10 Of The Greatest Video Game Composers You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

In the world of video games, music plays a very important role and video game composers have helped to shape the way that we view and interact with our favorite characters. The best video game composers know how to create the perfect soundtrack for every moment in the game, from tense moments of battle to peaceful moments exploring a new world. Some are even able to make us laugh or cry with their music.

This this post, we’re going to look at 10 of the greatest video game composers and look at thier lives and music. Let’s start with one of the most famous: Nobuo Uematsu.

1. Nobuo Uematsu

Nobuo Uematsu by Sharon Nathan (CC BY-SA 3.0 DE)

Some dream of having a musical career all their lives, starting young and putting in the time to sell and practice their music.

This wasn’t the case for Nobuo Uematsu who was born in Japan in 1959 and had no musical training at all.

At eleven years old, he played around with the piano and taught himself the basics, but by the time he was a graduate, he began making music for a record company and didn’t anticipate becoming renowned and so highly successful. 

1986 marked his entrance to composing for video games and he went on to work predominantly with Square Enix, a video game company based out of Japan.

Uematsu is well known for his work on the Final Fantasy game series and literally dozens of other titles. 

Uematsu takes inspiration from various other music groups, learning and blending these sounds into his work.

But most of his work comes directly from his own mind and creativity.

He’s currently living in Tokyo working as a freelance composer for games, film and anime.

2. Jeremy Soule

Jeremy Soule by Artistry Entertainment (CC BY-SA 3.0)

American composer Jeremy Soule picked up music at an early age, learning it like a second language throughout his school years, where he grew up in Iowa.

Soule’s father was a music teacher, so he had early access to instruments and how to play them.

As a child, he enjoyed video games and dreamed of ways to make the music more engaging.

His talent with music made it simple for him to get a job at Square not long after he graduated high school in 1994.

Soule’s ear for music continued to hone in over the years, earning praise for the games he worked on.

His most notable work within video games has come from Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, Morrowind, Oblivion, and the bestseller Skyrim.

These fantasy RPGs are immensely popular, and their music is timeless.

Soule uses classic orchestras to create dynamic, engaging soundtracks that can be found in over sixty different video game titles.

3. Yoko Shimomura

Yoko Shimomura by nickfong (CC BY 2.0)

Yoko Shimomura has been writing music for the video game industry since 1988.

She graduated from the Osaka College of Music and went right into composing music and is now considered one of the biggest names in the video game industry.

Her love of music and unique creativity gives the audience emotional and powerful music alongside their gameplay.

Her success built up steadily over time to working with Square Enix, where she composed the music for Kingdom Hearts before separating and making her own company.

The success of her Kingdom Hearts soundtrack is praised to this day. 

Shimomura’s work continued, and she has worked on titles such as Super Mario, Legend of Mana, and Final Fantasy XV.

She’s inspired by classic orchestral composers and has training in that field of sound.

She has a deep love for all music, and many different styles and arrangements can be heard in her over 45 game accolades. 

4. Koji Kondo

Very few people haven’t heard of Super Mario or Legend of Zelda and the music you hear in those beloved games was composed by Koji Kondo, who’s worked with Nintendo since 1984.

If you’ve ever played a Nintendo game, it likely was composed by Kondo, or he was an advisor to the people who did.

These pieces are part of society at this point, being repurposed and remixed, and adored by multiple generations. 

He’s worked on various Nintendo games, mainly on the Mario and Zelda series, but his tunes are heard in the Wii themes and other less well-known games. 

Kondo has said that video games were the only medium where he could truly get the sounds and arrangements he enjoyed working with.

His sounds are catchy and fit the adventurous and lighthearted vibes of the games.

Kondo still works with Nintendo to this day.

5. Akira Yamaoka

Akira Yamaoka by Official GDC (CC BY 2.0)

Akira Yamaoka is another famous Japanese composer who’s enhanced the gaming world with his music.

Initially, he didn’t plan on a career in music but rather in interior design but signed on with the video game company Konami in 1993 and started working on composing for their games.

He’s most well known for his work on the Silent Hill games.

When Silent Hill came into production, he directly asked to be responsible for composing it.

His dark and moody style, mixed with rock elements, gives a powerful and memorable soundtrack to play to.

