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Yoshitaka Hirota :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on November 7, 2008.

Born in September 1, 1971, Yoshitaka Hirota is a former sound effects designer well-known for the stylistically unique scores to the Shadow Hearts series. Having became fascinated with music and the energy of sound itself from a very young age, his interest was nurtured after he heard his brother play covers of songs by The Carpenters and The Beatles on the acoustic guitar. His influences gradually expanded and he started to appreciate a wide variety of artists; some, like Erik Satie, were key figures in modernising 'classical' music and formed foundations for the development of today's ambient music, while others, such as David Bowie and Simon & Garfunkel, were popular music icons while he was growing up. This went some way to develop his varied musical tastes and philosophy on sound in general. His inspiration was first creatively channeled at the of ten when he created his first composition on a synthesizer. In 1986, inspired by bands such as The Sex Pistols, he aptly demonstrated his eclectic influences and willingness to experiment by founding a hardcore punk band called Bondage for which he was the bass guitarist and vocalist. By adolescence, it was more than clear that music was his primary love and, despite having a limited musical education, he looked towards undertaking a musical career and begun ten years of singing lessons.

After graduating from high school, Hirota made perhaps the biggest step of his life by moving to Tokyo in 1990. He enrolled at a junior music college for a classical composition and vocal training course so that he could develop the knowledge required to be a successful musician. Here he met long-term collaborator Yasunori Mitsuda and the pair quickly complemented each other musically and socially. As musicians, they often held 6 AM jam sessions together after travelling to school early to avoid Tokyo's hellish rush hour. As friends, they engaged in many drunken exploits that occasionally landed them on the wrong side of the law. During the evening, Hirota played bass at cabaret shows and transcribed sheet music as part-time jobs to sustain basic living costs. After graduating from college at the age of 20, Hirota continued his education by working with a visual creator from Yugoslavia creating a puppet animation film. These studies were about the relationship between visuals and their accompanying music, incidentally a key aspect of creating successful game music. Unfortunately, he felt aimless about the type of employment that would suit him following these educational experiences and was irregularly employed, leaving him as poor as he was as a college student.

In 1994, Hirota applied for a job as a sound effects designer at Square. This was at request of Mitsuda, who had just been assigned to compose Chrono Trigger's score and required a specialist in sound effects to fill his old role. Hirota initially worked on the highly successful Super Nintendo RPGs Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI simultaneously. By creating simple sinewaves, he emulated the noises of breaking glass, water flowing through a stream, and the roars of wild animals. Though it wasn't easy to accomplish, it was interesting work in terms of understanding sound as a physical phenomenon and the more abstract problem of defining visuals through custom sounds. He also offered innovations producing audio for the diverse summon spells of Final Fantasy VI or creating robotic voices using a vocoder on Chrono Trigger. Hirota subsequently worked on Seiken Densetsu 3 alongside composer Hiroki Kikuta, a key figure in the development of Hirota's career, and Hidenori Suzuki, a genius sound programmer that allowed his ideas to be competently implemented. Following these successes, Hirota later created the sound effects for Live A Live, Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Bahamut Lagoon, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

Hirota's work at Square demanded many hours of sustained concentration. To relieve this stress, he led a double life performing live music as a member of a new punk band and working as a DJ at nightclubs. He found it relieving to actually move around after maintaining the same posture for hours in front of a keyboard creating sound effects. He also received an immediate sense of accomplishment at the end of his performances, good or bad, unlike his day-time employment that involved long periods of tension and uncertainty. In response to the popularity of his DJing work, he released the electronica album Talk While Asleep under the pseudonym Core2 in 1995. The creative pinnacle of his early independent work, the four tracks featured both progressive ambient soundscapes and aggressive techno beats. At the request of his friend Kazumi Mitome, he also created the musical score for the movie We Are Not Alone in 1998. The music was critical to reinforcing the emotions and eccentricity of the movie, which told the story of a hospital romance between two people with multiple personality disorder. He learned a lot from music production in such non-game media, often using it to guide my experiences in the game music field. Of course, the converse also applied.

