Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Computer game and television soundtracks are rarely considered as artistic as their cinematic and classical cousins. As computer games and anime have been subsumed into mainstream culture, the work of these composers should be celebrated. Here is the second article of three.
Junichi Masuda is a talented individual. In case you have not heard of him, Masuda is a composer, programmer, director, designer and producer known for his work on the Pokémon franchise.
Masuda wrote all the songs for Pokémon Red and Blue – which were later remade as Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen – as well as every Pokémon sound effect. Despite the hardware limitations of the Game Boy, Masuda composed a highly memorable soundtrack. The opening theme really sounds the start of an amazing journey. The battle themes were exciting, and each town’s theme remained recognisably distinct. The original Pokémon Centre theme is so peaceful. The music that accompanies the Gym Leader and Champion battles is particularly striking. These themes have received wonderful arrangements for the rather repetitive Pokémon anime series, arranged by Shinji Miyazaki. Pokémon Red and Blue’s soundtrack has other highlights, like the mysterious Silph Company music, and the waving Ocean theme.
From the Pokémon Gold and Silver games onwards, Masuda was joined by numerous other minor composers. In Pokémon Gold and Silver, the player returns to the Kanto region of the original games, meaning that much of Masuda’s music is reused. However, there are great original compositions, such as the new Rival and Gym Leader battle themes. The Champion theme is incredibly portentous and achingly urgent. As with previous games, Miyazaki arranged the work of Masuda and others for the Pokémon anime. Masuda’s Dark Cave theme has startling similarities with Coldplay’s song Clocks, which was released three years later.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire soundtracks had Masuda as the main composer, writing the game’s major themes, such as the bouncy Trainer Battle theme, its contrapositive Gym Leader Battle theme, and the grand Elite Four music. The highlights of Pokémon Diamond and Sapphire soundtracks were the piano music before the Champion battle, which was composed by Ichinose; and the epic theme of that battle itself, composed by Masuda. Given the length of these games, the Game Freak composers’ output is outstanding. The new villains of Pokémon Black and White, Team Plasma, were provided with a rocky battle theme.
This group is led by an enigmatic figure called N, who believes that humans have enslaved Pokémon. When the final duel between the player and N occurs, they are treated to a frenetic and multi-layered onslaught of techno melodies.
This leads to a second battle, with N’s machinating mentor Ghetsis. The Battle with Ghetsis music features duelling drums, cascading organs and demonic chants. The length of the fight, caused by Ghetsis’s under-levelled Hydreigon, thunders the ominous music into the player.
Masuda counts classical composers Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich amongst his influences, and his favourite musical genre is techno. Aside from his musical output, Masuda is one of the Game Freak employees that approves or rejects designs for new Pokémon creatures. The concept of a Global Terminal for Pokémon was also Masuda’s idea. Masuda’s sustained work has augmented the joy of the Pokémon series, and so he should undoubtedly be considered a great composer.
Other articles in the series: