There are many genres of music; rock, pop, gospel etc. And while some genres are more popular than others, there is one genre that is often overlooked: video game music. Video game music has progressed at a rapid speed in the past 40 years. From 8-bit audio to full orchestrated assembles, video game music has become more respected. Notably, a major contributor to the genre, Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura has composed some of the most recognizable songs throughout gaming history. Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy XV, and Kingdom Hearts are only some of her notable works. This composer holds a special place in my heart, and her music has resonated with me since I was a little kid. Allow me to introduce the Legendary Composer, Yoko Shimomura.
Before going into detail about what makes Shimoura an amazing musician, we need to learn about what made the woman. Every epic story has a beginning.
Yet, Yoko’s story isn’t extraordinary. Like most musicians, Yoko had an interest in music when she was a child, and started learning the piano at age 5. She would “create” who own music by playing random notes on her piano, eventually, creating her own pieces. She attended Osaka College of Music and graduated as a piano major.
After graduating, Shimomura intended to become a piano instructor and received an offer position as a piano teacher at a music store.
She also had an interest in video games and decided to send samples of her work to various recruiting video game companies. One of those companies being Capcom. After interviewing with Capcom, she received a job offer. Unfortunately, her family and music instructors were not thrilled with the idea of her focusing on video game music. According to her parents, it wasn’t a well-respected job and didn’t understand why she would accept such a job.
Life at Capcom
Despite Shimomura’s parents being against working at Capcom, she accepted the job. It should be noted, during that time, video game music wasn’t as mainstream as it is now, so, it came as no surprise, her parents opposed it. In hindsight, her decision turned out to be a great business move. During her time at Capcom, Shimomura contributed to over 16 games, such as Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. As she gained more notoriety for her work within the company, she got moved to the arcade game division.
Although she composed various songs for Capcom, she was also part of the company’s in-house band called Alph Lyla. The played various Capcom game music and sometimes performed live. Such as making an appearance at the 1992 Game Music Festival.
Career Change to Square
In 1993, Shimomura left Capcom to join Square. According to Shimomura, she left Capcom because her interest was in writing “Classical-style” music for fantasy role-playing games. But, before leaving Capcom, she tried to transfer to the console department to work on their role-playing game series “Breath of Fire”.
Her first project at Square was a lesser-known game called “Live A Live”. Later, she worked on music for Super Mario RPG, and during that time was asked to join Noriko Matsueda on creating music for “Front Mission”. She was working on both projects at the same time and weren’t genre’s that she had interest in. Shimomura stated, that she would have refused, but couldn’t since the president of Square, Tetsuo Mizuno was present.
Over the years, she continued to compose for various games such as Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, and Xenoblade Chronicles.
Understanding the Legend
Yoko Shimomura music is an amazing experience. She is one of the most famous people in the video game industry and for a good reason. Let me break down why her music is so amazing.
Let’s start with her most famous work, the Kingdom Hearts Series. To be more specific, “Dearly Beloved” and “The Other Promise”. To make things simple, I will only focus on the piano versions.
Dearly Beloved – Yoko Shimomura
Dearly Beloved, it is a simple song. When you listen to the piano, it has a sad, yet hopeful sound. When I listen to it, it makes me recall the happier moments of my life. It makes me hope to relive those memories again.
It also makes me recognize how much I’ve grown as a person. All the struggles that I went through to get to where I am today. Even now, there are still many obstacles in my way. But when I listen to this song, as cheesy as it sounds, it feels my heart & soul with motivation and hope.
The Other Promise – Yoko Shimomura
This piece also gives a feeling of sadness, but it feels darker. Almost as if I lost someone important to me and I’m searching for them. In the first 45 seconds of the piece, you can hear the build-up.
At that point, I image myself finding the person I’ve been looking for, but there another obstacle I must face before I can reunite with them. The fight is difficult but if I fulfill my other promise then I can be with them. After the climax of the song, I have two opinions about the message of this song.
The first being, I tried to overcome the obstacle but failed. This is why the ending still sounds sorrowful.
The second outcome, I overcame the obstacle and was able to reunite with the person, but in return, I had to go against my morals to be with them. It’s a bittersweet ending.
I know my stories for these songs are as cheesy as the Kingdom Heart’s Series itself, but I believe these are the kind of messages that Yoko Shimomura wanted to share. During an interview, Shimomura stated she draws inspiration from experiences in her life that move her emotionally.
“A beautiful picture, scenery, tasting something delicious, scents that bring back memories, happy and sad things… Anything that moves my emotion gives me inspiration.”
She believes that it’s important to:
“Convey a subtle message, something that comes from your imagination and sticks with the listener, without being overly specific about what it means”
Her ability to create these messages is incredible because there isn’t a definitive answer to the message of her songs. I gave my opinion on what “Dearly Beloved” and “The Other Promise” meant to me, but for someone else, the meaning could be completely different. The message of a song doesn’t have to be black and white, and this is why Yoko Shimomura’s songs are so powerful.
Shimomura is a master at conveying sorrow and happiness.
But she also excels in motivational music. For me, the greatest song that she has composed that expresses this emotion “Apocalypsis Noctis”. This song is from Final Fantasy XV and used as the final battle theme, and it shows.
The beginning of the song starts with the bang of drums and choir the background. You can feel the intensity rising, along with multiple feelings: motivation, determination, courage! When I hear this song, it feels like I can accomplish anything. Then when the choir takes lead and accompanied by the strings, it feels as if the voices are telling me not to give up. Push! PUSH! Excel until you succeed!
As you can tell, I’m getting a little too excited. This is the power of Yoko Shimomura’s music. The best part is, I’ve only talked about three of her pieces. And by coincidence, “Dearly Beloved” is Shimomura’s favorite piece that she composed. There are many pieces I could talk about, but showing and better than telling. Here are some of my favorite songs by Yoko Shimomura:
Tango Appassionata-The Way This Heart Is (Seiken Densetsu Heroes of Mana)
Take the Offensive (Front Mission)
Somnus (Final Fantasy XV)
The Edge of Green (Radiant Historia)
Hometown Domina (Legend of Mana)
Primal Eyes (Parasite Eve)
Omnis Lacrima (Final Fantasy XV)
Yoko Shimomura is one of the greatest video composers of all time. I know music is subjective, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this a fact. I’ve had family members listen to her music and say, “Wow! That sounds so beautiful”, and the next day can recall most of the song from memory.
As a musician, I always wondered how Shimomura able to make her songs so memorable. After watching countless interviews with her, I finally understand. She’s ascended beyond cliche chord progressions and give her music soul. It allows people to connect with her music on a deeper level, whether it be happiness, sorrow, pain or courage. Shimomura has learned to take her experiences and implement them into her music in the sincerest way possible.
This is what makes Yoko Shimomura a legend composer and musician.