Hirota continued to create sound effects for Square's eminent titles during the PlayStation era. The increased waveform capacity of the console dramatically increased the diversity of sound effects that could be created. However, the process of sound design required much more time to accomplish, given increasingly realistic visuals required more detailed musical accompaniments. For Final Fantasy VII, for example, Hirota took almost a week to create the complicated sound effects for the highest summon spell, Knights of the Round. He also spent a lot of time considering which component parts of the ambient noises and sound effects he was working on should receive the most emphasis. For example, to simulate the sound of a running car engine, he carefully considered and emulated the sound when the tires are kicking off the ground and when the car's frame tilts from the resulting changes in its weight distribution. In subsequent works like Front Mission Second, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, Parasite Eve, and Racing Lagoon, he used the freedom available to him to help uniquely characterise the titles and make many innovations in the field of sound design. In 1998, he produced his final works for Square, leading the sound effects teams for the technically ambitious Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII.

Having become a freelancer, Hirota initially co-composed the vibrant jazz-based score for Hudson's Bomberman 64: The Second Attack (aka Bomberman The Baku Bomb II) with Yasunori Mitsuda. He learnt much about how to manipulate sounds effectively using recording and compression techniques. Hirota subsequently composed strange and beautiful new melodies for two Resident Evil 2 drama albums and offered a hard sound for the Street Fighter Zero 3 drama. To perform the music, he spent several sessions jamming and drinking with Mitsuda, even performing vocals at some points. Hirota was later enticed to work create sound effects for the survival horror RPG Koudelka created by Hiroki Kikuta's new company Sacnoth. Despite its revolutionary ambitions and accomplished sound design, the game was a critical and financial failure that bankrupted its financial provider and demanded Kikuta's resignation. Hirota ironically benefited from Sacnoth's difficulties as he was appointed composer of their subsequent projects. He overcame the PSG sound source restrictions of the Neo Geo Pocket Color to score Faselei! and Dive Alert, learning to avoid redundant sounds and express emotion through simplicity. On the Dreamcast's Sonic Shuffle, he worked with Ryo Fukuda to produce a technologically accomplished and stylistically diverse score that influenced his later career.

Hirota achieved his breakthrough by composing the majority of 2001's Shadow Hearts. A horror RPG set in Koudelka's world, the game was far more successful than its predecessor thanks to various innovations. Hirota embarked upon the title as an entirely novel entity and used inspiration from the unconventional game design to produce a diverse, imaginative, and experimental soundtrack. The score seamlessly integrated an eclectic mix of world music, industrial rock, dark ambience, hard techno, emotional orchestrations, and vocal pieces. It also introduced the spiritual main theme "Icaro", which has taken on different connotations over time to fit important and complex scenes, and trademarks such as bass guitar-driven battle themes, vocalist Kyoko Kishikawa's chanting, and an emphasis on improvisation. On the project, Hirota collaborated with co-composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Ryo Fukuda, data manipulator Masaharu Iwata, sound programmer Hidenori Suzuki, and track title creator James H. Woan to maximise the results. Incidentally Hirota's first soundtrack release, the Shadow Hearts Original Soundtracks remains one of the most stylistically distinguished, elegantly integrated, and technologically commanded game albums. The game itself was successful enough to publicise Hirota's name and receive two sequels.

Hirota spent much of the subsequent two years working on Nautilus' Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The game toned down its horror and Gothic elements in order to appeal to a wide audience than its predecessor. Accordingly, Hirota adapted his score so that it had greater dramatic and melodic emphasis while writing it on an ad hoc basis. Despite creating the bulk of the score, he was assisted by Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Ito, Ryo Fukuda, and Tomoko Imoto (née Kobayashi), culminated in an acclaimed three-way composition for the final battle theme "The 3 Karma". The time-consuming nature of the music production meant Hirota regrettably had relatively little time to participate in live performances and other non-game projects. Hirota adapted the tone of his final Shadow Hearts score, 2005's Shadow Hearts From the New World Original Soundtrack, to fit the spiritual emphasis of the game. He made a point of studying the history of the Native Americans before creating the score and was inspired by many of their philosophical ideas; he tried to express them using a combination of traditional and contemporary instruments to create distinctive soundscapes for the American continent. Not joined by any high-profile collaborators, he nevertheless worked closely with Imoto to diversify the musical content.

