Yasunori Mitsuda (光田 康典, Mitsuda Yasunori, born January 21, 1972) is a Japanese composer, sound designer, and musician, noted especially for his score work for video games. He has composed music for or worked on over 40 games, and has contributed to many other albums. He is best known for his compositions for the video games Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Mario Party, Chrono Cross, Xenosaga Episode I, Soma Bringer, Shadow Hearts, Inazuma Eleven, and Soul Sacrifice. He began composing video game music for his own games in high school, and after graduation attended Junior College of Music in Tokyo. As part of his college course, he was granted an intern position at Wolf Team, and was subsequently given special thanks in the credits of Span of Dream. Upon graduation in 1992, he joined Square (now Square Enix) as a composer after seeing a magazine advertisement in an office he was visiting with his professor.
Despite his job title as a composer, Mitsuda worked as a sound engineer for two years. In 1994, after threatening to quit to Square's vice president, Hironobu Sakaguchi, he was assigned to compose the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger. After the game's success and the music's acclaim, he went on to compose several other games for Square, including Xenogears. In 1998 Mitsuda left Square to work as a freelance composer, founding his own music production studio, Procyon Studio, in 2001 as well as his own record label, Sleigh Bells. The company has since expanded to six employees, and Mitsuda continues to compose for video games, as well as for anime series and his own independent albums.
Mitsuda was born in Shunan, Yamaguchi, Japan, on January 21, 1972, and was raised in Kumage District. He took piano lessons beginning at the age of five, but he was more interested in sports and never took music seriously, quitting by the age of six. For a while, he wanted to become a professional golfer. While in high school, Mitsuda rediscovered music, inspired by Vangelis' Blade Runner and Henry Mancini's The Pink Panther film scores. After watching Railman, he decided to become a music composer. He became interested in PCs after his father bought him one, which was a rare item at the time. He started to program computer games and compose music for them, as well as take more technically oriented classes.
After high school, Mitsuda decided to leave town and become independent. With encouragement from his father and sister, he moved to Tokyo and enrolled in the Junior College of Music. Despite the school's low prestige, Mitsuda received solid instruction from his professors, most of them practicing musicians who would take Mitsuda to gigs with them to help carry and set up equipment. At the cost of being used for free physical labor, Mitsuda got a first-hand view of the Japanese music world and valuable training both in and out of the classroom. He also during his time at the school worked for six months as an assistant to one of the professors at a video game sound department.
During this work experience, with his school term ending, Mitsuda saw an advertisement for a sound producer at Square in a copy of Famitsu magazine at a game company he was visiting. With no clear plans as to what he wanted to do after school, he applied for the position. Mitsuda sent a demo which won him an interview at the game studio. Despite the self-described "disastrous" interview with composer Nobuo Uematsu and sound programmer Minoru Akao, in which he claimed to only want the job as a "stepping stone" in his career and admitted that he had never played many of Square's biggest games, such as the Final Fantasy series, Mitsuda was offered a position on the company's sound team in April 1992.
Although his official job title was "composer", Mitsuda found himself working more as a sound engineer. Over the next two years, he created sound effects for Hanjuku Hero, Final Fantasy V, Secret of Mana and Romancing SaGa 2. In 1994, realizing that he would never get a chance to move up to a real composition duty without some drastic action and feeling concerned about his low pay, he gave Square's vice president, Hironobu Sakaguchi, an ultimatum: let him compose, or he would quit. Sakaguchi assigned the young musician to the team working on Chrono Trigger, telling him that "after you finish it, maybe your salary will go up". Mitsuda was assigned as the sole composer for the game, in the end creating 54 tracks for the final release. Mitsuda drove himself to work hard on the score, frequently working until he passed out, and would awake with ideas for songs such as the ending theme for the game. He worked so hard that he developed stomach ulcers and had to be hospitalized, which led Uematsu to offer to finish the remaining tracks for him; Uematsu ended up composing ten tracks, one of which he was assisted on by Noriko Matsueda.
Chrono Trigger proved a great success, and the soundtrack proved extremely popular with fans. Mitsuda claims that it is his "landmark" title, which "matured" him and his music. He attributes its success with fans to his use of folk and jazz styling, rather than the "semi-orchestral" style popular in game music at the time. Following Chrono Trigger, Mitsuda composed the soundtrack for Front Mission: Gun Hazard, again with Uematsu. According to Uematsu, Mitsuda again worked so much that he eventually defecated blood out of stress and physical problems. Mitsuda worked on three more titles for Square: Tobal No. 1 (Square's first PlayStation game) and Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hōseki both in 1996, and Xenogears in 1998, which featured the first ballad in a Square game, the Celtic ending theme "Small Two of Pieces" sung by Joanne Hogg. Mitsuda also during this period produced albums of arranged music of his original scores, creating acid jazz remixes in Chrono Trigger Arranged Version: The Brink of Time and a Celtic arrangement album of Xenogears music, Creid. In July 1998, following up on what he had said in his original interview with the company, Mitsuda left Square to work as a freelance composer, the first of several of Square's composers to do so.
