Kumi Tanioka is a game music composer and former Square Enix employee best known for her stylistically unique scores to the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series. Born on August 29, 1974 in Hiroshima, Tanioka took piano and voice lessons from an early age. She proved to be a quick learner and gradually developed musical sensitivity from a range of experiences, including studying the effects of music on people as part of her anthropology diploma at Kobe University. Her curiosity partly led to her entrance into the game music field; her brother a fanatical gamer in his youth, Tanioka often observed him playing and gained an interest for game music, wondering what it'd be like to actually compose for the video game. Particularly inspired by Nobuo Uematsu's themes for the Final Fantasy series, she considered joining Square. She soon gained a portfolio by working on the arcade fighting game Daraku Tenshi: The Fallen Angels during 1997. Her supervisor Masaki Izutani composed the game's rock score, while she handled the sound design.
In 1998, Tanioka successfully applied for a post to become a composer at Square. Appropriate given her admiration for Nobuo Uematsu's melodies, her first works were on behalf of Final Fantasy's Chocobo spinoffs. On Chocobo's Dungeon 2, she produced 15 themes that complemented the gameplay in a straightforward manner. While her compositions mostly emulated those of her idol, she demonstrated a talent for lyrical phrasing and organic composition. She subsequently handled the entire score for the board game Dice de Chocobo; she treated the chocobo theme in a variety of styles throughout the score, including with an endearing vocal arrangement on "Tiny Wings", between introducing new relaxing melodies. In 2001, Tanioka created the music for the obscure WonderSwan Color RPG Blue Wing Blitz; she accommodated the handheld's technical limitations with a melodic chiptune score reminiscent of Square's classics. The same year, she further reflected her versatility by working on the rock score for All Star Pro-Wrestling under the supervision of Tsuyoshi Sekito.
With 2002's Final Fantasy XI, Tanioka finally received a chance to expose her name to soundtrack enthusiasts. She created just eleven tracks on the final score, but demonstrated her creativity and versatility throughout. Her contributions spanned organic setting themes, classical pastiches, vibrant marches, contemporary female character themes, and three intensely dark themes, including the epic final battle theme. The artist also created three acoustic pieces for the PlayOnline portal. The following year, Tanioka created the score for the GameCube's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Inspired by the game's worldly illustrations, she decided to produce a score of traditional and ethnic music. In collaboration with arranger and synthesizer operator Hidenori Iwasaki, she recorded the entire score on instruments such as the lute and kazoo with the specialist music group Roba House, and also produced two vocal themes performed by Yae and Donna Burke. While Tanioka's compositions were often minimalistic, they were made accessible through their warm melodies and youthful sound. She also contributed a selection of piano reductions of her themes from these two Final Fantasy games for their sheet muic books.
In 2005, Kumi Tanioka reflected her versatility once again by composing the music for the commercial flop Code Age Commanders. She took an electro-orchestral approach to depict the game's human characters in an otherworldly setting. Whereas the orchestral passages were generally warm and melodic, the electronic elements were dominated by hard-hitting beats and endless loops. She worked synergistically with arranger and synthesizer operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka throughout to yield a unique and high quality final product. She also returned to the polymorphic project to create a shorter score for its mobile phone spinoff Code Age Brawls. The following year, Tanioka brought some humanity into the collaborative fusion score for Project Sylpheed. Her warm melodies were melded into cinematic orchestra cues by the game's arrangers, though she also personally produced the piano reprise of "Promise to Fly". In further guest roles, she collaborated once again with Yamanaka on the Square Enix Music Official Bootleg series, producing the new age compositions "Damage" and "Aquarius Option".
In 2007, Tanioka created the score for the DS' Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. She took a distinct approach from her GameCube score for the series, inspired more by her connection to the game's characters than the setting's visuals. Mindful of the technical limitations of the DS, she took a straightforward approach to the composition and adopted a conventional orchestral palette with the help of Yamanaka. She nevertheless enhanced the game's scenes with her emotionally guided approach, focusing on lyrical woodwind lines throughout the whimsical pieces and pipe organ solos on the darker segments. She closed the album with a special improvised medley on solo piano. She further demonstrated her talents as a solo pianist with well-received sets at the FFXI Fan Festivals in 2007 and 2008, performing a succession of new intimate arrangements. She also appeared as a pianist on Front Mission Online and a background vocalist on Dawn of Mana and Mario Hoops 3 on 3 at request of their composers.
During her final years at Square Enix, Tanioka brought her involvement in two franchises round full circle. She produced orchestral opening and title themes for the Wii's Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, blending new themes with Chocobo reprises in an emotional way. She took a much larger role on the DS' Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. Initially daunted by the project, she found it difficult to establish a unique concept and had no arranger to help her this time. She eventually settled on creating another world music score unified by South American elements throughout. Tanioka also penned short unobtrusive scores for the WiiWare's spinoffs of the series, offering a dainty regal sound on My Life as a King and a more mischievous tone on My Life as a Darklord. In her final role on the series, she contributed a bluegrass Chocobo theme remix and a nostalgic composition for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, otherwise composed by other artists.
After contributing a brief piano track to the original album Music for Art, Tanioka left Square Enix at the end of 2009 to become a freelancer. Retaining close ties with her former employee, she created approximately half the score for Mario Sports Mix alongside Masayoshi Soken. Her contributions supplemented a largely contemporary score with some organic and orchestral pieces suitable for certain scenarios. In addition, Tanioka performed some Final Fantasy favourites at the special concerts Final Fantasy XI Vanafest 2010, Vana'con 2011, and Keys of Games Volume 1. On the latter, she also performed an original song and a rendition of Final Fantasy XI's "Awakening" with vocalist Megumi Kiyota. Also in 2011, she further demonstrated the emotional allure of her piano pieces with an adaptation of "Concert Hall without Applause" for Castlevania's tribute albums, before making a guest arrangement for Dream C Club Zero.
In 2011, Tanioka has become a founding member of the company Ringmasters LLC, formed by Gee Daigo. This collective of international composers are pursuing a range of works in the music industry, from video games and beyond. Already in demand as a freelance composer, Tanioka has scored a line of DICO's interactive fairytale adaptations for iPhone and iPad: Hansel and Gretel, Momonga's Snow White, and Momonga's Ugly Duckling. Her intimate and organic styling has proven an excellent fit for the beautiful visuals of these titles. More recently, Tanioka contributed the vocal piece "Dream Night" for GE-ON-DAN's collaborative charity album The Land of the Rising Sun. It has been confirmed that Tanioka will score Ragnarok Odyssey for PlayStation Vita. The composer has stated that she will emphasise realism while complementing the game's stunning visuals and action-packed gameplay.
- Various Game & Album Credits
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on December 11, 2011. Do not republish without formal permission.