Interview with Yuzo Koshiro

  Yuzo Koshiro -- The Master
Yuzo Koshiro

    Yuzo Koshiro is one of the premier videogame music composers of our time. He learned to play the piano at the age of 3 under the careful guidance of his mother, later studying the violin and cello as well. His first professional project was for Nihon Falcom and would result in the highly renown soundtrack for Ys. Koshiro gained wide recognition for his works in the Shinobi and Streets of Rage series, but it was his groundbreaking compositions for Actraiser that cemented his place in the annals of videogame music.

   When Sega announced Shenmue, more than a few eyebrows were raised at the ambitious and expensive production. Since the game's release, however, two things remain clear -- the game is recognized for stunning visuals and a truly beautiful soundtrack. It comes as no surprise that his work was commissioned by Yu Suzuki to score his "gift to the children of the 21st century," and the GIA recently caught up with Koshiro to ask him about his prestigious career and his latest work on the Shenmue soundtrack.

GIA: First, thanks for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule - Our first question is, how and at what age did you get involved in music?

YK: I started to learn playing the piano when I was 3 years old. And I composed my first original song when I was 18 years old.

GIA: At what point did you decide to compose music for videogames? How did you get into the industry?

YK: I used to listen video game musics when I was a child. And of course I like videogames in all ages. I sure think both are the reasons why I wanted to work for the videogame industry. At first I wanted to be a game programmer when I was a high school student. But when I found an advertisement which appeared about recruiting a composer, posted by the game company 'Nihon Falcom' on one pc magazine one day, I resolved to be involved with them as a composer. Soon I brought them a recorded tape of several of my nascent compositions. Finally they hired me as a music staff.

GIA: What kind of music training or schooling have you had?

YK: My mother was a piano teacher (now she retired). It's no wonder she was the first one who taught me music. That's the starting point of my entire music life. Later on I studied under other teachers to play the violin, cello, and composing methods.

GIA: Most people know you for your works with Ys, Streets of Rage and Actraiser. Looking back, what do you think of your works for the respective games? Do you have any favorite pieces (songs) from any of these games?

YK: 'Ys' soundtrack is first of my composition to achieve much popularity 13 years ago. I love all the songs even now. And it's my precious memory of my young days :)

As for creating Streets of Rage, in those days I used to go to many dance clubs and love to listen a lot of dance musics. And I took those essences into the sounds and programmed eagerly to recreate for SEGA Genesis. SOR1's style is like house music, and SOR2's one is like hard-core techno. As both SOR covered many kind of dance musics, I figured out a new composing formula for SOR3, so called 'Automated Composing System' to create fast-beat techno like jungle.

When I composed Actraiser for Super-NES, as many videogame machines had YAMAHA FM sound-system before it came out, I was very excited to use its awesome sound system. And I thought it was the first chance to realize genuine orchestral sound for videogames. So I took samples of many strings and horns, however Super-NES has few memory (64 kbyte), resized them carefully without losing the realistic atmosphere. The scores are written imagining the true orchestra, and the styles are covered between the movie soundtrack one and the traditional classical music one.

GIA: Your discography is quite substantial. Which of your other works are you most proud of?

YK: Street of Rage 1,2,3, Ys, Sorcerian, Actraiser, and Beyond Oasis (The Story of Thor).

GIA: Do you think your style has changed over the years? Your works seem to be a hybrid of techno, classical and fusion.

Actraiser's soundtrack greatly raised the bar for classical game music

YK: I have been influenced all sorts of musics and loved their styles. Though classical is my favorite genre lately. I'm always thinking that I would like to embrace any music styles and their thoughts in my music, and evolve it into my new own style.

GIA: How do you think the game music industry has changed from your early years to today?

YK: I think that many aspects of creating game music has considerably changed. Nowadays we use CD/DA or compressed-streaming like mp3 for creating gamemusic. Those sounds are rich, fat, and enthusiastic. But it's not necessarily good in some cases. Take Gameboy for example. It's more efficient to play with the old-style sound. On the other hand, the case is difficult for musicians to program up for a single sound device, however creating CD/DA sound is becoming much easier than the process of the old MIDI era. If you ask me which music is good, I'd rather choose old-style one, cause I love it :)

GIA: At some point, most if not all musicians are influenced by someone else. Who are your influences/inspirations?

