Perhaps one of the most overlooked measures of quality in a video game is the music. Just as memorable as an 8-bit, pixilated Mario in full sprint are the 8-bit tones that accompany his adventure. As graphics have evolved into fully-rendered, life-like images of art, so has the musical score that compliments them. Here is a brief look back at some of the most iconic composers and artisans in the history of video game music, with links to some of their songs.
Nobuo Uematsu is perhaps the best internationally-known video game composer of all-time. His catalog of music has been played by orchestra ensembles around the globe, released on multiple compilation albums, and celebrated for its beauty and emotion. The Final Fantasy series is his landmark accomplishment, and even received praise in the form of a music-centric 3DS release in 2012. He is also responsible for the soundtrack of one of the best-loved games on the Super Nintendo, Chrono Trigger. Mr Uematsu continues to work as an advisor for Square-Enix, and also tours with his band The Black Mages.
Link: Dancing Mad, Final Fantasy VI, 1994 (Distant Worlds orchestral version, 2010)
Yuzo Koshiro has been in the industry for decades, composing music for video games since the mid 80s. Some of Mr Koshiro’s best-known, earliest work was on the original soundtrack for the Shinobi series, as well as Streets of Rage. He was tapped by Sega for the monumental Shenmue project and was responsible for its composition. His most recent work is the spectacular Etrian Odyssey series, for which he has composed all five soundtracks. Mr Koshiro also performs live, and was featured in 2013’s MAGFest.
Jeremy Soule’s beginning has humble roots in Square-Enix’s only North American production: Secret of Evermore. The dark and haunting atmosphere of Evermore breathed to life with Soule’s brooding soundtrack, and so did his career. Mr Soule’s legendary contributions to video game music span consoles and decades, most notably the Elder Scrolls series, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars, but he has also worked in films, such as the Harry Potter movies. In 2013, Mr Soule successfully funded an original symphony through Kickstarter
Koji Kondo may not have name recognition in every social circle, but his work surely does. To have just one of Nintendo’s iconic franchises on your resume is impressive, but Mr Kondo is responsible for several historical game series. Perhaps his best known, globally, is 1985’s Super Mario Bros, for which Mr Kondo is credited for the full composition. Before Super Mario Bros, he worked on a handful of Nintendo titles (most notably Punch-Out!!), and has since been involved in a composer or advisor role in every Mario and Zelda title released. His brilliance is evidenced by recent full-orchestration versions of his 8-bit original tracks.
Link: Gerudo Valley Theme, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, 1998 (Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD version, November 2011)
Yoko Shimomura has worked in video game music since the late 80s, and has had her hands in dozens of iconic game soundtracks. She seems to find herself in a curious position of involvement in many of what some would call “cult classics”, such as the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and more recently the Nintendo DS’s Radiant Historia. Certainly the crowning jewel of her career is the Kingdom Heart soundtrack, for which she has contributed towards every game in that series. She continued to work on the Mario and Luigi RPG series, and was also a part of the massively successful Xenoblade Chronicles team, as well as some Super Smash Bros tracks.
By no means is this a complete list, either of great composers or their great works. The market seems to be expanding, or at least appreciating, the impact of such brilliant music, and the future sounds great. What are some of your favorite video game songs or composers?