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Motoi Sakuraba

Motoi Sakuraba Date of Birth: August 5, 1965 (Akita)
Education: Graduated from the University of Meiji
Musical Influences: Yellow Magic Orchestra, Chick Corea, Pink Floyd
General Interests: Audio Equipment, Listening to Music, Progressive Rock
Instruments Played: Piano, Synthesizer
Place of Residence: Tokyo
Official Web Site: Motoi Sakuraba's Official Web Site at CocoeBiz


This biography was written by Chris exclusively for use at Square Enix Music Online. It may not be placed on any web site or otherwise distributed publicly without advance written permission, as this is a violation of copyright. Thanks to Motoi Sakuraba & the Wolf Team/Telenet Legacy for providing a large proportion of the information given here and to Datschge for aiding the editing of this biography.

Motoi Sakuraba, born on August 5, 1965, is a prolific progressive rock musician, who specialises in the area of video game music, but has also featured in anime and TV drama soundtracks, live concerts, and independent albums. Influenced by British progressive rock artists such as Pink Floyd and his favourite band UK in his younger years, Japanese developments in the genre during the 1980's, such as Ryuichi Sakamoto's progressive electronic Yellow Magic Orchestra and the symphonic progressive rock group 'Outer Limits' provided a further background to the development of his general style. Though these musicians represent some of the sources of Sakuraba's highly melodic and often grandiose style, stylistic elements of his music show he is fundamentally influenced by many other musicians. With his expansive melodic development, intricate harmonies, and often polyphonic textures, Bach and other baroque composers' music is part of the theoretical basis behind his works. Some jazz influences from musicians such as Chick Corea can also be witnessed, particularly in his intricate and often dissonant keyboard improvisation, and his overall need to make each instrument individually pronounced relates even further to such a style. Away from direct rock ensembles, Sakuraba often composes symphonic rock compositions, some of which integrate epic choruses and rasping orchestral cues reminiscent of cinematic composers, but his orchestral music isn't always full of pomp, with 'new age' vibes being evident in many of his works and others showing influences from romantic composers. His eclectic style is continually expanding, however, and, as a result of Sakuraba's continual subtle and often successful attempts to introduce new ideas to his music, his music stands in a unique way against those from other progressive rock musicians, never being generic. As Taru Kitahara recently remarked, his music has 'given birth to what could be called an original new genre, the Motoi Sakuraba Sound'.

Sakuraba's love for music developed after he received piano lessons from the middle of preschool, and, despite quitting for a while, he revived his interest as he entered senior high school by buying a Tesco 110F synthesizer and joining a local band. As a result, Sakuraba was already an extremely talented pianist and keyboardist by the time he entered the University of Meiji in 1983. It was here that Sakuraba joined vocalist and drummer Genta Kudo in founding the university's progressive rock group 'Clashed Ice' in 1984. The group became much more prominent in 1985 after the duo graduated, and this was partly due to the the introduction bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Tetsuya Nagatsuma to the band, but mostly due to legendary Made in Japan Records producer Shingo Ueno masterminding the band. After changing their name to 'Déjà vu', they soon became commercially reputable as a result of their frequent live performances across Japan and the band even appeared in a collaborative album grouping various progressive rock bands, entitled Progressive Battle 88. The band reached their peak of commercial success in September 1988 with the release of their only album, Baroque in the Future, which was eventually re-released in 1998 by Musea in France. By the end of the year, however, Nagatsuma left the band, resulting in a lull in their activity. Fortunately, their producer, who originally worked on behalf of Outer Limits, introduced two of that band's ex-members to 'Déjà vu', these being Tomoki Ueno on keyboards and vocals and Ken Ishita on bass and electric guitar. In 1989, 'Déjà vu' organized several concerts in partnership with the French band Atoll, which brought the band back to form and towards developing their second album. Unfortunately, however, they unexpectedly split during the year as a result of differences in the music preferences between the members. Still, Sakuraba continued to develop as an artist throughout, first contributing to Pazzo Fanfano di Musica in December 1989. This was a Japanese tribute album dedicated to Italian progressive rock, which featured many artists from the record company Crime and employed use of a wide variety of instruments. Sakuraba went from strength to strength from here, releasing his first and only solo album in 1990, the progressive rock hit Gikyoku Onsou. Though all pieces were composed by Sakuraba, ex-'Déjà vu' member Ken Ishita and drummer Takeo Shimoda joined Sakuraba in the performance.

