Yoko Shimomura :: 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 August 16, 2008.
Born on October 19, 1967 in the Hyogo prefecture, Yoko Shimomura is one of the most popular and talented composers in the gaming industry, known for her eclectic works on behalf of Capcom and Square Enix on various RPG and action titles. Having an interest in music from a young age, Shimomura started to take piano lessons at four and soon began to compose or, as she says, "play notes randomly and pretend to be composing". She was a fan of classical music while growing up, but also harboured a love for playing video games. Intending a career as a piano teacher, she specialised in piano performance at the Osaka University of Music. After graduating in 1988, she decided to apply to become a game composer at several companies on the off chance that she might be accepted. She was surprised to be offered a position at Capcom and, after much contemplation, decided to follow her dreams and become a game composer. Given video games weren't as popular or advanced as they are now, she received little approval for her career choice from her friends and teachers. Her parents even cried about her shock decision. However, they had little reason to be worried.
Massively successful, Shimomura has captivated gamers for 20 years. Inspired by the sensuality of daily life, her scores often radiate a light and endearing aura and boast an invigorating action-packed centre, though are, almost without exception, wonderfully individually characterised and brim with unique flair. Shimomura's style often defies theoretical analysis, but familiar aspects of her compositions include use of unforgettable melodies, rhythmically curious bass lines, intense but orthodox chord progressions, and plenty of piano work. The apparent simplicity of many of her compositions ought not reflect a musician without ambition or creativity. A survey of Shimomura's creations reveal she has incorporated practically every genre of music into her soundtracks rock, electronica, oriental, ambient, industrial, pop, symphonic, operatic, chiptune, and more but without losing her individual touch and descending into the depths of banal derivation. Unsurprisingly, the accessibility, diversity, and functionality of her works has resulted in her involvement in many major projects, including Street Fighter II, Breath of Fire, Front Mission, Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Shimomura debuted Capcom in 1988 with the scores for Samurai Sword and F1 Dream. She quickly became a leading member of the company's sound team Alph Lyla and contributed to over 15 projects during her five year tenure at the company. She helped to popularise the classic Capcom sound by crafting melodious character themes for Street Fighter II and a light rock accompaniment to The King of Dragons. Her other contributions ranged from the humorous accompaniment to Disney Adventures in Magic Kingdom and Nemo, the dark atmospheric stage themes on The Punisher and Varth: Operation Thunderstorm, and even some themes on various puzzle and quiz games. The original scores for these works were often commemorated in Pony Canyon's series of 'G.S.M. Capcom' and 'Capcom Game Music' compilations. She also had guest contributions on notable titles such as Final Fight, Mega Man 5, and Gargoyle's Quest. Towards the end of her time at the company, Shimomura co-composed the score for Capcom's first serious attempt at an RPG, Breath of Fire. While her role was limited to a single piece, it inspired her to want to compose more RPGs in the future. Though the prominence of her Capcom projects varied, Shimomura developed her renowned versatility and ability to captivate audiences with each one.
While Shimomura's score to Street Fighter II is rarely directly credited to her, it has become synonymous with game music in general. The blockbuster fighting game addicted tens of millions worldwide at Arcades and later received console ports in 'dashed', 'turbo', 'super', and 'hyper' versions. Shimomura created the stage themes for all characters except Sagat's for the original edition and individually characterised each of them to fit their diverse personalities and origins. At the core of the score's appeal, however, were its strong lyrical melodies, which lent themselves to being whistled by fans all over the world. The score's popularity allowed Capcom to achieve success in the record market for the first time with a string of arrangement and dedication elements. Among the releases were an early image album, a Yuji Toriyama jazz fusion production, a German-produced rap album, an experimental Basiscape CD, a multi-arranger tribute album, a street musician remix, a vocal and karaoke album, and various fan-arranged productions, most notably by OverClocked Remix. In one of her most memorable experiences, Shimomura led a band of in-house musicians to perform arrangements from the score at Japan's 1992 and 1993 Game Music Festivals.
