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Composer Compendium: Motoi Sakuraba Part 2: Man of Many Series

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After finishing work on Beyond the Beyond, Camelot continued working with Sega on more Shining games for their ill fated Saturn console. Camelot gaining their independence is a unique story from Sega’s history, they’re the only internal Sega studio that gained independence, not even AM 2 could pull that off. Camelot, and Sakuraba, finished work on Shining The Holy Ark and Sega released it worldwide in 1996. Camelot followed this with an epic three part series, all under the Shining Force III name. Only the first part in this trilogy was released outside of Japan, since the Saturn just didn’t have the audience for continued support by the time the games started releasing.

Camelot’s independence let them continue developing games for other consoles, and they started work on Everybody’s Golf (Hot Shots Golf in North America). Future games in this series would not be developed by Camelot, as they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. Future Camelot golf games would be for Nintendo starting with Mario Golf for the Nintendo 64. Nintendo was interested in branching out into other sports as well, and Camelot was also signed on to make Mario Tennis. Since Shining Force went into dormancy after the trilogy of Shining Force III, Camelot was not making a role playing game of any kind, and that’s how they became known in the first place! Nintendo published two handheld RPGs from Camelot for their Game Boy Advance, Golden Sun, and Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

Wolf Team kept themselves busy with a follow up to their first game in the Tales series. Since Tales of Phantasia released so late in the Super Famicom’s life they would move on to Sony’s Playstation. Tales of Destiny was released in Japan in 1997, and was the first in the series to be localized for international release. Tales of Destiny’s North American release came the following year, sales were lukewarm overseas, but not bad enough to discourage all future localization efforts. The series was a hit in Japan from its first release, so the series quickly became Namco’s flagship RPG series. Tales of Eternia followed Destiny, and in an odd move it was renamed to Tales of Destiny II for its North American release. An actual Tales of Destiny 2 was Wolfteam’s next release on the Playstation 2, which was not localized for a Western release, likely to avoid further confusion. Instead, Westerners got to play Tales of Symphonia for Nintendo’s Gamecube, which was more marketable as the first 3D release in the series. By this point the name change from Wolfteam to Namco Tales Studio has happened.

On the third arm of this history are the releases of tri-Ace. Star Ocean was also a successful release, even if it came after Tales of Phantasia and was also for the Super Famicom. As a smaller company tri-Ace was mostly limited to this first series. Like many other companies that stayed with Super Famicom to the end they made the seamless transition to the Playstation for their next generation, and Star Ocean: The Second Story would follow up the first game, but would be the first in the series localized for Western release. For this series the name was not changed, leaving many shoppers to ponder, “Where is the first Star Ocean?” while they looked at the display. The company would branch out and release the classic Valkyrie Profile the following year. tri-Crescendo was spun off from tri-Ace during Valkyrie Profile’s development, and they would handle sound for most tri-Ace games afterwards, and branch out into their own game development. This only continued to branch Sakuraba’s work out even further in the industry.

Like many other developers tri-Ace would move onto the Playstation 2, where Star Ocean: Till the End of Time released in 2003. By now Sakuraba was established as one of the great composers in Japan, but internationally may have been less easily recognized. His work spans many series, for many systems, but a lot of his early work is buried on systems that are largely considered failures in the West. This third Star Ocean game was quite popular on its release, and is one of the easiest RPGs to find for the PS2, so this, and the first two Golden Sun games, are likely a few of his first mass market exposures to the West outside of Camelot’s Mario sports games.

Composer Compendium: Motoi Sakuraba Part 1: A Pack of Wolves

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RPG fans have likely heard much more of this composer than they have realized. The stars aligned rather early in Motoi Sakuraba’s composing career, letting him become one of the most respected Japanese composers of all time, but one seldom discussed when compared to a few of his peers. Progressive rock has always been a massive influence on Sakuraba, and he was in a few bands of this style before he started composing for video games. He started his career by joining two other composers, Masaaki Uno and Yasunori Shiono at a small, but talented developer called Wolf Team. At first Wolf Team made games for popular Japanese PC systems of the time, namely the X68000. The company made games of many different genres, and were known for making high quality games, and well done ports.

