Brave Wave interview: chatting with history’s greatest game composers

Brave Wave game music

Never dismiss the ability of music to elevate an otherwise average game into something remarkable. Though games like Final Fantasy XIII and XV have had their fair share of detractors for the games themselves, few could argue that one issue was their music. One of the composers for Final Fantasy XV, Yoko Shimomura, has found a home at a humble and exciting Japan-based music label, Brave Wave. Not only has Brave Wave brought some game music industry legends into their fold (as well as given a platform for new releases of classic soundtracks), but it also has shined a light on a new generation of incredible, video game-inspired music.

Nintendo Enthusiast is grateful to Brave Wave co-founder Alexander Aniel and an assortment of distinguished composers on the Brave Wave label for taking time to answer some questions in an interview.

International connections

Nintendo Enthusiast: Where did the idea for Brave Wave start?

Alexander Aniel

Alexander Aniel (co-founder, Brave Wave): The idea first began with Mohammed Taher, the main founder. He enjoyed Japanese video games, particularly on the Famicom, while growing up in Kuwait. Games like Captain Tsubasa and Mega Man left an enormous impact on his creative energy, and by the time he was old enough and had some experience as an Arabic game writer, he decided to approach Keiji Yamagishi and Manami Matsumae (the composers of the Japan-only Captain Tsubasa and the writer of the classic Mega Man opening theme, respectively) directly to work on World 1-2 with him. That album was a compilation of new and arranged music from or based on popular games, and the roster grew to include a mix of Eastern, Western, and other artists.

But Mohammed was unable to communicate with the Japanese artists directly because they generally did not speak each other’s languages. So he asked me to facilitate communications. It was a part-time gig for me at that point, but I always thought it was a cool thing to work with the composers who did Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden. Mohammed couldn’t form a company in Kuwait for certain reasons, so I offered to make one for him in Japan instead. It was thus decided that I would handle business development and he would be the creative director. It’s a unique combination that works. We’re so different in our skills and tastes, but these differences complement each other.

Mohammed Taher

NE: How were you able to bring some true greats of the video game music industry to Brave Wave?

Alexander Aniel: Developing relationships in Japan is an intricate process. It takes time to build trust. I was lucky to have had friends in the gaming industry who helped me get started. I was an intern at localization company 8-4, and then worked at a developer [composed] of former Sega staff. It was through these that I was able to get in touch with composers like Saori Kobayashi. For the others, the relationships built themselves on top of one another.

NE: Brave Wave is not just music from established video game composers, but also original works. How have you decided which artists and music are right for the Brave Wave label?

Alexander Aniel: Ideally, the composer will have a long history of working on game music. The games don’t have to be popular, but they usually are. Above all, their music has to be both impactful and generation-defining. Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Donkey Kong Country, Street Fighter II–they all defined their respective generations and platforms. That said, there are no hard rules. We bring in those we feel we can work well with and help grow, particularly those who may not have agents or assistants, which is true of most retro Japanese game composers.

Manami Matsumae

The composers

NE: For the game composers… how does it feel to know there are people out there who associate (positively!) a video game with your music as much or sometimes more than with the games themselves?

Manami Matsumae (Mega Man, Mercs, Shovel Knight): I hadn’t thought about this at all a long time ago, but now the genre of video game music has become quite established, so I agree that one can definitely listen to it on its own.

Keiji Yamagishi (Tecmo Bowl, Ninja Gaiden): If people can enjoy game music even without playing the actual game, then I think that’s quite a good thing.

Kaori Nakabai (Ninja Gaiden 3, Radia Senki, Dynasty Warriors): Game music is a very common aspect of gaming itself, but hearing that people can enjoy only the music, or find the music more enjoyable than the game itself, is I think attributable to how well the music goes with the game.


George Baker (also known as “Smoke Thief,” and Brave Wave’s first original music artist): My game soundtrack work has led to me meeting some of my most loyal fans. When my score receives great feedback, or a player remarks that my music really heightened a moment for them, it gives me a lot of positivity moving forward into new projects.

Akari Kaida (Breath of Fire III, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, Okami): I believe video game music is encompassed into many genres, which all blend together and end up being something that can be enjoyed on its own. Also, I personally aim to ensure that every part and scene in the game has music that makes each piece more exciting.

Akari Kaida

NE: What did you hope to accomplish by joining the Brave Wave family?

