Home
Biography
Media
Concerts
Repertoire
Lessons
Editorials
Interests
Site Map
    

Yoko Kanno. Nobuo Uematsu. Yasunori Mitsuda. Koichi Sugiyama. Their names mean nothing to people who don't know anything about video games and anime (Japanese animation), but these composers and others like them are legends in these industries. While their music is beloved by gamers and anime fans, there the reverence ends. If those unfamiliar with these genres happen to hear about game and anime music, they tend to be skeptical. Movie soundtracks still have a second class reputation among classical musicians (something I have seen too often), and the music from video games and anime typically doesn't fare any better.

But the truth is that music in these genres has become a highly developed art. Today, just like for movies, it's common for soundtracks to be released from video games and anime shows. And the music is of such importance to those who play the games and watch the shows that special arrangements and editions are made as well, such as the separate orchestral and solo piano collections created for the Final Fantasy video game series. Live performances are also popular, such as Yoko Kanno's concerts with her group, The Seatbelts, a group formed for the making of Cowboy Bebop's music, and Nobuo Uematsu's Dear Friends and More Friends tours of music from his Final Fantasy game scores. And in video games, having the player create music within the game has also become popular, such as in the Zelda game Ocarina of Time, where the player has their game character use an ocarina to create melodies that cue certain events. Another example of player-created music is Nintendo's Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, the third game in a series which features a set of bongo drums that the gamer plays in rhythms determined by the game.

From the classically-inspired orchestral music of Escaflowne, to the virtuosic jazz flourishes of Cowboy Bebop, to the peaceful strains of the Final Fantasy solo piano albums, and the world music influences of Chrono Cross, these composers and their works deserve recognition and merit outside of the gaming and anime fields. Here, I have assembled a collection of some of my favorite music from these two genres, with information about each composer, their works, and audio clips, since the music speaks for itself better than any other type of advocate.

 

Click on a composer find out more information or scroll down to read them all. All audio clips are in .mp3 format.

Other composers will be covered soon!

Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno (b. 1964) is one of the foremost composers in the anime industry. A self-taught pianist who won a number of competitions beginning at age ten, she attended Waseda University, initially studying Japanese literature with the goal of becoming an author. Kanno has been composing ever since she was a child, and began writing game music in 1987 for the Koei company. She began her anime career after a successful audition for Macross Plus in 1994, and has since composed for other anime shows such as Vision of Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Brain Powerd, Please Save My Earth, and Wolf's Rain (which uses the same band Kanno formed for the music of Cowboy Bebop), as well as for television and movies. Kanno has been strongly influenced by jazz, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel, and played in a band called Tetsu. She is known for her stylistic versatility, and her scores include influences from classical, jazz, folk, pop, blues, techno, and world music. Kanno is married to composer/cellist Hijame Mizoguchi, with whom she often collaborates.

Vision of Escaflowne (1996)

Escaflowne is about a schoolgirl named Hitomi who is transported to the fantasy world of Gaea, where various kingdoms are involved in a war against the Zaibach empire. The show dates from 1996, and a movie was also released in 2000, both of which Kanno scored. The music for both the anime and the movie is often lush and romantic, and includes pieces for full orchestra and chorus, which were recorded by the Warsaw Philharmonic with Anthony Inglis conducting. Kanno also gives veiled hints or overt quotes of various classical pieces, such as Bartok's Pe Loc from the Romanian Dances, the opening of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, Stravinsky's Finale from the Firebird Suite, and Ravel's Bolero. Other Escaflowne tracks contain world music influences and are played by traditional instruments from different cultures, while still others are vocal pop songs, showcasing Kanno's mastery of each style.

Selected Soundtracks:

Recommended tracks:

The Story of Escaflowne - End Title (Vision of Escaflowne: Lovers Only): An orchestral gem featuring lush, romantic strings and crystalline wind harmonies.

Gloria (Vision of Escaflowne): A beautiful choral/orchestral track that opens with Gregorian-style chant. The piece slowly blossoms from the quiet, reverent beginning until it reaches the modulation to D major near the end, the musical equivalent of the sun breaking through clouds. After this, the mood is transformed into a bright, hopeful hymn with a closing amen.

Sora (Escaflowne): The language here is partly made up and partly a mix of other languages, and the lyrics are by Gabriela Robin, who many fans feel is Kanno herself under a pseudonym. The music begins as a hushed, lullaby-like song that shimmers into a soaring chorus - a beautiful piece which in which the words and music complement each other perfectly.

First Vision (Escaflowne): One of my favorite pieces by Kanno (and one I find myself playing frequently on my piccolo). Showcasing Kanno's interest in Eastern styles and instruments, it combines Indian instruments such as the tambura (drones) and swarmandal (harp) along with Chinese instruments like the stringed erhu and the dizi, a bamboo flute. The melismatic flute melody which soars over the deep, sonorous accompaniment is also used alone in another track called "Bird Song." The second half of the piece whirls into an exuberant, rustic character with drums, chants, handclapping, and driving Bartokian strings.

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

A futuristic sci-fi anime about a bounty hunter named Spike and his crew, who roam the solar system on an old ship named Bebop. It’s very different in style from other anime shows, and combines such Western influences as James Bond, film noir, and spaghetti westerns. The visual style of the show is important, but the music is even more integral in setting the mood - even the episode titles often contain references to music. Kanno's style runs the gamut from jazz, big band, blues, folk, rock, R&B, and more, giving a unique show a very unique setting. Kanno formed a jazz/blues band called the Seatbelts to perform the music for the show. Comprised of highly talented musicians from Japan, New York City, and Paris, the Seatbelts included Steve Conte (vocals), Steve Wilson (soprano sax), Jim Mussen (percussion), Steve Bernstein (trumpet), and Josh Roseman (trombone) among the American artists. The band has also released a DVD of live tour performances called Future Blues.

Selected Soundtracks:

  • Cowboy Bebop - Original soundtrack from the show.
  • No Disc - The second original soundtrack from the show.
  • Blue - Third original soundtrack.
  • Vitaminless - A shorter, seven-track CD.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Future Blues - The main CD from the Cowboy Bebop movie, which was released in the U.S. in 2003.
  • Ask DNA - A short (5 track) CD of more Bebop movie music. (Called Knockin' on Heaven's Door on gamemusic.com.)
  • Tank! The! best! - As the title indicates, a collection of hits culled from the anime, movie, and video game.
  • Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack - Box Set - For the ultimate Bebop fan, this collection contains five CDs and ninety-six tracks of Kanno goodness.

Recommended tracks:

Tank! (Cowboy Bebop, Tank! The! Best!): "I think it's time to blow this scene. Get everybody and their stuff together. Okay, three, two, one, let's jam." The turn of phrase in the voiceover is in keeping with the jazz references throughout the show, and the opening theme sets the tone of the series with a slick, fast-paced jazz jam driven by the relentless rhythmic undercurrent provided by the percussion. The saxes and trumpets in particular display insanely great chops as they skitter easily from the bass to the stratospheric regions of their instruments. I'm not a jazz fan myself, but every time I hear this track, I am blown away by the effortless virtuosity of these players.

See You Space Cowboy (Blue): A relaxed accompaniment of guitars, saxes, and rhythm section provide jazzy harmonies for Mai Yamane's low, quiet vocals. This piece is an alternate version of the anime's ending theme, Real Folk Blues.

Rain (Cowboy Bebop): Sung by New York City singer/songwriter Steve Conte. In an unusual twist, this piece features an extensive use of organ in its accompaniment, a rich sonority that provides a dark backdrop for Conte's husky voice.

Piano Medley (Cowboy Bebop Original Soundtrack - Box Set CD 4): This track is from a recording of a concert given by the Seatbelts, and features Kanno herself at the piano in a spellbinding solo performance. Kanno plays a medley of tunes of varying styles from the show: Farewell Blues, Piano Black, ELM, Green Bird, and Piano Bar. Her talent at the piano is immediately evident, and she has a wonderful interplay of rubato and dynamics. I also like the way she weaves the different melodies together and how she harmonizes them - although we've heard these pieces before in the full timbral spectrum provided by the various instruments and talents of the Seatbelts, Kanno doesn't let them lose any flavor when they're played as a work for solo piano. The deafening shouts and applause that instantly arise the moment she's done indicate just how much that audience liked it, too.