Sakuraba started work in 1989, and some of his work appeared in the same year in the games Zan: Kagerou no Toki, Arcus II: Silent Symphony, and Arcusyu. The following year saw some of Wolf Team’s first games leave Japan. This was because Wolf Team’s majority holder of the time, Telenet Japan, opened up Renovation and began publishing many of their titles for North American release on Sega’s Genesis and its CD add on in later years. Granada was the first of these with Sakuraba’s work, followed by Final Zone and Sol-Feace the same year. Sol-Feace was his second solo soundtrack, Zan: Yasha Enbukyuoku is the first one, while all other games so far were at least dual efforts.

Afterwards he started to work solo more often than not. Some more of Wolf Team’s games got released in North America in 1991, a trilogy of games starting with Earnest Evans released, as did its first follow up El Viento. El Viento’s release oddly came first, since it was a simple region port and translation, while Earnest Evans was completely downgraded from a Mega-CD game to something that could fit on a Genesis cartridge. The third game in this series is called Annet Futatabi, and stayed in Japan. Arcus Odyssey also made the trek across the Pacific this year.

Sega’s CD add on saw some support for ports of older Laserdisc based arcade games, the type that have QTE patterns and had high quality animation. The high point of this genre is considered to be Dragon’s Lair, but there were many examples of Japanese arcade developers that used the style in the mid-80s. Wolf Team ported Time Gal, Road Blaster (as Road Avenger), and Ninja Hayate (as Revenge of the Ninja) with Sakuraba doing the new arrangements for the first two, and sound effects for the last. Only Time Gal and Road Avenger were released by Renovation in North America.

After this Renovation’s efforts in North America waned, and Wolf Team started work on an ambitious new game, a role playing game. This is essentially the end of Wolf Team, as Telenet signed a contract with Namco to show the game with a label from a publisher that could pull in more sales both domestically and overseas. This game ended up releasing as Tales of Phantasia. With Wolf Team splintered it opened up new contacts for Sakuraba. Camelot Software Planning was released from Sega in 1995, and quickly managed to release Beyond the Beyond for the Playstation, they also hired one of Wolf Team’s former composers, who had glowing reviews for her old coworkers. So Sakuraba composed all of Beyond the Beyond.

Most of old Wolf Team proper founded a company called tri-Ace, and invited Sakuraba along to compose their new RPG, Star Ocean. It is through all of these contacts that Sakuraba branched out and became the main compositional force behind many classic franchises, with the Tales series being a current rising force in the Western Markets.

Composer Compendium: David Wise

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In simpler times there were great melodies driving the music composition of games. When you’re limited to a handful of sound channels it really tests composers to make a piece that fits the game they are working on and is memorable. It also has to survive repeated listens, as many games were short and had only a handful of tracks. Today we look at one of the best Western composers for one of the best European game development companies. David Wise was Rare Ltd’s house composer from 1985 to 2009, and his work stands out like the company he worked for.

His first handful of years were spent with Nintendo’s juggernaut Entertainment System. Rare’s philosophy at this time was to make as many games as they possibly could, and some stand out as great titles for the system, while others are quite smelly. The first games with Wise’s compositions came out in a year or two after his hire, and they were Slalom and Wizards & Warriors. One of the best racing games on the system carries Wise’s compositions, R.C. Pro-Am!.


I like to call Slalom ‘Downhill Butt Simulator’.

The following year saw double the number of Wise compositions, showing that he most likely was not sitting around for the first couple years of his existence at the company. The rest of the year’s work featured game show adaptations in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Rare’s own video board game Anticipation rounds out 1988.

