Thursday, April 28, 2011

Composer Spotlight: Yoko Shimomura

Recently, a friend of mine and I had planned to start a video game music Internet show in which we would highlight different games and composers in the industry. Although the plan never really got off the ground due to schoolwork, we did have a few ideas for the show lined up. Our first episode was going to feature Yoko Shimomura, the composer for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the Kingdom Hearts series, the Mario & Luigi series, and many other games. She's one of the leading female composers in the field, and she seemed like an appropriate person to kick-start our show with. Since our show didn't become a reality, I'm hoping that this blog can be a source of information on leading video game music composers as well.

Yoko Shimomura (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Bio: Yoko Shimomura was born on October 19th, 1967 in the Hyougo Prefecture in Japan. She had taken an interest in music and composition from the age of four, when she started taking piano lessons, but she also developed a love for video games. When she graduated from Osaka School of Music in 1988, she applied to be a composer for Capcom and, much to her surprise and delight, she received the job. Although her parents and peers were worried and upset that she chose to work in video games, she quickly made a name for herself in the field. She was quickly put to work on many minor projects; her first major project would not come until 1991 when she composed the soundtrack for Street Fighter II.

It's not easy to make a theme that goes with everything.

Shimomura states that she draws inspiration from her work from classical composers such as Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as having a strong interest in jazz. In an interview with, Shimomura explains that her best inspiration for music comes when she is emotionally moved: " By looking at a beautiful picture, scenery, tasting something delicious, scents that bring back memories, happy and sad things... Anything that moves my emotion gives me inspiration."

Music: Shimomura's discography is quite varied (an entire listing can be viewed here), but I'll only talk about some of her more famous soundtracks. To accompany the above photo, here is Shimomura's "Guile's Theme" from Street Fighter II.

"Guile's Theme" -- Hyper Street Fighter II

The common belief among Internet dwellers is that Guile's theme is so versatile that it can go with anything. This song has been used to accompany scenes from anything from Dragonball Z to Maury, from The Simpsons to the 1984 Yugoslavian Winter Olympics. It may not be well known for its composition, but its catchiness has inspired a meme all of its own, and I felt that it deserved to be mentioned.

Phew. Now that I have that out of my system...

Shimomura also composed the music for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, a collaborative work between Nintendo and Square. With these two gigantic creative forces coming together, Shimomura had the challenge of integrating the mellow simplicity of Mario music with the more expansive, heroic music of Square's biggest games. Here is one of her more famous compositions that does a good job of structuring an intricate, dark song around a simplistic melody:

"Beware the Forest Mushrooms" -- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

The intricate simplicity of Shimomura's early work is evident throughout the soundtrack for Super Mario RPG. She covers a wide array of genres as well. Her classical inspirations shine most brightly in the theme for Valentina's castle, "Margarie Margarita" (although the composition sounds more similar to pieces from the Baroque era, as opposed to the Classical and Romantic eras of either Beethoven or Chopin), but she also manages to create a unique style of her own in pieces like "The Weapons Factory."

Shimomura has been able to show her moxie by composing music for two starkly different series: the Mario and Luigi RPGs and the Kingdom Hearts series. The Mario and Luigi games feature brilliantly creative, bouncy tunes that are reminiscent of her work on Super Mario RPG.

"Stardust Fields" -- Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

The music for Kingdom Hearts, however, isn't quite as carefree. Along with having the challenge of reworking classic Disney songs into the locales of the game, Shimomura also had to create original compositions that fit with the serious tone of the series. According to various interviews, this song is Shimomura's favorite out of all the songs she has composed.

"Dearly Beloved" -- Kingdom Hearts 2

There are times, though, when these two genres meet somewhere in the middle...

"Final Boss Battle" -- Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

Yoko Shimomura has shown a mastery of many kinds of music, and from her humble beginnings to her currently ultra-successful career, she has proven herself to be one of the best video game composers of our times. 

Sorry for the late update; I've been terribly sick these last few days, so it's been hard to do much of anything. Let me know what you think in the comments section.


  1. Back on my old podcast we'd use the forest maze music as our intro song and I never realized it was from Mario RPG until I bought it on virtual console. Great music

  2. I didn't realize you had a podcast! Yeah, her music is always pretty amazing. =)

  3. I hadn't heard anything from Bowser's Inside Story, but after clicking through a few tracks it's interesting to note how much Shimonura's style was influenced by KH even outside the games, as if the series represented her maturation as a composer. On a more general note, I definitely enjoy a composer-centric feature of the blog, and hope that continues, whether it's a big name like Uematsu or somebody lesser known like Hiroyuki Iwatsuki. Or somebody American, I guess, like Martin O'Donnell.