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: 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!

Composer Compendium: Noriyuki Iwadare Chapter 1


Have you ever started a career that can be said to have started with a bang? Most of us have not, you show up at work, go through training, and the employer unleashes you amongst the wilds to fend for yourself in most cases. Music is a career path that one does not go down unless you already know what you’re doing, its hard to get paid to learn how to make music. Thankfully, Noriyuki Iwadare is one of those that had a career that practically exploded as soon as it began, so let’s dive on in!

1988 was the first year Noriyuki Iwadare made music for video games, and it was a bit of doozy, or rather, a cult classic video game with a powerful soundtrack. Alien Crush for the Turbo Grafx-16 is this game, if only the developers made it scroll vertically instead of having seperate screens.

A couple years later would mark the transition to a new decade and the next step of Mr. Iwadare’s career. Here’s the list of games that the man did music for, first off, the sequel to Alien Crush, Devil’s Crush, After Burner 2 (Genesis), Space Invaders ’91, and Granada (Genesis). Where did all this time come from? Logic would say, the 2 year hiatus. Nevertheless there is some awesome music in those 4 games, but I’ll tease you with some Devil’s Crush.

Did you really think a man like Noriyuki Iwadare would slow down though? Logic might be wrong in finding the time to make that much music in 2 years since the list of games he worked on from 1991-1996 is immense! 1991 was largely quiet. Now you know that Noriyuki Iwadare had a hand in the creation of one of the internet’s oldest and undying memes. All your base. Yes, Noriyuki Iwadare worked on Zero Wing for the Sega Mega Drive (no Genesis release), but there are a few games he worked on where it is unclear what he specifically did, whether it was actual composition, arrangement, or a straight conversion (making the music for a game on one system friendly to another) for some games, this is one where he probably did the conversion for the Genesis release. It was fairly common for newer music workers to be assigned to conversions and arrangement instead of making their own compositions.

We’ve all probably heard that remixed version, what about the original song?

The other games he worked on in 1991 included another conversion to the Genesis, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, compositions from Wings of Wor, Warsong, Blue Almanac, and Head Buster. Again, it seems like Mr. Iwadare does not sleep and constantly makes music. When you get paid to create passionate music then why stop?

The next year, 1992, could be said to be the breakout year for Mr. Iwadare, mainly because of his involvement with Game Arts that would lead to some of the best, yet criminally underrated RPG soundtracks. He won an award, Best Game Music for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis for Lunar: The Silver Star. That really put him on the map and pretty much put an end to his conversion and arrangement days outside of prior commitments. Now, he was a full fledged composer. Lunar’s soundtrack would go on to probably be the most re-released and remastered RPG ever made, with competition from Ys I & II, and Final Fantasy. The rest of the year was cool too, with games like Steel Empire and Gley Lancer receiving some more Iwadare music.

The success of Lunar’s soundtrack lead to a few other RPG soundtracks outside of Game Arts, like Maten no Sometsu that never released outside of Japan, the last few non-composer related jobs fizzled out by 1995 so all Noriyuki Iwadare could do is make more music. He returned to the world we know as Warsong, but is really Langrisser everywhere else with who could be called his sidekick, Isao Mizoguchi, the two having worked together on most of the composition jobs since the first Langrisser (Warsong). The game was Langrisser II, which has still never been released outside of Japan.

Finally, after two long years of waiting, Japanese gamers were blessed with another Game Arts and Iwadare meeting. The long awaited Lunar sequel, this one titled Lunar: Eternal Blue, released very late in the Sega CD’s lifecycle. Japanese gamers got to play this game in the holiday season of 1994, while us Americans did not get the game until the tail end of summer in 1995. Was anybody even paying much attention to new Sega CD games by that point in time? Somebody somewhere was.

1995 saw the release of a little known Lunar game, Lunar: Walking School released in Japan (where it would remain forever) on the Game Gear. Like all early Lunar games this one recieved the remake treatment, getting new graphics, anime cutscenes, remastered music and such for the Sega Saturn in 1997. The remake is known as Magic School Lunar in its anglicized name and is a prized import for hardcore Lunar fans. Basically, this game is a super prequel that outlines the shenanigans surrounding the founding of the Magic School. Now have some Der Langrisser music, this came out in 1995 as well.

Since I’m going into much more detail than I was before I have decided to split this entry into 2 chapters. Chapter 2 will cover 1996-2013. We made it 8 years in the first chapter, but did you see how many games there were?

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