Matt Fuss Spotlight: Creating a Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collection

A native Californian, Matt Fuss grew up in a musical family and eventually embraced the field himself, eventually taking on guitar and later piano as instruments of choice. Fuss’ ability did not stop with performing, however; more recently, Fuss began composing and arranging music inspired by film and video game scores, from Skyrim to Xenogears to World of Warcraft, between writing compositions of his own.

On August 1, Fuss released a fully-licensed arranged album, A Towering Dawn: A Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collection, on Loudr, iTunes, and Google Play. It features 36 arrangements from the MMORPG arranged and performed himself, as well as 140 pages of sheet music. In our second spotlight article, Matt Fuss discusses his background, musicianship, and creations, while Emily McMillan analyses some of his seminal works.

Interview Credits

Interview Subject: Matt Fuss
Interviewer: Emily McMillan
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Emily McMillan

Interview Content

Matt Fuss pic

Emily: Thank you so much for speaking with me today! First off, you say that you didn’t “try” music until you were fifteen years old. That makes your current achievements doubly impressive, as picking up both instruments and theory get more difficult the later on in life you are. What was it like when you finally became involved in music as more than a listener, in terms of difficulty?

Matt Fuss: Being just a random quirky enthusiast, I’m honored you thought me to be relevant! My musical history is very unprepared and irregular. I studied traditionally with a few instructors for a few years circa 2004, but I’m primarily self-taught. I prefer to approach an instrument only when inspired, which isn’t as regular as traditional notions of rigorous musical study promote. Perhaps normally one’s inspiration is triggered by performing itself, but mine is triggered by listening. Then, when moved to a point beyond control, I’m compelled to work out the music in my own way.

Final Fantasy XIV – Good King Moggle Mog XII

In this cover, Fuss maintains the comic original feel of the piece, including the chord progression at the beginning and the low melody only slightly higher than the bassline of the track; other than a few glissandos and grace notes, the song is very faithfully recorded from the original, which not only features a dark and lively rhythmic harmonic progression, but an eerie choir of childlike voices. However, as the arrangement progresses, the variations in the original piece require a more virtuosic performance, which Fuss meets with no apparent problem or hesitation. He even includes a few brief jazz chords at the beginning of the moogle theme, and just as the piece loops, he changes the rhythm to that of a swing piece to maintain diversity throughout the recording.

I’d say that, while I listened to all kinds of music before trying my own hand at it, I never truly had any sense of identity until I started creating music rather than simply listening to it. If there was any implied “learning curve jolt” at that turning point, it was dampened by exposure, affinity and determination. It was more of a continuous transition emerging from the neatly cataloged expectation of what music is when it happens to you, to seemingly indefinite liberation of what it is when you happen to it: each personal trial and tribulation shaping its manifestation. However, I definitely struggle to maintain technical aptitude to this day as a result of lack of discipline and festering musical habits. This is how I got more into MIDI sequencing with virtual instruments. The Lazy Man’s Orchestra!

Emily: Your background is as a jazz musician. Have your tastes changed since then? What were the video game scores that drew you into the soundtrack genre?

Matt Fuss: Actually, I did have a Bill Evans phase where I had to own and learn everything Bill Evans. (laughs) But, even before that, it was mainly films and Final Fantasy soundtracks which drew me in. I remember being very moved by playing Final Fantasy VIII, IX and XI. At first I thought it was just the games themselves, and it was, like the way a good book or movie aligns the human experience in just the right way. The way it captures discovery and exploration, love and loss, urgency and levity. But, I came to realize it was really the soundtracks that were responsible. Since then, I’ve grown quite the video game music collection. But, VGM really is a new sub-genre of itself in that it’s a more interactive form of film scoring, since video games also unfold depending on realtime participatory input from a player. I believe this more active form of participation (opposed to merely watching as in a film) is what’s responsible for the alluring potency of video game soundtracks.

Emily: Could you tell us some more about the music and soundtracks that have influenced you or you enjoy covering?

Some especially impressionable film and television scores for me include: A Beautiful Mind, Braveheart, Free Willy, Gladiator, Harry Potter, Home Alone, Hook, Indiana Jones, Ip Man, Jurassic Park, Legends of the Fall, Little Women, Lord of the Rings, Merlin BBC, Robin Hood BBC, Smash NBC, Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Land Before Time, The Last Samurai, The Legend of 1900, The Village, The Wings Of The Dove, and Titanic.

My favorite game scores would be AION, Assassin’s Creed, Baldur’s Gate, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Castlevania, Darksiders, Diablo, Dragon Age, Dragon’s Dogma, Elder Scrolls, Fable, God Of War, Guild Wars, Jade Empire, Journey, L.A. Noire, Legend Of Zelda, Lineage II, Mass Effect, Onimusha, Prince Of Persia, Red Dead Redemption, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, The Last Of Us, The Witcher, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, World Of Warcraft, Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger, and Xenogears.

