10 Best Video Game Composers of All Time
We’ve discussed how great video game protagonists, companies, and titles are for the most part. While all these factors into creating a product that’s well-beloved and memorable, video games wouldn’t be as great without their iconic soundtracks. Whether it’s a tune for opening a locked chest or a melody you’ll hear when exploring a dungeon, video game music is just as significant as gameplay.
For our ongoing articles about video games, we’d like to highlight the best video game composers of all time. From the iconic Koji Kondo to the cherished Grant Kurkhope, there’s sure to be a composer here who resonates with you.
Of course, feel free to share your thoughts about our picks in the comments.
If you’re familiar with Nintendo’s catalog of games, then you most likely heard the tracks composed by Koji Kondo. He’s a fabulous Japanese music composer, pianist, and sound and music director working for Nintendo. He’s created numerous tracks for The Legend of Zelda and the Super Mario series. His tracks evoke strong fantasy and mystical energy.
It’ll feel like you’re being transported to another world while listening to his music. At a young age, Kondo tampered with countless instruments like marimbas and electronic organs. He argues arcade hits like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong helped him develop a fascination for sound creation.
Kondo designed the Super Mario Bros. tunes around the feeling of motion. He based many of his scores around dancing music associated with Latin tracks and the waltz. With his incredible legacy to his eye for detail, Kondo is one of the best video game composers to come from Japan.
Nobuo Uematsu is a famous Japanese composer and keyboardist. He’s best known for contributing tunes to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy game series. He cites the English singer-songwriter Elton John as a major influence on his work and is a self-taught musician. He created numerous tracks for the series and left Square in 2004 to establish his own company and music label, Dog Ear Records.
Uematsu still produces tracks for Final Fantasy and other titles as a freelancer, though. He began playing the piano at the age of 11-12 years old and didn’t take any formal piano lessons. After graduating college, he played for amateur bands and was recruited by a Square employee for his work. Uematsu didn’t think of his time at Square as a full-time gig but grew to appreciate his fellow workers.
Uematsu’s music style ranges from classical symphonic, heavy metal, and hyper-percussive techno-electronica music. He’s cited Celtic and Irish music as influences on some of his musical styles. His Final Fantasy scores evoke upbeat, dark, angry, and melancholic emotions. Besides Elton John, Uematsu notes that The Beatles, Emerson, Simon & Garfunkel, and other progressive rock bands were sources of inspiration for his work.
Yuzo Koshiro is an innovative Japanese composer and sound programmer known for his incredible chiptune video game music. He produces music from a variety of genres like rock, jazz, symphonic, and multiple electronic genres. He’s known for contributing music to multiple games like Sega’s Streets of Rage series and Nihon Falcom’s Dragon Slayer.
Koshiro was a talented pianist by the age of five, thanks to his mother. After receiving some training from Joe Hisashi, Koshiro endure some self-training exercises to master the instrument. He composed music on the NEC PC-8801 as a hobby during his high school years. He utilized the skills he obtained from his hobby in various gaming projects.
He cites The Tower of Druaga, Space Harrier, and Gradius’s soundtracks as works that inspired him to become a video game composer. In 1992, Koshiro revealed in an interview that his favorite music genres were new wave, dance music, and technopop. Van Halen and Soul II Soul were among his favorite Western bands. With his multiple contributions to the video game industry, Yuzo Koshiro deserves a spot as one of gaming’s best composers.
Yoko Shimomura is a Japanese composer and pianist who contributed music for multiple gaming companies. From Capcom to Square Enix to Ubisoft and Nintendo, Yoko’s made stellar music for the gaming industry at large. Her musical contributions to Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy XV, and the Mario & Luigi series are noteworthy.
However, many gaming fanatics know Shimomura best for the music she wrote for Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. Shimomura developed an admiration for music at a young age. She would play her piano and compose tracks at the same time. After graduating college, she intended to become a piano instructor, but her love for video game music influenced her to become a video game musician.
She’d auditioned at Capcom and nailed it. Although her family and instructors didn’t value Shimomura’s decision, she went ahead with working for them. Shimomura cites Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, and Maurice Ravel as several influences on her work. However, musical styles like rock, electronica, oriental, ambient, etc. are more prevalent in her work. Shimomura notes emotional life events as inspiration for her work. Among all she’s composed she cites Kingdom Hearts’ Dearly Beloved as her favorite composition.
Martin O’Donnell is a great American composer, audio director, and sound designer. He’s known for composing tracks for the game developer Bungie’s titles like Myth, Oni, and Destiny. However, gamers know him best for his contributions to the Halo series. He collaborated with his musical colleague Michale Salvatori for most of his scores, though.
He started his career writing music for television, radio stations, and films. After contributing work for Myth II, Bungie hired O’Donnell to work on other projects like Oni and Halo. His score for the Halo trilogy received immense praise from critics and fans alike. Furthermore, O’Donnel prefers to write music toward the end of a game’s development cycle.