 

Nobuo Uematsu:

Nobuo Uematsu (b. 1959) is a legend in the video game industry for his leading role in the increasing depth and sophistication of game music. He started playing piano as a child, but he never had any formal music training, even when he attended the University of Kanagawa. Uematsu initially played in various bands as a keyboardist after his graduation, but was drawn to composing, and, in a move that would change the course of video game history, he was hired as a composer in 1986 by Square Co. (now Square Enix). Although he'd never done any game music before, Uematsu would ultimately end up composing for over thirty game series, the most famous of which are the Final Fantasy games, in which the music is as big a part of the appeal as the games themselves. As well as writing a column in the Japanese gaming magazine Weekly Famitsu, Uematsu is also the keyboardist in The Black Mages, a rock band he formed in 2003. The group performs rock versions of his Final Fantasy music and has released two albums so far, with a third in the works. In 2004, Uematsu left Square Enix to form his own company called SMILE PLEASE, a move which gives him more time for concertizing and writing scores for Square Enix and other game companies at his own pace. A longtime fan of Irish music, Uematsu loves all kinds of music, and admits that he started piano as a boy in imitation of Elton John. His style is multi-faceted, allowing him to span all kinds of genres, such as classical, medieval, Celtic, dance music, piano rags, jazz, world music, and more.

Final Fantasy (1987-present)

In 1987, Square Co., now Square Enix, was in serious danger of going bankrupt. One of the game designers, Hironobu Sakaguchi, was at work on a game called Final Fantasy, a name which derived from his anticipation of his upcoming retirement (and which incidentally also suited the dire situation Square was in). The game score was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, then new to the company, and it was his music as much as the game's intrinsic worth that turned Square's fortunes around. Final Fantasy has been hugely successful over the years, with twelve numerically-titled games to date, and others such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls, and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, giving the franchise over thirty games in all. While Uematsu has collaborated with other composers for Final Fantasy X-XII, and also on other titles in the series, he has remained its musical driving force and inspiration. Such is the popularity of the Final Fantasy music that Square has released numerous albums of special collections and arrangements, while the music has been performed for sold-out concert series in Japan and the United States. In 2004 and 2005, Uematsu's Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy and More Friends concerts were performed around the United States by the Los Angelos, Detroit, Atlanta, San Diego, and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras, among others.

Selected Soundtracks:

Recommended tracks:

Aria di Mezzo Carattere (FF VI Grand Finale): Many fans consider FF6 to have the best music from the Final Fantasy series - this game's music was unusually good even for Uematsu standards because it had an actual opera in it, called The Dream Oath: Maria and Draco. The entire opera sequence has become a classic (especially as it's the only opera ever written for a video game), but fans especially love this track. In the game, a character named Celes is singing the role of Maria, and if the gamer doesn't pick the correct line for her to sing at appropriate points, he or she will have to retake the sequence. This particular rendition was sung live by Svetla Krasteva accompanied by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano.

Terra’s Theme (FF VI Piano Collection): Another gem from FF6, this, like most of the best FF songs, has been arranged for both orchestra and piano. This is the piano version with Uematsu himself at the keys. The theme is beautiful in its simplicity, and Uematsu embellishes the accompaniment rather than changing the melody itself, allowing the theme to soar first over simple triads and suspensions, then ripples of scumbled, continuous arpeggios.

Liberi Fatali (FF VIII Original Soundtrack, FF VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec): FF8 contains some of the best music in the entire Final Fantasy franchise, and Liberi Fatali is no exception, combining orchestra and chorus together to create a dramatic, fiery piece. The text is mostly Latin (the title translates to "Children of Fate"), while the repeated phrase "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec" is not Latin but an anagram for words relating to the game. One of Uematsu's all-time best FF works, Liberi Fatali is an unforgettable blend of powerful choral singing, rhythmic strings, pulsing, urgent ostinatos, and brilliant woodwind runs that skirl and soar through the orchestral texture.

Eyes on Me (FF VIII Original Soundtrack, FF VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec): No review of Uematsu's FF8 music would be complete without Eyes on Me, with vocals performed by Hong Kong pop singer Faye Wong. In 1999, this piece became the first game music to ever win the "Song of the Year (Western Music") at the Japan Gold Disc Awards. The music is sweetly wistful, written in pop ballad style with light orchestral accompaniment.

Melodies of Life (FF IX Original Soundtrack): The main theme and one of the best tracks from FF IX, featuring pastel harmonies that surround Emiko Shiratori's gentle vocals.

