A Brief History Of Japanese Electronic Video Game Music (1995-2005)

Originally I’m a video game music composer – I produced music for the Gran Turismo series (from GT5, 2010) – so video game music is one of the roots of my love for electronic music. Especially games from 1995 to 2005 —they are wonderfully crazy.

This period is called the three major game console war, between Nintendo, Sega and Sony in Japan, which started with the release of PlayStation in December 1994. With the evolution of technology, so many Japanese companies increased their budget and battled to have the best ideas for new game experiences at the time. At the same time as the birth of Pokemon in 1996, many other unique, experimental and strange games were born too, from junk to hidden gem games — it was a chaotic time.

In recent years, Soichi Terada’s music has been evaluated worldwide. He and many musicians have created game music that directs new games in this era. Video games were a good field for electronic musicians, so the music produced was as excellent and strange as electronic music culture on the whole.

I’d like to introduce you to some of the most critical sound works from video games below, as well as treat you to a mix of the unique electronic music that soundtracked the games in this golden era.

Yuto Takei‘s latest release Bells from the East is available now on Flippen Disks.

Kaze no Notam “風のノータム” (Artdink, 1997) [Music by Ryuji Nishida]

This is a balloon simulation game by Artdink. During this period, various simulation games were released due to the evolution of game technology, and ambient music helped to create various atmospheres (the first track of the mix, “Buile Baku”, is a building demonstration simulation game).

Honestly this game is not well-balanced. You can’t control the balloon at all because of the frequent unreasonable winds but the music that creates a great atmosphere is on our side — it’s a great wind.

Artdink, especially, have released many simulation games. Oceanographic, Railroad simulation fits ambient music.

Kowloon’s Gate (Zeque, 1997) [Music by Kuniaki Haishima]

A game set in Kowloon Walled city, Hong Kong, released just after Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. It is also valuable as a reference because you can explore deep into Kowloon Walled city, which does not exist now. This different world-like maze is directed with dark and exotic ambient music by Kuniaki Haishima. One of the weirdest games in Japan. 

In this era, many psychedelic, weird games with sound and visual were introduced in Japan, as a new gaming experience. Especially ‘LSD’ by Osamu Sato is famous as the craziest PlayStation game, so finding articles in English will be easy.

Don’t think, feel.

Moon (Lovedelic, 1997) [Music by Thelonious Monkees / THE SLEEPWALK]

It’s not fighting with monsters, it’s an Anti-Role Playing Game by Lovedelic. A strange lovely journey is soundtracked by wonderful music from ambient to psychedelic to DnB. You can discover a lot of music by collecting music media called “Moon Disc” in this game.

For a very long time the game was only released in Japan, and was a rare game even for Japanese people. Fortunately it was reissued on Nintendo Switch in 2020 and is finally released worldwide. Let’s play it!

Rez (Sega, 2001) [Music by Keiichi Sugiyama, Mist, Ken Ishii, Adam Freeland, Coldcut etc.]

Midnight high shooter game by Sega. Electronic music is remixed with intuitive control in this game — you can feel the high energy interaction of the sound and visual.

Sometimes it was said in Japan that Sega was too advanced, which meant sales in Japan were not significant. In effect Sega declared defeat in the three major game console war with PlayStation and Nintendo during the development of this game (withdrawal from hardware development). But they completed this game, which is also great as a comprehensive art, SEGA’s pride.

Katamari Damacy “塊魂” (Namco, 2004) [Music by Yuu Miyake, Akitaka Tohyama, Asuka Sakai, Yoshihito Yano etc.]

A game to make a big chunk by involving various stuff and making new stars, because Cosmo King got drunk and destroyed the stars. This peaceful and crazy world is produced by the unusual sound direction of Yuu Miyake — all have a unique and raw SFX.

The music concept is a unique Japanese song; a mix of old skool Japanese songs and new electronic music. Especially ‘The Moon & the Prince “月と王子”’, which was rapped by Japanese enka singer Kenji Niinuma. It’s a very unique track produced by Akitaka Tohyama.

Tracklist
Yusuke Takahama – Cyber 2 (from Buile Baku, KAZe 2002)
Thelonious Monkees – 2001 (from Moon, Lovedelic 1997)
Hidetaka Matsumae – Satavisa Basement (from Kileak the Blood 2, Genki 1995)
Kuniaki Haishima – Kowloon Burn (from Kowloon’s Gate, Zeque 1997)
Hidetaka Matsumae – Vision of South Pt.3 (from Kileak the Blood, Genki 1995)
Tetsukazu Nakanishi – Camber (from Ace Combat 3, Namco 1999)
Hideki Naganuma – Sneakman (from Jet Set Radio, Sega 2000)
Yuzo Kako – Pop_error (from Giftpia, Nintendo 2003)
Osamu Sato – Kui (from Chu-Teng, SME 1995)
Yuu Miyake – Nananan Damacy (from Katamari Damacy, Namco 2003)
Soichi Terada – Hot Springs Maze (from Ape Escape, SCE 1999)
Mijk Van Dijk – Burnout (from Ridge Racer V, Namco 2000)
Mist – Protocol Rain (from Rez, Sega 2001)
Ken Ishii – Creation the State of Art (from Rez, Sega 2001)
Koji Nakagawa – Miles Above (from Ace Combat 3, Namco 1999)
Richard Jacques – What About the Future (from Jet Set Radio Future, Sega 2002)
Ryuji Nishida – Dry Wind (from Kaze no Notam, Artdink 1997)Kenji Niinuma – The Moon and the Prince (from Katamari Damacy, Namco 2004)
Shoji Meguro – Shibuya (from Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne, Atlas 2003)
Ryuji Nishida – Phantom (from Kaze no Notam, Artdink 1997)
Hardfloor – Spook & Spell (Slow Version)(from Ghost in the Shell, SCE 1997)
The Latch Brothers – Latch Brother Bounce (from Jet Set Radio Future, Sega 2002)
Thelonious Monkees – Bubble Star (from Moon, Lovedelic 1997)
Osamu Sato – Entering the Sun Palace (from Chu-Teng, SME 1995)
Hiroyuki Tsuboguchi – Ending (from Ninja Cop, Hudson Soft 2003)

Yuto Takei’s latest release Bells from the East is available now on Flippen Disks.

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