Yoko Shimomura is a well-known game composer with prestigious credits like Kingdom Hearts and Street Fighter II to her name. With Mario and Luigi: Dream Team releasing in August and Kingdom Hearts III announced at this year’s E3, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Shimomura’s work and examine her compositional style over the course of her career. Currently working freelance, Shimomura is probably best known for her work on the Kingdom Hearts series but has many more credits to her name.
One of Yoko Shimomura’s defining traits is capturing emotion in her work. In an interview Shimomura claimed that “anything that moves my emotion gives me inspiration.” She also cited Street Fighter II and Super Mario RPG as two of her most significant works. While she didn’t compose the entirety of SFII’s soundtrack, she did compose Ryu’s theme, which I consider to be one of the finest in the series. It’s an upbeat song that suggests the idea of strength and determination to me, perfectly capturing the spirit of a man on a journey with the pure intent of pushing his mastery of martial arts to the limit.
Shimomura’s later compositions take on an ethereal feel with an emphasis on chanting and piano. The surreal tone in games like Kingdom Hearts and Super Mario RPG wouldn’t be the same without the lower-pitched melodies of the games’ darker areas like Belome’s Temple or the Forest Maze. The use of chanting in music like Kingdom Hearts II’s boss theme also serves to make the piece sound more threatening. I’ve always felt that human sounds – like chanting – create dissonance by connecting organic sounds to an electronic medium. However, Shimomura is also talented enough to compose music that better serves lighthearted games like the Mario and Luigi RPG series by emphasizing instruments over voices.
On a personal note, I’ve always found the battle music in the Kingdom Hearts series to be some of its best. The songs do such a good job of capturing the spirit of the Disney movies they’re modeled after while staying true to Yoko Shimomura’s style of composition. In particular, the use of instruments similar to the ones used in the defining songs from movies the worlds are based on is a nice touch.
Shimomura will also be composing for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. Kingdom Hearts is the closest she’s gotten to the Final Fantasy franchise, but she certainly has big shoes to fill given how former series composer Nobuo Uematsu’s presence still looms over the series long after his departure. Given the claim by Tetsuya Nomura that Final Fantasy XV is intended to go “deeper in terms of offering some crude reality in terms of human emotion or human behaviour,” Shimomura seems like a splendid choice.