Yamaoka has composed various other projects in the 2000s, along with various tracks for the Silent Hill game series.

His most recent work was on Dead By Daylight in 2018, when the Silent Hill chapter was released.

6. Yuzo Koshiro

The list of games Yuzo Koshiro has worked on his own and alongside others is too long to discuss in one sitting.

Born into a musical family and taught piano by his mother, he mastered it well and then started piano lessons with one of the great film composers Joe Hisashi, who went on to create much of the music in Studio Ghibli films.

Right out of high school, Koshiro locked onto his passion for designing music for games and began working with Nihon Falcom.

He earned valuable experiences with the technology they used for the music composition that would benefit him later. 

Best known for developing the Sonic the Hedgehog theme, Koshiro went on to start his own company called Ancient.

He wrote for the Streets of Rage games and various other projects for Sega.

Not only did he find success in the video game industry, he has multiple original soundtracks available.

7. Yasunori Mitsuda

Yasunori Mitsuda started his video game music career at Square studios and was interviewed by Nobuo Uematsu.

It was there that we worked on the Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana games but ynfortunately, he wasn’t in the position he wanted. 

Gunning with a hard ultimatum for his boss, he got his first full composing spot for the Chrono Trigger game.

His most famous works are for Chrono Trigger and Xenogears, which were both soundtracks performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. 

Following the success, he also worked on Xenogears, and the sequel to Chrono Trigger.

In recent years, Mitsuda has composed for both anime and video games, expanding his music into other popular franchises such as Final Fantasy and Super Smash Bros plus a long list of other credits in the video game world.

8. Harry Gregson-Williams

Famous English composer Harry Gregson-Williams is well known for his music within films, but he also has created some memorable music for globally popular video games.

Gregson-Williams had a talent for music from an incredibly young age, and by the age of seven, he’d already won a musical scholarship for his piano skills.

His younger brother Rupert Gregson-Williams even followed in his footsteps as a composer.

He has worked with top-tier musicians across many genres and has an impressive discography.

Gregson-Williams produced the music behind multiple Metal Gear Solid games over the course of 2001-2015.

Along with writing themes for two of the renowned Call of Duty games, Gregson-Williams has left his mark on the video game world.

These popular action games benefit from his intense orchestral arrangements and his ear for dramatic, memorable music. 

9. Martin O’Donnell

Martin O’Donnell by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Martin O’Donnell began his legendary career into video game soundtracks in the PC games Myst and its sequel Riven.

These were his first steps into the world of game music, and it led to him writing the one of the most well-known video game’s music of all time.

O’Donnell’s music for Bungie’s Halo series is iconic and sold wildly well worldwide.

He used Gregorian chants and intense beats to create memorable and powerful music that drove the Halo games forward. 

Before he was writing music for video games, he wrote and recorded advertisement jingles which he claims is what helped him create such memorable music.

He oversaw the music for the first four Halo games and was deeply involved with writing music that reflected the story and would enhance the gameplay. 

But, in 2014, he was fired and then filed a lawsuit against Bungie.

Prior to this drama, he’d recorded the soundtrack for the then-upcoming Destiny game released in 2015 and now he’s currently working for Highwire Games.

10. Michiru Yamane

Michiru Yamane

And last, but by no means least, video game composer Michiru Yamane found her love for music when she was young, loving old classical and rock music composing her first pieces from age eight onwards.

Attending classes for music theory and piano all through her high school and college years, she had a deep understanding of orchestral and classical music.

Eventually, she grew to work on a beloved franchise. 

She worked for Konami studios from 1988-2008 and produced many classics while she was there, before moving to freelance work in 2008.

Once working at Konami, Yamane was introduced into the Castlevania franchise.

Her career bloomed after she wrote the soundtracks for Bloodlines and Symphony of the Night. 

With the great success of both games, she continued to work heavily on the Castlevania games even working alongside the producer of the series, Koji Igarashi

The music in Castlevania comes from Yamane’s love of gothic classical music and rock.

Summing up the most Famous Video Game Composers

As you can see, these composers have made some of the most iconic music in video game history.

They are true pioneers that helped shape what we know as gaming today.

We hope you enjoyed this list and hopefully you’ve been inspired to play some of these games.

Which video game composers did we miss? Let us know and we’ll add them.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.