Yuzo Koshiro is one of the greatest names of the videogame music. He’s considered by his fans a legend, due to the quality, beauty and the “wow factor” of his works. He manages to extract beautiful melodies from any kind of hardware, in any musical style. He was the first japanese videogame composer to receive international recognition, firstly due to his uncommon talent, but mainly for being the first composer to exhibit his name in the videogames’ title-screen.
Born in Tokyo in 12/12/1967, his mother is a piano teacher and his father artist. At three years old he began to take piano lessons. At five he already played violin; at eight composed his first music and at twelve learned cello. He studied for 3 years with the renowned composer Joe Hisaishi. Thanks to his mother, Yuzo’s first musical influences were Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
THE EARLY YEARS
In adolescence he skipped classes to play Space Invaders in Arcades, and became fascinated by the music of Gradius and The Tower of Druaga . At 16 he went to the Arcades to record the music straight from the Arcade speakers and tried to reproduce it at home, using his friend’s personal computer ( A NEC PC-8801 mk2SR, widely popular in Japan. They had no Intel monopoly in personal computers, so the NEC brand was very popular out there), because his own computer didn’t have a sound board.
Watch Yuzo himself explaining what led him to game music:
He sent his musics to a popular PC magazine titled “Microcomputer Basic Magazine”, under the pseudonym YK-2. His musics were becoming so popular in the magazine that the readers acclaimed him as the “PSG God“.
When he finished the college, he began working officially for that same magazine, until he saw an announce of recruitment for the videogame company Nihon Falcom. He literally walked to the company – while stopping to take an ice cream – distant only a few blocks from his house, and applied to the position of programmer.
Luckily (for us), Nihon Falcom was most interested in his compositions, and a tape with his home-made tunes impressed so much the company staff that 10 musics were immediately inserted into the game Xanadu Scenario II, that sold more than 400.000 copies and became the paradigm to all RPG games to come. Yuzo was only 20, and that was just the beginning.
Two home-made musics that probably were in that tape and weren’t selected for any game:
Those musics appeared later in the CD “Early Collection 2nd“.
Four months after Xanadu II Yuzo does his first professional work at Falcom, in partnership with Mieko Ishikawa, Reiko Takebayasi, Hideya Nagata and Takahito Abe, with the games Romancia, later followed by Dragon Slayer 4 and Sorcerian. But it was in the game Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished – where he composed more than 90% of the musics – that he could unleash all his talent: It’s the most successful game soundtrack EVER, being sold in many, many arrangements, ranging from rock to classic. One proof of this is that many young gamemusic enthusiasts love those tunes, although they have never seen the game.
“Ys soundtrack (version PC-88) was the first work that left me completely satisfied”Yuzo Koshiro
Yuzo composed the soundtrack for Ys exclusively for PC-88 (FM and PSG versions), not taking part in the arrangements done for Turbografx-16, in CD (the most known version outside Japan). About the many arrangements that people did with his music in all that years: Yuzo doesn’t like them, and said he created the music with the hardware limitations in mind, and that if he were composed today, for CD, it would be a totally different music.
But it’s interesting to note that, despite the limitations, an elaborated orchestration was already present in the metallic sounds of the original version. That’s why I’ve merged the original 1986 music and a later arrangement, so you can hear the beauty of the musical structure and train your ears to perceive how those metallic sounds can very well represent a violin or a cello:
Or a guitar:
Now that you’re trained, try to imagine a complete orchestra playing the music below! That’s why I think Yuzo’s talent is in par with John Williams!
Below we have my preferred music from Ys: This is a composition in Bach style, emulating one of the most beautiful medieval instruments after the pipe organ: the harpsichord. The music is beautifully crafted, and we almost don’t realize it’s electronic nature. The original composition, made by Yuzo (and never used in the game) is very short, so Atsushi Fukai extended it for the Ys MIDImushi Special album, and it shines:
The music below has a funny personal story: When I heard it for the first time, in the Master System hardware, I immediately thought: “It belongs to Yuzo Koshiro!” (And at this point I had NO idea where he worked before, I only knew his works from Streets of Rage and Revenge of Shinobi). Later I knew that Yuzo really took part in the game, but I still had no idea about how many musics he did for it. I was firm in my belief, and I had the opportunity to ask Yuzo himself about this music, but unfortunately he didn’t remember the musics he composed at this time by name. I wasn’t discouraged: I had to know! Years have passed, and through a Japanese web page I obtained the confirmation. YES, he did it!!! It’s incredible how Yuzo conceive his musics so rich in construction, so elaborated, that it stands out in comparison with other composers works. The way he interpolates the notes seems so organic, so “real”, that it sounds like an “acoustic synthesizer”. When I got this MP3 I spent more than one hour hearing it in looping:
Another work I love from Yuzo Koshiro is in Sorcerian (1987). I doubt someone will find a contemporary sound so complex and rich in PSG:
Now the same music in PSG + FM sound:
In 1996 Falcom released a revamped version in CD:
In 2020 Yuzo himself revisited the opening theme of Sorcerian, on piano:
Yuzo is a little bitter about Ys and Sorcerian arrangements, but why in the world doesn’t he release his own vision of the most lucrative and acclaimed game soundtrack ever, in a well-deserved full orchestral glory? Because he doesn’t own the rights to it. 🙁
All in all, Yuzo Koshiro composed 100 musics for Falcom, but he haven’t received a penny for all the numerous soundtracks that Falcom released in all those years… Actually, little people know that Ys is Yuzo’s work, because the company (Falcom) does not give credits to the composers (they only appear on CDs as “Falcom Sound team jdk“) and they control all the artistic rights from it’s games, leaving nothing to the creator. That’s why Yuzo left Falcom, and that’s the reason that led Yuzo to request the music rights for all his subsequent works. Later, Yuzo’s mother had the idea to request the appearance of her son’s name in the title screen of Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage. Yes, the brilliant idea that catapulted Yuzo to immortality was a mother’s advice. Thanks, Ms. Koshiro!
In Falcom he learned to program and take care of the sound effects, too. More experienced, he left the company in 1988, after the success of Ys Book II (for NEC PC-88) and became a freelancer, to control the rights of his own music.