Photo courtesy of Square
Yoko Shimomura

Born: October 19, Hyogo Prefecture
Osaka Music University Piano Major
Favorite Drink:
Tea and coffee
Favorite Food:
Sushi, fruits, bagel, cheese, and more!
Traveling, shopping, reading
Lots of people
Favorite Game(s):
Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and puzzle games. Currently I’m playing Final Fantasy XI
Favorite Movies:
Studio Gear: Power Macintosh G3 & G4, MOTU 2408 & midi timepiece & DP3, AKAI S3200XL & S6000, YAMAHA02R, other MIDI instruments

Sound Tools: Piano

Credits Include:
Front Mission (SNES/1995)
Parasite Eve (PSone/1998)
Legend of Mana (PSone/1999)
Super Mario RPG (SNES/1996)
Kingdom Hearts (PSX2/2002)

RocketBaby: At what age did you become interested in music?

Yoko Shimomura: Hmm, I wonder when it was that I became interested in music? (laughs) I started learning the piano at the age of 4 or 5, so I think I already liked music then.
I don’t remember exactly when it was that I composed my first song. Shortly after I started learning the piano, I remember playing it randomly and I would pretend like I was composing new songs. For some odd reason, I can still play the first song that I actually finished composing. But I will never play that song in front of anyone since it sounds really silly (laughs).

RB: How did you get started in the game making business?

YS: I’ve been playing videogames since before my career in this business, but what happened is several videogame companies were recruiting students back then and I applied with barely any hope of getting accepted to any of the companies. However, I got accepted! Although my path was already set to become a piano instructor, I chose the path of videogames instead. My parents cried, my friends were worried and my teacher was stunned (we’re talking about way back when game music wasn’t as popular as it is these days).

RB: What is your process for creating music?

YS: Whenever I come across a phrase that I like (both singing and playing the piano), I record that particular phrase on a song composing software. If I come up with a new phrase or come across new tunes at the hot springs during my travels, that can be troubling!

RB: What are your thoughts about arranging the classic Disney tunes? Which was your favorite Disney tune to arrange? Which was your least favorite Disney tune to arrange?

YS: To be completely honest, I felt a huge amount of pressure working on such grand tunes that is recognized by many people. I was very careful in making sure that we didn’t ruin the image and the mood of the original song, and at the same time comply with the sound specs of the PS2. Do you think it turned out OK? (laughs) My favorite tune would be…“Under the Sea” since it was my field of specialty. There aren’t any tunes that I didn’t like arranging. Really.

RB: How did you create Kindom Hearts' music?

YS: I’m not sure how to answer that question… Since the game is an action game, I wanted to create songs that would make the players feel really good, like “in tune” with the music while they are playing the game. So I played the game over and over and recorded gameplay to see how it would feel as a viewer and came up with songs using trial and error. I also used scripts and illustrations as reference and gathered rough ideas. Once I came up with an image or a picture of what I thought would work, we would talk it over with the director and the planners and have them listen to the demo of the song. Of course, we had different opinions almost all the time…

RB: What were your first thoughts when about doing the music for a game that combines the worlds of Disney and Square?

YS: At first I was like "Oh, please don't make me do it.  I'm sorry, but I can't do it.”  I could not imagine what kind of world “Kingdom Hearts” would end up being…therefore, I had no idea what type of music I should write!  This game has the token Square style story but then Donald battles with that distinct voice and "Winnie the Pooh" is listed as the preferred music to be used among was like, “What kind of game is this?”  That was my earnest first reaction (laughs).

RB: How do you over come the limitations of the hardware creating the music for Kingdom Hearts?

YS: Hmm, actually there are a couple of songs that surpassed the limit… I asked a lot from the manipulators. I don’t think I could’ve done this by myself. For example, the original song of “Nightmare before Christmas” is all orchestrated. The length of the track and the PS2 sound system made it impossible to reproduce the original track. I remember being troubled with how to arrange the song so that we wouldn’t lose the mood and atmosphere of the song when arranged for the game. Instead of using the tools properly, it all came down to trial and error, although it may not have been the most efficient way (laughs). I’m the type of person that tries until I can’t go any more. If I can’t do it, then I think of another way. I hate to give up and I have hard time drawing the line --- when and where to give up. To everyone I’ve caused trouble to, I’m sorry!

