Hitoshi Sakimoto :: 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. Many thanks to PQTN for aiding the creation of this biography. It was last updated on July 4, 2008.
Born on February 26, 1969 in Tokyo, Japan, Hitoshi Sakimoto is a versatile and prolific musician known for establishing Basiscape, composing various RPG and shooter scores, and making early sound programming achievements. His interest in music developed during his elementary school years when he taught himself to play the piano and electone and participated in some brass and rock bands. His passion further developed when he was introduced to the music of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Chick Corea, two of his major influences. During his senior high school years, Sakimoto wrote for the computer magazine Oh!FM and compiled data about certain pieces of music; from here, he became a self-confessed 'computer, games, and music geek', soon becoming familiar with the works of Yuzo Koshiro and Miki Higashino even before starting to compose. Sakimoto met the historically significant Mr. Nagano (first name unknown) soon after, resulting in his introduction to Iwata. Sakimoto subsequently joined his friends developing ASCGroup's PC-8801 Comic Market shooter Revolter at the age of 16. He assisted Iwata to create its score despite having no prior experience creating music and established a unique sense of musicianship here, evidenced by his electronic stage themes and the bonus arrangements of themes from Dragon Spirit and Salamander. He excelled by creating the custom FM synthesizer driver Terpsichorean to enhance the sound quality of the score; the driver is regarded as perhaps the best of its kind, unparalleled by the standard FM synthesis driver used by most major companies at the time.
Despite the success of Revolter, Sakimoto continued to underestimate his talent and decided to pursue a career as a video game programmer. Nevertheless, he received considerable encouragement to continue in the field of game music, particularly from Iwata and Nagano, receiving praise for both his sound quality and his Revolter compositions, one of which was reprised on Bothtec's Daisenryaku. A year later, Artec recruited Sakimoto to use his driver to program Digan no Maseki and Barbatus no Majo, further publicising his name. He then refined his musicality by scoring Scaptrust's Starship Rendezvous and Artec's King Breeder with Iwata in 1990, providing two representative titles with the Terpsichore sound. By the early 1990s, many people in the games industry were familiar with Hitoshi Sakimoto's pseudonym 'Ymoh.S' due to the impression the Terpsichorean driver made. He was recruited by a wide range of companies to sound program, install custom drivers, and create sound effects on consoles restricted in audio quality. Among them, a line of Data East Arcade to Mega Drive ports, numerous Ponica PC-9801 games, several Game Boy movie adaptations, and Gimmick House's Dragon Master Silk. Arrangement and sound programming work on 1991's Master of Monsters resulted in Sakimoto's earliest soundtrack release and introduced him to Hayato Matsuo and Koichi Sugiyama. Throughout his early career, Sakimoto also appeared on several Synergy Record and Troubadour Record albums, collaborative non-game projects featuring musicians such as Yuzo Koshiro, Takayuki Aihara, Motoaki Takenouchi, and Sakimoto's drinking buddy Shinji Hosoe, which provided excellent opportunities for him to create diverse refined compositions.
Sakimoto composed his first solo scores with Bubble Ghost and Devilish for portable consoles. In addition, he and Iwata collaborated with JKL Furukawa on Custom's popular graphic content games Metal Orange, Carat, and Chip-Chan Kick!. Historically significantly, Sakimoto worked on Quest's 1991 shooter Magical Chase at request by Iwata, Quest's principle composer at the time. Its famous score was quite light-hearted with high-speed arpeggios and distinctive slapped basslines; thanks to Sakimoto's programming, it was also considered the most technologically commanded use of the TurboGrafx-16's synth. Sakimoto's first symphonic project was the score to Yasumi Matsuno's hit strategy game Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen with Iwata and Hayato Matsuo. Matsuno, who challenged Sakimoto by demanding such a score, provided constant feedback and advice to help the composer make colourful and sophisticated use of MIDI orchestration. Its sequel, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, retained the idiom of the Ogre series but was altogether more emotive, intricate, and grand; it was a musical exploration ground for Sakimoto and Iwata as the first instance where they portrayed deep human emotion. The first two Ogre scores received soundtrack releases, complete with original and MIDI versions, and were also interpreted in an orchestral album arranged by Matatsugu Shinozaki and an image album in which Sakimoto crafted his first vocal theme. While the Ogre series received only a small amount of exposure overseas, given each game sold around half a million copies in Japan, it was responsible for popularising the names of Sakimoto and Iwata in the games industry and was more significant than even the Final Fantasy Tactics collaboration.
