Yoshitaka Hirota Profile
|Also Known As:
弘田佳孝 (ひろたよしたか) / CORE² / kulko / SAT
|Date of Birth:
September 1, 1971 (Kyoto)
Shadow Hearts, Faselei!, Earthbound Papas
|Square||Game Developer||1994 – 1999||Sound Designer|
|Twintail Studios||Music Studio||1999 –||Founder, President, Composer|
|Stanley Novo||Music Group||2008 – 2010||Co-Founder, Bass|
|TTS Products||Music Production||2008 –||Founder, President, Composer|
|Octave Theory||Music Group||2010 –||Composer, Arranger, Bass|
|GE-ON-DAN||Artist Collective||2010 – 2011||Member|
Yoshitaka Hirota is a former sound effects designer known for his stylistically unique scores to franchises such as Shadow Hearts. Born on September 1, 1971 in Kyoto, Hirota 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, whereas others, such as David Bowie and Simon & Garfunkel, were pop 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 demonstrated his willingness to experiment by founding a hardcore punk band called Bondage, for which he performed as 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 one of the biggest steps in 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 experience 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 notorious 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 gained further experience by working with an artist from Yugoslavia creating a puppet animation film. He learned much 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 the advice of Mitsuda, who had just been assigned to compose Chrono Trigger’s score, leaving a gap in the sound department. 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, Hirota found it fascinating to understand sound as a physical phenomenon and also embraced the more abstract problem of defining visuals through custom sounds. He offered furhter innovations by 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 revered 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 by 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 DJ set, 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 reflected 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 audio 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 much 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 1999, he produced his final works for Square, leading the sound effects teams for the technically ambitious Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VIII.
Having decided to 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) alongside Yasunori Mitsuda and others. On this project, he learned much about how to manipulate sounds effectively using recording and compression techniques. In further colloborations with Mitsuda, Hirota subsequently composed music for drama albums dedicated to Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 and Street Fighter Zero 3. To perform the music, he spent several sessions jamming and drinking with Mitsuda, even performing vocals at some points. The artist was later enticed to 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 for their subsequent projects. He overcame the PSG sound source restrictions of the Neo Geo Pocket Color to score Faselei! and Dive Alert; on both projects, he focused on avoiding redundant sounds and expressing 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 popular 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 an imaginative soundtrack. The score was an eclectic mix of world influences, industrial rock, dark ambience, hard techno, emotional orchestrations, and vocal pieces. While many pieces were created through off-the-wall experimentation and improvisation, Hirota carefully studied the game’s scenario and visuals to ensure the tracks were suitably integrated. He also paid considerable attention to the score as a collective whole, binding it together with the spiritual main theme “Icaro” and stylistic trademarks such as gritty bass riffs and exotic chants. Throughout 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 Woan to maximise the results. Incidentally Hirota’s first soundtrack release, the Shadow Hearts Original Soundtracks remains one of the most stylistically distinguished 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 continuing to compose in an ad hoc manner. 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 empathatically studied 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”. On behalf of Team Entertainment, he was also commissioned to produce two special remixes; he emphasised the contrast of hard bass riffs and elevating exotic chanting on the Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange and offered a jazzy electronica remix for the pachinko alubm We Love Yoshimune.
Since Shadow Hearts’ discontinuation, Hirota has had the time to participate in many projects outside video games. In 2007, he was commissioned to write the dark fantasy album Kinema in the Hole in collaboration with lyricist and vocalist Rekka Katagiri. His compositions emphasised the abstract narrative with rich impacting fusions and spine-tingling story sequences. Though the album received a mixed reception, it further reflected Hirota’s versatility in vocal composition. The artist also supported the emergence of Noriko Mitose as a solo artist by arranging songs for her first two albums, “Bells of Heaven” and “Lycoris Radiata”. He additionally arranged tracks for Saki Imozuki’s debut single and Mio Isayama’s best compilation, between penning special compositions for Akiko Shikata’s Istoria -Musa- and the collaboration album Message. He participated in many of these works with support from label Team Entertainment, who continued to recognise his talents. At other special concerts, Hirota duetted on bass with an ehru performer, performed with Kyoko Kishikawa’s electronica band Darumaya, and taken Kinema in the Hole to the stage. Through his studio, the artist also developed an official fan club, releasing newsletters and exclusive tracks such as “hazy iii” and “Reverberation” to members.
In the first few years after Shadow Hearts’ discontinuation, Hirota continued to work on a range of game titles. He initially took charge of audio development for several titles in Square Enix’s DS Style series and has handled all aspects of sound production on edutainment titles dedicated to gardening, yoga, and book-keeping. While they mainly featured jazz-based muzak, they tested Hirota’s versatility given he responsible for sound effects, synthesizer operation, and sound programming as well. He additionally wrote the music for GungHo’s sports simulation 100 Kiri Golf DS and explored mobile scoring for the first time on Fist Groove 2. Between such roles, he was involved in several anime-to-game adaptations, notably contributing several energetic pieces to the fighting game Saint Seiya: The Hades and revisiting his gritty Shadow Hearts style for D.Gray-man: Requirements of a Instrumentalist. On behalf of Kenji Ito, he also performed bass at the Spanish stage at Extra: Hyper Game Music Event and for the theme song of Lux-Pain. Though such roles kept his finances afloat, they were considerably less prominent and rewarding as his earlier roles.