RB: If you could change anything about Kingdom Hearts music, what would it be?

YS: If I were allowed to add to just the music without changing anything else, I don't think I would add anything to it.  So…no changes. However, if any of the events/settings changed or the specifications of any of the worlds changed, then I would probably change it. Change it to where all the songs would be orchestrated and songs would actually be sung. Well, I guess that would be impossible… (laughs)!

RB: Please share your experiences on the following games:

Front Mission:

I worked on FM with just one other person so it was very exciting.  We were under a very tight schedule and worked on it with fighting spirit wanting to express heavy heated battles and angst.

Parasite Eve:

I tried to write music that was inorganic, something unique to Square. was a project loaded with hardships (laughs).  It was really tough.

Parasite Eve Remixes:

Ah yes, it was a CD made from one simple suggestion, "Wouldn't it be interesting to produce re-mix Parasite Eve music rather than making different arrangements?"  I was in charge of figuring how much we can expand on Aya's theme which was first written as the Parasite Eve theme music.  I really wanted to do it and I rather like the way it came out.

Legend of Mana:

I kept saying I wanted to work on a fantasy and this title finally came around.  I really had fun with it.  I tried hard to make it fit the style of the game and to express myself!!

I have devotion to all my soundtracks, so it would be very difficult to choose the 'best' one.  If I must, it would be Legend of Mana?  I think it best expresses myself."
-Yoko Shimomura 2002

RB: What inspires your music?

YS: There isn’t one thing in particular; rather, a lot of different things give me inspiration. I tend to come up with tunes when I do things that are not part of my daily routine, like traveling. But even during my everyday life, I come up with tunes when I’m 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.

RB: Do you ever seek the advice of the other Squaresoft composers? Is there competition between the Square composers? Is there a game you wanted to work on but didn't get to do? Who is your favorite Square composer?

YS: Almost everyone works at their own pace so there is not much exchange of “advice.”  Occasionally, we would be like "Hey, this is what I came up with, what do you think?" and ask for opinions. There is no competition among the Square composers, at least not that I see on the surface (laughs).  Maybe no one mentions it but they are all burning up inside with rivalry (laughs).

(No comment on games that I wanted to work on and favorite composer)

RB: All of your soundtracks (except Parasite Eve) are pretty diverse, incorporating many different styles, how do you fit so many different styles in 1 soundtrack.

YS: Wow, are they diverse and do they incorporate different styles? Really?  Personally, I feel like they are all over the place (laughs).  Although I do try and decide the “base” of whatever it is that I’m shooting for so, may be that is working... In my opinion, all of the tunes created must be in sync with the game and it must feel comfortable when I play the game.  If the music is diverse and if it sounds like it incorporates many styles, then that game must have as many different elements but also possess an image as a whole.

RB: What advice would you give to those who want to create music?

YS: I don’t even think that I’m at that position to offer advice but I guess if I were to say something, in this position, you need a flexible and strong mind and heart, and also the power to cope with emergency situations.  Every experience will come in handy so the more experience one can have the better.

RB: Any final thoughts?

YS: Every title I worked on and all of the tunes I created are all dear and precious.  There are many tunes I have written in the past that I feel like saying, "What the!? How embarrassing!!" and would like to have sealed.  But by the time they leave my hands every single one of them become fond memories.  I have titles that I would like to work again as a new project if the opportunity were to arise, but I’ll keep it a secret.

In terms of Kingdom Hearts, it was an immense project with many hardships.  When the soundtrack was completed and I listened to it in its entirety, it almost made me cry.  Please, someone, praise me (laughs).  This title features dark music, cheerful music, sorrowful music…I was able to write a variety of tunes so although it was a massive project, at the same time, I enjoyed working on it very much. I am very proud of the work on Kingdom Hearts and if everyone can add it to their favorites, I will be very happy.

A big thank you to Ms. Shimomura for taking the time to chat. Thanks to Squaresoft, Misa, Daniel Kalabakov, Datschge and Shinsuke Fukuda.




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