Its a sad fact that video game composers are rarely given the limelight. If asked about JRPG music, even most fans would probably not be able to name anyone except for Nobuo Uematsu. This has got to change, so I’m going to shine the spotlight on Yasunori Mitsuda, a man who has worked on some of the most well regarded games in the genre. While his most famous works are on the SNES and Playstation, Mitsuda has also worked on more modern consoles, as well as several anime franchises. For this list, I’m going to stick to games that I’ve personally played, so unfortunately I can’t comment on the Shadow Hearts series, although I’ve heard very good things about it. That still leaves me with a lot of material, so we’d better get started.
Chrono Trigger – Yearnings of the Wind
Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved JRPG’s of all time, and not a small amount of that is because of the fantastic soundtrack that was composed by the team of Mitsuda, Front Mission composer Noriko Matsueda, and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. I could easily make an entire article about this game’s music (hey, there’s an idea!), but for now, I’ll just go with the song that has stuck with me the most through the years. After traveling through time in the game’s opening, players are greeted at the overworld map by this track. The slow count at the start is really memorable and grabs your attention, while the main theme keeps it, helped along by the fact that there are no battles on the overworld map to disrupt the melody. Its absolutely amazing how much emotion is packed into such a simple melody, but its a specialty of Yasunori Mitsuda, and I would often find myself just lingering on the map in order to listen to this song just a little longer.
Xenogears – Flight
When deciding whiat music to include in this article, there was no doubt in my mind that something from Xenogears had to be included; the problem arose when I started listening to the tacks to decide which one to include. It is a testament to this amazing soundtrack that it took me over an hour to choose one. In the end, I went with a song that really complemented a certain scene in the game. As a powerful boss confronts the party, a new character works up the courage to fight against it. As the opening builds up the tension, she runs down to where her Gear (the word for the game’s giant robots) is stored. The uplifting swell of the song hits just as she’s launching her robot to meet the new threat. Its a really well done scene, and it wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact if it wasn’t for the music.
Chrono Cross – People Imprisoned by Destiny
Dammit, Mitsuda! Why must you make my job so hard? Like the previous two entries, it took me quite a while to narrow down which one I wanted to choose from the pseudo-sequel to Chrono Trigger. It is clear how much effort was put into the soundtrack; there are so many different songs that inspire a wide range of emotions. For example, the song I ended up choosing is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in any game. This perfectly complements the scene it plays in, which is an equally tragic boss fight in the later half of the game. Its actually an optional quest, so players could finish the entire game without hearing this song, but doing so would be doing themselves a disservice. Just make sure to go pet a kitten or something afterwards.
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht – Albedo
And now for something completely different. The spiritual sucessor to Xenogears, Xenosaga was an extremely ambitious six (!) part story that sadly fizzled out only halfway through. For Episode I, Mitsuda was brought in to compose the soundtrack, and he really brought his A-game. The music is fantastic, and accents the action and cutscenes beautifully, which is all the more important when considering that the game has over fifteen hours of cutscenes. Albedo, the game’s main villain, is, to put it lightly, absolutely bat-shit insane. This proves to be as much a blessing for players as a curse, as this makes him one of the most charismatic villains I’ve seen in a game (thanks in no small part to an amazing job by voice actor Crispin Freeman, who you can tell was having a ball with the character). His theme proves to be equally as unpredictable. The vocal part is truly bizarre, ranging from low budget haunted house to full-blown tragic opera. The brief piano respite in the middle serves as a perfect break, giving listeners a chance to wrap their head around what they just heard.
Mario Party – Rainbow Castle
Well, now, I bet none of you were expecting this one; I know that I wasn’t until I started researching for this article. A far cry from the epic scores he’s created for various RPG’s over the years, his work on the original Mario Party game is much more lighthearted and fun. The theme for Mario’s stage, Rainbow Castle, is a perfect example. With a light and breezy feel, this song is a perfect complement for a stage set in the clouds. You can even hear a bit of Mitsuda’s normal Celtic style with the flute in the background. Its a great song to sit down a play a board game to, even a board game that leaves blisters on your palm (curse you, Paddle Battle!).
So, after having finished working on the article, I have to amend my previous statement for Chrono Trigger; I’m going to have to give a spotlight to each of Yasunori Mitsuda’s RPG’s at some point. Without a doubt, he is one of the finest composers in video games, and one that deserves much more recognition from gamers everywhere. His hard work and passion have produced some of the most meaningful and memorable scores in video game history, and I can’t wait to see what he works on next.
Do you have a favorite Mitsuda song? Have any other ideas for artist spotlights? Please share them in the comments below.