One of the most critical — and certainly controversial — figures in the history of video game music is no longer with us.
Koichi Sugiyama passed away on September 30th. He was 90. His death, which was not publicly announced until earlier today, was due to a fatal instance of septic shock.
Sugiyama was a popular music artist in the Japanese film and television circuit as far back as the 1960s, but his gaming-related breakout was inarguably 1986’s Dragon Quest. He would go on to compose the soundtracks for not only every mainline sequel but a multitude of spin-offs as well. It is unknown at this time whether or not Sugiyama finished any pieces for the upcoming Dragon Quest XII, but at minimum, it’s a near-certainty his legendary motifs will be implemented by any prospective replacement musicians.
In gaming’s earliest years, even RPG scores were little more than catchy beeps and blips. Koichi Sugiyama was a pioneer in his field, imbuing Dragon Quest with robust, emotional tracks that became instantly synonymous with Japan’s most beloved role-playing franchise. Sugiyama’s work earned the composer multiple high-end awards, and his monumental legacy has been repeatedly recognized by the Japanese government.
That legacy is not without significant controversy. As Alex Donaldson notes at RPG Site, Sugiyama has come under fire for refusing to acknowledge the historical tragedy that is the Nanjing Massacre. His outspoken revisionist views also included substantially downplaying the roles of “comfort women” during the Japanese military conquests of the 1930s and 40s. Vile comments concerning the LGBTQ+ community did nothing to enhance Sugiyama’s image; in 2018, Square Enix representatives responded to inquiries on the composer’s 2015 anti-LGBTQ+ comments with what can effectively be described as a noncommittal shrug.
Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda issued a formal statement on Sugiyama’s passing:
I would like to take this opportunity to offer my deepest sympathy to Koichi Sugiyama’s friends and loved ones. Words cannot express the scale of the contribution made by Koichi Sugiyama from the birth of the DRAGON QUEST series until now. I remember seeing him conduct the orchestra in a DRAGON QUEST concert as if it were yesterday.
I thank and honor him for his long years of service and the many wonderful pieces of music he has written for our games, and offer my heartfelt prayers for the repose of his soul.