YK: I love many classical composers that have influenced me in all ages. I listened a lot of classical like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart from when I was a child. And gradually I was into Rocks and Fusions during my school days. After graduating high school, I started listening to many dance musics like house, hip-hop, and techno. I was deeply into them for a long while.

GIA: Do you have any favorite game music composers?

YK: In old days I loved many psg-generated arcade game musics especially those programmed by Konami, Sega ,and Namco. I also was influenced by their music style and programming. All of their composers are cool.

GIA: What equipment do you use to make music?

YK: Recently I only use a keyboard and a self-built pc. And many of music software like sequencers, editors, virtual-samplers(cool!) are installed in the pc. These are the very useful tools I've ever used. The followings are the most recent useful equipments of mine.

Key: Korg SP-100
Seq: Logic Audio 4.5/ Cakewalk ProAudio9
Sampler: GigaSampler
WaveEditor: SoundForge4.5

  Shenmue OSV -- A masterpiece

GIA: Your most recent production is the highly acclaimed Shenmue. Like your previous Streets of Rage works, you worked with director Yu Suzuki. How did you get involved in this epic project? What was it like to work with Mr. Suzuki?

YK: Actually Mr. Suzuki offered me to join in the project. I had always admired him and his works. So I gratefully joined them!

GIA: Can you explain your creative process behind your work with Shenmue? You worked with 4 other composers; what was that experience like?

YK: Above all Mr. Suzuki planned the way how we composers should compose any of Shenmue's music. First we made several pieces of sound-ideas like he mentioned using normal MIDI system, and demonstrate them at the sound-meeting once a week. He checked them up carefully , and followed the additional ideas if they're in need, or demanded us to create them from the scratch if they relatively didn't match for the game. Once the demo got O.K, we lastly recreated them to adapt for the Dreamcast sound chip. That's it!

GIA: How did you begin to write the score (music) for it? How long did it take you to finish your part of the album? How many songs did you write for it?

YK: First of all I considered the music style -- imagining the background of the game. Then I made several basic scores using pc, keyboard and sequencer. It takes me less than 1 hour for each score to create. Next sequence is brushing them up and reprogramming them. The process takes me more or less 1 week. The whole work totally took 6 months or more until the end of the project. And I often write more than about 15 long scores for it.

GIA: Shenmue's soundtrack is clearly classical with heavy chinese influences. Did the music end up that way by accident? Was that planned from the start?

YK: From the start point, Mr. Suzuki planned the music style like that.

GIA: Shenmue is one of the greatest visual and musical productions in any videogame. Have you played the game? What are your thoughts on the game and the finished product of the soundtrack?

YK: I'm afraid I haven't played the game... But I think those graphics are really cool.

GIA: Do you play videogames in general? Do you have any recent favorites?

YK: Team Fortress Classic!! Hooray Valve Software!! I do expect their next product 'TeamFortress 2'!!

GIA: Shenmue 2 is already in development. Will you be working on the game?

YK: No I won't.

GIA: Lastly, what are your upcoming projects? It has been reported that your company, Ancient, is producing a Dreamcast game. What can you tell us about this? Will you be doing music for it or will you be producing it, or both?

YK: I'm wondering where exactly you got the information of our new title ...? ;) I say Yes anyway, we Ancient have been running the project for Dreamcast since late last year. At this project I'm going as a director, not as a composer. This title is extremely brand-new. Now that the whole thing is a secret, unfortunately, I can't tell you about all of this. Could you wait for that till next spring?

    The GIA would like to thank Yuzo Koshiro for this interview. Readers interested in ordering Shenmue's soundtrack can do so at, CDJapan or other import retailers.

    Yuzo Koshiro's widely lauded Streets of Rage 2 Soundtrack is set for a digitally remastered rerelease in North America on January 30 and can be purchased through the publisher, Mars Colony Music, or at retailers such as Tower, Virgin, Amazon and CDNow.

Interview by Jeff Davis, GIA.
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