Following recording Gikyoku Onsou but prior to its release, Motoi Sakuraba made the biggest step of his career by joining the game company Wolf Team, which explains the origins of nearly all his major video game music works. Inspired by Isao Tomita, a pioneer for the synthesizer, Sakuraba loved the instrument himself and also enjoyed the typical video game sound, likely explaining why he went down this root. While there, he initially worked alongside Masaaki Uno and Lufia's Yasunori Shiono on behalf of the Sergeant Wolf Band, Wolf Team's sound team while they were independent from Telenet Japan. It was on behalf of this sound team that Sakuraba worked on his first VGM score for Zan: Kagerou's Era on the PC98 for which a soundtrack was released. He later went on to release the albums Arcus II -Silent Symphony-, FZ Series AXIS, and Maneuver Cepter Granada. Though the sound team was short-lived, having been disbanded in June 1990 after Wolf Team was folded back into Telenet Japan, these early works established his styles firmly and Granada's album even enjoyed a re-release in 2003. Sakuraba continued to to work only with Wolf Team all the way up to 1994, contributing to the scores of 22 more games, including El Viento, Earnest Evans, Angel's Poem ~Shiroki Tsubasa no Inori~, and various Arcus games. However, none of these were released on to CD due to Telenet Japan's corporate policy. Most scores also featured Shinji Tamura's work as well, leading to many misattributing each composers' works; though their styles aren't too similar, with Tamura's style generally being lighter and more repetitive, they were asked to do the same music for most of the games they worked on. Still, there was one breakthrough achievement for Sakuraba at Telenet Japan, which was 1995's Tales of Phantasia, developed by Wolf Team and published by Namco. The game itself was the beginnings of the third most successful RPG series in Japan, behind only Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, though its delay for a year largely brought about Wolf Team's demise, as the company lost many of its employees after Telenet Japan switched their focus to releasing Parlor games. Its enjoyable score featured Shinji Tamura and Motoi Sakuraba collaborating together on most tracks and was revamped for the PlayStation remake of the game in 1999.

Despite Wolf Team's breakup, Sakuraba's connections as a result of the company have kept him very active in the video game music world. The company iself continued to exist, though in diminished form, as an internal development team for Telenet Japan; this resulted in the further development of the Tales series, which became a joint Namco and Telenet Japan franchise until the joint subsidiary Namco Tales Studio was formed in March 2003, leading to Wolf Team's ultimate termination. Sakuraba, Tamura, and director Eiji Kikuchi have been the only stable contributors to the series if Tales of Legendia and Tales of the Tempest, developed by Namco itself, are discounted. The scores for the PlayStation games Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia (incorrectly renamed Tales of Destiny II in North America, even though it was not a direct sequel) were the first two albums released following Tales of Phantasia. Regardless of sound quality, their soundtracks are often considered the series' best, reflecting exactly what the Tales scores are about, being generally traditional and light-hearted, featuring less progressive rock than Sakuraba's other scores, and boasting a pleasant variety of tracks, while also having relatively few filler tracks compared to later soundtracks. The score to Tales of Destiny's true sequel, the Tales of Destiny 2 Original Soundtrack, just about maintained the quality set by its two predecessors and benefited from superior sound quality and a four disc set, which allowed tracks to loop. The soundtrack to 2003's Tales of Symphonia represented a change in the series in that it was developed for Nintendo GameCube by Tales Studio's second internal team 'Team Symphonia', which baffled fans, a sudden and seemingly unprovoked foray back into the world of Nintendo, though Sakuraba and Tamura's score remained faithful to the series' style. The duo's most recent albums to the series, 2004's Tales of Rebirth Original Soundtrack and 2006's Tales of the Abyss Original Soundtrack, reflected considerable technological improvements, the latter being majorly streamed, allowing the composers to use their own audio equipment, doing wonders to the tracks' fidelity and timbres. Perhaps one day the duo will have the same resources available as Shiina Masaru did for Tales of Legendia, which featured exuberent use of live performances.

