Dragon Quest – The Uncertain Future of the Soundtrack

    What will the next Hero's journey sound like?

    Dragon Quest is one of the most important game franchises to arise out of Japan. It birthed the JRPG genre and consistently delivered high-quality games with unique worlds, heartwarming stories, and accessible gameplay. Throughout the series’ history, it has had a trifecta of God-like creatives. Yuji Horii is the main designer and visionary, Akira Toriyama handles the iconic designs, and Koichi Sugiyama is the composer. However, this trifecta has now been thrown into disarray since the passing of Sugiyama. What fate lies in store for the music of Dragon Quest?

    Koichi Sugiyama

    Koichi Sugiyama’s Passing

    Koichi Sugiyama passed away on September 30, 2021. He got his start by composing pop music, television shows, and advertisement jingles, to much acclaim. He later started composing for Enix after writing a letter praising a shogi game they had developed. This eventually led to his involvement with Dragon Quest.

    Despite his fame, he garnered some infamy later in his career due to his political views. His views were radical and do not line up with the modern world’s way of thinking. However, I shall separate the art from the artist and praise much of his work for the sake of having a cordial discussion about the future of Dragon Quest‘s music.

    How Will This Affect the Dragon Quest Series?

    To start, this article intends to discuss the possibilities of what could happen. I’m sure Square Enix has had a game plan for years on what to do if some of their lead creatives passed. I have no clue what’s in store as there hasn’t been much concrete evidence of what will be done, and I haven’t found any official statements or reports from Square Enix. If I were to guess, they have either a replacement composer or composers lined up, and to show respect to Sugiyama’s legacy, they’d probably credit him as the original composer or specifically point out that he composed the Overture in a title credit alongside Horii and Toriyama in order to keep showing the trifecta of creatives. 

    As for Dragon Quest XII specifically, I’d wager a bet that he had already done a chunk of composition before his passing. Final Fantasy XVI composer Masayoshi Soken had composed a portion of the game’s soundtrack AND kept composing for Final Fantasy XIV while he battled cancer. I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of posthumous releases from Sugiyama.

    It’s this mystery that makes this such an interesting topic to start a conversation about. The recent release of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince has revived this topic in my brain, as he is still listed as the main composer of the game. This begs a few questions in my head. What will happen to Dragon Quest‘s music? Will a new composer try to fill his shoes? Or could there be something else in store?

    Potential Replacement Composers

    There are a couple of composers that I’d like to highlight. These two have worked previously on many great games, including Dragon Quest. I heard rumblings of Hayato Matsuo being the replacement for Sugiyama, but I found nothing that proved this to be the case. Hayato Matsuo would be a great choice, though, I believe. He helped compose Final Fantasy XII, Ogre Battle, the 90s Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai anime, and he has done many arrangements for Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. That’s a stacked portfolio! Manami Matsumae is another good choice. She did the soundtrack for Dragon Quest Swords and has done many songs for the Mega Man games! Doing full compositions for a Dragon Quest game gives her a leg up in my opinion. 

    If I had to pick a replacement composer, I’d pick Yuzo Koshiro. He has a diverse knowledge of synthesized music, and some of his work on Etrian Odyssey sounds extremely like Dragon Quest to me. He is extremely talented, and I love his work. Please check some of his stuff out on music streaming services and maybe give his Twitter a follow.

    Yuzo Koshiro

    There are tons of great composers Square Enix has internally that could make some great soundtracks. Even the freelancers they hire could produce some great results. Imagine a Yoko Shimomura-composed Dragon Quest.

    The Possible Dark Side

    I have deliberated and thought of two evil ways they can keep Koichi Sugiyama as the primary composer for the series. One of the main complaints of Dragon Quest XI‘s OST is that it reuses many old songs and even some of the new compositions quite a lot, leaving the soundtrack somewhat sparse. This is also a prevalent issue in Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. My second evil thought is the possibility of using AI to make new songs in Sugiyama’s style…

    The first thought doesn’t sound good. Not at all. But I can see the egregious reuse of music being an issue for at least a while. My second thought is a pure evil borne of complete darkness. I can understand wanting to keep the style of the music and keeping the spirit of the late composer alive (sort of), but this would cost the series a lot of soul. Do I think this will be what they do? No, not at all. Although I won’t lie, it is a concern. This concern is further exacerbated by game companies dipping their toes more into AI content generation. Especially with Naruto x Boruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections being accused of using AI-generated voice lines. I do think AI tools have their uses, but they require human input and an artist’s touch to become something of worth.

    Payne Grist
    Payne Grist
    Payne is a huge fan of JRPGs. SQUARE ENIX owns his heart, especially their 'FINAL FANTASY' series. He is currently studying various mediums of art and Japanese.

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