He notes that part of the Halo theme’s success is due to his experience composing background jingles. He’d rather write music that’d stay with people after 15 to 30 seconds of listening to the music. He cites classical music from Beethoven, Brahms, Barber, and professional rock groups are among his favorites. However, he admires work from fellow musicians like Koji Kondo, Nobuo Uematsu, Jason Hayes, and Jeremy Soule.
Michiru Yamane is a legendary Japanese video game composer and pianist. She draws from various musical styles like baroque, classical, and rock. She’s noted musicians Johann Sebastian Bach and Yellow Magic Orchestra as prominent influences, though. What she’s most recognized for is her work on Konami’s beloved vampire-slaying series, Castlevania.
When she was younger, Yamane adored practicing on her electric organ and piano. By her teenage years, she grew interested in composing songs for movies and commercials. In high school, she centered her studies around harmonic rhythm, counterpoint, and music theory. In college, she wrote music for large orchestras and based her thesis on Johann Sebastian Bach.
During her fourth year of college, she send in an application to Konami and they accepted her. She never wanted to become a game composer at first but liked playing video games and thought it’d be fun. Her greatest contributions to the Castlevania franchise were to the games Symphony of the Night and Bloodlines. With her love for Bach’s dark classical music and genres like techno-pop, jazz, bossa nova, and contemporary classical music, she felt like a perfect fit for Konami’s team.
Although Silent Hill had stellar games, it wouldn’t be as memorable if not for Akira Yamaoka’s musical contributions. He’s a talented Japanese composer and sound director. Funnily enough, Yamaoka didn’t anticipate becoming a famed musician. He originally attended Tokyo Art College to pursue a career in design after studying interior and product design.
After working on music for series like Contra: Hard Corps, Sparkster, and Snatcher, Yamaoka got the chance to compose music for Silent Hill. He argued he was the only one capable of composing music for that series. In 2009, Yamaoka would leave Konami to pursue work for Grasshopper Manufacture.
Yamaoka’s played music at multiple live events but maintains an interest in composing for any future Silent Hill-related projects. Yamaoka’s gone on record to say that Trent Reznor, Angelo Badalamenti, Metallica, and several other musicians influenced his work. As far as game developers go, Yamaoka says he cherishes Suda51 and loves the No More Heroes series.
Yasunori Mitsuda has worked on music for many fabulous video game series since his time as a Japanese composer, musician, and sound producer. From Chrono Trigger to Xenoblade, Mitsuda’s worked on a boatload of highly acclaimed video games. In one instance, he told Square’s president Hironobu Sakaguchi that he’d quit the company unless he allowed him to compose Chrono Trigger’s music.
It was a smart move on Sakaguchi’s part, considering Chrono Trigger’s OST received high praise from critics and fans. Mitsuda would eventually leave Square to form his own music production studio in 2011, though. Furthermore, he’d lend a helping hand on various anime, films, and television programs.
Mitsuda claims he draws inspiration from common human activities and random items. Minimalism, jazz, Celtic, and Asian music also play a role in helping Mitsuda compose soundtracks for games. Some of his favorite composers include Robert Schumann, Gustav Holst, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach, and numerous others.
If the Nintendo 64 was your childhood gaming system, then you’ve likely heard Grant Kirkhope’s music. He’s a Scottish-American composer and voice actor for various video games and films. He’s known for composing tracks for games like Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and for the Mario + Rabbids series as of late.
Kirkhope’s been nominated for many awards, too. Kirkhope’s father was a huge music fan and exposed him to various musicians like Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. However, Kirkhope taught himself how to play guitar at age 11 and learned the trumpet alongside it. He played in many bands during his youth and while working at Rare.
As stated earlier, Kirkhope was nominated for many awards and wound up winning a few of them. He won the “Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media” 2015 award from the International Film Music Critics Association for his work on Civilization: Beyond Earth. As of now, Kirkhope spends his time relaxing with his family in the United States. With all his work splendid contributions over the years, it’s no wonder many people hold him in high regard.
Although the Pokémon games have declined in recent years, fans note that the music never fails to disappoint. Junichi Masuda is to thank for many of the game’s iconic tracks. He’s a fantastic Japanese composer, singer, and trombonist. He’s best known for creating music and directing several Pokémon games.
He founded Game Freak with two other people named Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori. In high school, Masuda loved playing the trombone, and discovered classical music. He found himself drawn to work from Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. However, Masuda’s admitted that his favorite musical genre is techno and that he looks to the Super Mario series’s music for inspiration.
His philosophy on game design is intruiging. He likes to approach each game with the mindset that a beginner should be able to play it. He also values handheld gaming systems over your typical consoles. He argues handheld devices encourage social interaction more than non-handheld devices. Although Masuda left GameFreak to pursue a position at The Pokémon Company, his legacy of creating the series’s iconic tracks will live on for years to come.
So, there we have it, our pick for the 10 best video game composers through the years!
What do you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!