Thursday, 12 July 2012

Four Great Video Game Composers

This article can also be found (with additional entries by other writers) at The Yorker, here.

It can sometimes feel that soundtrack composers don't get a lot of credit. Unlike with the general music industry, there's comparatively little focus paid to those who write the soundtracks for film & TV; and maybe even less for games. But if you take the time to look (or get totally immersed in video game nerdery like we do); there are plenty of composers for video games, old and new, who create tunes with aplomb; getting the tone and emotion of a title in a sweet spot that just couldn't be obtained without their work.

Masafumi Takada

Tending to work alongside the unorthodox auteur developer Suda51, Takada has lent his talent to many of the early games produced by Grasshopper Studios, such as Killer 7, No More Heroes, and Flower Sun and Rain. His style is often very atmospheric and heavy, but with such quirky titles that he's worked on, there'll occasionally be tracks that are suddenly upbeat and energetic. These days he works outside of Grasshopper Studios, mostly doing low-key Japanese only titles. His most recent work surprisingly features in Kid Icarus: Uprising!

Masashi Hamauzu

Generally when thinking of the music in the Final Fantasy series, long-time veteran Nobuo Uematsu comes to mind. But the more recent titles in the series have a different lead musician - Hamauzu. Cutting his teeth on other Square Enix titles (Notably SaGa Frontier II), he then collaborated with Uematsu on Final Fantasy X, showing a more lighthearted and instrumentally varied style from his collegue. After Uematsu left Square Enix to follow his own projects, Hamauzu took over as lead composer and put together the beautiful soundtracks of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. He now has his own music studio, Monomusik.

Shoji Meguro

Differing from the two previous composers I adore, Meguro has a single, veru distinct style - but it's so solid and catchy, I can't help but love it. He's worked closely with the RPG giant Atlus ever since 1996 with Revelations: Persona - and has consistently worked on games within the Shin Megami Tensei series (and a few outliers) since then. His style is very rock-heavy, but he also has a strong love for using brass and piano in his songs, resulting in songs that are closer to hip-hop beats. A special mention should be given to his work in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, where his normal approach is reworked into a menacing, militaristic soundtrack that fits the game's tone perfectly.

Virt (Jake Kaufman)

The independent game design movement hasn't just been a great opportunity for coders and artists - but also musicians. Virt A.K.A. Jake Kaufman started out doing fan remixes of existing video game tunes on OC Remix; but he soon found a professional home with developers WayForward - and he's been getting his high-quality work out there in a subtle way ever since the Game Boy Colour. Special mentions go to the music of Shantae, which was just as technically detailed as its graphics; BloodRayne: Betrayal for being stylistically different from his other work; and Mighty Switch Force for being bombastically funky. There's often a lot of compilation work between indie game musicians, which are also worth a gander.

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