Many of what we know about video game music today was influenced by Koichi Sugiyama. Here’s some exceedingly brief background information.
A classically trained conductor, Sugiyama graduated from University of Tokyo will full honors in 1958. After a brief stint in broadcasting, he shifted his focus to composition, writing many movie and anime sountracks. In the 80s, he was contacted by Enix to work on Dragon Quest for the Nintendo Famicom (aka Dragon Warrior in the US). His career took off and Sugiyama, at age 79, is still composing game music today. There’s so much to talk about when it comes to Sugiyama, I’d rather split it up into a couple blog posts. I’m very excited to get to his orchestral contributions rather than bore you with his life story (though it is really fascinating).
That being said, Sugiyama is credited as being the first game music composer to have his works arranged and composed live. In 1987, Sugiyama arranged and conducted his music from Dragon Quest II at the first “Family Classic Concert” series (performance by the Tokyo City Music Combination Playing Group on August 20th, 1987). He has since then participated in many other orchestral game music concerts as a conductor and arranger.
(A wiki aside: the wiki for Koichi Sugiyama is horrible- I’ll highlight all the errors soon enough. For one, it says that he released Dragon Quest 1: Symphonic Suite on CD in 1986. Right… considering I took two seconds to google this and found that the CD was released in 1994. Plus the fact that Sugiyama hadn’t written the music to Dragon Quest II yet so… how would he know it was to be called Dragon Quest 1 ? Bahhhhhhh!!! Reference here.)
Okay, let’s listen in on a track of his original Dragon Quest music and orchestral arrangements:
This is the “battle theme” from the game. It’s effective and epic in its own regard if simplistic. I spent many hours listening to this (and being frustrated). It never got old. Here’s Sugiyama’s orchestral version from Dragon Quest I: Symphonic Suite:
As you can see, there was… considerable orchestration done here. This (I BELIEVE) is Sugiyama conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a live recording (hence the really bad french horn clam at around 0:18). What is fascinating is that it was largely cited that Sugiyama wrote orchestral arrangements first and then “dumbed” them down to fit the sound limitations of the Famicom.
What is interesting to note is that Sugiyama has re-recorded many of these tracks 12-15 times making alterations, orchestration changes, etc many of which are recent and actually of a better quality. There is a large amount of misinformation I’m finding on the exact releases of his works and their original forms. It could be assumed that perhaps his works in the 80s were released on LP (a Japanese friend of mine confirmed that he did indeed own Dragon Quest LPs. I’ll have to look into this). I’ll have to research this. At any rate, this has been Part 1 of an introduction to Koichi Sugiyama. Comments welcome.