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The 8 Ball: Top 8 Japanese Game Composers

March 12, 2019 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! I’m here this week to talk about Japanese composers, specifically some of my favorites in the group. There are a lot to pick from so this is, as usual, a list of my own personal tastes and not some sort of master list. Let’s begin:

#8: Toshihiko Horiyama

Toshihiko is somewhat low on this list because he’s seemed to have slowed down in his musical composing in the past few years. Still, he’s worked on some great franchises like helping out in Phoenix Wright, Onimusha, Ghost Trick and MegaMan Battle Network. His best work is in the Mega Man X series, particularly Mega Man X4. It is really one of the greatest Mega Man soundtracks, especially since it was the first one done explicitly for a CD-based format.

#7: Noriyuki Iwadare

Iwadare is the composer for such franchises like Grandia, Growlanser, and Lunar franchises. He’s also done a fair amount of work in Phoenix Wright (like Horiyama), the 3DS Kid Icarus game and Langrisser which is a spiritual successor to Growlanser. Really, I think his best work is in the Lunar franchises, there’s a *reason* the PS1 re-releases included the soundtrack on CD, because they were that good.

#6: Miki Higashino

The first of the three women on this list which is three more than on a Western-style list, I think. Miki has also somewhat stopped working since the past decade but her prior works are great. She wrote or co-wrote music for Gradius, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade game, Contra 3 and Yie Ar Kung Fu. Her most famous work would have to be with the Suikoden series, co-composing on Suikoden 1 and 2. Her music, particular for Suikoden 2, where she did most of the composing, is still some of the best JRPG music ever done.

#5: Nobuo Uematsu

While Nobuo is a huge giant when it comes to Japanese game music, I can’t pinpoint much of his work that I really like. That’s not to say I don’t respect him, I honestly just haven’t heard much of his work. He is primarily known as the Final Fantasy guy, which is well and good, but my Final Fantasy knowledge is pretty low. Still, Lost Odyssey was great, and Chrono Trigger is also solid. Of his Final Fantasy work, the game I know the most is Final Fantasy VII. So, songs like Cosmo Canyon, Mako Reactor and (of course) Cid’s Theme are all pretty memorable to me.

#4: Michiru Yamane

She is the composer for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which is *pretty* well regarded when it comes to video game music. She’s also done most of the other Castlevania games past 1997. She’ll also be doing on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night for when that eventually releases. She also did music for Suikoden 3 and 4, which while not as good as Suikoden 1 and 2, was still decent. Obviously, SOTN is the reason she’s here and it’s an amazing soundtrack. It’s moody and atmospheric but also very energetic and action-packed, with guitar riffs and such.

#3: Koji Kondo

Koji is pretty much *the* guy who does Nintendo music. There are others now who help compose, but he did composed the original music for Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Pilotwings, etc. He’s pretty much done the music for ALL big Mario games like Mario World, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Odyssey, Zelda: Wind Waker, etc. Basically, if you’ve played a Zelda or Mairo game in the past 3 decades, Koji has done work on it, aside from like Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For him, it’s really hard to pick a favorite, but my two would probably be Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

#2: Shoji Meguro

Meguro is a composer who has co-written the most with others on this list. For Persona 5 he co-wrote music with two other musicians (he did do 80% of the P5 music), for Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, he worked with two other musicians also, for Persona 4, he worked with another musician, and so on. It’s not to say he doesn’t do music on his own, he did do Persona 3 by himself, but it’s clear he likes to be a collaborative musician. He is pretty much the Atlus composer doing work for other games like Catherine, the other SMT games, Trauma Center and Maken X. His Persona work is what most people know him for, and his work in Persona 5, in particular, is really amazing.

#1: Yoko Shimomura

Yoko Shimomura has had a long and great career that is still going to this day. She co-composed music for Street Fighter 2, did the music for Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, was the main composer on Final Fantasy 15, and has been the primary composer on Kingdom Hearts since its exception. She may not be as famous as Koji or Nobuo but I think her work is much more diverse and interesting. She can go from very airy and cheerful music in one game to gloomy/downtrodden in the next. Her Super Mario RPG soundtrack is amazing, but she had one song in Parasite Eve that I’ll always remember.

For comments, list your favorite Japanese composer and why.

Next Issue
Top 8 Western Video Game Music Composers

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The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison