Noriko Matsueda :: Biography
Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on June 20, 2007.
Born on December 18, 1971, in Tochigi, Noriko Matsueda is a retired game music composer known for her work on Square's Front Mission series, Lagoon series, The Bouncer, and Final Fantasy X-2. Having demonstrated a gift for creating music at a very early age, Noriko Matsueda received a scholarship in music at the age of three and went on to study the piano and Electone organ. Composing soon became a source of personal expression and, influenced by George Gershwin, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, she begun to develop a jazz style characterised by emphasis on melodic hooks, pronounced use of the piano and electronic instruments, and a carefree attitude. Also influenced by symphonists such as Igor Stravinsky and Gustav Mahler, Matsueda's eclecticity is often remarked to be one of her strengths. She notes that 'the best qualities of a composer are their curiosity and sensitivity', though freely confesses to once being capricious. She refined and diversified her styles by taking various composition and performance courses at the Tokyo Conservatoire Shobi, where she also met her long-term collaborator Takahito Eguchi. Friendly rivals at the time, Matsueda respected her partner's attractive musical style and imagination, and felt it would be pleasant to collaborate after graduation.
Matsueda joined Square in 1994 at the height of the Super Nintendo era. Then a relatively small company, she was able to interchange working at the company's Tokyo premises with work at home from her comfortable studio. Her earliest score was 1995's Front Mission with Yoko Shimomura. Here, Matsueda created a number of rousing action cues and flaunted a jazzy style in several simple setting themes. She subsequently offered the stylistically distinctive "Boss Battle 1" to Chrono Trigger, arranged by Nobuo Uematsu. Matsueda's first solo work was 1995's Bahamut Lagoon; here, she created a series of acoustic and often militaristic themes that offered considerable impetus while remaining graceful, charming, and melodic. This score also represented Matsueda's first professional relationship with Takahito Eguchi, orchestrator for the bonus disc of its soundtrack release. Matsueda subsequently created her first PlayStation composition in 1996 with Tobal No. 1's "Tower Block," unused in the game. Still productive, she created the score for 1997's Front Mission Second. A landmark work technologically and musically, it featured well-developed and atmospheric themes that convincingly used orchestral instruments; it provided a captivating accompaniment to a game representing futuristic urban warfare while adding maturity and originality to a key Square series.
Matsueda changed direction in 1999 with the score for the racing RPG Racing Lagoon. Marking her first major collaboration with Eguchi, Matsueda was responsible for everything but the battle, opening, and ending themes, offering a jazz fusion sound that completely differed from her Front Mission works. She fused laidback melodies and jazz-influenced harmonic innovations while producing a synthy sound overall; she also referenced electronic genres, Brazilian dance movements, and the composer's past piano work to create a diverse and competent work. The result intensified the mood of the game, which referenced the corruption and intensity of illegal racing at dark hours through bays and sprawling metropolises such as Yokohoma. Matsueda and Eguchi collaborated once again for the score to PlayStation 2's beat 'em up The Bouncer in 2000. Here, they took a more equal share of the music and often arranged each other's works, though no individual credits were ever released regarding who composed what, resulting in a curious industry secret. The overall project was a massive one for Matsueda, especially given a large amount of the music produced was not used in the game and there were many post-production demands. Its score featured dramatic acoustic compositions and a series of rock, electronica, and jazz fusions. Afterwards, Noriko Matsueda engaged in her last solo project, creating 25 pieces of mostly jazzy background music for Square's PlayOnline viewer used for Final Fantasy XI and Tetra Master.
Matsueda reunited with Eguchi to create her final game score for Final Fantasy X-2 in 2003. Having controversially replaced Nobuo Uematsu and his collaborators to create a thematically independent work from Final Fantasy X, the duo's score has become the most criticised Final Fantasy soundtrack available; while more melodic than their previous scores with a string of highly successful singles, it flaunted a wild, camp, and girly sound and featured a variety of superficial experiments. Despite the hostile response to the album, it was a financial success, especially given its low budget, and Matsueda won fame as the composer of most of its setting themes. Matsueda subsequently worked on 2004's acclaimed Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission and her three arrangements of the Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection. Written with the intention of leaving a legacy, Matsueda decided to leave the gaming industry immediately afterwards to the distress of her friends Shimomura and Eguchi. Her intensive job brought sleeplessness, loss of appetite, sharp weight decreases, and rough skin and Matsueda found this increasingly affected her with age; the reception towards Final Fantasy X-2 was the last straw. She currently resides in Japan living a relatively quiet life, but continues to listen to and play music as a hobby and actively follows her former colleague's careers. While the circumstances of her departure were unfortunate, she will always remain a cult figure among game music fans for her symphonic, jazz, and electronic contributions to several excellent scores.