In 1993, Shimomura decided to leave Capcom in order to score more RPGs at Square. She debuted with the cult title Live A Live, adopting a different approach given the various different chapters of the game. She incorporated an oriental feel into the kung fu chapter, filled the present chapter with power rock tunes, and explored past and future in other sections of the game. She felt an eclectic approach was justified given the diverse imagery of the game, but also incorporated unifying features so that the game was well-characterised as a whole. She arranged the catchy battle themes from the title into a synth-rock medley for a bonus single that accompanied the game's guide book. A year later, Shimomura joined newcomer Noriko Matsueda to compose Front Mission, a military strategy title that provided the foundations of Square Enix's most successful non-RPG franchise. The pair adopted a fighting spirit throughout the project given the very tight schedule and need to underscore intense battles. Shimomura was principally responsible for various energetic action themes and some of the more futuristic additions, including the cinematic opener. The score was faithfully arranged and implemented by Hidenori Iwasaki for its remakes on the PlayStation and DS in 2003 and 2007.
In 1996, Shimomura received individual recognition among the masses for the first time by scoring Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Her playful melodic score made the title even more endearing to gamers. She combined upbeat and hummable compositions reminiscent of Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. 3 with action tracks and storyline themes influenced by Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy IV. In fact, Shimomura incorporated tracks from both games in the score while also creating numerous original themes such as the fan arranger's favourite "Beware of the Forest Mushrooms". After contributing a jungle-influenced track to Tobal No. 1, Shimomura explored the opportunities of the PlayStation by scoring 1998's horror RPG Parasite Eve. She created her most experimental score to date by mixing striking operatic synth vocals, pulsing electronica, haunting ambience, and melancholy piano work. This enhanced the intensity of the cinematic game and supported the inorganic feel and urban locations fittingly. The soundtrack was made more accessible by the inclusion of three recurring leitmotifs and an ending theme sung by Shani Rigsbee. Shimomura subsequently headlined the game's electronic remix album by creating an expansive piano-led interpretation of "Theme of Aya". However, she did not return to produce Parasite Eve II, controversially replaced by Naoshi Mizuta because of her heavy workload.
Shimomura finally received an opportunity to score a fantasy title with 1999's Legend of Mana. In complete contrast to Parasite Eve, she portrayed a magical and colourful world featuring all kinds of whimsical creatures. Her score revisited nearly every style she had previously touched upon, offering pastoral town themes, power rock battle themes, soothing spiritual pieces, gorgeous piano work, powerful orchestrations, and the ethnic-influenced vocal theme "Song of Mana". Though the game was poorly received, the soundtrack remains Shimomura's personal favourite and continues to receive a lot of positive feedback ten years on. The composer's career lulled during her subsequent three years at Square through no fault of her own. She was assigned to create the light-hearted original scores for two unpopular and superficial spinoffs, the PlayStation's Chocobo Stallion and the WonderSwan's Harutaku Chocobo. She featured sparsely in album releases, assigned to arrange Final Fantasy V's "Dear Friends" for flute and piano for the Potion: Relaxin' With Final Fantasy compilation and Rikku's superficial vocal theme "Get Happy!" for the Final Fantasy X Vocal Collection. Increasingly dissatisfied with her lack of freedom at the increasingly commercialistic Square, she begun proceedings to set up her own studio to work as a freelancer.
Shimomura's final project as a resident employee was the action RPG Kingdom Hearts. She was initially apprehensive about scoring such a demanding project, having no idea what music would be appropriate for a Square and Disney cross-over. By a trial and error method, she created stage, battle, and boss themes to fit every world using scripts and illustrations as a reference. Given the real-time combat system, she also ensured the setting and battle themes convincingly transitioned into each other and that the battle music would create a suitable rhythm for the action. She felt an enormous amount of pressure when arranging movie themes like Disney's "Into the Sea" and Danny Elfman's "This is Halloween", but carefully maintained the style and imagery of the original compositions while adapting to the console's sound capabilities. She rounded off the score with iconic opening and ending themes, orchestrated by Kaoru Wada and performed by full orchestra, and the pop song "Hikari" ("Simple and Clean"), written and sung by Utada Hikaru. The soundtrack was adored by most of the six million that played the game and massively popularised Shimomura's name. In her last Square project, she oversaw the inclusion of a few new tracks for the enhanced version Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, incorporated into a bonus single.