1989 was a big year for Mr. Wise, and includes almost too many games to list, as does the following year. The Sesame Street games are well known for their high quality digitized voices, which sound almost too good for the NES. Wise helped with those, starting with Sesame Street ABC. It includes such beloved classics as Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Hollywood Squares, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and WWF Wrestlemania. In seriousness though there were great games or ports that Mr. Wise composed or rearranged, those include Marble Madness, Cobra Triangle, Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. Finally, push your periscopes up and look across the horizon for the best and most valuable game ever made. Silent Service.

The decade changed but the NES still reigned supreme. As a result of this David Wise still had plenty of projects to work on. 1990 was the biggest year yet, with many classics, as well as the first foray onto the Game Boy. The game show adaptations continued with Double Dare being a new challenger. Rare must have had a monopoly on these game show adaptations. On top of these he got to work on some original Rare titles such as Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Super Glove Ball, Time Lord, and Pin*Bot for the NES, with Wizards & Warriors Chapter X: The Fortress of Fear and The Amazing Spider-Man on Game Boy. There were some arcade ports and movie adaptations as well including Captain Skyhawk, NARC, Cabal, Arch Rivals, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Battletoads was the next big and well remembered Rare title that Wise composed the music on. You can thank him for that groovy pause music as well as everything else in the original NES release and the mostly unrelated Game Boy release as well. Sesame Street ABC & 123 released in 1991 alongside the aforementioned Battletoads, Beetlejuice, and super R.C. Pro-Am.

The next year saw Rare stretching its arms onto the up and coming Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, with Championship Pro-Am. They did not completely abandon the Nintendo systems, but did not have him move forward to the new Super Nintendo yet. On the NES there was R.C. Pro-Am II, Wizards & Warriors III, and the port of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Battletoad mania would start in 1993.

Since the original release of Battletoads the series had proven quite popular, so Rare had the first Battletoads ported onto the Genesis and Game Gear. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon marked the move onto the SNES. The latter also saw releases on the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World is a proper Game Boy port of the first Battletoads that also released this year. Other than Battletoads Mr. Wise also arranged the 16 bit port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll for the Genesis, as well as X The Ball for the Arcade.

The next year may well be the year that solidified Mr. Wise as a truly great composer, as his music got to grace one of the most beloved video games of all times, not just of the 16 bit era, but ever. This was also the year that saw a severe decrease in output from our composer, almost being entirely limited to the series spawned by this game. You may be asking what game I’m getting to. Donkey. Kong. Country. There was also Monster Max and the arcade port of Battletoads, but 1994 was the year of Kong.

For the better part of the next decade Mr. Wise was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country series, so his early output of many games in a year decreased to one or two a year until his departure from Rare. Both of the followup games to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES were composed by Mr. Wise, but his contributions diminished with each game. The first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy features some Wise compositions. Diddy Kong Racing on N64 was the lone game he composed for on the Big N’s system.

There was a three year lull between Diddy Kong Racing and his next game, which was the Game Boy Color port of the first Donkey Kong Country. After that he moved onto his lone Gamecube game, Star Fox Adventures. A couple Game Boy Advance games followed, Its Mr. Pants and Donkey Kong Country 3. Next was the DS games Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. By this point Rare had been sold by Nintendo to Microsoft. He only worked on one Xbox 360 game before his departure from Rare, War World. After this he went freelance with his own studio, composing the iOS game Sorcery! Retro Studios brought him back to the land of Nintendo earlier this year to return to his most famous series. The Wii U needed help and David Wise delivered with the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. His most recent game is Tengami for iOS and the Wii U.

Composer Compendium: Naoki Kodaka

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Naoki Kodaka is one of the most listened to 8-bit composers. I’m sure most of you have heard some of the music from the games he worked on, but may not have realized how many classics he had a hand in. Kodaka is known for his work at a company called Sunsoft, and he spent the better part of a decade composing soundtracks for the company. His first one was a shooter for the Famicom Disc System, Dead Zone in 1986.