Following his leaving, Mitsuda has only worked on one more original game with Square, composing for 1999's Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger. He has worked on over a dozen games since then, including the spiritual sequel to Xenogears, Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht, and major titles such as Shadow Hearts and Luminous Arc. In addition to video games, Mitsuda has composed music for the anime Inazuma Eleven and for the independent album Kirite. On November 22, 2001, Mitsuda formed Procyon Studio as a company to produce his music, along with a record label, Sleigh Bells. The company consisted of only Mitsuda as composer along with a few sound producers for several years, but has expanded since to include nine employees, including other composers. Mitsuda and Procyon Studio have also produced more arranged albums, such as Sailing to the World and 2009's Colours of Light, a compilation album of vocal pieces Mitsuda has composed. The studio was also involved in programming the KORG DS-10 synthesizer program for the Nintendo DS, while Mitsuda himself produced and composed for an iPhone game, bQLSI Star Laser. Mitsuda claims that, for the projects Procyon has been working on for the past few years, he has been focusing more on working as a music producer for a team of artists rather than just as a composer.
Mitsuda's music from Chrono Trigger was first performed live by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in 1996 at the Orchestral Game Concert in Tokyo, Japan, and released on an accompanying album. The first symphonic performance of his music outside of Japan took place in 2005 at the Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig, Germany when music from Chrono Cross was presented. Mitsuda has arranged versions of music from Trigger and Cross for Play! A Video Game Symphony video game music concerts in 2006. Music from the two games has also been performed in other video game concert tours such as the Video Games Live concert series and in concerts by the Eminence Orchestra. Music written by Yasunori Mitsuda for Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross made up one fourth of the music of the Symphonic Fantasies concerts in September 2009 which were produced by the creators of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series and conducted by Arnie Roth. "Scars of Time" from Chrono Cross was played at the Fantasy Comes Alive concert in Singapore on April 30, 2010.
Mitsuda's music has been heavily remixed by fans, sparking several albums. These include the officially licensed Time & Space - A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda, released by OneUp Studios on October 7, 2001, and containing 18 remixes, with a second version of the album released on June 17, 2003. Another popular album release was Chrono Symphonic, an unofficial download-only album release by the remix website OverClocked ReMix on January 3, 2006, containing 25 remixes over 2 "discs". A related popular album release was Radical Dreamers: Thieves of Fate, an unofficial download-only album release by the OverClocked ReMix on January 5, 2008, containing 15 remixes of the soundtrack to Radical Dreamers. Mitsuda's music for Xenogears has also sparked fan-made albums; an officially licensed tribute album titled Xenogears Light: An Arranged Album, was published in limited quantities by the fan group OneUp Studios in 2005. The album features 20 tracks arranged from the Xenogears score and performed with acoustic instruments, such as piano, flute, guitar and violin. Another, unofficial album of remixes titled Humans + Gears was produced as a digital album by OverClocked Remix on October 19, 2009, consisting of 33 tracks on two "discs". Selections of remixes of Mitsuda's work also appear on Japanese remix albums, called Dōjin, and on English remixing websites such as OverClocked Remix.
Music from the Chrono Trigger soundtrack has been arranged for the piano and published as sheet music by DOREMI Music Publishing. Sheet music for Chrono Cross tracks arranged for both solo guitar and guitar duets has been released by Procyon Studio.
Musical style and influences:
Mitsuda claims to compose by "just fooling around on my keyboard" and letting the melodies come to him. He also sometimes comes up with songs while asleep, including the ending theme to Chrono Trigger and "Bonds of Sea and Fire" from Xenogears, though his main inspiration is visual items, "paintings or other things". His music is frequently minimalistic, and he has cited Minimalism as an influence. His final battle themes for Chrono Trigger and Xenogears are based on only a few chords each, with the latter containing only two. Mitsuda has listened to a great number of musical genres throughout his life, which he learned from his father, and is especially inspired by jazz music. He is also inspired by Celtic music, and has created two albums of music in that style. His soundtrack for Chrono Trigger also shows the influence of Asian music, including the sounds of Japanese shakuhachi flutes, Indian tabla drums and the sitar. He has cited Maurice Ravel, J.S. Bach, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Robert Schumann, Antonín Dvořák, and Gustav Holst as his favorite Classical composers, claiming that his modern influences are too numerous to name as he listens to so much music.
Mitsuda names his favorite works as the soundtracks to the Chrono series, Xenogears, Xenosaga Episode I, and the original album Kirite, though he also says that all of his soundtracks are "representational works", as they represent who he was as a composer when he made them. His favorite pieces overall are "The Girl Who Closed Her Heart" and "Pain" from Xenosaga Episode I and pieces from Kirite. When he starts to compose a soundtrack, he first takes one month to gather information and artwork about the game world and scenario, so that his music will fit in with the game. He also finds it easier to be inspired if he has a visual representation. Mitsuda claims that he does not save his best work for more popular games, as he tries to compose each piece to correspond to how it is going to be used in a specific game. He also tries to compose good pieces even for games he feels do not live up to them, so that they will be a redeeming point about the game for the players. The majority of his video game soundtracks are for role-playing games, but he likes projects that are different from what he has done before and is interested in working in other genres.
I think game music is something that should last with the player. It's interesting because it can't just be some random music, but something that can make its way into the player's heart. In that sense, this not only applies to game music, but I feel very strongly about composing songs that will leave a lasting impression...What I must not forget is that it must be entertaining to those who are listening. I don't think there's much else to it, to be honest. I don't do anything too audacious, so as long as the listeners like it, or feel that it's a really great song, then I've done my job.
-- Yasunori Mitsuda, Chrono Trigger Interview