Maintaining their successful professional relationship, Iwata and Sakimoto subsequently worked on Eighting / Raizing shooter Shippu Mahou Daisakusen. One of the last scores that used the Terpsichore sound, its score was remarkably catchy, upbeat, and light-hearted. Their score to 1995's Dragon Master Silk: Episode II is regarded to be their weakest early effort, but nevertheless remained symbolic of Sakimoto's progress and exposure that he was recruited as a composer rather than solely a manipulator like its predecessor. The pair also joined Mitsuhito Tanaka's team of composers to score 1995's Treasure Hunter G, developed by Sting and published by Square. Sakimoto created seven mature orchestral compositions, most of which were used to conclude the game, that featured in full sound versions and downgraded Super Nintendo versions on the official soundtack. The majority of Sakimoto's projects remained in the field of sound manipulation, however. For the Super Nintendo, Game Gear, and Sega CD, he worked on eminent titles such as Super Bomberman: Panic Bomber World, Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei, and even Koshiro's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder. Impressed by his work on Master of Monsters, Koichi Sugiyama personally requested Sakimoto work for him on the sound effects for Dragon Quest VI and Dragon Quest III's Super Nintendo remake. Sakimoto was also Hayato Matsuo's programmer of choice for the scores to Classic Road, its sequel, and Super Hockey '94; the duo also created the funk-based score to Sword Maniac together that formed the basis of a diverse album. He also contributed to Cho-Aniki Show 2, Melody of Legend ~ Chapter of Love, and Ten Plants early in his career.
In 1996, Sakimoto single-handedly scored Eighting / Raizing's shooter Terra Diver (aka Soukyuugurentai) for the Arcade. The commercially released soundtrack mostly featured vibrant electronica, but often hybridised it with jazz influences, orchestration, and aggressive percussion use. In what has become a staple feature of Sakimoto's major works, an overriding leitmotif was integrated into many of the pieces; this provided a hook for listeners to enjoy while reflecting the character of its score with its meticulous melodic and rhythmical crafting. He was inspired to do so partly as a result by his work on 1993's Super Back to the Future 2, where he integrated the movie's main theme, but also likely through 1995's Dragon Quest VI, where he witnessed Sugiyama use many four note motifs. He spent six months of the subsequent year scoring Final Fantasy Tactics with Masaharu Iwata. On this project, he joined Yasumi Matsuno and his team of developers after they departed Quest to form Square's fourth development team in 1995. Sakimoto took the leading role, responsible for the majority of the cinematic underscoring, battle themes, and character portraiture, as well as two recurring melodies. Sakimoto embraced opportunities for exuberance provided by the relatively unrestricted PlayStation console and accomplished programming from Hidenori Suzuki, Kenji Nagashima, and Motoko Watanabe. As a consequence, he offered harmonically exuberant orchestral cues and thunderously punctuated action themes that appealed for their lush and unconventional musicality while fluidly fitting with the game's scenarios. The score was responsible for his popular exposure and propelled him on to even bigger collaborations while Iwata temporarily and ironically faded into obscurity.