You’re Not Alone (FF IX Original Soundtrack): FF9 was the last Final Fantasy which was composed by Uematsu without any collaborators. This track has more synthesized instrumentation than other examples here, but thanks to the composer's skillful handling of timbre and harmony, the piece has a pensive yet heroic quality to it that has made it one of my favorite FF tracks.

 

Yasunori Mitsuda

Yasunori Mitsuda (b. 1972) learned to play piano as a child, but had other interests, such as golf and computers. In high school, he was influenced by movie music and composers such as Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith, and attended the Junior College of Music in Tokyo with the goal of composing movie soundtracks. However, his career took another turn in 1992 when he was only twenty. Nobuo Uematsu informed Mitsuda about a composer job opening with Square Co., where he was employed, and Mitsuda got the job, despite an interview he later termed as disastrous. To his dismay, though, he worked solely as a sound engineer and was given no composing opportunities. When he was twenty-three, he told vice-president Hironobu Sakaguchi (who created the Final Fantasy games) that he would quit unless he had a chance to compose. His gamble paid off - Sakaguchi let him write the music for Chrono Trigger, an assignment which proved the young composer's worth. He has since composed the music for games such as Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Radical Dreamers, Shadow Hearts, and Deep Labyrinth. Like Kanno and Uematsu, Mitsuda has a wide variety of genres at his command, using instruments and musical styles from all around the world, combining these with effects such as mixed meters, polyrhythms, and minimalism. Mitsuda's sound engineer background is readily evident in the way he blends real and synthesized instruments, and he excels in creating unique sonorities and instrumental combinations.

Chrono Cross (1999)

Chrono Cross is the sequel to Mitsuda's first game score, Chrono Trigger, and is about a boy from a fishing village who is transported to an alternate dimension. Mitsuda assigns themes to various locations in the game, and he uses different sonorities to distinguish between location themes in the "home" world and the same themes as they appear in the "another" or alternate world. The score uses styles of music from around the world, especially Mediterranean, Portuguese, Celtic, African, and Japanese. Mitsuda also uses ethnic instruments such as the fado, a Portuguese guitar whose delicate sound is the common sonority weaving throughout the soundtrack.

Soundtrack:

Recommended tracks:

On the Shore of Dreams - Another World (CD 1, track 7): One of Mitsuda's strengths is in setting the ambience in each of his works. This rippling, translucent wash of sonorities creates a delicate backdrop for the long, arcing melody that spins through the subtle mesh of harmonies. This melody was the main theme for another Chrono game which Mitsuda composed, Radical Dreamers.

Scars of Time (CD 1, track 1): In this track, Mitsuda creates another tapestry of sound, this time with a Celtic influence. The theme is first played as a solo, then transformed into an exuberant dance with surging percussion accompaniment.

Prisoners of Fate (CD 2, track 16): This music was used during a battle scene, and Mitsuda writes that "When I heard this song during the battle, my hands faltered in inputting the command... I used the emotion of this scene to shape the chord progressions and string arrangement." My only wish is that the music could have been less synthesized for this track, but the emotional, grieving melody transcends the game's sound limitations.

Another Aruni Village (CD 1, track 8): In the liner notes, Mitsuda writes, "I had the inspiration of emptiness and not existing in another dimension when I tried composing for this piece." This track is a good example of how Mitsuda adjusts the sound to create the needed ambience. This arrangement of the Aruni theme is the one from the alternate world, and the sound is muted and not so bright and metallic as the Home Aruni version. Pairing the piano and guitar together softens the notes' edges, and the combined timbre well provides the mood Mitsuda envisioned.

Xenogears (1998)

Xenogears is another of Mitsuda's stellar game scores. The plot of the game centers around a mysterious character named Fei and the war between the two countries of Aveh and Kislev. In the liner notes, Mitsuda writes, "In every game I work on, I determine a theme before beginning production, but this game painted far grander images in my head than any that had come before." The world music influence is strong in both the style and instruments Mitsuda uses on this score, and the composer wrote, "It would be wonderful if those who develop an interest in the traditional music on this CD have their eyes opened to music from around the world." The music from this game score spans countries such as India, Japan, Ireland, and the United States, but it is filtered through Mitsuda's own style and becomes a unique blend that suits the game. As in Chrono Cross, plucked instruments like the guitar, harp, and even a music box are leading tonal elements, while ethnic flutes are also a common solo voice.