During Shadow Hearts From the New World's production, Hirota worked on the Angelic Vale Arrange Tracks. He created "Sleeping Lake", a vocal arrangement of the main theme inspired by Japanese scenery, and combined piano, noise, and electronic music in "This World is Made of Sounds". Finding these experiences inspiring, he celebrated Shadow Hearts' music by directing the arranged album Near Death Experience, Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks for release on the same day as the Shadow Hearts From the New World Original Soundtrack. Before recording the album, he travelled to Ishigaki island in Okinawa to connect with nature and calm his mind. Finding his experiences moving and healing, he created sounds that were relatively unanchored by the concept of time and would inspire dream-like images. The carefully constructed album was completed by contributions by Mitsuda, Ito, and Imoto and the climactic arrangement "The 3 Karma - Cogito, ergo sum". Affirming his status as a high-profile game composer, Hirota arranged "Enormous Threat" for the Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange; guided by the evocative track title, he created a sense of urgency with hard bass riffs and elevated the work with exotic chanting. For the TV / Pachinko album We Love Yoshimune, he also offered a jazzy electronica remix.

Since Shadow Hearts' discontinuation, Hirota has had the time to participate in many projects outside video games. He has used his expertise in vocal composition to arrange music for Noriko Mitose's two albums, Saki Imozuki's debut single, and Mio Isayama's best of compilation. In 2007, he composed the dark fantasy album Kinema in the Hall featurings lyrics and vocals by Rekka Katagiri. He explored the themes of fear, curiosity, and hollowness through an abstract story and unconventional use of vocals and instruments. In special vocal compositions, he also composed the scat-based new age work "hazy iii" for a promotion video, the exotic "Terpsichora" for the concept album Istoria ~Musa~, a track on Katagiri's latest album, and a piece for the collaboration album Message. Keen to continue performing himself, he is the composer, vocalist, and bass guitarist of the new power rock trio Stanley Novo, which have been well-received at several live events and are recording a debut album. At special concerts, he has duetted on bass with an ehru performer, performed with Kyoko Kishikawa's electronica band Darumaya, and taken Kinema in the Hall to the stage. In other productions, he scripted and co-composed the historical play Struldbrugg ~Majin Kaikou~ for Square Enix-associated drama production company R-Mix and was responsible for music production at a five day nuclear awareness event featuring a pantomine among other items.

Hirota has nevertheless continued to work on game music works principally for the DS. He has recently taken charge of audio development in Square Enix's DS Style series and has handled all aspects of sound production on Hana Saku DS Gardening Life, DS de Hajimeru Tipness no Yoga, and LEC de Ukaru DS Hishou Boki 3-Kyuu. While these serious games mainly featured jazz-based muzak, they tested Hirota's versatility given he responsible for sound effects, synthesizer operation, and sound programming as well. In smaller works, he created five themes each for the second scenario of the fighting game Saint Seiya: Chapter Sanctuary and the DS action game Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber. He has worked with mobile phones scoring Fist Groove 2 and overseeing ringtone releases. On behalf of Kenji Ito, he also performed bass on the Spanish stage at Extra: Hyper Game Music Event and the Lux-Pain theme song. Most recently, he led the dramatic orchestra score for Paon's DS RPG Hercules no Eikou: Tamashii no Shoumei, revived the Shadow Hearts style for the PlayStation 2 manga adaptation D.Gray-man: Sousha no Shikaku, and scored the upcoming DS title Tsuki Bit. He also continues to develop his private music production company TwinTail Studio and release exclusive newsletters and CDs for his Japanese fan club. Yoshitaka Hirota is an inspiring and successful composer and sound designer who will continue to develop his musicality with subsequent projects.