Following Terra Diver and Final Fantasy Tactics, Sakimoto further explored his versatility with several prominent scores. In 1998, Sakimoto scored Treasure's Radiant Silvergun for the Arcade and Saturn. The unrelenting symphonic score impacted on listeners to emphasise the energy and challenge of the maximalist vertical scrolling shooter. Like the two major projects before it, Sakimoto used an overriding motif throughout the score that emphasised a sense of ascension and repetition. The motif was daringly used in all but one of the score's sixteen pieces for psychological effect, often obsessively presented on brass for the action themes in conjunction with thunderous orchestration. He worked with Eighting once again by co-composing the Arcade's Armed Police Batrider. Also on their behalf, he arranged Manabu Namiki's score to Battle Garegga for the Saturn, strengthening his relationship with his future employee. By the end of 1998, Sakimoto became a resident employee of Square's fourth development team and later Nobuo Uematsu's short-lived sound production subsidiary Square Sounds in order to score Matsuno's epic Vagrant Story. The score received great praise for how it enhanced the game dungeons were individualised with moody and fantastical ambience, boss encounters were accompanied by percussive furore, and cutscenes were underscored by subtle and evocative cues. Sakimoto's music also endeared on a stand-alone level, full of idiosyncracies and intricacies that made it unparalleled for its time and, in many people's eyes, his greatest masterpiece. His 18 month absence during its development prevented him from contributing to Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber; his compositions were reprised, but all original creations were by Hayato Matsuo and Masaharu Iwata.
In 2001, Sakimoto was able to shadow Iwata on the Game Boy Advance's Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis. The soundtrack was not officially released because of Quest's financial difficulties that led to their gradual assimilation by Square. The same year, Sakimoto created the energetic symphonic score to the flight simulator Kuusen and, with Atsuhiro Motoyama, Tekken Advance to some popular exposure but no soundtrack releases. He concluded the prolific year by scoring the majority of the score to Legaia 2: Duel Saga. Joined by his close friend Yasunori Mitsuda and Michiru Oshima, he reflected a new facet of his musicality by blending acoustic instruments from across the world into compositions inspired by imagery of the game. Subsequently, Sakimoto begun composing the score of Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, programmed by Yasunori Mitsuda's Procyon Studio employees. The composer's most outwardly diverse work to date, it featured orchestral, ambient, choral, electronic, and more exotic music to portray the moods, action, and locations of the game. He also worked with Super Sweep's Shinji Hosoe and Ayako Saso on the PC's Perfect Prince by Gimmick House. It featured many whimsical pieces and Baroque imitations, consistuting his most conventionally classically-oriented soundtrack published on CD. Over these years, Sakimoto made the important transition to becoming highly demanded as a composer in a variety of styles, while leaving his roots as a sound manipulator largely behind. Since 2000, he had also been planning to form a music studio due to inspiration by his contemporaries. This would ultimately bring the biggest turning point in his career.
On October 4, 2002, Hitoshi Sakimoto established the independent visual media music production company Basiscape. It initially comprised just three members Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masaharu Iwata, and Manabu Namiki who would participate in their own individual projects while receiving the increase in exposure and prolificacy that a studio would provide them. Sakimoto's company role was initially especially demanding, as his roles as company president and lead composer meant he had to balance numerous administrative responsibilities with a tight composition schedule. Sakimoto and his team were nevertheless able to quickly build Basiscape into a reliable and prolific company after it was hired to score a myriad of major and minor projects, many of which Sakimoto personally created music for. As a consequence, Basiscape has periodically expanded, first with the additions of Mitsuhiro Kaneda in 2004 and Kimihiro Abe in 2005, to become a highly productive game music production company. High-profile collaborations included with shooter company Cave (DoDonPachi, ESPGaluda, and Mushihimesama series) and Eighting / Raizing (BLEACH Heat the Soul series, Battle Stadium D.O.N, Fullmetal Alchemist: Dream Carnival, Zoids: Full Metal Crush). The team's other scores included Metal Slug 6, Digimon Savers: Another Mission, Kuusen II, Fantasy Earth: Zero, the Sega Ages 2500 series, and the latest Wizardry Gaiden titles. They have also offered diverse and creative arrangements for the collaborative arranged albums, including the Basiscape-led productions Stella Deus BGM ReArrange Album, Hyper Street Fighter II Remix Tracks, and Darius Remix.
