Video game music has come a long way since its start in electronic blips. Today, it features sweeping orchestral pieces, ambient noise, and intense emotions—much more like a film than an arcade game. These video game composers have changed the experience of gaming around the world.
1. Yoko Shimomura
All of the Japanese composer Yoko Shimomura’s interests seemed to come together when she was offered a job at the video game company, Capcom. A classically-trained pianist, she was also an enthusiastic gamer.
She worked on 16 games at Capcom but wanted to compose for RPGs rather than arcade games. She got her chance when she began working for a different company, Square, where she composed music for games such as Super Mario RPG, Street Fighter II, and most notably, Kingdom Hearts.
2. Kazumi Totaka
Kazumi Totaka is not only an accomplished composer but also a voice actor; fans of Mario will recognize him as the voice of Yoshi and Birdo. However, he is best known for his work for Nintendo as a composer and sound director.
His work is so widely known and respected that he also got a nod in Animal Crossing, in the character of K.K. Slider, whom he also voices. The character was made to look like him in a gesture of respect for his work in the video game industry.
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3. Martin O’Donnell
Martin O’Donnell is a giant of the American video games industry. He began his career writing ad jingles before looking to move on to bigger and better things.
His interest was caught by the rumor that video game companies—then in the early 1990s—were looking to expand beyond the scores they had done in the past and do complex scores similar to films. His best-known work was on the Halo series, coining the famous Gregorian chant and orchestral feel.
4. Cris Velasco
Cris Velasco has composed and contributed to some of the most successful video games of the 21st century. Since the mid-2000s, he has earned many accolades, including the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Outstanding Achievement in Original Composition.
Because of his preference for sweeping orchestral music, his work is often performed by professional symphony orchestras around the world. He is best known for his contributions to Overwatch, God Of War, Bloodborne, and Tales From The Borderlands.
5. Yasunori Mitsuda
Yasunori Mitsuda is one of the most talented and acclaimed video game composers of all time, but he had to fight to get the job. First hired as a sound effects designer at the company Square, he spent two years hoping to compose music; finally, he approached the vice president and said that he would quit unless he was hired as a composer. His risk paid off, as he was assigned to work on his first video game score, Chrono Trigger, as the sole composer.
His work was a massive success and earned him significant recognition in the video game industry. He would go on to work on many other game scores, most notably Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS and Xenoblade Chronicles.
6. Neal Acree
Neal Acree is one of the most-award video game composers in the United States. In addition to his work in the video game industry, he is also a film composer, having scored roughly 30 films.
He is best known for his contributions to video games such as Overwatch and World Of Warcraft. He has won countless awards for his work, including Global Music Awards and Hollywood Music in Media Awards.
7. Austin Wintory
Austin Wintory is an award-winning composer and conductor who is also one of the most prolific composers in video game history. Since the age of 18, he has created roughly 300 scores.
His focus has long been on orchestral scores that use old music styles with video game settings, especially ones that communicate different emotions and moods. He is best known for working on games such as Journey and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. His work in the video game industry has earned him two Grammy Award nominations.
8. Winifred Phillips
Winifred Phillips was a musical prodigy from her childhood, with the ability to learn new instruments in a short period of time. She also loved playing video games, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she realized she could use her talents and compose for the video game world. She began composing music for radio programs before being hired to work on God Of War. Over her two-decade career, she has scored 20 video games, most notably SimAnimals and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.
9. Yuzo Koshiro
Yuzo Koshiro has been called one of the most important figures in video game music composition. He is known for his eclectic musical influences, which range from jazz to rock, symphonic, hip hop, trap, and many more.
He began composing music for video games as a hobby while still in his teens, relying on his talent for the piano. His first professional work for Sega was on The Revenge Of Shinobi; he earned praise for this score for his ability to fuse traditional Japanese music with modern electropop.
10. Nobuo Uematsu
Unlike many video game composers who got their start as classically-trained musicians, composing legend Nobuo Uematsu is completely self-taught. At the age of 12, he learned how to play the piano, drawing inspiration from Western pianists such as Elton John. Composing for video games never entered his mind until a Square employee asked him if he wanted to do some freelance work.
His early compositions were for games that weren’t successful, and he was ready to quit after his final project, a game called Final Fantasy. He has since worked on almost every game in the series, among many others.
11. Koji Kondo
Koji Kondo has long been called one of the most influential figures in the development of modern video game scoring. Though he was never classically trained, he loved both music and video games and found himself inspired by the soundscapes of video games during the 1980s. His long career has been exclusive to one company, Nintendo. He has been recognized for his highly-influential scores for games such as Super Smash Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda.