My non-soundtrack collection is more intimidating 20,000+ tracks of: Acoustic Guitar, Anime, Bluegrass, Broadway, Christmas, Cinema Trailer, Classic Rock, Classical, Classical Guitar, Folk, Instrumental Rock, Jazz, Metal, New Age, Pop, Progressive, R&B, Modern/Symphonic/Gothic Rock, Swing/Rockabilly, Vocal Jazz, and World Music.

World of Warcraft – Moonfall, Temple, Sacred

Despite the fact that most of his postings and arrangements are exclusively for solo piano, Fuss is not opposed to including cues. In his arrangement entitled “Moonfall, Temple, Sacred,” consisting of a medley of those tracks from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft soundtrack, Fuss utilizes lengthy, drawn-out chords on synthesized strings to accompany his piano recording. As many of the tracks in World of Warcraft lean towards the ambient, the use of cues to counter the piano melody brings the moving notes to the forefront of the piece and subtly, but effectively, shifts the focus of the piece.


Emily: You have now created a wonderful 140-page book of piano sheet music for Final Fantasy XIV.  How did you first come across that score, and begin your mission of creating an entire set of piano collections?

Matt Fuss: I first became really drawn to the score during beta testing for A Realm Reborn (Final Fantasy XIV version 2.0). Basically, every time an MMO is about to launch, people ravenously data mine the game files for any morsel of information to speculate or predict planned features to be implemented during the life of the game. Fortunately, this included the Beta Phase 4 OST.  At first, arranging the tracks was just a fun time-killer before the game launched to quell pre-MMO-launch jitters.

At the time, I had no plans of making it out to be anything other than that. But as I shared the arrangements on Reddit and on YouTube, I received lots of interest and positive feedback (I’m still honored to find out Masayoshi Soken enjoys some of my arrangements on his Twitter!). Soon I was receiving quite an amount of emails and comments on social media, whether it was asking for sheet music, practice advice, to chat about video games, or to share their own rendition of something I arranged half-way across the world. I kept on arranging them because they evoked in me that Final Fantasy nostalgia which all fans terminally pursue. It also gives people who don’t know how, a way to connect closer to the music that inspires them.

Emily: Did you find any difficulties with any of the songs in particular? Which ones were your favorites?

Matt Fuss: The ones most difficult to transcribe I’d say were probably: “Brothers In Arms”, “Good King Moggle Mog XII”, “Penitus” and “Torn from the Heavens”. They really tested my awareness of the keyboard in order to faithfully translate their musical intent. They also happen to be my favorites in addition to: “To the Sun”, “Canticle”, “Fealty”, “Maelstrom Command”, “On Westerly Winds”, “Return of the Hero”, “Sacred Bonds”, “Steel Reason”, “Sultana Dreaming”, “The Hall Of Flames” and “Wailers & Waterwheels”. In truth, I arranged all 36 tracks on the collection because they’re all my favorites. (laughs) But, I call these specifically my favorites because, for me, they bring together the best combination of compositional structure, nostalgia and personal taste in the uniquest ways possible.


Emily: Your covers tend to stay pretty faithful to the original songs. Do you ever find yourself wanting to take more liberties or artistic license with your arrangements?

Matt Fuss: Normally, I’d say yes because for most of the times that I’m inspired by music it’s exactly because I hear just how I would approach the tune myself and want to test it out. But, with Final Fantasy XIV and A Realm Reborn, I was inspired precisely by the way the tracks were: dat Final Fantasy nostalgia! So the intent was more of a pure homage than transformation.

There are a few instances in the arrangements where I take more liberties, but it’s mostly only when I believe the section would have otherwise sounded odd as-is. The philosophy for my personal additions finding their way into the arrangements is best characterized as “only if it happens” (a sort of emergent intuition). That way artistic flair doesn’t end up infringing or contaminating the spirit of the track. This isn’t to discount the right or import of artistic flair, just how I preferred its application during the project.


Emily: Do you have any plans to do any similar projects for other games? I noticed you have a few Skyrim covers on YouTube…

Matt Fuss: I don’t have any current plans to do any more similar projects at the moment, but you never know when inspiration will strike again! I do have various other piano covers from video games, broadway musicals, films and TV, but their existence is best described as “Musical A.D.D.” (laughs) Whichever happens to be the muse’s current obsession is what gets priority. Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to get back to finishing orchestrating my original works. But, I have Procrastinator’s Block!