Soundtracks

Recommended tracks:

Small Two of Pieces (Original Soundtrack and Creid): This haunting melody is the ending theme, and appears on the Original Soundtrack as Small Two of Pieces and is sung by Irish singer Joanne Hogg. On the Creid soundtrack, a slightly different arrangement, called Mebius, is sung by Tetsuko Honma. In this version, the wooden flute provides a warm Celtic flavor while Joanne Hogg's voice soars over the glistening sonorities in the accompaniment. The lyrics are beautiful as well - the chorus begins "Broken mirror, a million shades of light", and the luminous accompaniment well suits the poetic imagery.

Balto (Creid): This Celtic-influenced track starts as a peaceful melody for flute, accompanied by guitar and other synthesized instruments, while the second half transforms the theme into a vivacious dance, similar to what Mitsuda did in Scars of Time for Chrono Cross. Balto was the very first piece of game music I ever heard, so for that reason as well as its musical merits, it remains one of my favorites.

 

Yuzo Koshiro:

Yuzo Koshiro was born in 1967, the son of a concert pianist, so he grew up surrounded with classical music. As a toddler, he began to learn piano from his mother, and he also studied violin and cello. When he was ten, he also studied composition with the famed film composer Joe Hisaishi for three years, after which he was self-taught in music. Koshiro combined his love of music and video games in high school, originally wanting to be a game programmer. But when he was nineteen, he heard of an opening at Nihon Falcom Corp. for a composer, so he sent them a tape of his music. He was hired, and composed his first game score within the year, called Xanadu Scenario II. Since then, Koshiro has composed other game scores such as The Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor), Sorcerian, ActRaiser, Ys, and Shenmue. These days, Koshiro works at Ancient, his family's small game development company, which is run by his mother and where his sister is on the design team. Koshiro has loved classical music from an early age, such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner, and Brahms, and he is also inspired by other genres such as old-style MIDI arcade game music, trance, rock, pop, techno, and forms of dance such as house and hip-hop. Koshiro's style varies from game to game - on Streets of Rage, he used his house, techno, and hip-hop background, while Shenmue, considered by many to be his finest, uses a full orchestral palette.

Shenmue (1999)

Shenmue is a game about a martial arts student named Ryo who is tracking down clues as to who murdered his father. It's a complete, detailed virtual universe, where the player can interact with everything: talk to the townspeople, go into every shop, pick anything up, and so on. Ryo must live an ordinary life as well, such as working his job at the harbor, getting home on time so his aunt doesn't worry about him, and so on, all of which are things the player has to make sure he accomplishes. The music is classical in style with a strong Chinese influence, creating a lush combination of Eastern and Western influences. Koshiro didn't have as much freedom in writing this score since director Yu Suzuki was very decided concerning the kind of music he wanted, and he also collaborated with other composers for this project, but his natural talent, classical background, and composition lessons with Hisaishi all combine together to make this one of the best game scores ever written.

Soundtracks:

  • Shenmue Orchestra Version - A collection of eight gems, performed by the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shenmue Orchestra under the baton of Hiroshi Kumagai. If you get one Shenmue CD, get this one.
  • Shenmue Original Soundtrack - A two-disc set of original music from the game.

Recommended tracks:

The Morning Fog’s Wave (Shenmue Orchestra Version): The composer creates a lush, shimmering orchestral texture that soars and swoops from one musical peak to the next. In the hushed interludes of the track, a light, orchestral sheen accompanies the melody while it is played by solo traditional Chinese instruments, then the theme moves back into the orchestra and the music once more rises to glorious heights. After all the thick, lustrous scoring, the movement winds to a pure, simple close with an open fifth chord.

Shen Fa (Shenmue Orchestra Version): This track features more solos from Jia Peng Fang, a master of the erhu (a type of Chinese violin). The contrast of the darker, throbbing sound of the erhu soaring over the pearlescent accompaniment is unforgettable. Like the other tracks, the orchestral texture is thick, but never overwhelming, and his harmonies, countermelodies, and scoring style are something easily listened to all by themselves.

Shenmue (Shenmue Orchestra Version): The title track and opening theme from the game. Like other tracks on the CD, the melody slips back and forth between the orchestra and the erhu.

