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Tenpei Sato :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

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 28, 2008.

Tenpei Sato is a prolific musician famous for his game works on behalf of Telenet Japan, Glodia, Birdie Software, and Nippon Ichi Software. Given piano lessons from the age of six in Tokyo, he soon developed a love for music; he enjoyed listening to Queen, Debussy, Isao Tomita, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Kate Bush while growing up and composed a love song for the guitar at the age of 12. At high school, he participated as an actor, composer, and director in plays and musicals, gaining plenty of versatility and individuality as an artist. However, he decided to become a teacher rather than pursue a career in the arts; trained at Waseda University, he did not have a colourful life there other than singing at ceremonies. Following a near death experience after graduating, he decided to pursue a life in music instead and was taught by the music group Geinou Yamashirogumi during their production of Akira's score. Here, he studied ethnic music from all over the world and learnt to fuse styles such as Gamelan, Asian, African and rock music. A significant focus of his work was learning to program synthesizers and use them in conjunction with instrumental and vocal recordings.

During his time at Geinou Yamashirogumi, Sato was introduced to game music and decided it was a promising field to compose for. In late 1988, he was contracted to work for Tokyo-based game developer Telenet Japan to assist long-term composer Shinobu Ogawa for a year. He combined collaborative composing and programming roles on his debut, the PC-8801's XZR II, which won ASCII's Best Game Music of 1988 award. In 1989, he took large composing roles of Cyber City and Valis II, meticulously using their sound chips to incorporate a variety of styles and emotions. As one of Telenet's most successful works, the latter was a given a rare soundtrack release, though Telenet Game Music Collection Vol. 1 and Telenet Selection also featured Sato's work. At the end of 1989, Sato became an independent musician but continued to write game-related music. Having made a big impression with his Telenet works, he was asked to assist Nobuhito Koise compose Glodia's Emerald Dragon towards the end of its production. His four catchy and elaborate compositions were enjoyed during the battle and town screens of the highly successful multi-platform RPG. He returned to the company to score Vain Dream with the same team, but the game was not a hit despite enjoying a soundtrack release.

By 1991, Sato had become a well-established game musician. He single-handedly scored Right Stuff's Alshark, blending elements of traditional RPG soundtracks with shining rock themes. As the main composer affiliated with Birdie Software, he also created upbeat sentimental scores for their Cal titles and blended jazz, rock, and pop for Red: The Adventurous Sequence and the three Beast games. He also scored some console games, such as the Mega Drive's Task Force Harrier EX and the Super Nintendo's Imperium, Alien vs. Predator, Shinseiki Odysselya, and Magna Braban, though these were starved of soundtrack releases. Several of his titles also received console ports and he even returned to create a remixed soundtrack for the Sega CD version of Alshark. In 1993, Sato revived his affiliation with Glodia to score their final titles, Alvaleak Continent, Etemiburu: Tenjoumukyuu, and Bible Master II: The Chaos of Aglia (where he hilariously posed as Jesus for the back cover of its album release). In 1995, he also received the opportunity to create his first solo album, Imagination. He composed 12 exquisite works influenced by a variety of imagery; personally responsible for the recording, he enjoyed the absence of technical restrictions and looked for a variety of means to continue creating deep musical works.

Sato embraced the PlayStation as a vector to experiment early in its lifespan. For 1995's Eko Eko Azaraku: Wizard of Darkness, he recorded a horror score; he assembled haunting MIDI orchestration, dense percussion, ambient sound effects, and eerie voice samples to haunting effect, while offering some melodic interludes and a vocal theme to enhance accessibility. Keen to diversify further, he refined a hard rock style for Victor's boxing title Hard Blow and exclusively produced jazz music for Astral's bar simulation Cocktail Harmony, where he also voice acted as a bartender. During the same period, he worked on the movie D#2, creating an artistic score honoured at a Sweden awards festival; he also persuaded the film's director to allow him to act in a minor role incidentally as a mentally disturbed composer. Since this success, he has also scored the movies Kaiju no Mita Yume and Umarekawareru Mononara and the anime Itsuka no Main, maintaining a flair for fitting scenes and dramatic underscoring. He has also produced the Japanese traditional instrument band band Tora Band, using his experiences at Geinou Yamashirogumi and love for instruments such as the shamisen and shakuhachi. Other non-game works have included acting regularly with a theatrical group and writing both magazine articles and a guidebook for producing computer-based music.