Manami Matsumae: Last year, I released my very first solo album to commemorate my 30th anniversary as a composer. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but maybe I should also release an album for my 35th anniversary!

Keiji Yamagishi: I wanted to regain my passion for music. I’ve since succeeded in doing exactly that.

Keiji Yamagishi

Kaori Nakabai: There are a lot of songs I made in the past that I’d like to rearrange, so I’d be happy if I got the chance to release these to the world once again.

Ryuichi Nitta (Ninja Gaiden, Solomon’s Key 2): I wanted to give back to all fans who enjoyed my music, even in small ways.

Takahiro Izutani (Metal Gear Solid series, Bayonetta series): I wanted to complete my solo album.

George Baker: I had always wanted to meet my musical heroes from games like Street Fighter, Ninja Gaiden, and NiGHTS. To have earned the recognition to stand alongside them as a part of Brave Wave is one of the greatest honors of my life.

Saori Kobayashi (Panzer Dragoon series, NiGHTS): I wanted to release albums for both myself and the band I play for, AKANE. I hope to continue doing so from here on out!

George Baker

Musical inspirations

NE: What have been some of your inspirations when composing game music?

Manami Matsumae: I compose music by looking at game screens and trying to figure out what goes well with that world, but I also try to put myself in the shoes of the player to see how they could enjoy the music in the game they’re playing. That’s what gives me inspiration. My music tends to feature catchy melodies, so I try to maintain that structure.

Kaori Nakabai: I find myself imagining I’m in the scenery of the world, and with me in there, I imagine the kind of music I would be listening to inside of that world.

Kaori Nakabai

Saori Kobayashi: For me, music is a language. It conveys the things I want to say from my inner-self.

Akari Kaida: I actually wasn’t brought up in a specific music-oriented environment. Instead, I was influenced by watching Japanese male idol groups on TV and hearing the big band jazz-esque music on those programs. I’d never heard jazz before, so I was shocked at how cool it sounded! That’s why jazz and funk have a lot of influence on me, and as our knowledge of this music deepens, it also inspires Japanese nursery rhymes, too.

NE: Do you have any standout favorites from your catalog of music?

Ryuichi Nitta: The “Stage 1” theme from Ninja Gaiden was the first track I ever made for the game industry. It’s a song of personal significance to me.

George Baker: For me, working with director Mohammed Taher, mixing engineer Marco Guardia, and composers Manami Matsumae, Takahiro Izutani, and Saori Kobayashi on my first album, Heart Beat Circuit, has been a real highlight.

Ryuichi Nitta

Toward the future

NE: What are some future plans/things you’d love fans to check out right now?

Manami Matsumae: I can’t announce anything right now, but I have a number of indie games I worked on coming out soon. Please look forward to it!

Ryuichi Nitta: I’m finally able to release a physical version of my Retro-Active solo album.

Keiji Yamagishi: My favorite track is for the Japan-only Famicom game called Radia Senki. The track is called “Kusahara wo yuku (Traverse the Grass Field).” I’d like to remake the track if possible.

Saori Kobayashi: I’d like to continue composing for games and make original music albums as well. Hopefully there will be good things in the future from me!

Saori Kobayashi

Ryuichi Nitta: I’ve recently been doing work outside of game music composition and doing more personal kinds of music. I hope you can have a listen!

Takahiro Izutani: The release hasn’t been confirmed yet, but at the moment, I’m working on the music for a Japanese sports game that will be released worldwide. It will feature a rock sound with groovy rhythms throughout the entire soundtrack, of which all tracks have me playing the electric guitar. Please have a look at my website when the game’s release date is unveiled.

Takahiro Izutani

George Baker: At the moment I’m working on a new project with Japanese artist Asami (Wavemaster, Soultone Cymbals) called Rinon. For this project I am making extensive use of the ROLI Seaboard RISE midi controller. The instrument has helped me explore more natural, vocalesque articulations.

We hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain at Brave Wave! Are you a long-time fan of the label, or is this your first time hearing about them? Perhaps you’ve seen them at Fangamer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

John Dunphy
John Dunphy has written, edited and managed several newspapers, magazines and news websites in both the United States and South Korea. He's written about local government, food, nightlife, Korean culture, beer, cycling, land preservation, video games and more. His love of gaming began with the Atari 2600 but truly came of age on the Super Nintendo. Looking at his staggering surplus of console and PC games yet to be played, he laments the long-ago days of only being able to buy one $70 32-megabyte cartridge and playing it until his hands ached.