In the first two years Basiscape's existence, Sakimoto exclusively focused on five major projects aside from contributing to certain aforementioned arranged albums. He initially completed music production on Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter and Perfect Prince, then returned to work with Square on 2003's Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Here, he defined a adventurous and light-hearted style for the soundtrack to reflect the youthful nature of the game while collaborating with Nobuo Uematsu to create the main theme and Super Sweep composers Ayako Saso and Kaori Ohkoshi. The game spawned a soundtrack release featuring two sound versions, the relaxing arranged album White Melodies of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and a four volume radio drama series. 2004's Atlus strategy-RPG Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity marked Sakimoto's first major collaboration with Iwata since Final Fantasy Tactics. It featured a wide spectrum of mature and rich orchestral colour and was capped off by the Sakimoto's first in-game vocal theme, "Holy Spirit". Due to the success of Radiant Silvergun, Treasure employed Sakimoto once again to score the Konami-published Gradius V in 2004. While proud to be able to score a title in a series that influenced him to become a game musician, he chose to largely disregard the music in previous titles aside a few arrangements, since he was hesistant to emulate a style that betrays his own. Instead, the score mostly featured energetic electronica supported by thunderous percussion, in contrast other popular items in Sakimoto's discography.
2006 brought Sakimoto's intended magnum opus, the score for Square Enix's long-awaited Final Fantasy XII. The symphonic score was texturally thick, harmonically sumptuous, and often percussive, reunited by several recurring motifs and made colourful by portrayals of mysticism, gaiety, pride, boss battles, and the empire. It was a massive diversion from the musical tradition of the numbered series, even with the obligatory appearance of a Nobuo Uematsu ballad. The composer focused on creating themes to accompany the numerous locations of Ivalice, especially its monster-infested vast landscapes and deep caverns, aided by Hayato Matsuo and Masaharu Iwata who created a few compositions each. As his field themes needed to reflect both exploration and the occurrence of real-time battles, he created extensively developed themes that alternated between energetic and more relaxed passages. Given the project was initiated by Yasumi Matsuno, who led Square Enix's fourth development team on the project until he became seriously ill, Sakimoto's involvement was not surprising, but very controversial. He was at the centre of a row between Square Enix executives and Yasumi Matsuno over the choice of the game's composer, given Uematsu was initially assigned. Problems were exacerbated by the fact Sakimoto composed the entire score with no regard for PlayStation 2 sequencing, resulting in reduced in-game effectiveness and massive demands on the score's manipulator Keiji Kawamori. The soundtrack was nevertheless acclaimed for its use in the game and is one of the best-selling items in Sakimoto's discography. No arranged albums for Final Fantasy XII have been announced, though a 'best of' domestic score and several piano sheet music books have been released.
Following the attention generated by Final Fantasy XII, Sakimoto expanded Basiscape to become the largest independent video game music production company. Several new employees were introduced: Noriyuki Kamikura, Yoshimi Kudo, and Azusa Chiba to increase the company's productivity and versatility in the field of composition and arrangement; former Procyon Studio manipulators Miki Ito and Masaaki Kaneko to provide additional capacity for sound programming, sound effects design, and voice editing; and several production managers to relieve Sakimoto of his administrative responsibilities. While Sakimoto and Namiki have remained self-sustaining composers that lead major projects, its other composers tend to collaborate to enhance the Basiscape's productivity contrary to the company's original purpose. One landmark was Basiscape's 2007 collaborations with small developer Vanillaware on Grim Grimoire and Odin Sphere, where they handled all aspects of sound production. Sakimoto was recruited to lead these titles after company president George Kamitani was impressed by his artistic integrity on a previous project they worked on together. Despite being publicised as the sole composer of the game, Sakimoto's role was ultimately limited to creating their main themes and a few other creations, while secondary Basiscape members were principally responsible for the music. Within established fantastical orchestral frameworks, the co-composers were free to experiment and express individuality, yielding an economical functional accompaniment to Grim Grimoire and a diverse emotional score for Odin Sphere. While Sakimoto has taken a small role in many of Basiscape's other projects, Odin Sphere was especially significant due to its magnitude, publicity, and popularity, as well as the extent of his stylistic influence.