Sato only received the opportunity to gain a particularly large Japanese and international fanbase when a developer referred him to Nippon Ichi Software. With 1998's Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (aka Marl Kingdom: The Adventure of the Puppet Princess), he was given the fun and refreshing experience of scoring a complete musical within a video game. With inspiration from Disney scores and the game's cute characters, he used the complete freedom available to him to create ten songs featuring strong melodies, a variety of emotions, and plenty of ideas for the cutscene animators. Also responsible for recording the music, his assortment of recorded equipment ensured the score was technologically unprecedented and both Japanese and English voice actors visited his private studio in Shibuya to create the two versions of the score. Sato returned for its two Japan-only sequels, offering more musical numbers and superior sound quality, sometimes even appearing as a voice actor himself. In addition, he worked on the series' obscure puzzle spinoffs Marl Jong!! and Marl de Jigsaw. For the PlayStation, he also produced bold orchestral scores for Combat Choro Q, Magnetic Power Microman: Generation 2000, and Brigandine: Grand Edition. In 2000, he also composed the manga-based image album Schell Bullet ~Thanaphs68~, blending organic and futuristic sounds, apocalyptic poetry, and dramatic vocal performances.

Since 2002, Sato has focused on scoring PlayStation 2 tactical RPGs for Nippon Ichi Software. With La Pucelle: Tactics, he created an emotionally rich score that enhanced gameplay; in common with all his subsequent efforts for the company, the soundtrack was released with the game but an arranged album was commercially available featuring upgraded and lengthened versions of some of the better themes from the soundtrack. The subsequent year, he worked on the cult hit Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (aka Makai Senki Disgaea). Fulfilling numerous requests by producer and lyricist Sohei Niikawa, he combined haunting orchestral music, catchy action themes, and diverse memorable vocal themes to create a score jam-packed with highlights. 2004's Phantom Brave, in contrast, had a more youthful and sentimental feel given the accompnaying game. He has nevertheless participated in other projects, including the anime-to-game adaptation Gunslinger Girl, The Conveni 3, Mistlarouge, and the diverse sports games Real Pool, Play It Pinball, Baskelian, and Choro Q HG. He has also remained active as a cinematic movie composer with Flowers, for which he created a delicate acoustic soundtrack. In other non-game works, Sato has produced a pop group, created the theme song for Japanese marathon runner Masako Chiba, composed the Air Base Tsuiki DVD, and even made some music for Sony's robotic pet AIBO.

Despite an unexpected absence from Phantom Kingdom, Sato has remained very active at Nippon Ichi Software. 2006's Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories was as memorable and diverse as its predecessor, also including some creative remixes of themes from its predecessor. On behalf of the Makai Senki Disgaea anime, he created a mixture of arrangements and new compositions, including some full orchestral performances in places. In 2007, Sato scored Soul Nomads & The Soul Eaters, offering mature Celtic- and Asian-infused orchestral work for its soundtrack and arranged album. Sato's recent score for PlayStation 3's Disgaea 3 was mostly stylistically continuous with previous Disgaea efforts, but exhibited a more childish feel given the school setting, especially in the vocal themes. Also on behalf of Nippon Ichi Software, he produced the company's 10th Anniversary Commemoration Charity Concert, appeared on the best albums Netherworld Harmony Inauguration and Beautiful Days. Sato's latest Nippon Ichi works are the DS' Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, where he enhanced the instrument samples of the original, and the PSP action game Prinny: Ore ga Shuujinkou de Iinsuka?, where he will create a mixture of instrumental and vocal pieces. During his 20 years as a composer, Tenpei Sato has had a colourful and prolific career, having established versatility in his early works, experimented with non-game projects and PlayStation titles, and achieved his most refined diverse works for Nippon Ichi titles.