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Score Composers: Unsung Heroes in the Gaming World

Game music composers mostly work behind the scenes, and with very few exceptions, hardly get mentioned outside of the credits at the end of a game. One of my favorite of these composers is Yoko Shimomura.

Yoko Shimomura initially studied to be a piano teacher at the Osaka College of Music, but by chance, she saw a job ad from a game company. She talked to her professors about it, who told her that the job was more for music composition majors, and that she should probably give up the idea.

She didn’t give up, though, and in 1988 she got the job working for Capcom. At first, she didn’t know anything about music composition - especially digital music. She relied mostly on bluffing and learning as she went along, and eventually became one of the top composers at the company.

Her most well-known work is her score for Street Fighter II. In the game, there are 12 characters from all over the world. Instead of each character having a theme song, as was customary at the time, her idea was to give each fighter’s home its own theme instead - corresponding to his or her country. So, the American fighter Ken has a rock theme led by an electric guitar, while the Spanish Vega’s stage has a decidedly Latin flair.

She later worked on Super Mario RPG for Nintendo and Square, writing tracks that recalled classic Super Mario songs, as well as originals that still felt at home in Mario’s universe. The songs are almost all bright and cheery, and it’s hard not to smile while listening to them.

She now works as a freelancer, with her next video game score to be the highly anticipated Final Fantasy XV. From what I’ve heard so far, it is as good or better than anything she’s worked on before.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.