and its sequel, where he was introduced to his mentor Kenichi Koyano and his future collaborator Manabu Namiki.

Despite the success of the Iwata and Sakimoto collaboration on Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Shippu Mahou Daisakusen, the duo's careers diverged in 1998. Iwata's relationship with Yasumi Matsuno crucially ended and he receded from the mainstream while Sakimoto went on to produce major works such as Vagrant Story. Initially, Iwata produced the accompaniment to Sting's cult horror-RPG Baroque, his most ambitious musical experiment to date; the soundtrack blended dark electronica, industrial ambience, noise music, and 'new age' references to achieve a frightening, disorientating, and inorganic effect. In 1999, Iwata led the scores to Sting's Dreamcast RPG efforts Evolution: The World of Sacred Device and Evolution 2: Far Off Promise. Though no original scores were released, he was able to vary his usual style somewhat to reflect the colour of their worlds. The composer also made an appearance on Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Calibur; he focused on creating timbres as opposed to thematic material whereas by Hayato Matsuo scored most of the rest. Still an avid gamer, Iwata felt truly moved every time he heard music he made used in gameplay when each of these projects were completed.

Between 2000 and 2003, Iwata's career was at its lowest point. He was recruited by Yoshitaka Hirota and Yasunori Mitsuda to work on the first Shadow Hearts as a sound effects designer, synthesizer operator, and, for "Melt Down", technically a co-composer; here, he created some of the finest PlayStation 2 synth while almost exclusively using its internal sound memory. He also created sound effects for three instalments of Eighting / Raizing's Golgo 13 Arcade shooter series, released annually between 1999 and 2001. However, he had no further composition roles at the company despite his experineces on projects like Shippu Mahou Daisakusen and Bloody Roar. He also took a leading role on the Game Boy Advance's Tactics Ogre: THe Knight of Lodis, though it was not released in soundtrack form because of Quest's financial difficulties. A further blow was that his only other composition project during this period, Sting's Game Boy Color game Koguru GuruGuru project, was ultimately cancelled. Despite his experience and musicianship, evidence suggests that Iwata lacked the productivity to create full scores in the increasingly more demanding industry. Still friends with the increasingly successful Hitoshi Sakimoto and Manabu Namiki, the trio discussed setting up a music production company together to increase their exposure and workload while largely maintaining independence.

Iwata became a founding member of Sakimoto resultant music production company Basiscape established on October 4, 2002. THe company soon gained a reputation for high quality composition, arrangement, sound effects design, and sound manipulation. After Iwata's first Basiscape project and final solo score, Gekitou Pro Baseball, fell under the radar, he was assigned to compose with his colleagues on two landmark projects in 2004. For the tactical RPG Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity, Iwata worked with Sakimoto to present a variety of symphonic material that enriched the score thematically and later co-arranged its promotional arranged album. On Cave's manic shooter Mushihimesama, Iwata shadowed Namiki to create a light-hearted electronic soundtrack influenced by his own Terpsichore works and Shinji Hosoe's Dragon Spirit. Having a bus but increasingly secondary role on Basiscape, he also worked on Fullmetal Alchemist: Dream Carnival, Kuusen II, Digi Communication 2 in 1, and Battle B-Daman, joined variably by Namiki, new Basiscape employee Mitsuhiro Kaneda, and his mentor Kenichi Koyano. He also co-composed the rock-based fighting scores Jikuu Bouken Zentrix, BLEACH Heat the Soul 3, Zoids: Full Metal Crash, Battle Stadium D.O.N, and Digimon Savers: Another Mission and created sound effects for the first two BLEACH Heat the Soul titles.

In recent years, Iwata has produced major contributions to several popular projects. On 2005's Wizardry Gaiden: Prisoners of the Battles, Iwata demonstrated clear influence from Kentaro Haneda in the orchestral tracks and more individualism in the ambient and soothing creations. For the Square Enix MMORPG Fantasy Earth: Zero, Iwata and Koyano offered intricate and subdued orchestral music intended to sustain repetition during gameplay. He enhanced the colour, whim, and youthfulness of Brownie Brown's Children of Mana with nine tracks mostly used as stage themes, gaining particular inspiration from listening to Hiroki Kikuta's Secret of Mana soundtrack. Iwata also made appearances on Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, bringing some old-school tributes to the ten composer score, and Final Fantasy XII, where he created dark and dramatic "The Sochen Cave Palace" and "The Feywood" later downgraded for Revenant Wings. For the PSP remake of Final Fantasy Tactics, Iwata's contributions were reused but he did not directly participate, while for Baroque's PlayStation 2 remake, an entirely new score was created by Shigeki Hayashi. On several occasions, Iwata has also contributed to collaborative arranged albums, namely for Mahou Shoujou Ai 2, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, Mushihimesama, Hyper Street Fighter II, and Pink Sweets Ibara, exploiting the stylistic freedom available to him to create both symphonic and electronic works.

In 2007, Iwata and Sakimoto composed Mistwalker's tactical DS RPG A.S.H. -Archaic Sealed Heat- resulting in an aggressive and tense quasi-orchestral score coloured by light, spiritual, and heroic interludes. Iwata also made a major contributions to Odin Sphere, creating the majority of the game's vivacious orchestral battle themes and also some emotional marches. He also recently contributed to Opoona, blending warm orchestral and synthetic sounds, Elminage, offering some of the lighter Celtic themes, and Coded Soul, mixing genres to create an atmospheric science-fiction score. He also made small contributions to Grim Grimoire, Deltora Quest: The Seven Jewels, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift as well as a remix of his energetic score to 1991's Over Horizon for Extra: Hyper Game Music Event. In 2008, Iwata contributed compositions to Soul Calibur IV and Suikoden Tierkreis, two high profile projects with no other Basiscape involvement. He blended militaristic orchestral themes with a range of worldly influences on both projects. No longer a self-sustainable composer, Iwata is rarely promoted for the projects he works on despite leading many of the projects Sakimoto has little time to create many contributions for. Nevertheless, Iwata's experience and versatility has been an asset to Basiscape's major and minor projects alike.