Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Small special dedicated to the music of the “Osaka pianist”, Yoko Shimomura: she who imbued video games with lively virtuosity

We have talked of music and video games with the volcanic Apulian genius of Caparezza (and we did it again with Akira Yamaoka), and now we take the opportunity to do the opposite with Yoko Shimomura. Praise it with our review of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory it was fun, but it was also an understatement. We usually know it for two series, namely the aforementioned crossover between Disney and Square-Enix and the now sadly defunct Alphadream series, Mario & Luigi. However, the artist’s inspiration has touched many more games than we would think: let’s discover his career, made up of virtual virtuosity and virtuosity.

Curriculum virtuos

Class 1967 (October 19, to be exact), Yoko Shimomura loved music since even before video games existed. At the age of “four or five”, he began taking piano lessons. Playing almost (and apparently) haphazardly, he began to compose his own first works. According to her, the artist still remembers her first composition by heart. The next step, signing up for a conservatory, it was a must: the choice turned out to be successful in 1988, when theOsaka College of Music awarded her with a well-deserved diploma.

In that year, however, the videogame sector did exist, and fresh from the touch the musician was already one of its first supporters. The idea was to teach music in turn, but the passion “was galeotta” enough to send samples to all the then young companies on the hunt for talents. To grab Yoko’s musical inspiration was Capcom, who offered her a job following a hearing. Contrary to what we would suppose, even Japan saw the videogame world badly, in its time: family members and teachers could not understand the choice, but the girl did not care. And our ears thank you.

Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Shimoryuken – Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Working for Capcom, Yoko Shimomura has signed over sixteen soundtracks: the first of the video games he worked on is the little known Samurai Sword in 1988 (below), but soon the Osaka pianist’s music would become much more recognizable. We do not speak “only” of Gargoyle’s Quest, a Game Boy spinoff of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins set to music with colleague Harumi Fujita, but by none other than Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. The iconic theme of Ryu, the song that “goes with everything” dedicated to Guile and many other classics owe their existence to the same musical flair of Kingdom Hearts.

Speaking of Squaresoft, it was right after moving to the arcade division of the former Capsule Computer to work on the Street Fighter II soundtrack and after joining the Capcom band, Alph Lyla, which the author passed to the role-playing giant. The basic idea was immediately to compose songs with a sound closer to classical music, but only Breath of Fire gave her the chance to do it under the wing of the previous publisher. It would have been hard to stand out in a software house that already boasted the talent of Nobuo Uematsu, but for Yoko it was already …

Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

All other music – Music & Video Games: Yoko Shimomura

The ambitious one (especially for 1994) Live A Live it was the first of Square’s video games for which Yoko Shimomura was able to compose the music. The following year, the pianist would get to work on her first soundtrack for the Big N plumber with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (developed by Square). She was asked to compose songs with Noriko Matsueda for the futuristic strategy game Front Mission, but she tried to get out of it.

Unfortunately, although this was not in his strings, his attempt to give up happened in the presence of the then president of Squaresoft, Tetsuo Mizuno. The generational shift of consoles has seen her write for various PlayStation titles, including Tobal no. 1, Parasite Eve and Legend of Mana. However, what she herself considers her own turning point occurred in 2002: the first Kingdom Hearts. Following the (partly unexpected) success of the great PlayStation 2 classic, Yoko’s breakthrough was professional but also personal: motherhood led her to leave Square and work as freelancer.

Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Watch out for forest mushrooms – Music & Video Games: Yoko Shimomura

As a freelancer, Yoko Shimomura was able to return to Nintendo’s best-known franchise in 2003 with the first of a long (and, unfortunately, ended series for now). Let’s talk about Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance, where the artist also had to adapt his flair to the console’s limited speaker. It was even more difficult to rewrite many songs already composed for the first Kingdom Hearts in view of the sequel / spinoff for the portable console of wonders, Chain of Memories. Nonetheless, the author has managed to keep her style intact (choosing only ten songs from the saga in our ranking was a real feat).

At the career level, we can also close here; outside of Kingdom Hearts and Mario & Luigi, the only big news in the author’s curriculum was the great success of Final Fantasy XV. The other major career turning points prior to this point, according to Shimomura herself, were Street Fighter II (for obvious reasons) and Super Mario RPG: Legend of The Seven Stars. Her work has brought her straight to the pantheon of best-known videogame composers, with a curriculum of over forty-three video games. His inspiration now transcends the world of consoles alone.

Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Live Live Music – Music & Video Games: Yoko Shimomura

The artist is one of the few figures in the world of video games to boast his own “Greatest Hits” album for his music, entitled Drammatica: The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura. This compilation, dating back to March 2008, contains songs from Kingdom Hearts and more but rearranged for the first time by a real orchestra. In an interview that same year, the Osaka pianist commented on the possibility of a live concert, and this is what happened with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in August 2009, with the conductor Arnie Roth to the wand.

Not only that, a month later the same conductor conducted another concert in the series Symphonic Fantasies. The Legend of Mana title screen theme was also the subject of a concert, in 2007, for the Australian event A Night in Fantasia. Going back to her origins as a pianist, Yoko Shimomura has also released piano arrangements for both Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts. In the case of the latter saga, four songs from the two albums Piano Collections appear in Melody of Memory as extra tracks. Occasionally, the author has also explored mainstream music, starting with the album Murmur 2007.

Musica & Videogiochi: Yoko Shimomura

Doremi makes you fly – Video games & music: Yoko Shimomura

The recording world, for video game music, still represents a niche, but in this field Yoko Shimomura was not lacking in luck. DOREMI Music Publishing, a Japanese record company, collected the Legend of Mana soundtrack we alluded to earlier; also from the World of Mana series, the two compilations Seiken Densetsu Best Collection Piano Solo Sheet Music were born. All songs have been rewritten by Asako Niwa, and while true to the originals they are intended to be played by novice pianists and intermediate level talents.

The first concert outside of Japan entirely dedicated to the artist’s talent was in Paris and Mexico City in November 2015. The following September, some of her first songs for Final Fantasy XV (one above all the poignant sleep) were played byLondon Philharmonic Orchestra (which John Williams fans will remember from Star Wars) at Abbey Road Studios (the Beatles) in the English capital and in Boston. In the latter cases, Shimomura herself played the piano in person (image above).

External influences that “Sora raised your own” – Music & Video Games: Yoko Shimomura

I mentor, if we want to say so, of Yoko Shimomura in the art that the pianist has brought to the world of video games represent not just influences. On his personal website, the artist alludes to Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédèric Chopin e Maurice Ravel. Additionally, Yoko said she has loved “lounge-style jazz” for as long as she can remember: being Dearly Beloved, the melody of the title screens in the Kingdom Hearts saga, her favorite song she ever composed, we can only imagine how happy she was to combine the two for Melody of Memory.

Despite these influences, the author has never denied herself wander in the genres of rock, electronic, oriental, atmospheric, pop, symphonic, opera, chiptune and more. Everything that touches her emotionally can become an integral part of one of her songs, according to her. Even deviating from the routine with a trip can inspire, shaping a constantly evolving style without ever losing the same passion that has been driving it for years. For her, the message of the music must be simple, but despite this (or precisely for this reason) it must leave an indelible imprint on the listener.

Dramatically addicting

The creative influence of Yoko Shimomura in the music of video games, as for any great artist, for the “Simpson effect” is also evident from the parody. In fact, the group’s YouTube channel recognizes his talent SiVvagunner, which has collected the numerous reinterpretations of the pieces (or of the style, depending on the case) of the pianist from Osaka in the collection Il Settimo Grande Padre. It is a sort of videogame equivalent of a guest star role on Sesame Street, and the phenomenon has been repeated in a more “official” way with the artist’s numerous contributions to the series. Super Smash Bros., starting with Brawl for Wii.

From the piano under the fingers at five years old to the rearrangement of Cosmo Canyon from Final Fantasy VII for the arrival of Sephiroth in Smash, passing through the humble debut with Samurai Sword and the best known opera for Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts and Mario & Luigi, the versatility of the great artist is certainly not lacking. We could list every contribution, every soundtrack and it still wouldn’t be enough to do it justice. Of course, we are facing one of the big names in the industry that raise the musical accompaniment above the electronic sounds to which the videogame world has always been unjustly associated.

Now it’s up to you to tell us yours: what do you think of this great artist? Let us know below, and as always don’t forget to stay on for all the most important news for gamers and more. For your purely gaming needs, you can instead find the best …