You might not have heard of a Japanese band called T-Square, but you've almost certainly, indirectly, heard their music. Formed in Tokyo in 1976, the band is one of the most popular acts in Japan, renowned for their pristine production, tight synth grooves, and dreamy, jazz-infused pop sound. While the music in Western games from the '90s was inspired by heavy metal—the Doom soundtrack being a prime example—jazz fusion and city pop were the biggest source of inspiration for many Japanese composers.
Artists like Toshiki Kadomatsu, Tatsuro Yamashita, Akira Inoue, and Omega Tribe were a major influence on the sonic landscape of Japanese video games. This genre of music is typified by its breezy, upbeat sound—which made it popular among the youth of Tokyo—and its use of crisp FM synths and funky slap bass. But none of these acts had a bigger impact on the medium than T-Square, whose music, or at least the DNA of it, can be heard in some of the most popular, beloved video games ever made.
Take the song Sister Marian, for example, from their 1984 album Adventures. A minute in and it's obvious that Koji Kondo—composer of the classic Mario theme—was a fan. This track was written by T-Square co-founder and guitarist Masahiro Andoh, who would go on to become a video game composer himself—albeit with a more orchestral sound. He produced music for the Gran Turismo series (notably its theme, Moon Over the Castle, recently covered by Bring Me the Horizon for GT7) and the Arc the Lad series.
Another track from Adventures, Travelers, influenced another popular game. It's clear from the very beginning, and especially around the 1:27 mark, that this was the inspiration for Guile's Theme from Street Fighter 2. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, a veteran composer and a legend in her own right, Guile's Theme has become something of a meme, and it's fascinating hearing the origins of such an iconic piece of music. This doesn't detract from Kondo or Shimomura's work, but T-Square's influence is undeniable.
Other soundtracks influenced by T-Square include Sonic & Knuckles. The Lava Reef Zone theme owes a lot to 1990's Wind Song. Meanwhile, Rodan (yet another track from Adventures) could easily be a lost composition from the SNES version of F-Zero. Interestingly, T-Square percussionist Satoshi Bandoh played drums on the Mario Kart 8 score—including an absolutely killer jazz fusion cover of F-Zero's Mute City theme. There are undoubtedly hundreds more soundtracks with audible echoes of T-Square's extensive discography, but these are some of the most notable examples.
Almost 50 years after their formation, T-Square are still going strong. The line-up has changed dramatically over the years, but a few of the original band members—including leader Masahiro Andoh—are still part of the group. They toured Japan as recently as last year, and they still sound incredible. T-Square are a household name in their home country, but are not nearly as well known elsewhere—despite an ongoing wave of imagined nostalgia for Japanese city pop in the West. But such is the extent of their influence on video games, even if you haven't heard their music, you probably have.
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