From iconic title screen music to reverby underwater level BGM, a video game’s soundtrack is every bit as important to the overall game experience as the graphics, gameplay, and story. Playing video games requires the use of multiple senses: graphics appeal to our sight, gameplay appeals to our touch or physical reflexes, and the soundtrack and sound design appeal to our hearing with each melody and 8-bit blip.
But when we’ve finished a game and put it back on the shelf, over time we might forget how it looked or how it played. What stays with us long after we’ve collected our Platinum trophy and rarest-of-the-rare item drops, is the soundtrack. I’d bet that you probably can’t recall the complete storyline and gameplay of Final Fantasy VIII or Persona 3, but you can sing the melodies to “Eyes on Me” and “Memories of You” from the top of your head.
The memorability of our favorite video game soundtracks is all due to the hard work of video game music composers, and some of the best among them have been around for a long time, having made music for some of the earliest video games that were capable of having soundtracks.
Video game music started out with simple digital sounds and melodies being played during gameplay, but it has since evolved as consoles became more powerful (becoming able to accommodate more advanced forms of audio) and music production became a much quicker and easier process. Nowadays, it’s fairly common to hear high production value music in even small-budget games.
What’s amazing about composers who’ve been making music for video games since the ‘80s or ‘90s is that, aside from creating hundreds of memorable melodies, they were able to adapt and evolve with the times when it came to their music and the games that they made it for.
Here are seven of the most prolific Japanese composers who’ve spent the greater parts of their lives bringing dozens and dozens of our favorite video games to life, through music.
You might know her work in: Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy XV, the Kingdom Hearts series
Yoko Shimomura is a composer and pianist whose work can be found in over a dozen Capcom games, and several dozen more Square (now known as Square Enix) games. She was a composer for Capcom from 1988 to 1993, and a composer for Square from 1993 to 2002. Despite having been a freelance composer for over a decade now, her work continues to appear in several Square Enix games, most notably Final Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts series.
You might know his work in: Ridge Racer, the Nier, and Tekken series
Keiichi Okabe is a familiar name for fans of the Nier series, as he’s well-known for the impactful and innovative Nier and Nier:Automata soundtracks. Considering the gentle and subtle music of the Nier games, it might surprise you that he also composed music for several games in the Tekken series, as well as the original Ridge Racer (1994). Aside from his work in video games, he’s also known for composing the music for several anime, including Highschool of the Dead and Nisekoi.
You might know his work in: several The Legend of Zelda games, the Super Mario Bros. series
When it comes to video game music, no track is more famous than the Super Mario Bros. Theme, composed by legendary Nintendo composer Koji Kondo. Having been a composer for Nintendo since 1984, he has played a key role in many of Nintendo’s flagship titles, including several Star Fox and Legend of Zelda games, as well as every Super Mario Bros. spinoff you can think of. If it’s a Mario or Zelda game, you can be sure that Kondo had a hand in its soundtrack.
You might know his work in: Shenmue I & II, the Streets of Rage series, the Wangan Midnight series
Yuzo Koshiro is considered by many to be the king of chiptune music (also known as 16-bit music), and the influence of Western and electronic music can be heard in the work he’s done for games like Streets of Rage and Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune. Koshiro is known for his more electronic music-oriented approach, but he has also composed more “typical”, JRPG-like tracks for games like Secrets of Mana and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth.
You might know his work in: the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series, the Trauma Center series
For Persona fans, Shoji Meguro needs no introduction. He’s the man behind the genre-bending music of the Persona games. Meguro has been a composer for Atlus since 1995, and it’s poetic that his first project with them was 1996’s Revelations: Persona, the series by which he would later become most known for. While his work for the Shin Megami Tensei and Trauma Center games are great examples of his genius, it’s his work for the Persona games that continues to fill stadiums every time a Persona Music concert is held. The Shoji Meguro sound is just unmistakable.
You might know his work in: Tetris, the Donkey Kong, EarthBound, and Metroid series
Hirokazu Tanaka, also known as “Hip” or “Chip” Tanaka was a Nintendo in-house composer who is known for pioneering the chiptune genre. While he might not be a household name, it’s likely that millions and millions of people have heard his work, as his composition credits include Tetris, several Metroid, and Donkey Kong games, as well as the EarthBound series (released in Japan as the Mother series). He worked for Nintendo from 1980 to 1998, and moved to Creatures in 1999, eventually becoming the company’s president from 2001 onwards.
You might know his work in: Chrono Trigger, Granblue Fantasy, almost every Final Fantasy game
Nobuo Uematsu is undoubtedly one of the greatest video game music composers to ever live, having composed the Final Fantasy theme as well as the music for almost every Final Fantasy game. “One-Winged Angel”? Uematsu composed that. “Liberi Fatali”? Uematsu composed that. “Aeris’ Theme”? Yup, still Uematsu. He was employed by Square as a composer from 1985 to 2004, after which he left Square to continue work as a freelancer. His work can also be found in Chrono Trigger, Fairy Fencer F, and Granblue Fantasy.
What are your favorite video game soundtracks? Did I miss a favorite composer of yours? Let us know in the comments!
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