 

Koji Kondo:

The crash of the video game console industry in 1983 was caused in part by a proliferation of bad games and ended a previously thriving North American market. With the fall of American companies such as Mattel, Magnavox, and Coleco, the stage was set for Japan to enter and corner the global market through companies like Nintendo. In 1983, the same year of the crash, Nintendo hired a young composer named Koji Kondo (b. 1960), and he has been an integral part of video game history ever since. As a child, Kondo played the electric organ, and later cello and piano. He received more musical training in college, and it was his liking for both games and music that caused him to apply for a job with Nintendo when the company was first recruiting sound engineers and composers. His first project was an arcade game called Golf, and while music from that time was restricted due to the limits of early game technology, Kondo's melodies have always transcended the media for which they were written. Today, he is best known for his work on the Mario and Zelda game franchises, and his long association with game music from some of its earliest forms to the sweeping cinematic sounds available with modern game technology has made him a legend among game composers. Kondo is influenced by soundtracks, classical, Latin music, jazz, and ethnic music from Japan and around the world, and it has been a goal of his when he composes game scores to bring new kinds of music to the player.

The Legend of Zelda (1986-present)

The Legend of Zelda was created in 1986 by Shigeru Miyamoto, and numerous other sequels have been made since then. The first Zelda was hugely successful due to its artistic and technological innovations, and other Zelda titles, such as Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker have also received much critical acclaim. Each of the Zelda games are about a character named Link who rescues the Princess Zelda, and the games allow the player to explore a fantasy world that combines adventure, action, puzzles, and more. Koji Kondo has composed most of the music for the Zelda games, and has had full artistic freedom in terms of the style of music for these games. Although 2005's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the first time Kondo scored for full orchestra, the games have had varied instrumental scoring and musical styles. Ocarina of Time particularly stands out from a musical point of view, where besides Link playing an ocarina that signals the occurrence of certain game events, the gamer can create their own melodies, too.

Soundtracks:

Recommended tracks:

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods - Theme (Orchestral Game concert): This version of the theme is from the Link to the Past game (which was titled Triforce of the Gods in Japan) and appears in orchestrated form on the first Orchestral Game Concert recording. This CD, the first of five recordings taken from the live performances organized by veteran game composer Koichi Sugiyama, is unfortunately very rare. Kondo's work on Zelda is some of the best-loved game music of all time, and this joyous, adventurous theme captures the essence of the Zelda series.

The Legend of Zelda: Medley (Ocarina of Time - Hyrule Symphony) - A strings-only piece incorporating a variety of styles - in this excerpt, the somber, stately strains of the beginning are then transformed into the familiar Zelda theme.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Medley (Ocarina of Time - Hyrule Symphony) - The ocarina is a small oblong wind instrument of the vessel flute family, with holes on the rounded part and a mouthpiece into which the player blows. While the modern ocarina derives its name and present day form from 19th century Italy, the vessel flute family is one of the oldest musical instruments, present in ancient civilizations all over the globe and made in all shapes out of a variety of materials, including stone, clay, hollowed gourds, and even bones. There has lately been a revival of interest in the ocarina, in no small part due to its usage in Zelda. This track features a solo ocarina with orchestral accompaniment, similar to the way in which Yuzo Koshiro uses the erhu in the Shenmue soundtrack, scored with solo passages and light accompaniment and orchestral interludes. The ocarina soloist does a wonderful job, with a beautiful, mellow sound, and excellent fingers and intonation.

Twilight Princess Trailer theme (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess): This is the preview track from the newest Zelda game. My only complaint with the Zelda game scores in general is that they're made with so much synthesization and midi-style sound quality, the music isn't showcased in the way it deserves, so it's great to hear some orchestral playing here.

http://www.gamespot.com/nes/adventure/legendofzelda/
video_player.html?id=IXZhkjL75bsKvjTY
- This isn't from a soundtrack, but it's the Zelda theme played on a theremin, a bizarre instrument most often heard in old science fiction movies whenever aliens are seen. It's weirdly fascinating to watch this instrument being played, so since it's some Zelda music, I had to include the link. :)

Mario

Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985, and while it was a landmark game in its time, so was Kondo's music. The snappy, cheerful Mario theme is probably the most famous game music in history, known to non-gamers as well. It has been one of the most popular downloads for cell phone ringtones, so you've probably heard it even if you didn't know what it was. While Mario soundtracks aren't orchestral, Kondo's music is famous for its bright, catchy melodies with influences from Latin, jazz, and rock.

