Ryuji Sasai is a rock musician that has balanced performing bass guitar in bands with compositions for various video game and anime projects. Born on December 21, 1961 in Osaka, Sasai listened extensively to hard rock music during his youth and started playing instruments in bands. The musician enjoyed his professional debut in 1982 when he joined the progressive rock band Novela. He was an instrumentalist and occasional songwriter for several of their albums, including Sanctuary, Legend of Final War, From the Mystic World, and WORDS, and took care to enhance their especially expressive qualities. He found such ensemble experiences useful in his scoring projects, given he was able to apply a different approach to those who were self-taught or classically-trained.
During his time with Novela, Sasai was asked to score several popular children's television shows. These included 1982's The Mysterious Cities of Gold with two others and 1984's Adventures of the Little Koala in a solo effort. He found it enjoyable to compose music for such titles while going over their images and designs. Following the dissolution of his band in 1986, he scored the animated movie Windaria (aka Once Upon a Time) in a defining scoring work. He complemented the stunning visuals and melancholic story of the soundtrack with a mixture of intimate chamber arrangements and pulsing electronic pieces. Though many of the pieces had a mainstream influence, he extensively listened to film and classical music to rouse his imagination. The film's album release proved considerably popular.
After opportunities in the anime industry dried up, Sasai pursued activities in other fields. He joined the band ACTION in 1988, providing backing vocals in addition to bass guitar performance. Having become an avid gamer, he also realized that there were composing opportunities in the video game field. As a result, the artist started sending his demo tapes and impressive resumé to every software house and game company listened in specialist PC magazines. Having received a response from MicroCabin, he soon started scoring their hit dungeon crawler Xak: The Art of Visual Stage in 1989. He found it challenging to elicit sounds on the PC-8801 using music macro language, but persevered to create a light-hearted score peppered with his characteristic rock touch.
Following this success, Sasai worked on numerous other scores for personal computers. For MicroCabin, he took a more scenic and ethnic-inspired approach on Xak II: The Rising of the Red Moon. He also enjoyed arranging the FM-TOWNS versions of the Xak titles, given they enabled him to record on CD audio without technical restrictions. In more restrictive roles, the artist was also responsible for adapting the existing scores for Fray and Final Fantasy for their MSX adaptations. Still a freelance composer, he also gained experience working on several bishoujo games, namely AliceSoft's Rance,d Champion Soft's A Little Adventure, and XTALSOFT's RPG Heart of Phantasm III. He composed the latter with Chihiro Fujioka, an aspiring game producer who went on to become a close friend.
In 1991, Sasai was invited to become a founding member of the Osaka development team of Square by Fujioka. Soon enough, he composed the majority of the score for Final Fantasy Legend III (aka SaGa 3: The Ruler of Time and Space). He worked closely with director and co-composer Fujioka throughout the project to ensure each of his tracks complemented the scenario. While his previous composing experiences proved useful, the project was his most demanding to date from a technological perspective; realizing that the PSG could only produce three sounds at a time, he carefully thought about the best way to present his composition style. Between his diverse original compositions, the artist also paid homage to the series' history with two throwbacks.
In 1992, Sasai scored his second title for Square, creating the score for the Super Nintendo spinoff Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. After submitting samples, the veteran was asked to compose most of the title's energetic themes, while newcomer Yasuhiro Kawakami handled the more peaceful entries. Inspired by his ongoing band activities, Sasai integrated a mainstream rock feel to most of the score in order to appeal to the American audience. Among the highlights were the exciting battle tracks, epic mountain theme, and encompassing last dungeon music. The artist supplemented the soundtrack release with two bonus arrangements, featuring his own rocking guitar performances. The game, while savaged by critics, endeared Sasai to Western audiences. During its development, he also continued to enjoy performing with the band ACTION.
In 1996, Sasai completed the score for his first solo effort, the Super Nintendo RPG Rudra's Hidden Treasure. Aware that the developers were very concerned about the direction of the music, he carefully persevered towards an effective direction. Inspired by the successes of Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda at the Tokyo branch, he created most of the soundtrack in the spirit of conventional RPG soundtracks, combining fun dungeon themes with rock-based battle themes. The artist composed over one hundred tracks for the project, though only the best compositions were featured in the final product. Following its completion, he was asked to create the character select track for the ensemble brawler score Tobal No. 1, also adapted for the title's offbeat arranged album.
Following the disbandment of Square' Osaka team, Sasai was kept on as a composer of an outsourced game title, Bushido Blade II. Realizing the opportunities of the PlayStation, the composer pursued a richer and harder approach for this score. He blended hard rock performances with traditional Japanese instruments throughout in order to support the game's action-packed gameplay and Japanese setting. The final soundtrack was mostly impressive and its soundtrack release was topped off with two arranged tracks once again. After this project, Sasai was supposed to take charge of two RPG titles simultaneously, but this didn't come to pass due to circumstances with the company. Lacking assignments and feeling undervalued, the composer decided to leave Square in 1998.
Despite leaving Square, Sasai continued to pursue a range of musical activities. He split with his band ACTION to form the tribute band Queen Mania in 1998. While the artist tends to prefer harder music such as Extreme and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he still has a soft spot in his heart for Queen. The band continue to tour across Japan to large crowds and are well-known for their over-the-top sets. Since 2006, the artists has also appeared with his ever-faithful bass as part of the cross-dressing visual kei band Spiders from Cabaret. He notes that the musical and dramatic portions of live performances with these bands require a lot of endurance. As a result, he hopes to focus more on scoring and studio work now that he is over 50.
Though absent from the mainstream gaming scene since 1998, Sasai has continued to work in the industry. He recently revealed that he has composed for a number of bishoujo games and pachinko machines as a freelancer; however, the nature of these activities is a mystery since he composed under a pseudonym. At the start of 2011, he also surprisingly returned to supplement the DS remake of Final Fantasy Legend III with modern arrangements and new compositions. While some of his arrangements featured romantic orchestrations and dark fusions, he once again shined the most with his melodic and exuberant rock pieces. Though neither game music's most popular composer nor prolific contributor, Ryuji Sasai will be remembered for his enjoyable old-school scores and for increasing the stylistic diversity of Square's albums.
- Various Game & Album Credits
© Biography by Chris Greening (November 2007). Last updated on July 22, 2011. Do not republish without formal permission.