As a freelancer, Shimomura has found the world has really opened up for her. She has been able to diversify the range of her works by making new acquaintances, but has also taken opportunities to add coherency to her extraordinarily varied discography by revisiting past works. She initially revived her role in the Mario RPG franchise at the request of AlphaDream director Chihiro Fujioka. She enjoyed creating the hilarious soundtrack to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga so much that she returned to score Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time a couple of years later. For 2007's Heroes of Mana, Shimomura happily reprised her role in the Mana franchise to create a musically and technologically refined score featuring a surplus of stage and battle themes. In major collaborative efforts, she fluidly incorporated numerous diverse compositions into the RPGs Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner and Luminous Arc 2: Will and made refined creative contributions to pop'n music 13 Super Smash Bros. Brawl, FM Sound Module Maniax, and Team Entertainment's Premium Arrange series. While her contributions to these projects varied in size, they provide a testament to Yoko Shimomura's strong reputation and extensive connections in the gaming industry.
Despite her freelance status, Shimomura continues to remain closely associated with Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts development team. Her score for 2004's Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories mainly featured arrangements from the original Kingdom Hearts and was limited by the Game Boy Advance's synth. She took a major role on 2006's Kingdom Hearts II creating a score consistent with its predecessor, but larger and more diverse overall. It was noted especially for its mini-musical, ending theme, and vocal theme "Passion" ("Sanctuary"). For the Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + compilation, she created eight exuberant new compositions for Kingdom Hearts II and completely rearranged the score for Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories for its technologically accomplished PlayStation 2 remake. These efforts culminated in the release of a nine disc complete box set for the series in 2007. Her music will also feature on the Kingdom Hearts portable spinoffs Birth by Sleep, 358/2 Days, and Coded. While these projects will most recycle her past compositions for the series, she will create some new compositions for Birth by Sleep. With these projects, Shimomura's music has remained an especially popular continuous element of the Kingdom Hearts series.
Shimomura has also relished the opportunity to participate in some non-game projects. In 2004, she enjoyed the novelty of scoring her first anime, the golfing manga adaptation DAN DOH! By mainly adhering to her game composition approaches, she crafted a light-hearted and bubbly score with occasional tense or action-packed moments. The subsequent year, she scored the more successful Best Student Council (aka Gokujo Seitokai), blending rhythmically compelling comedy pieces with some of her characteristic solo piano pieces. In 2006, Shimomura composed the music for the original play Our Endless Night -The Spring Time of Life- and the Live A Live drama adaptation Maou Kourin - Live Side & Evil Side. Here she worked closely Square Enix-related dramatic companies Pures and R-Mix and co-composed alongside Kenji Ito, Michio Okamiya, and Kumi Tanioka. Most recently, she created the original vocal album murmur. Most songs featured Chata's youthful voice radiating from mostly light instrumentals. However, it was another eclectic work, incorporating pop, jazz, flamenco, and downtempo music and even lyrical influences from nursery rhymes. Though she remains principally a game musician, Shimomura hopes to continue testing her musical range by participating in more non-game projects.
In 2008, Shimomura decided to commemorate 20 years in the games industry with Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-. She created orchestral arrangements of carefully selected pieces from Live A Live, Front Mission, Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, and Heroes of Mana. She also took an active role in later stages of the production, making numerous requests for orchestrator Natsumi Kameoka and attending the recording sessions with the WDR Radio Orchestra. Diverse, colourful, and dramatic, the album was gloriously received by most fans. Shimomura's music will be featured in several upcoming projects in addition to the Kingdom Hearts series. She is crafting the score for 2008's simulation RPG Little King's Story, likely to mainly feature comical arrangements of popular classical pieces. She will round off her experiences revisiting Square projects by scoring the Mobile and PSP's Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday. In the more distant future, she will join Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura's development team once again to score Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a wholly independent game in the Fabula Nova Crystallis compilation featuring Advent Children-influenced action scenes, gratuitous violence, and a tragic Shakespearian story. The haunting vocal theme for the game has been premiered in trailers and Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-.