Soundtracks:

  • Orchestral Game Concert - Conducted by Koichi Sugiyama with the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra, this is the first of five CDs released of music by many game composers... sadly, though, a few of them, including this one, are out of print, so they're only available used. Only the theme from Mario is on this soundtrack, but hearing it scored for orchestra is great.
  • Super Mario RPG - A hard to find but good example of Mario music, with music not only by Kondo, but Yoko Shimomura and Nobuo Uematsu, too.

Recommended track:

Super Mario Bros. Theme (Orchestral Game Concert) - While gamers may prefer the original version for nostalgic reasons, from a musical standpoint, I find this to be Mario music at its best.

 

Noriyuki Iwadare:

Noriyuki Iwadare (b. 1964) started composing when he was a teen, and used synthesizers and computers to create electronic music while studying at Nihon University. He has worked in a variety of mediums, including, TV, radio, musicals, and dance works, while his game scores include the popular series Grandia and Lunar. His influences are varied, and he enjoys listening to folk and pop as well as classical and film scores, especially composers like John Williams, Shostakovich, Mahler, and Stravinsky. According to his official English website, Iwadare's dream is to have an orchestra concert of his music... something I and many other fans would like to see come true!

Grandia (1997-2006)

Grandia is a series of role-playing games in which the protagonists go on quests in worlds steeped in history, magic, and adventures. The music from this series is widely varied in style, including tracks for orchestra (one of the longest flute solos in game music is on the track called Farewell to Sue) and other instrumental ensemble combinations, as well as ethnic music influences, too. Iwadare often creates unusual and eclectic timbres out of the synthesized combinations, so his music always has a unique flavor to it.

Soundtracks:

Recommended tracks:

Opening Theme (Grandia I Original Soundtrack, The Best of Grandia): This heroic, catchy theme sums up the flavor of the Grandia music, and I can never hear it without getting nostalgic for the time when I first heard it, as this was one of the earliest game tracks I ever listened to. Iwadare commonly gives big solos to various orchestral instruments in his music, and in this track, the slower middle section showcases a solo violin.

The Sandy Beach of Gando (Grandia I Original Soundtrack): This lush piece is scored for solo violin and piano. As often happens with Japanese titles translated into English, there are several variations - I've seen Grando, Gambo, Gumbo, Ganbo, and more. A beautiful track, and well-played by the soloists.

 

Lunar (1992-2005)

Lunar is a series of games about characters who live on a moon named Lunar, or Silver Star. The first game, Lunar: The Silver Star appeared in 1992, and has been followed by other titles such as Lunar Eternal Blue, Lunar: Dragon Song, and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, the last of which is an updated version of the original game. Like Grandia, I find that the music Iwadare wrote for the Lunar scores have an old-time feel to them. Even though I've never played the games, there's something about his sounds and melodies that evoke nostalgia.

Soundtracks:

  • Lunar: Eternal Blue - Single CD of music from the game.
  • Lunar Silver Star Story Complete - This CD will be very rare to find on its own because it was included among the merchandise that came with the remake of the original Silver Star Story game. Features arrangements from the original and new music as well.

Recommended tracks:

Boat Song (Wind Nocturne) (Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete): Both the Japanese and English sung versions of this are great, but I went with the English version here so the lyrics could be understood. A luminous and gently unfolding melody which floats over a light accompaniment, this is a peaceful and sweetly wistful track.

Wings - Opening Theme (Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete): Another vocal song, and the opening theme for the game. It features Iwadare's sheer, shimmery accompaniment and graceful melodies. Although I've never played this game, there's something about this music that's very nostalgic. Gamers must see the scenes from the game when they hear this soundtrack, but for me, this style of Iwadare's music sounds the way summer vacations felt when I was a little kid.

 

Koichi Sugiyama:

Writing game scores may seem like a young composer's job, but Koichi Sugiyama was born in 1931 and has been called the father of video game music because he has been so important in its development and promotion. He grew up surrounded with music, and began composing as a youth, attending the University of Tokyo. However, he didn't make composing a career until 1968, after a stint in the broadcasting profession. Then, he wrote music for a variety of genres, including musicals, commercials, movies, tv shows, and pop artists, but he is best known for the Dragon Quest game series. Sugiyama made his mark in video game history with the release of the first Dragon Quest in 1986 by using an orchestra (the London Philharmonic) to make a soundtrack of music from the game. As well as composing for video games and television, Sugiyama has had a distinguished career as a conductor, too, being a pivotal figure in bringing game music to the concert hall. In 1987, he held the first game music concert in the world, with works arranged and conducted by himself. Due to its success, Sugiyama has conducted this "Family Classic Concert" many times over the years, along with the Orchestral Game Concerts, a series of five concerts of works by all the major game composers, and performed by Japan's top orchestras. Sugiyama has been influenced by classic Hollywood film scores and the music from the Baroque and Classical period. When not composing or conducting, he enjoys collecting old cameras and reading, and he also started his own record label in 2004, called SUGIlabel.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the cursed King (2004)

