Close-Up: Yasunori Mitsuda  

Original Soundtrack of Life, cont.
by Elliot Guisinger

   During his last year in college, Mitsuda was working under a teacher in the sound department of a big-name video game software company. When his professor asked him about his job-hunting plans, he couldn't give a strong answer, as he hadn't given it much thought yet. The teacher then simply handed the young Mitsuda a magazine with a wanted ad by a video game company for a game music composer. "Why don't you give this a try?" asked the teacher. The game company was Square. Though Yasunori didn't really want to write music for video games, he decided to answer the ad since he had no other job options available at the time. He sent in his résumé and three demo songs along with a letter of recommendation from his professor. After two weeks, there was still no response from Square. At this point, Mitsuda decided to call the company directly and inquire about his application. He received the response, "according to Uematsu, it seems that 3 songs aren't enough to make a decision, and so he would like for you to send him a few more songs." Confused, he quickly sent in an additional three songs. Square responded within two days, this time, and asked Mitsuda to come into their offices for an interview.

   When he arrived at the Square offices, Mitsuda found himself sitting face-to-face with composer Nobuo Uematsu and sound programmer, Minoru Akao, and before long, the interview process began. He butchered nearly every question with responses that included saying "no" when he was asked if he had played any Final Fantasy games and telling his interviewers that he was only planning to stay with the company to pay the bills until something better came along. Surprisingly, though, Square hired Mitsuda as a composer within a month of the interview.


   Unfortunately, the "and the rest is history" part doesn't happen quite yet. Though Mitsuda was hired as a composer, he was never given the opportunity to write any music for any of the projects that he worked on. Before long, he was asked to fill the vacant sound engineer position. Although, on his first assignment as an engineer he had the opportunity to work with legendary composer Koichi Sugiyama, of Dragon Quest fame, on the title Hanjuku Hero. After this, though, he felt himself becoming locked into the sound engineer position as he saw his dreams of composing music professionally slipping away. His work as a sound designer just kept piling on and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. This continued for three years until one day he snapped and made a direct complaint to the vice-president of Square, himself--Mr. Hironobu Sakaguchi. "I can't STAND working in such a place anymore. If you're not going to let me write any songs here, I'm quitting," he told him. After a few days, Sakaguchi responded, "If you want to write songs so much, why don't you prove yourself by composing on the next big title."

   This next big title would be the one that would put Yasunori Mitsuda on the map and thrust him to international fame--Chrono Trigger, on which he collaborated with Nobuo Uematsu. Mitsuda said that the Chrono Trigger project was one that caused him enormous, overwhelming pressure and hardship, but one that would give him an experience that helped to shape him into the man he is today.

   Now comes the part where most RPGamers should be familiar with. Shortly afterward, Mitsuda collaborated with Nobuo Uematsu on Gun Hazard and then was asked to score the sequel to Chrono Trigger, Radical Dreamers. He then went on to produce and compose some pieces for Square's first PlayStation game, Tobal No.1. It wasn't until February of 1998, though, that Mitsuda finally received his long-awaited major solo job with the cult-hit, Xenogears. The soundtrack to Xenogears went on to become immensely popular and furthered Mitsuda's prominence in the game music world even more.

   During the same year, Yasunori decided he would leave Square on a high note and become a free-lance composer. A year later, he got started on his first project as a freelancer, hired, ironically, by Square. The project was a remake of the Japanese-only sequel to Chrono Trigger, Radical Dreamers, called Chrono Cross. The soundtrack for Chrono Cross is considered by many to be one of the best samples of RPG music to date.


   Mitsuda has since opened his own music production studio, Procyon Studio. He has also gone on to work on the soundtrack to many well-known titles such as Shadow Hearts, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Tsugunai: Atonement, and the indirect prequel to Xenogears, Xenosaga: Episode 1 - Der Wille Zur Macht. He also wrote a few original songs for the recently-released Nintendo DS game, The Masquerade Lullaby--released only in Japan. For Xenosaga, Mitsuda wrote his most orchestral score yet and even commissioned the London Philharmonic Orchestra and choir to record some of the pieces with live instruments and voices. He was also offered by Square Enix a position as composer for its MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI, which he turned down because he was busy getting the score to Xenosaga completed.

   Other than video game soundtracks, Mr. Mitsuda has also worked on a number of different compilations and arrange albums. From the orchestral arrangements of the Biohazard 2 soundtrack to Xenogears: CREID, an arrangement of his own Xenogears soundtrack, Mitsuda seems to be everywhere. He recently released Moonlit Shadow, the soundtrack to a game called Tsukiyo Ni Saraba, on which he collaborated with Miki Higashino. To be released in May is Mitsuda's next project, Kirite, which is a collaboration between himself and Chrono series writer, Masato Kato, and is currently available for pre-order. Kirite is essentially a book, written by Kato, with an accompanying soundtrack, composed by Mitsuda. Furthermore, currently in the works is the long-awaited guitar arrangement album of Mitsuda's acclaimed Chrono Cross soundtrack, to be released at an undisclosed date. Samples of music from Mitsuda's albums can be downloaded at the Procyon Studio website.

   Mitsuda's most important and influential work came at a time when composers were beginning to redefine video game music and its role in the music industry. A massive paradigm shift was occurring and it would not have been as powerful were it not for the efforts of composers such as Mr. Mitsuda. It's safe to say that, whether from its impact in the music industry or just from the sheer enjoyment its listeners get from hearing it, Mitsuda's music has played a crucial role in forever changing the way people listen to video game music.

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Source: Procyon Studio

Currents - News Column: 04.30.2005

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