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. 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 and Shimomura went on to captivate gamers for 20 years.
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. Most notably, she helped to popularise game music by crafting, under a pseudonym, all but three tracks on the blockbuster fighting game Street Fighter II for Arcades. 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 pop-influenced melodies, which lent themselves to being whistled by fans all over the world. The game was ported from arcades to consoles in 'dashed', 'turbo', 'super', and 'hyper' versions, all of which featured adaptations of Shimomura's compositions. The score's popularity also allowed Capcom to achieve success in the record market for the first time with a string of official arrangement albums, penned by veterans from the games and pop music industries, as well as fan-arranged productions by OverClocked ReMix and others. 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.
Beyond Street Fighter II, Shimomura was involved in a diverse range of projects at Capcom. Her 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. Though the prominence of these projects varied, Shimomura developed her renowned versatility and ability to captivate audiences with each one. Another major solo role was The King of Dragons, where she combined the melodic flair of her Street Fighter II themes with a denser hybridised sound. Like her prior masterpiece, the original score was commemorated in Pony Canyon's series of 'G.S.M. Capcom' , where Shimomura penned a special arrangement. She also had guest contributions on notable titles such as Final Fight, Mega Man 5, and Gargoyle's Quest, but cannot remember exactly what she contributed. Towards the end of her time at the company, Shimomura begged to contribute a piece to Capcom's first serious attempt at an RPG, the Super Nintendo's Breath of Fire. After so many years of composing arcade action games, it inspired her to want to explore her range with further RPG projects. As a consequence, she left Capcom to join the premiere RPG developer Square in 1993.
Shimomura debuted Square with the scenario-based RPG Live A Live. In one of the first challenges of her versatility, she was asked to score in a different style for each of the scenarios featured in the game. For example, she offered an oriental feel on 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. However, she was working on one final project at Square to give her international recognition.
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. Having become pregnant during the development of the game, Shimomura decided to leave Square at the end of 2002 and soon resumed work as a freelancer.
As a freelancer, Shimomura has found the world has 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. In addition, she 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. She also created impressive guest contributions for scores as diverse as Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, pop'n music 13, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, while also proving a selling point on multi-artist albums commemorating Dark Cloud 2, Rogue Galaxy, and the FM Sound Module.
Despite her freelance status, Shimomura continues to remain closely associated with Square Enix, particularly their Kingdom Hearts development team. Her score for 2004's Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories was limited by the Game Boy Advance's technology and, to establish connections between common worlds, mainly featured arrangements from the original Kingdom Hearts. She took a major role on 2006's Kingdom Hearts II to create a score that was 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. Due to her ties with Square Enix, Shimomura also worked closely with the related dramatic companies Pures and R-Mix to co-compose an original play and an adaptation of Live A Live in 2006. A year later, she revisited another franchise by participating in Heroes of Mana. She complemented the various scenes for this tactical RPG with a surplus of field and battle music, while offering a surprisingly technologically commanded score on the DS.
Following these successes, Shimomura was asked by Team Entertainment to compose an original vocal album in 2007. Entitled 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. After this role, she reunited with Chata to compose a song for the mini-album Memory of the Sky and collaborated with vocalist Marie on message. In recent years, Shimomura has also been closely involved with some ambitious arrangement productions. In 2008, she decided to commemorate 20 years in the games industry with Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-. She oversaw 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 well-received by most fans. Also that year, she contributed a handful of traditional RPG music for Luminous Arc 2 and defined the musical direction of Little King's Story with a prototype classical arrangement.
Throughout 2009, Shimomura continued to revisit familiar projects. She reunited with AlphaDream once more to score the DS' Mario & Luigi RPG: Bowser's Inside Story, including many darker tracks to represent the shift in lead character. Once again, her music proved an especially popular continuous element for the series. Also in the realm of portable titles, Shimomura's music also featured across the Kingdom Hearts spinoffs Birth by Sleep, 358/2 Days, and Coded. While these projects often recycled her past compositions for the series, she produced a number of exclusive compositions for each of these games. She put particular effort into conveying the new worlds of Birth by Sleep with numerous elaborate and colourful compositions. Inspired by the success of drammatica, she masterminded two romantically influenced piano arranged albums to coincide with these titles. With the music of Kingdom Hearts also proving popular on the live stage, she attended special interpretations of her music at the orchestral concerts Sinfonia Drammatica in Stockholm and Symphonic Fantasies in Cologne. Also in 2009, Shimomura strengthened her connections in the industry by joining the sound creator's alliance GE-ON-DAN; through these roles, she has made an appearance on two original albums and produced electronic remixes on albums dedicated to the shooters Mushihimesama Futari and Darius Burst.
The spotlight was kept on Yoko Shimomura throughout 2010 with the releases of multiple major RPG scores. Her score for Capcom's Last Ranker was gloriously received with its diverse yet individualistic stylings and rich thematic development. With the experience gained from her arranged album productions, Shimomura was able to offer one of the PSP's most exuberantly produced scores. Her music was also featured on Atlus' Radiant Historia, where she produced a short but effective traditionally styled DS score. Both titles were released with bonus arranged soundtracks. She also led the multi-composer scores for two major reboots. She defined the Wii's Xenoblade with an orchestral main theme and several other centrepieces; the intimate emotions and organic timbres of these pieces inspired her collaborators throughout. In addition, she returned to the Parasite Eve series after a long absence on the PSP's The 3rd Birthday; she preserved the series' electronic urban sound with a handful of new compositions and classic arrangements. She is currently producing an arranged album dedicated to her Mana works. In the more distant future, she will join Nomura's development team once again to score Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drops Distance and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The operatic vocal theme for the latter has been premiered in trailers and Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-.
- Various Game & Album Credits
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on December 11, 2011. Do not republish without formal permission.