Do you get that sense of awe when you hear the Jurassic Park Theme by John Williams? I do. The opening arpeggio from Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone also sends shivers down my spine. Video game music does the same thing. For example, Guile’s theme from Street Fighter II fills me with a raw excitement that very few compositions can match. That is down to Yoko Shimomura.
Early Life in Music
Yoko Shimomura was born on October 19, 1967 in Japan. At a young age she was a huge fan of Chopin and began learning Piano around the age of four or five. After graduating from the Osaka School of Music she planned a career in music teaching. However, much to the amazement of family and friends she applied and was accepted to work in a company named Capcom, creating music for videogames.
Work with Capcom
Working on her first assignments out of college, Shimomura would create some of the most iconic game soundtracks ever put to disc. Highlights of her resume with Capcom read as follows;
- Street Fighter II – The World Warrior
- The Punisher
- Breath of Fire (Trade City)
- Final Fight: Bay Area
Work with Square
In 1993 Shimomura would move to another company, so she could compose longer, classical pieces for RPG games. Breath of Fire had been the only composition of this nature at Capcom and she set her sites on the leading RPG developer at the time, Square.
At Square, Shimomura would compose another outstanding batch of compositions. Highlights of which are;
- Parasite Eve
- Legend of Mana
- Kingdom Hearts
- Super Mario RPG
It was the 1999 release Legend of Mana that would become the personal favourite of all her compositions. It is arguably also one of her best scores, showcasing her ability to compose in a multitude of styles while working to the limitations of the system.
“I have devotion to all my soundtracks, so it would be very difficult to choose the ‘best’ one. If I must, it would be Legend of Mana. I think it best expresses myself.”
Her final assignment at Square was composing and arranging for Kingdom Hearts. It was also the assignment in which she felt the most pressure. Yet of all Shimomura’s works, Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG and Kingdom Hearts are the ones she has said she feels most attached to. Discussing Kingdom Hearts she explains…
“To be completely honest, I felt a huge amount of pressure working on such grand tunes that is recognized by many people. I was very careful in making sure that we didn’t ruin the image and the mood of the original song, and at the same time comply with the sound specs of the PS2. Do you think it turned out OK? (laughs) My favorite tune would be…“Under the Sea” since it was my field of specialty. There aren’t any tunes that I didn’t like arranging. Really.“
Halfway through scoring the game Shimomura became pregnant and used the opportunity to work freelance. As well as returning to the Mario franchise, she took her first step into scoring anime, a theatre production and also carried on working closely with Square Enix.
Drammatica -The Very Best
After 20 years in the industry Shimomura began the retrospective Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura chose songs that were popular among gamers and suitable for orchestration that she had a fondness for.
Shimomura continues to compose today and her work gains new fans everyday. However, the closing comment is probably best left to Shimomura herself
” I’m really surprised that you call me the most famous female video game music composer in the world. We Japanese work in our small home studios everyday, always in front of our computers. We don’t realize that our music has such a worldwide range. I don’t feel like a video game music superstar at all! Obviously, it took me about 20 years to gain some attention. I just did my best.”
This article could not have been written without the following..
Pictures courtesy of http://www.vgmonline.net/yokoshimomurainterview/