Recently, Sakimoto has also reflected an inclination to participate in non-game projects. Keen to create more vocal music following the success of Stella Deus, he created the uplifting electronica-infused album Colors of Life with singer Lia. The same year, he arranged the main vocal theme of the anime series Kaleido Star composed by Mina Kubota and Sayaka Ohara. Since Final Fantasy XII, he has also featured in several concerts. Music from Stella Deus was performed at PLAY! A Video Game Symphony in Detroit and he DJed at the Extra: Hyper Game Music Event with a remix of Soukyuugurentai's "Above Satellite Orbit". The Australian-based Eminence Symphony Orchestra featured a diverse selection of music from Sakimoto at the A Night in Fantasia 2007, Otakon 2007, Passion, and Destiny: Reunion events. Eager to promote the orchestra, Sakimoto selected the program for these events, directed Abe and Kamikura to arrange much of their music, and attended the concerts as a special guest. In 2007, Studio Gonzo asked Sakimoto to create his first full anime score for Romeo X Juliet after they enjoyed his Final Fantasy XII score and realized Sakimoto's own admiration for their animation. While Sakimoto's musicality didn't significantly change, the tone of the music did since he focused on creating music to accompany cinematic drama and love scenes for the first time. The project also brought Sakimoto his first score recorded with full orchestra. The subsequent year, Sakimoto handled the score to Studio Gonzo's game-to-anime adaptation The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk, creating a humorous orchestral score exhibiting significant RPG influence.
Sakimoto produced several major game scores in 2007. He and Iwata composed Mistwalker's DS tactical RPG A.S.H. -Archaic Sealed Heat- at the request of Hironobu Sakaguchi, an obsessive collector of Sakimoto's works. The result was an aggressive and tense quasi-orchestral score coloured by light, spiritual, and heroic interludes. On the sequel Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Sakimoto had a small role overseeing the minimal arrangement of his Final Fantasy XII compositions for implementation on the DS. Following this largely disappointing work, Sakimoto took a much larger role on Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift; he perservered despite initial difficulties to blend light-hearted original compositions with expertly implemented reprises of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy XII pieces. He has had no direct involvement on other Ivalice Alliance titles, though his works were reused in Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, and the Crystal Guardians mobile titles. By using a similar production method as Odin Sphere, Sakimoto defined the whimsical tone of the DS book adaptation Deltora Quest: The Seven Jewels with a handful of important themes. Between these projects, he also created an industrial rock town theme on Wizardry Gaiden: Last Ordeals and created some 1980s music for the drama production Tamiuta. He concluded 2007 blending warm synthetic and orchestral sounds on the Wii's Opoona. The score is regarded as one of the most unique, charming, and coherent collective Basiscape efforts, though the commercial failure of the game meant it did not receive a soundtrack release.
In 2008, Sakimoto has continued to combine solo and collective contributions to game scores. On Sega's PlayStation 3 Valkyria Chronicles, he created an emotional militaristic score that fitted the World War II theme of the game. Aiming to give his works greater Western appeal, he demonstrated considerable influence from Hans Zimmer's action scores and oversaw several sentimental orchestrations. Though mainly synthesized, the score also featured more orchestral performances courtesy of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra than any of his past game projects. In collaborative Basiscape projects, he has also recently created Elminage's spiritual Celtic opening theme, Coded Soul's atmospheric genre-spanning main theme, and L no Kisetsu 2: Invisible Memories' sentimental vocal theme. Sakimoto's upcoming projects include RIZ-ZOAWD, a DS adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, and Oboro Muramasa Youtoden, a Vanillaware action game that is currently facing development problems. Though likely to create just a few compositions for these projects, he will be important in establishing their identities by creating promotion-worthy main themes that influence co-composers with their distinct melodic material and timbral colours. Sakimoto has recently achieved representation by Western game music production company Four Bars Intertainment. This will result in him creating epic orchestral scores for some as yet unannounced Western titles. Sakimoto's achievements over his 20 year career have placed him and Basiscape at the forefront of the games industry.