My Favorite Video Game Composers

If I enjoy a game’s soundtrack, I find myself forgiving said game’s bland or unimpressive parts. If I enjoy it enough to listen to it in my spare time, I find myself even forgetting the game’s flaws altogether. The music will transport me back to the environments I was in and the feelings that music gave me instead. That’s a powerful element that is discussed surprisingly little on this blog.

Nobuo Uematsu
Image from a Polygon article on Nobuo Uematsu.

I actually played music extensively in middle school and high school, and at one point in my life I was involved in my university’s music program. I can play, read, and even compose music in my spare time. However, I find it hard to discuss it the same way as with Shigeru Miyamoto or Masahiro Sakurai without getting too technical and losing people in the process. Additionally, I find the written word a hard medium to tackle conversations about music. It’s much easier to talk about it in person, or through a YouTube video, where you can give audio examples on the fly.

And yet I desperately want to recognize the video game composers who have left profound effects on me, who have given me peppy tunes and emotional melodies, who have captured my imagination and pulled me into a game’s world. So let’s give it a shot anyway!

Koji Kondo
Image from Kotaku.com‘s interview with Kondo.

Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox series)

The big guy himself. Kondo’s music has this immense range of emotion, place, and scale. He deservedly has made some of the most iconic soundtracks of all of video games. He moves from the infectiously catchy beats in Super Mario Bros., to the sweeping orchestral suites in The Legend of Zelda, to the bombastic drama of Star Fox. I can only hope to make music as impressive as he has.

Favorite tracks of his include: Overworld Theme from Super Mario World, Title Theme from Ocarina of Time, the Song of Healing from Majora’s Mask, and the Great Ocean Theme from Windwaker.

Junichi Masuda
Image from Polygon‘s interview with Masuda.

Junichi Masuda (Pokemon Red & Blue, Pokemon Gold & Silver)

While he’s now a high-up producer at Game Freak, Masuda actually started out as a composer for the company. The Pokemon series has always had stellar music, but those early games sounded particularly upbeat and grand. I can’t hear Pokemon Silver‘s bops and beats and not feel a wave of nostalgia.

Favorite tracks from Red & Blue include Vermillion City, Gym Leader Battle, and Champion Themes; and favorite tracks from Gold & Silver include Route 30, Violet City, and Azaelea Town themes.

Screen Shot 2020-07-05 at 10.09.53 AM
Image from a Square Enix interview with Sakuraba.

Motoi Sakuraba (Golden Sun, Tales of, Dark Souls)

You know why he’s here. Sakuraba’s work on the Golden Sun games embues every location with mystery, adventure, and tension, everything a good JRPG needs to pull you in. The way he blends woodwinds, strings, vocals, and synths into a cohesive package makes any imitations I make pale by comparison.

My favorite tracks from the Golden Sun series include: Sol Sanctum, The Elemental Stars, Isaac’s Battle Theme, and Venus Lighthouse.

Disasterpeace
Image from Disasterpeace’s website.

Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace (Fez, Hyper Light Drifter)

A strange pick, but this musician has an uncanny ability to imbue his pieces with a strong sense of atmosphere and place. I only wish I could compose this well. Even though he has worked on indie games with pixelated graphics, each place is given added depth and mystery thanks to his Impressionistic soundscapes and haunting melody progression.

Favorite tracks include Home (from Fez), Cult of the Zealous (from Hyper Light Drifter), and Panacea (from Hyper Light Drifter).

Screen Shot 2020-07-05 at 10.21.37 AM
Image from a developer discussion from Nintendo of Japan.

Kazumi Totaka (Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing)

Totaka’s music isn’t quite as bombastic or as ethereal as other composers on this list, his compositions are more subtle, more grounded. And yet if I have a tune stuck in my head that I can’t quite place, odds are it’s a track from Totaka. He’s had quite a successful career at Nintendo, moving up the ranks to now being a sound director.

My favorite pieces of his include: Professor E. Gadd (from Luigi’s Mansion), 3PM (from Animal Crossing on GameCube), and the Timed Minigame (from Animal Crossing: New Horizons).

Screen Shot 2020-07-05 at 10.27.21 AM
Image from Game Informer‘s interview with Shimomura.

Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Mario & Luigi, Xenoblade Chronicles)

Last but not least! I briefly mentioned her last week on my review of Radiant Historia. Shimomura is another master who can capture an impressive range of emotion, fitting the grand adventures and dramas of JRPGs. The title screen theme for Xenoblade Chronicles is the single best piece of soundtrack I have ever listened to in my adult memory.

Other favorite pieces from her include: Colony 9 and Time to Fight! themes.

There are so many other composers I’m leaving out — Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Masato Nakamura (Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2), and Rei Kondoh (Fire Emblem) are just a few honorable mentions… but if I talked about everyone, then this post would never end.

What are your favorite composers and soundtracks?

4 thoughts on “My Favorite Video Game Composers

  1. I absolutely LOVE Disasterpeace’s work. Relatively newer composer to the scene, but I’m behind you 100 percent there. Also, As Pokemon Gold was literally the first video game I owned, I also have fond memories of that one.

    Not to discount Xenoblade Chronicles as it’s one of my favorite games of all time, and the music is a huge part of it, but I think Xenoblade Chronicles X, the overlooked, underplayed spiritual sequel on the Wii U has one of my favorite main menu songs ever. It starts slow, gradually introducing you to the vibe, and then when you think you have an idea where it’s going, out of left field, this huge choral part comes in and takes it to just a whole other level. If you haven’t heard it, please do go check it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7frjIF2ypg

    Video game music is some of my favorite music to code to and I super love it a lot. Happy to see I’m not the only one digging on game music. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Game music really helps get me in the right mindset for writing, both for work and for fun. I think the way the music naturally is composed to take a backdrop and set a scene might help with that? Anyway, that title theme sounds really good! Just one more reason why I hope Xenoblade Chronicles X gets ported to the Switch…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh hey, I remembered another favorite game composer of mine: Darren Korb. He’s the composer for Supergiant Games, creators of Bastion, Transistor, Pyre, and most recently Hades. I think Transistor is my favorite so far, both gameplay and music. If you’ve yet to hear any of his stuff, give it a go.

        Like

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