Also related to Wolf Team's breakup are Motoi Sakuraba's work on behalf of Camelot Software Planning. Masaaki Uno, who left Wolf Team in 1994 to become a coordinator and sound director at the company, was responsible for employing Sakuraba to create the scores for all the company's works. His first three albums based on the company's games — the Beyond the Beyond Original Game Soundtrack, Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack, and Shining Force III Original Soundtrack — were all inaccurately titled, as they were arranged works. The arrangements were subtle, inspired, and easily the most accomplished that Sakuraba had created up to that point, despite some of his Sergeant Wolf Band albums featuring small arranged sections, allowing Sakuraba to express himself more freely than many of his subsequent arranged albums, unimposed by many demands from producers. He has also contributed to several Nintendo scores on behalf of the company, the critically acclaimed score for the popular 2001 Game Boy Advance RPG Golden Sun being the most notable among these, though its soundtrack wasn't released. Camelot have also been responsible for a huge series of Mario sports games, all scored by Sakuraba. These scores provided quite a contrast to Koji Kondo's standard works on behalf of the Mario series, as they were often loosely rock-based, but still retained the upbeat atmosphere inherent to the series, quite a contrast to Sakuraba's brooding and dramatic symphonic arrangement of the "Super Mario Bros." theme, featured in 2004's Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks. Overall, his Camelot Software Planning contributions are the least well-known of his post-1995 works, and this was partly as a result of the games being relatively unpopular compared to the Tales and Star Ocean series, despite some actually being very popular titles. More significantly, only two albums were released for the series; one, the Mario Tennis 64 Original Soundtrack, was functional and enjoyable, yet hardly a demonstration of Sakuraba at his most inspired, while the more recent and critically acclaimed Mario Sports CD The Best succeeded in demonstrating Sakuraba develop his work and experiment with classic themes, though was limited in that it was only a promotional item and featured a limited number of contributions from just two games to the series. Still, his other scores for the company largely reflect quality and feature creativity throughout, with his first three arranged soundtracks particularly reflecting how Sakuraba's music had developed to become even more multifaceted and refined than his Sergeant Wolf Team contributions.

Another major company that has employed Sakuraba post-1995 was tri-Ace, created in protest to Namco's handling of Tales of Phantasia by the then Wolf Team members Yoshiharu Gotanda, Masaki Norimoto, and Joe Asanuma. tri-Ace originally developed games that were published by Enix, the company that also funded them, though they were independent from the Japanese giant's control. The first evidence of Sakuraba's involvement with the company came in 1996 with the Super Nintendo score for the Sci-Fi RPG Star Ocean. No original score was not initially released, with fans having to wait all the way till 2004 to purchase the soundtrack in beautifully remastered form; however, the arranged album and drama CD Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection was released soon after the game became available and set precedent for the release of further scores to the highly successful series and also provided initial confirmation of viewpoint that is now shared almost universally: the Star Ocean series features some of Sakuraba's most dramatic and refined works to date. It was 1998's Star Ocean The Second Story Original Soundtrack that really captivated thousands of fans, however, with few people being left untouched by the gorgeous "Theme of RENA" and most being dazzled by the exhilarating melodies of "Stab the Sword of Justice." Its arranged album served to magnify this effect, emphasising the huge inspiration behind the original score and also reflecting the musical sensitivity of Motoi Sakuraba aptly. Away from the Star Ocean scene, Sakuraba was also the face behind the musical score to Enix and tri-Ace's 1999 hit Valkyrie Profile. Its Original Soundtrack maintained Sakuraba's flair, incorporating a number of excellent dungeon and battle themes, while a particularly inspiring arranged album was released for the game together with a Voice Mix album, described as controversial epoch-making at the time. In 2001, Sakuraba worked on three new Star Ocean albums, though they are not particularly well-known. One was the Star Ocean Blue Sphere Arrange & Sound Trax, which included an arranged disc and original score disc to commemorate the Game Boy game Star Ocean Blue Sphere. The other two soundtracks were dedicated to TV Tokyo's Star Ocean EX, which, together with the scores for TV Tokyo's Genso-Maden Saiyuki and Pluster World, TV Asahi's Atashi n' Chi, and Kids Station's Wei├čkreuz Glühen, are Sakuraba's main contributions to anime music. (He has also worked on TV Asahi's Weekend Drama Series and the CG movie Blue Remains).