His next game would also be exclusive to the FDS, Nazoler Land. Sunsoft was stepping up in the world and got the rights to port a couple of popular games to the NES. Activision’s PC hit Shanghai and Bally Midway’s arcade smash hit Spy Hunter were both ported to the NES by Sunsoft, and the soundtracks were re-arranged by Kodaka.

Sunsoft soon went international as a result of the success of these ports. In 1988 their Zapper game Freedom Force and first international sensation Blaster Master both had soundtracks composed by Kodaka and his fellow associates at the company. Naohisa Morota developed a sound engine that lead to Sunsoft’s unique bass heavy sound style. This is now known as Sunsoft bass as a result of how much it stands out and the high quality of the company’s soundtracks from the NES era. This year closed out with a port of Platoon and the Japanese FDS exclusive Nankin no Adventure.

The following two years are arguably the golden years of 8-bit soundtracks, with Kodaka and Sunsoft being one of the biggest reasons for this. In 1989 the company released Fester’s Quest and Batman. The next year saw the Genesis/Mega Drive version of Batman, as well as the almost Terminator game Journey to Silius, as well as Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Nantettatte!! Baseball was the last of Sunsoft’s Famicom exclusive games. All of these games had Kodaka at the musical helm.

Sunsoft was rather slow to convert to the 16 bit systems overall. They did release Batman for the Genesis, but continued pouring a great effort into the declining Famicom. Still, some great games and soundtracks came about from this arrangement. In 1991 Sunsoft released Ufouria seemingly everywhere but North America, they developed an updated version of Spy Hunter called Super Spy Hunter, and followed up on Batman with Return of the Joker. 1992 saw the release of Super Fantasy Zone for the Mega Drive. Again, these are all Sunsoft’s games that had Kodaka as the lead composer.

Kodaka’s output finally started slowing down when Sunsoft had him start work on their flagship strategy RPG series Albert Odyssey for the Super Famicom in 1993. The following year would have Albert Odyssey II and Sugoi Hebereke release for the SFC.

A two year break would follow before the third Albert Odyssey game released, Sunsoft moving the to the very popular in Japan Sega Saturn. North America had this game released by Working Designs as Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. Kodaka’s final composing project before retiring from video games would be Out Live: Be Elimiate Yesterday for the Playstation, and exclusively in Japan.

Composer Compendium: Tim Follin

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Tim Follin is one of the most influential Western composers in the history of the industry. He was rather young to be part of the earliest pioneers, but landed his first job in the video game industry working for Insight Studios at the tender age of 15. During his childhood he had no formal music training but attended a year of Liverpool’s Sandown Music College. That was all he needed.

At first he was making arrangements for ports of arcade games with his first work being on his brother Mike’s game Subterranen Stryker for the ZX Spectrum. He kept working with his brother for the first part of his career. Their second game was a Galaxian inspired shooter called Star Firebirds for the Spectrum, in which he learned how to use a 2 channel driver. His first 3 channel driver game was Vectron. For his fourth game, he also programmed one of the mini games, as well as the sound for Future games.

After these first four games Tim and Mike were hired on at Software Creations. There he worked on arrangements for Spectrum and Commodore 64 games such as Agent X I and II, Chronos, Scumball, The Sentinel, Bubble Bobble, Renegade, Bionic Commando and various others. Many of these were nothing more than arrangements to fit onto the ZX Spectrum or C64 for ports of popular arcade games. One exception is the Agent X games.

This trend would mostly continue as the various computers of the late 80s were filled with arcade ports, and Software Creations did a lot of them. He worked on arrangements for ports such as Peter Pack Rat, Ghouls’n Ghosts, and got his first experienced on the NES with the arrangement for Flying Shark which we know as Sky Shark.