12. Michiru Yamane
Michiru Yamane has become famous for her unique style, which combines electronic music with inspiration from classical music such as Bach and other baroque-era composers, a seemingly impossible feat.
She studied piano from a young age and became fascinated with composition, particularly orchestral composition with jazz influences. She is best known for her work on the Castlevania series, for which she turned to a fusion of rock and classical music, earning high praise from critics.
13. Tee Lopes
Tee Lopes has said that one of the biggest thrills of his career as a composer is getting the chance to explore music genres of all kinds. The Portuguese-American musician has written music for games such as League Of Legends, TMNT Shredder’s Revenge, and many games in the Sonic series.
14. Christopher Larkin
Christopher Larkin is another composer who has introduced influences of classical music into video game scoring, earning him a reputation for producing dark, emotional, and melodramatic compositions.
In addition to video games, he is also a composer for film and television. In the video game industry, however, he is best known for his work on games such as Pac-Man 256 and the Hollow Knight series.
15. Harry Gregson-Williams
Harry Gregson-Williams must have music in his blood, as his younger brother Rupert Gregson-Williams is also an accomplished composer. Though he is best known as a film composer, he has also produced highly-acclaimed video game scores, including the Metal Gear series and several Call Of Duty games. His work has earned him two Emmy Award nominations for Electric Dreams: The Commute and Return To Space.
16. Gareth Coker
Gareth Coker’s work as a composer was influenced by exposure to music from all around the world. A native of the United Kingdom, he later lived in Japan and the United States. In Japan, he had the opportunity to study several traditional instruments, which went on to influence his composition style. He was highly praised for his work on Ori And The Blind Forest.
17. Jun Senoue
While most composers are pianists, Jun Senoue prefers the electric guitar—though he also plays the keyboard. Born in Japan, he moved to Panama as a teenager, where he was strongly influenced by western rock music.
He is best known for his work on various games in the Sonic The Hedgehog series, though he has also contributed to Super Smash Bros. and many other scores.
18. Kinuyo Yamashita
Kinuyo Yamashita didn’t intend to become a composer, instead studying electronic engineering. However, she was also an accomplished pianist and soon was hired at Konami, where she composed the score for Castlevania.
She has since produced music for games such as Mega Man X3, Power Rangers: Dino Thunder, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the WWE Wrestlemania series.
19. Jason Graves
Jason Graves may also be known for his work in the film industry, but he has also written some of the most stunning video game scores of the 21st century. His work in video games is varied and eclectic, with titles such as Alpha Protocol, Tomb Raider, and multiple games in series such as Transformers, Dead Space, Blazing Angels, and Star Trek.
20. Jeremy Soule
Jeremy Soule is an astoundingly prolific composer, having contributed to more than 60 video game scores over the course of his career. A pianist, he largely writes orchestral pieces but prioritizes being versatile and exploratory as well. He was hugely influential in changing the way modern video games sound, with more complex scores and ambient noise. He is best known for his work on The Elder Scrolls and Harry Potter series.
21. Akira Yamaoka
Akira Yamaoka began working for Konami in the early 1990s. His breakthrough work was on the Silent Hill series, for which he volunteered when no other composers came forward. He is known for his style influenced by Western hard rock, electronic, and metal bands, including Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Depeche Mode.
22. Jesper Kyd
Danish composer Jesper Kyd is one of the most versatile and accomplished composers in the video game industry. His award-winning works have included some of the biggest games of the 21st century, including the Hitman series, Borderlands, the Assassin’s Creed series, State Of Decay, and Sparta: War Of Empires. He is known for his eclectic and varied musical style, which alternately uses orchestral and choral music, soundscapes, audio manipulation, and other styles.
23. Kenta Nagata
Kenta Nagata is, in many ways, the genius behind the Mario empire. Hired by Nintendo in 1996, he has worked on countless scores of the franchise, most notably Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario Kart 8, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He has also contributed tracks for other extremely successful video games such as The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Big Brain Academy, and Animal Crossing.
24. Jack Wall
Jack Wall was initially set for a job in civil engineering before abruptly switching career paths to focus on music. One of the earliest games he worked on was Myst III: Exile, which was nominated for an Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition award by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. From there, he became widely known as a giant of the video game scoring world; he has composed for games such as Lost Planet III and the Call Of Duty: Black Ops series.
25. Hirokazu Tanaka
Without Japanese composer Hirokazu Tanaka, modern video game music would sound very different. He was a key figure in pioneering the use of chiptune music and helped design sounds for some of the most popular video games of the 1980s. His first job was at Nintendo; during his time there, he worked on both sound design and music for video games such as Donkey Kong, Metroid, Wrecking Crew, Mario Bros., Tetris, and the Pokemon series.
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