A turning point for Hirota’s fortunes came in 2008 when he established the music production company TTS Products. He soon received offers to create new game scores for developers such as Paon, Irem, and SNK Playmore, many of them entries into long-running franchises. He reflected his light-hearted side while creating five tracks for Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber and the short score for Amazing Island: The Beginning, filling the latter with Latin jazz tracks. By contrast, he captured the mood of Disaster Report 3 with a dark minimalistic score, between filling Glory of Hercules with dramatic orchestrations and rich themes befitting the Ancient Greek scenario. He was also entrusted with the music production for the port of Klonoa, where he largely preserved the soundtrack from the original. In addition, the artist handled the music for Tsukibito, capturing the tone of the heartful adventure with a range of soft acoustic compositions. He also lent his talents as a vocal composer to Ar tonelico III, where he offered a power ballad and an industrial final battle theme, sung by Yayoi Yula and Noriko Mitose respectively. Following their success, he was invited to produce music for the special drama and song album Ar tonelico Hymmnos Musical -Cocona-.
Yoshitaka Hirota teamed up with Noriko Mitose once more to write the entire concept album yorlga in 2010. Inspired by the imagery of kaleidoscopes, the album portrayed a fantasy world with a wide range of moods and styles. As the sound producer, composer, and programmer of the album, Hirota brought Mitose’s concept to fruition, offering everything from colourful orchestrations to noise music. The final result combined a nostalgic tone with rich performances and polished implementation. Under the lead of singer-songwriter Harka Shimotsuki, the artist also developed the concepts of the gloriously received vocal albums Griotte The Sleeping Beauty and Aria of the Spilled Sand with several compositions, arrangements, and performances. Hirota has also penned the theme song for Hanayakanari, Waga Ichizoku and special tracks for YAMADAN and The Raiden Drops in recent years. In other productions, he has scripted and co-composed the historical play Struldbrugg ~Majin Kaikou~ for the drama production company R-Mix, and was responsible for music production at a five day nuclear awareness event featuring a pantomine among other items. Also keen to return to the stage, he served as the composer, vocalist, and bass guitarist of the power rock trio Stanley Novo for several years. The band were well-received at several live events and also penned a track for Walk It Out, but have been inactive since 2010.
Yoshitaka Hirota has recently joined the five-man rock band, the Earthbound Papas. Having developed a strong industry reputation as a bassist and songwriter, he was invited to join the band by former supervisor Nobuo Uematsu. Considered the spiritual successor to The Black Mages, the five-man band have been involved in a wide range of studio and live activities. Following their debut on the studio recording Distant Worlds II, the band recorded their debut album Octave Theory, mixing progressive rock compositions with arrangements of Uematsu’s scoring highlights. In addition to performing bass on the entire album, he also arranged the closing track “Homecoming” in his trademark style. The band have also recently started to produce new scores of their own under Uematsu’s supervision. Last year, they composed, arranged, and recorded the scores for went on to compose and arrange the music for the multifaceted UnchainBlades ExxIV and the light-hearted Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory. Hirota was personally responsible for composing and arranging a few tracks on each production. Hirota and the band have also made numerous live appearances, notably on Dog Ear Records’ semi-annual concert events, Japan’s Fantasy Rock Festivals, and Washington D.C.’s MAGFest X.
In recent years, TTS Products has expanded into a fully-fledged music production company. While Hirota used to handle all aspects of sound creation himself, he has recruited newcomers Hiroyuki Maruyama and Kingyo Miyamoto to increase the scope and productivity of company. Under his supervision, the company’s composers have since written scores for Inazuma Eleven: Bakunetsu Soccer Ball, Lil’Pri DS, and Cookin’ Idol Ai! Mai! Main! The artist also served as the sound supervisor on Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, which adapted fan favourites across the numbered series for the rhythm-based gameplay. Between such roles, Hirota himself continues to make guest contributions to a range of projects. He made noteworthy guest contributions to the collaborative scores for Yuusha 30 Second, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, and Otomedius-X in recent years. Facilitated by his involvement with the sound creator’s alliance GE-ON-DAN, he has additionally made remarkable arrangements dedicated to Guwange, Castlevania: Judgment, and Mega Man 10; in each case, he carefully considered the source material while offering his trademark concoction of organic, inorganic, and more exotic flavours. Yoshitaka Hirota is an inspiring and successful composer and sound designer who will continue to develop his musicality with subsequent projects.
– Various Game & Album Credits
– VGMdb Discography
– Liner Notes Translations
– Official Site (Japanese)
– Company Site (Japanese)
– Interview with RocketBaby (English, January 2002)
– Interview with Game Music Online (English, November 2005)
– Interview with SquareHaven (English, September 2007)
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on April 2, 2013. Do not republish without formal permission.
Posted on April 14, 2013 by Chris Greening. Last modified on March 21, 2014.