Tim Follin was still spending most of his time with the C64 and Spectrum despite his work with the ever popular NES. This could have something to do with the NES not being as popular in Europe as it was in Japan and North America. These PCs of the time were reigning supreme. He did compose the music for Target: Renegade for the NES, then composed for Chester Field, Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, and Qix before his last PC game came in 1991, Gauntlet III for the C64, Amiga, and Spectrum.

A little bit before this he finally moved to the NES full time, composing the soundtrack for Solstice and one of the best for the entire system, Silver Surfer. Say what you will about whether or not the game is actually good, you cannot say anything bad about the soundtrack. He also worked on Kiwi Kraze, Treasure Master, Pictionary, and the Taito version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before mostly moving onto the Super Nintendo.

One last game he worked on before going to the Super full time were the handheld and Master System ports of The Incredible Crash Dummies. For most of the Super Nintendo titles he worked on he was assisted by another one of his brothers, Geoff Follin. His first SNES game he composed for was Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge. Next he would create music for Leland’s Super Off Road, Plok, Equinox, Silicon & Synapse’s (Early Blizzard) Rock N’ Roll Racing, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, the completed but unreleased Moto-X, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. For the Genesis he also composed the unreleased Time Trax, which managed to leak onto the web in 2013.

After this incredibly busy period of his career it took a downturn. He left Software Creations in 1993 and began freelancing. Despite this incredible resume work was slow and sporadic, with the most done in the following two years. He finished his 16 bit days composing the soundtracks for Batman Forever for Genesis and SNES, and Ultraverse Prime for the Sega CD, then a cancelled PC game Firearm. Afterwards he had a few years off before coming back for the Playstation’s Batman & Robin, in which he only arranged pieces from the film’s score. The 20th Century would end with arrangement for Bust-A-Move 4’s Game Boy Color port.

The 21st Century started with Tim working with Appaloosa Interactive for their revival of the Ecco the Dolphin series, with Defender of the Future for the Dreamcast and later Playstation 2. It would take another few years before his next piece of work, Starsky & Hutch in 2003 for all 3 major systems and PC of the time. Ford Racing 2 and 3
were composed by him as well as Future Tactics: The Uprising. His very last game before he officially retired from video game composition, citing irregular work patterns, was the remake of Lemmings for PSP, released in 2006.

Composer Compendium: Hitoshi Sakimoto Chapter 2

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Alongside Radiant Silvergun Sakimoto composed the arcade shooter Armed Police Batrider before moving over to the Nintendo 64 for Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, working with the Quest Trio alongside Hayato Matsuo and longtime colleague Masaharu Iwata in the following year, rounding out the 20th century. The new millenium started with a bang, with a solo composition for the much beloved game Vagrant Story.

The follow up to Vagrant Story included Iwata and Sakimoto composing the soundtrack for Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, a solo composition for Kuusen, and then moving onto Legaia 2: Duel Saga with Yasunori Mitsuda and Michiru Oshima. Next was Tekken Advance before he got to work with Capcom on Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. At about this time Sakimoto, Iwata, and Manabu Namiki founded their own company called Basiscape, which has grown into the largest company of freelance composers.

In 2003 Sakimoto worked with Squaresoft once again on the long awaited follow up to Final Fantasy Tactics, FFT Advance for the Game Boy Advance. He got the chance to work with Ayako Saso, Kaori Ohkoshi, and the legendary Nobuo Uematsu on this project. The next year he worked with Treasure and Konami on Gradius V, then on Stella Deus for Atlus along with Iwata. With is Basiscape crew he helped compose the Cave shooter Mushihimesama, making 2004 a busy year.

His schedule let up a bit in 2005, but then kicked into full gear in 2006. For the former year Basiscape composed Wizardry Gaiden: Prisoners of the Battles, Bleach: Heat the Soul 2, and Zoids: Full Metal Clash. By now many of the games would be credited to the quickly growing Basiscape. In the latter year the list just gets longer, with the Basiscape credits including Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, Digimon Battle Terminal, Digimon World Beta Squad, Battle Stadium D.O.N., and Fantasy Earth: Zero. Last but certainly not least was his contribution to the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XII along with the rest of the Quest Trio, Taro Hasuke, Yuji Toriyama, and Uematsu once again!