Original Compositions:

As Fuss creates mostly straight arrangements, I wanted to share some of his original compositions as well, which are truly “NeoJazzical,” as he calls them. “Ex Silentio,” for example, sounds like an aesthetically diverse combination of Jeremy Soule, Michael Giacchino, and George Gershwin. Incorporating elements from all over the musical spectrum, “Ex Silentio” opens with a light snare and a strong melody alternated between woodwinds and strings. The snare remains constant until about a minute into the piece, at which point an alto/soprano choir enters accompanied by the piano. Eventually the piano fades, and the piece sounds like one of Soule’s majestic night themes of Skyrim. However, continuing the pattern Fuss has started, it doesn’t last, and by the end of the nine-minute piece, Fuss has incorporated syncopated rhythms, 1920s piano chords, saxophone, and something that sounds suspiciously like an accordion. The resulting piece is a beautiful blend of unlikely styles.

“In Cerritulus Magus (Chopin in a Can)” takes a completely different approach to the aforemention “Ex Silentio”, instead emulating the successfully melodic scores of nineties RPGs. Fuss adopts a waltz time signature and uses a combination light, delicate xylophone, a darker bassoon, and pizzicato strings to give the piece a simultaneously charming and eerie feel.  The piece is unusually monostylistic for Fuss, but still comprehensive, and while it’s far shorter than his other compositions, finishing just under four minutes in length, it is complete. “In Cerritulus Magus” is a musical gem worth investigation, reminiscent of the memorable and amusing scenes from those earlier games.



Emily: You just mentioned your original compositions. Could you tell us more about them? Where do you find your influences for those pieces?

Matt Fuss: I have 11 completed so far, but I have at least another 10 more to go. They’re fragmented piano solos that I’m slowly turning into software sampled ensembles/symphonies. If I had to, I’d classify them as “NeoJazzical” since they’re a mix of New Age, Jazz and Classical. But, heavily influenced by video game and film soundtracks. They’re collages of themes from youth and pivotal moments of experience throughout the years melded into a chronology of soul. For me, music is the synthesis of thought, emotion and intent into sound. When these elements react with one another they produce a sound that compels the empathy of all who experience it. It balances all personal and cultural dissonance. 

Final Fantasy XIV – Penitus

“Penitus,” another one of Fuss’ favorites from his Final Fantasy XIV album, as well as one of his more challenging arrangements, also begins in the bassline. Part of the difficulty of this piece is its sheer magnitude; the piece is a seven-minute-long loop drawing in themes from all over the game, originally consisting of full choral orchestra. Matt uses varying techniques to simulate the various instruments on the piano, from pounding rhythmic bass notes in the lower notes to rippling triplet arpeggios as the piece progresses. Using the full range of the piano, both tonally and dynamically, as well as an impressive display of variation in articulation, Fuss puts together a worthy arrangement to a hugely grand-scale piece.

Emily: For people involved in such time-intensive hobbies, there is often that struggle to balance their work life and game accomplishments, and many people in this industry end up doing all of their work in their free time between their jobs and home lives. Do you ever find yourself struggling with this? How are you able to balance them?

Matt Fuss: Every day. There really is too much music and too little time. At any given moment I’m wishing it was all I could do for a living, then immediately wishing nothing more than to be rid of it lest its mechanization sterilizes the art and makes it regrettable. I find the most comfortable and honest way for me to produce music worth sharing is to only “keep it if it happens” during moments of insight. This is opposed to “forcing it” through commission, obligation or necessity. Yet, these very things remain intriguing, since much of all music in posterity is born just as much from them as anything else. But, I prefer the no-pressure, quiet meditation of music in my own time; a soliloquy of sorts. While it’s a shifting conflict, for the time being I feel at-ease when I can approach music freely and spontaneously in between the debts and toils of socio-economic artifice. Like a vista or oasis after a devastating climb. Though, part of this is no doubt biased by my status in the fulfillment of the hierarchy of needs as well as the idiosyncrasies of my self-perception.

Matt Fuss can be contacted at FacebookTwitter, and Gmail. His music is available at  LoudriTunes and Google Play, as well as his SoundCloudYouTube, and Bandcamp. His fully-licensed Final Fantasy XIV album, album artwork, and sheet music, consisting of 36 tracks and 140 pages of music, can be all be purchased from 10 USD.

Posted on October 11, 2014 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on October 12, 2014.

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About the Author

A native and lifelong Texan, I currently work in software education while contributing news, reviews, and interviews to VGMO on the side. I love the feeling that comes with the discovery of a brand new soundtrack, and always look forward to the next rekindling of that excitement. Outside of VGMO, I enjoy playing piano, listening to classical music and film scores, and trying to go unnoticed in any stealth RPG I can find.

One Response to Matt Fuss Spotlight: Creating a Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collection

  1. Nice article, Emily. While I respect his decision to take a largely faithful approach, I personally find such covers uninteresting for the most part. I’d much prefer to see his so-called NeoJazzical side come out.

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