Video game music has evolved quite a bit over the years. After all, Journey became one of the first titles to earn a Grammy nomination for composer Austin Wintory, and other accolades have easily been earned for composers.
But back in the 90’s, it was a different story, as there weren’t too many renowned game music makers at the time. There was Tommy Tallarico, who has since gone on to celebrate game music in an entirely different manner with his Video Games Live orchestrated tour; and then there’s Yuzo Koshiro, who started out working on sound effects for X68000 hardware (for Sega’s Space Harrier, no less) before moving on to legendary status with his many soundtracks.
Yuzo got his start working on a number of titles in 1986, including composition and programming for Harrier, as well as Legacy of the Wizard, Y’s I: Ancient Y’s Vanished and Romancia (the opening theme, anyway).
But as the game revolution picked up again with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, Yuzo’s work would take a turn for the greater, as he would have better composition tools available to really establish some wonderful music for games. It started in 1989 with a wonderful collection of tunes for The Revenge of Shinobi, a game that’s considered a cult classic to many Sega Genesis owners.
But Yuzo’s work would only get better as both systems thrived in the gaming market. In 1990, he produced an orchestral soundtrack for the Enix action game ActRaiser, which gained just as much critical acclaim as the action it entailed.
As you can hear, the SNES processor really enabled Koshiro to produce a more in-depth soundtrack. However, that didn’t stop him from working on the Genesis. In fact, that same year, he produced an awesome array of tunes for the beat-em-up game Streets of Rage and ended up being so effective that Sega kept him on music duty for the two following sequels.
Several games followed over the year, including a groove-filled soundtrack for Super Adventure Island for the SNES, an even bigger soundtrack for Act Raiser 2 in 1993, and Beyond Oasis in 1994.
His work would continue into the next generation of consoles, including the sequel The Legend of Oasis for Sega Saturn, Shenmue and Shenmue II for the Sega Dreamcast and Xbox, and Namco’s Wangan Midnight arcade games, including Maximum Tune and its following sequels.
Though his work has slowed down a bit over the years, he still remains quite active in music composition today, putting together a few tunes for Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. games for Wii U and 3DS, as well as Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey games, including Untold: The Fafnir Knight and Dungeon. He’s also taking part in a few games releasing next year, including Etrian Odyssey V and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
In addition, over the past few years, Koshiro has also taken part in a number of live performances, including the Symphonic and Chamber Music Game Concerts in Gewandhaus (both ActRaiser medleys); the Play! Video Game Symphonies in Stockholm, Prague, and Singapore, and most recently, the MagFest 2013 event, where he performed everything from ActRaiser to Streets of Rage. No word on when he’ll be taking part in another live event, but you can bet it’ll be sooner rather than later.
At a time when video game music wasn’t truly defined, Koshiro was one of the few composers that helped it find its place. To date, his tunes remain heavy on the mind of many players, mainly because of how well they reflect upon their core experiences. And let’s be honest, the Streets of Rage soundtrack is ideal for working out or chilling out. And when a video game composer can expand their experience beyond the games themselves, you know they’re doing something right.
Here’s to you, Yuzo!
Cover image source: EMU Paradise