Basiscape continued to get many contracts in 2007, and Sakimoto is credited on Bleach: Heat the Soul 4, GrimGrimoire, Odin Sphere, Opoona, Deltora Quest, and continued with his Final Fantasy compositions with Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, the PSP FFT remake War of the Lions, and the sequel to FF Tactics Advance, Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. His days beyond the PS2, GBA, and PSP would include the PS3 instant classic Valkyria Chronicles in 2008.

This year would continue with some different games that Basiscape worked on. The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road for the DS was one of them, along with Elminage, and Coded Soul. The following year saw the company work on Elminage II, Tekken 6, Lord of Vermillion II, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

2010 saw a return of the old, as well as some newer faces in Sakimoto’s life. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was remastered and re-released for the PSP late in the year. But there was also Lord of Arcana that he worked on with Uematsu, and Valkyria Chronicles II as a solo effort. Valkyria Chronicles III released in the following year along with Rikishi: Legend of Paper Wrestling.


I want this game translated so bad.

Most recently he has worked on games such as Dragon’s Crown, Crimson Shroud, and The Denpa Men series. An upcoming game with his compositions listed is Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians.

Composer Compendium: Hitoshi Sakimoto Chapter 1

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Hitoshi Sakimoto has had quite a long and storied career. Unlike many in this series he was able to land a job in the video game composition world quite early in his life. He began creating his own games while in Junior High with a group of close friends after taking a big interest in the growing video game industry. At the age of 16 he was enlisted along with his friend Masaharu Iwata to compose the soundtrack for the shooter Revolter for the popular Japanese PC-8801, which released in 1988. Its easy to see how this game could easily make a career.

The sheer number of games that Sakimoto and Iwata worked on early in their career is hard to gauge, some of the more popular games they worked on were more PC-88/98 games like Carat and Starship Rendezvous. By himself Sakimoto composed the Game Boy port of Bubble Ghost.

1991 was the first sampling of what the Sakimoto and Iwata combo could produce. Devilish released with a solo Sakimoto soundtrack, but the duo combined for other games like Verytex, King Breeder, Metal Orange and the Turbografx-16 Holy Grail Magical Chase. Magical Chase is one of those examples of a rare game that is actually an insanely good game that should have sold well.

Not much happened the following year, but 1993 was a year which greatly diversified his resume. He got to work on his first licensed property, Super Back to the Future. No, not the version you played, but the good, Japanese exclusive Super Famicom version! Throw in Gauntlet IV and Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen and this year makes good montage material.

The following year he worked on a handful of games, one with a new teammate Hayato Matsuo, who he first worked with on Ogre Battle. Sword Maniac, or as we might know it X-Kaliber 2097 released in 1994 for the SFC and SNES. With his old buddy Iwata he worked on the arcade game Kingdom Grand Prix, an interesting shooter and racing hybrid. It was ported to the Saturn 2 years later but remains a Japanese exclusive. By himself he composed the soundtracks to Pile Up March and Moldorian: Hikari to Yami no Shisutaa.

The Ogre Battle trio came back to work on Quest’s newest game, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. He did not leave the older Super Nintendo behind though, composing with a big team on the Japanese exclusive Sting developed game Treasure Hunter G. RPGs were not his only genre however, as he would compose the soundtrack for Terra Diver, a game that was on basically everything out in 1996 and ’97.

The next couple years was another gold plated run by Sakimoto and Iwata. They worked with a few others on the original arcade compositions for Bloody Roar. They followed that up with Final Fantasy Tactics, going with the mostly intact remnants from Quest over to Squaresoft. Solo he composed the soundtrack for the consistently expensive Radiant Silvergun!

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