Keiji Yamagishi is a Japanese video games composer known for his work on retro video games such as: Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo Bowl, and Captain Tsubasa Vol. I & II on NES.
He is also one of the founding members of Brave Wave Productions, and his recent work involved composing music for Streets of Rage 4 along with other famous music artists.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News Japan, Yamagishi shared his inspiration for video games, he said: “My source of inspiration for music in video games are the games itself. I speak with the game planners to see what they want from the music, and then I look at the visuals to come up with ideas. In action games, the movements of the characters and the scrolling speed of the background are important, so I make the tempo and beat match them.”
About his favorite video games, Yamagishi said: “I guess the games that I played the most were the Final Fantasy series. But my favorite music is from “MOTHER” (EarthBound Beginnings in the west) on Nintendo’s NES”.
About the establishment of his career as a video games composer, Yamagishi said: “I had been composing music since I played in the rock band I made with my friends in college, but I didn’t start composing music as a career until after I joined Tecmo. I started working at Tecmo without much thought, just knowing I would get paid for making music, which I loved, but I ended up being faced with many difficulties.”
“The first thing that I have worked on after joining Tecmo was porting the arcade game Star Force to Nintendo’s NES. The first job I did composition for was Tsuppari Oozumou for the NES,” he continued.
Yamagishi shared that there are challenges including cutting elements out due to insufficient data, he outlined how “it no longer happens these days, but back to the days of NES, production was a battle against data capacity. There were many times when I had to cut out something I wanted to express.”
“Also, game productions involved people from various departments, each with their own opinions, which made it very difficult to adjust the project and convince them moving forward,” he added.
Yamagishi is known for being the main composer of the original Ninja Gaiden video game on NES, he shared with Arab News Japan the story of his experience, and how “originally, I was supposed to work on the NES version of Ninja Gaiden first. But one of the sound engineers quit right when I joined the company, and I ended up being assigned to Star Force and Tsuppari Oozumou. I was the only sound engineer there, aside from another senior engineer. We just did the work we were given. I didn’t volunteer for the Ninja Gaiden project of my own volition.”
Yamagishi is also known for being the main composer of Captain Tsubasa Vol. I and II video games on NES, and landed a role doing the music for the series.
“I didn’t choose to work on Captain Tsubasa either. I was assigned to work on it. But I was aware of it from reading the manga series, and I knew the world, so I was able to get to work without a hitch. Captain Tsubasa II was a continuation of the previous game, so I was proactive in my participation in the project. I enjoyed the process of creating the music for the games,” he told Arab News Japan.
Yamagishi worked on the music for Streets of Rage 4 which released last year on various gaming consoles, and was selected to do the music for the latest instalment of Sega’s Streets of Rage series after “a game production company in France listened to my solo album, The Retro Active Experience, and liked it, which led to my participation. It was an honor to be able to work and participate in a project that is famous for Mr. Kodai’s music.”
Yamagishi also touched on how Japan’s seasons and the change in nature during spring, summer, fall, and winter inspires him.
Japanese culture has also influenced Yamagishi, who admits that he has been heavily impacted by the music of Shunsuke Kikuchi and Toru Fuyuki.
Regarding the Middle East, Yamagishi admitted that he has been to Egypt and Jordan. He emphasized how Petra in Jordan and the starry sky in Wadi Rum “were particularly amazing. The people I met there were calm and friendly. I would love to visit again sometime in the future,” he said.
“In 2019, I was invited to a gaming event in Kuwait and I was received with a very warm welcome. I was surprised at how many gamers knew me. I’m not very well known to game fans in Japan. I was ecstatic to find out that there are so many people who like my music,” he added.
Speaking of his upcoming projects, he said: “The title that I was working on got cancelled recently for a number of reasons, so now I’m ready for any project that is in need of my music.”
Yamagishi advises aspiring composers that it “is important to have qualities in addition to musical talent” like communication skills to set yourself apart, he shared.
Yamagishi also stressed that future composers need to be willing to work as a craftsman rather than an artist.