In recent years, many of Sakuraba's other most notable works have been on behalf of tri-Ace. It was five years after Star Ocean The Second Story that the next major Star Ocean release came. Star Ocean Till the End of Time, released in Japan in February 2003, was massively hyped due to the newly formed Enix's marketing strategies on behalf of tri-Ace and it was promised that the game would be of outstanding quality. The musical score was officially released in two volumes in Spring 2003 to commemorate the Japanese release, the first half being performed by a full orchestra, while the other half featured a live progressive rock band, with Sakuraba as keyboardist. Also indited by Sakuraba and released around this time were the game's arranged album, which had a more considerable symphonic emphasis that his previous arranged albums, and a Voice Mix album, in some ways the natural successor of the Valkyrie Profile album. The game itself did not enjoy the success that Enix promised, apparently full of glitches and problems that hampered the player's overall enjoyment. Yet it was not abandoned, and a Director's Cut edition was issued later under new company name Square Enix, having fixed the problems found before — it was this version that received an international release. Featuring new areas, cutscenes, and FMVs, Motoi Sakuraba was hired once again to compose the music, thus resulting in the Director's Cut soundtrack. 2003 also brought perhaps the pinnacle of Sakuraba's musical achievement on behalf of tri-Ace, with a two hour concert at Zepp Tokyo on July 19, 2003, dedicated to his works on Star Ocean The Second Story, Valkyrie Profile, Star Ocean Blue Sphere, and Star Ocean Till the End of Time. A DVD was released, featuring an official live video of the concert, as was a full audio recording. The Motoi Sakuraba Live Concert Star Ocean & Valkyrie Profile was simply musical bliss for Sakuraba's fans, with Sakuraba's supreme arrangement and keyboard performance being complemented perfectly by the performances of drummer Toshihiko Nakamura and bassist Atsushi Hasegawa, both of whom have prolonged solos on the "Theme of RENA" arrangement. A 2004 live concert also occurred, including six new works, including original themes dedicated to organ, piano, and synth, which was an 'up close and personal' experience despite recycling of half the material from the 2003 concert. Sakuraba's latest tri-Ace work is March 2006's PSP remake of Valkyrie Profile, Valkyrie Profile Lenneth, which will feature a remastered score from Sakuraba, the Valkyrie Profile Original Soundtrack -Complete Reprint-, and possibly some extra tracks.

No survey of Sakuraba's works could be complete without mentioning the Baten Kaitos series. The Baten Kaitos ~Eternal Wings and The Lost Ocean~ Original Soundtrack, deservedly named best soundtrack for a GameCube game in 2004 by IGN, was the first score to the series. As IGN describe, 'everything from the beat-happy and infectious combat themes to the subtle and melancholic tracks during the game's more dramatic moments draw the player deeper into the game world'. Three arrangements from this game were integrated into 2004's live concert, "Vitriolic A Stroke" being followed by individual solos and three-man jam session that was reminiscent of 2003's "Theme of RENA" performance. Baten Kaitos's score's long-awaited sequel, March 2006's three disc Baten Kaitos II Original Soundtrack, is anticipated to share the same magic with some real surprises along the way. The games themselves has interesting origins, being developed by tri-Crescendo, though Monolith Software was responsible for the graphic and scenario work and Namco published the game. tri-Crescendo was originally responsible for the sound programming in tri-Ace's Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean Till the End of Time and its founder, Hiroya Hatsushiba, is a long-term collaborator with Motoi Sakuraba, having first worked with him in 1993 at Wolf Team. Four other Wolf Team members were also involved in the original Baten Kaitos' production. Another album that has seen greater emphasis on Sakuraba's symphonic side was March 2005's Duel Masters ~Birth of Super Dragon~ Original Soundtrack, written to accompany the PlayStation 2 card game Duel Masters. This was one of many recent examples where Taku Kitahara's Team Entertainment company, his principle Japanese promoter, helped to organise his involvement in the project; though Sakuraba is not officially contracted to the company, the majority of his recent albums have been released by them and they are a key factor behind his recent involvement with the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Premium Arrange, and Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange. These, together with 2001's Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children Game Music Arrange Tracks with T's music's Tomoyuki Hamada and the aforementioned Famicom anniversary album, are the only available albums that show Sakuraba arranging other people's work.

It's anticipated that 2006 will be an extremely busy year for Sakuraba, the aforementioned Baten Kaitos II ~Wings of the Beginning and the Heir to the Gods~, Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange, and Valkyrie Profile Lenneth projects being three in a line of titles almost certainly involving him. tri-Ace's recently announced Valkyrie Profile's prequel Silmeria will likely feature his work, the true successor to the Valkyrie Profile Original Soundtrack, likely rivalling Baten Kaitos II's score in terms of both the magnitude and expectancy. Camelot's currently untitled upcoming RPG, which will be made for a next-generation system, likely the Revolution, should also be scored by Sakuraba if his tradition with the company. He is also known to be producing his second solo album, which he mentioned and provided a sample of on his personal web site, though it is unlikely to be finished soon though due to his heavy work schedule. Perhaps most excitingly of all, however, a 2006 live concert might well occur, as indicated by continued expansion of the Valkyrie Profile and Baten Kaitos series. Away from composing, Motoi Sakuraba is described as a quiet family man, enjoying the company of his wife Yuko and his young daughter Mio, singer of the opening theme of the Phantasy Star Online arranged album and "So Alone, Be Sorrow" for Star Ocean Till the End of Time. With all these upcoming projects, however, one has to consider whether his family will ever get the chance to see him at all. Just how tight can one man's schedule become?

List of Game Projects

Note: This list only includes games that the composer has actively worked on, so those games that feature reprises of the composer's work from older titles are not included.

Key: C = Composer, A = Arranger, P = Performer, S = Sound Programmer, E = Sound Effects, M = Synthesizer Operator

Year Game Role
1989 Arcusyu C
1990 D: European Mirage C
1991 Daitoua Mokujiroku Goh C
1991 Zan II: Youen no Jidai C
1992 Suzaku C
1992 Hiouden C
1992 Goh II C
1993 Hiouden II C
1994 Hiouden II' HD C
Sega Mega Drive
1990 Final Zone: Military History - AXIS C+A
1990 Granada C+A
1991 Arcus Odyssey C+A
1991 El Viento C+A
1991 Sol-Deace C+A
Mega CD
1991 Sol-Fearce C+A
1991 Earnest Evans C+A
1992 Fhey Area ~ Century of the Gods C+A
1992 Aisle Lord C+A
1993 Anet Futatabi C+A
1993 Devastator C+A
1993 Arcus 1-2-3 C+A
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
1992 Zan II: Spirits C+A
1993 Arcus Spirits C+A
1994 Hiouden ~Legend of the Scarlet King~ C+A
1994 Zan III: Spirits C+A
1994 Angel's Poem ~Shiroki Tsubasa no Inori~ C+A
1995 Tales of Phantasia C+A
1996 Star Ocean C+A
Sony PlayStation
1995 Beyond the Beyond C+A
1996 Hot Shots Golf C
1997 Tales of Destiny C+A
1998 Star Ocean The Second Story C+A
1999 Cybernetic EMPIRE C+A
1999 Valkyrie Profile C+A
2000 Tales of Eternia (known as Tales of Destiny II in North America) C+A
2002 Tales of Fandom Vol.1 C
Sega Saturn
1996 Shining the Holy Ark C+A
1997 Shining the Holy Ark Scenario 1 C+A
1998 Shining the Holy Ark Scenario 2 C+A
1998 Shining the Holy Ark Scenario 3 C+A
Nintendo 64
1999 Mario Golf (aka Mario Golf 64) C+A
2000 Mario Tennis (aka Mario Tennis 64) C+A
Nintendo Game Boy Color
1999 Mario Golf (aka Mario Golf GB) C+A
2000 Mario Tennis (aka Mario Tennis GB) C+A
2000 Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon C+A
2001 Star Ocean Blue Sphere C+A
Nintendo Game Boy Advance
2001 Golden Sun (aka Golden Sun: Hirakareshi Fuin) C+A
2002 Golden Sun: The Lost Age (aka Golden Sun: Ushinawareshi Jidai) C+A
2002 Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon 2 C+A
2005 Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon 3 C+A
2005 Mario Tennis Advance (aka Mario Tennis: Power Tour) C+A
Sony PlayStation 2
2002 Tales of Destiny 2 C+A
2003 Star Ocean Till the End of Time C+A
2004 Star Ocean Till the End of Time Director's Cut C+A
2004 Tales of Symphonia C+A
2005 Tales of Rebirth C+A
2005 Duel Masters C+A
2005 Tales of the Abyss C
Nintendo GameCube
2003 Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (aka Mario Golf: Family Tour) C+A
2003 Tales of Symphonia C+A
2003 Baten Kaitos ~Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean~ C+A
2004 Mario Power Tennis (aka Mario Tennis GC) C+A
2006 Baten Kaitos II ~Wings of the Beginning and the Heir to the Gods~ C+A
Sony PSP
2005 Tales of Eternia C+A
2006 Valkyrie Profile Lenneth C+A
2006 Tales of Eternia Online C+A

List of Albums

Original Scores

Arranged Albums

Other Albums


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