Sugiyama is known for the Dragon Quest music in the same way that Nobuo Uematsu is known for his work on the Final Fantasy games. The music from the Dragon Quest series has been so well liked that Sugiyama has released orchestral suites and even a ballet from these game scores. Dragon Quest VIII was released in 2004, and besides Sugiyama's stellar scores, it included the famed manga artist Akira Toriyama's designs for the characters. As the title suggests, the plot revolves around a hero who must save a kingdom from the villain, who has turned the king into a monster. Sugiyama's style is descended more directly from classical music and classic Hollywood film scores than any of the other composers on this page. His works have the textural richness of Post-Romanticism of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss and the expansive melodicism of Golden Era Hollywood composers like Erich Korngold and Max Steiner. Influences from John Williams can also be detected, and some of the chord progressions are reminiscent of Baroque harmonies. But Sugiyama isn't a derivative composer, however, and uses these influences and more as a palette from which he creates unique masterpieces.

Soundtracks:

Recommended tracks:

Dragon Quest VIII - Overture (Dragon Quest VIII: Symphonic Suite): An overture with its roots in the Post-Romantic era and early Hollywood film scores, this is an epic fanfare with rousing brass topped with swirling wind trills and scales.

Dragon Quest VIII - Traveling with wagon (Dragon Quest VIII: Symphonic Suite) - Sugiyama creates a beautiful ambient piece, with a long, sustained melody for strings slowly winding over a fluttering atmosphere of tremolos from the wind instruments and rippling harp glissandi.

Dragon Quest VIII - Healing power of the Psalms - Friar's determination (Dragon Quest VIII: Symphonic Suite) - A stately example of a pastoral chorale, with just a snatch of the famous hymn melody "Cwm Rhondda" by John Hughes.

Dragon Quest VIII - Sanctuary (Dragon Quest VIII: Symphonic Suite) - Crisp brass fanfares of echoing trumpets and horns are interspersed with a singing string melody, superbly combining adventure and lyricism.

 

Concerts

Whenever music from video games is performed, it always generates huge fan interest and sold-out shows. For many, it's the first time they've ever been to an orchestra concert, so it's an unforgettable experience to hear the music they've listened to only in the game or on a CD live in a concert hall and performed by world-class musicians.

Below are links to two concert tour websites, which publish upcoming shows and dates. (I'm still gnashing my teeth over missing a performance in Philly!) The composers often attend the performances if they are able, and there's CDs and merchandise to buy, too.

And for those who can't get to any concerts, here are recordings from these concerts:

  • More Friends: Music from Final Fantasy - Recording from a live More Friends concert, as performed in Los Angelos in 2005.

  • Orchestral Game Concert 4 - The Tokyo city Philharmonic Orchestra performs a variety of selections, including music from Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Super Mario Bros., and Night of the Kamai. This was part of the concert series organized by Koichi Sugiyama, so there's also a fifth album as well as numbers one through three, but these CDs are sadly extremely rare.

 

Links

This page is just an introduction to some of the game and anime music out there. There's some excellent resources about these soundtracks on the web, so check out these links to learn more about the music and where to buy it.

  • A Brief History of Video Game Music - For those who want to read more about the development of game music, gamespot.com's history of game music is a great reference.

  • Chudah's Corner - This is a great resource for all things concerning game music: soundtracks, reviews, liner notes, lyrics, and more.

  • gamemusic.com - A one-stop shop not just for game soundtracks, sheet music, and books, but anime merchandise as well.

  • RPGFan.com - A gaming resource which also includes soundtrack reviews, mp3 samples, and a 24/7 video game music radio.

  • Video Game Music Archive - Where you can hear midi versions of game music going all the way back to the early days of computer games. Yeah, it's midi sound and quality, not live instruments, but at least the melodies can be heard.

 

 
Site created and maintained by Elisabeth Potthoff
.