Rising Sun: The Best Gaming Music From Japan


As I’m sure everyone has heard by now, recent events in Japan have taken a turn for the tragic. Hundreds are dead with more hundreds missing after a 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami leveled Northern Japan. Aftershocks are still being felt. All of Japan is reeling.

Everyone wants to pay tribute in their own way. The Red Cross is accepting $10 donations from everyone who texts REDCROSS to 90999. Many have written their condolences on Facebook and Twitter, all hoping for the best. Government relief efforts have begun, bringing food and other necessities to those affected. 

Being fortunate enough to have a place to write on this grand bulletin board we call the Internet, I felt I had to figure out a way to show the tremendous amount of respect I have for Japan and its people, and to show thanks for everything it has given me.  What better way to accomplish this than to focus on my favorite pastime, a pastime I can thank the Japanese for? Better yet, why not focus on the one aspect of gaming I love the most — the music?

When thinking about game composers, there are a few names that stick out: Edmonson, Kyd, Wall, Zimmer. All fantastic composers from the current era, but all people who will probably name Japanese composers as their inspiration. Names like Uematsu, Kondo, Mitsuda, and Shimomura have all contributed great pieces of music to the gaming world. My personal favorites are listed below.


Yuzo Koshiro – Go Straight (Streets of Rage 2)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/6cta2rMTcE8?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash] 

I know I recently posted this in my Sounds of Nostalgia column, but the song is a perfect example of awesome Japanese composition back in the good ol’ days. Koshiro-san was the brains behind the entire soundtrack of Streets of Rage 2, my favorite soundtrack on Sega’s Genesis. Every song provides a perfect backdrop to which one can beat up the bad guys. Every time I hear the song, I imagine myself playing that first level again and hearing all the sound effects that clash with the great melody in the background. A terrific song, no question, and a song composed by one of Japan’s best.


Yasunori Mitsuda – Schala (Chrono Trigger)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/GCSIH7vsmTY?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

Every time I hear this song, I feel chills ascend my spine. Not very many songs fit the character quite like "Schala." Schala is a pawn, first to her mother’s zeal, then to Lavos’ will. Nothing Schala does is of her own discretion, and all of those actions she is forced into could have very well led to the destruction of the world. Tragic is the only word I can use to describe it, which is exactly the tone that her theme takes. Sorrow, grief, guilt, they are all a large part of Schala’s existence, as well as the feelings in which this song conveys. Amazing stuff.


Rika Muranaka – The Best Is Yet To Come (Metal Gear Solid)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/yWGVRxJOKw8?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

Speaking of chills, this song should send Metal Gear fans back to one of the best moments of that series, if not gaming in general. No, I don’t mean the original game’s credits, where the song was originally heard. I’m talking about MGS4, when you reach your destination in Act 4, first setting foot on previously traversed ground. At 1:18 of the video above, this song kicks in just as you start to recognize your surroundings. If you’re like me and so many others who I’ve talked to, there was nothing you could do but listen. Walk around. maybe. Re-familiarize yourself with the area, perhaps. But you did not advance in the story until this song finished. It serves as the perfect backdrop to the task at hand, and whoever decided to insert the song at that moment is one of the greatest decision-makers in gaming. This song is a masterpiece, not only by itself, but also in how it was utilized. 


Akira Yamaoka – She (Silent Hill)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/naPFeXuGZ50?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

Beautiful music in a horror game. The thought of it is almost surreal. Most horror games are fitted with tense music, essential to creating the suspenseful environment necessary for good horror. Akira Yamaoka changed all that with the Silent Hill series. "She" is one of my favorite gaming songs of all time, and I fell in love as soon as I heard it in the first trailer I saw. The song sounds like something out of a 90s drama, weaving a fabric of suspense without actually being all that suspenseful. I know that when I watched that trailer, I was intimidated. The only detriment to the song is that it plays during one of the bad endings of Silent Hill. Yamaoka has gone on to compose the entire Silent Hill series, considered to be one of the best in gaming, but it all started here with "She."


Yoko Shimomura – Theme of Guile (Street Fighter II)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/pXqIYx0CgH8?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

Ah yes, the theme that goes with everything. From Flanders to Maury to Dragon Ball Z, Yoko Shimomura’s piece has found universal appeal in first appearing as Guile’s theme in Street Fighter II. The song was awesome to begin with, conveying a sense of strength and patriotism that fit Guile to a T. There have been many different versions of the song (as many as there are versions of Street Fighter II), but my favorite continues to be the Super NES version I heard for so many of my childhood years. Guile’s theme does go with everything, but it doesn’t truly hit home with me unless it’s on a SNES.


Nobuo Uematsu – To Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/TSWWyCiX6E8?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

Musical beauty is not something easily achieved. Many composers struggle to come up with it ONCE, let alone time and time again. Yet here we are with Nobuo Uematsu, a man who certainly needs no introduction to the gaming enthusiast. Uematsu has composed some of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history, as well as contributed to others. From Final Fantasy I-XI to Chrono Trigger to Lost Odyssey, Uematsu’s name has become synonymous with gaming-soundtrack excellence. Eleven games in a series, eleven masterful soundtracks. Terra’s theme from Final Fantasy VI? Uematsu. "One Winged Angel"? Uematsu. And this, "To Zanarkand," perhaps the best of all Final Fantasy tracks? Guess what? Yup, Uematsu. It seems like every song he composes is another memorable tune in the annals of gaming history. This song in particular is truly beautiful, still eliciting powerful reaction and emotion almost ten years after it was introduced to public ears. Gaming music is a better place thanks to Uematsu. 


Koji Kondo – The Legend of Zelda Main Theme

[flash width="540" height="337"]http:/www.youtube.com/v/UOa4tXG4EQo?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1[/flash]

I know what you’re thinking: the main reason Koji Kondo is a household name is due to the Super Mario Bros. theme, what’s with Zelda? Well, I’m one of the few who find the Zelda theme to be more enjoyable than Mario. Don’t get me wrong, the Mario theme is timeless, one of the few songs of our time that can define an entire generation. To me, Mario and Zelda are perfect parallels of modern music: for every mainstream hit like Mario, there are songs like the Zelda theme that are just as good, but not as recognized universally. It’s amazing to say, but Zelda is the indie underground band to Mario’s Justin Bieber. This entire argument, both sides of it, wouldn’t be possible without the work of Koji Kondo, who brought two games to life with amazing musical compositions. If there’s a pinnacle for gaming music, Koji Kondo has to be it. 


An incredible mix of music, isn’t it? What’s amazing is that all of these songs and countless others that I couldn’t fit here were all products of The Land of the Rising Sun. Gamers everywhere should be truly grateful to Japan and all it has contributed to their gaming life, and here is just a taste of those contributions. 

I speak for all of GamerNode when I say that our thoughts, hearts, and best wishes go out to those affected by this disaster. Gamers everywhere stand with you, Japan, during these trying times.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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