Koichi Sugiyama, the composer who defined a generation of role-playing games with his music but was also known for his controversial views on LGBTQ + people and Japan’s action in World War II, has died. He was 90 years old.
Like Nobuo Uematsu and a handful of other landmark composers, Koichi Sugiyama helped define music on the Famicom in the mid-1980s. Best known for his work on Dragon Quest, he started directing at Fuji TV and later worked on projects such as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman: The Movie.
Sugiyama joined Enix after sending the studio a postcard expressing his appreciation for a PC shogi game they published. His work on the first Dragon Quest was considered revolutionary at the time. Looking back on the series, 1UP wrote that “It took its cues from classical composers and Wagner opera, resulting in a soundtrack that was deeper, heavier, and more emotional than any other Famicom game, despite the strict hardware limitations . It is no coincidence that Sugiyama continues to host annual orchestral performances of Dragon Warrior’s music in Japan – there are soundtracks that impress the player more, but very few are better works of art than his work on this series. “
Sugiyama continued to compose music for the series up to Dragon Quest 11, which was released in 2017. While more than a few criticized the somewhat repetitive melodies – perhaps a consequence of Sugiyama’s age – it was still hard not to be moved by the symphonic overture leading to its title screen. It remains one of the most easily identifiable topics in gaming, especially in Japan.
However, Sugiyama became a controversial figure in his later years. In 2015, Sugiyama appeared alongside Japanese politician Mio Sugita, where he supported claims that the shortage of children of LGBTQ + couples was a problem for Japan.
Sugiyama also supported Japan’s nationalist rhetoric surrounding World War II and opposed a resolution calling on Japan to apologize for the use of “comfort women” – a slang term for women who were forced into sexual bondage by soldiers during the conflict. Square Enix responded by distancing itself from the composer on these comments, saying that it “does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind” and that it “respects the diversity of sexuality and gender equality of all in the world”.
Sugiyama’s mixed legacy is reflected in the comments on Twitter after his death.
Koichi Sugiyama, the main composer of Dragon Quest, has died at the age of 90.
He said terrible things about LGBT people and called the seriousness of Japanese war crimes during World War II Western propaganda
He also wrote and composed this absolute masterpiece of symphonic euphoria pic.twitter.com/T7COAu29CK
– BerserkChip (@BerserkChip) October 7, 2021
Sugiyama’s compositions, especially on DQ3, helped define a series that ultimately set me on the path to becoming a writer. He was also vicious of LGBTQ + and a war crimes denier.
… Children, try to lead a life in which people can uncompromisingly mourn your death. https://t.co/kl2GsqR0kB
– Nadia Oxford (@nadiaoxford) October 7, 2021
I was shocked when I saw the breaking news. I never thought that would happen. I’ve heard Cosmos with You that he’s composed so many times lately … that’s the best song of my favorites. I can’t believe it … May he rest in peace, Koichi Sugiyama 先生.
– Yuzo Koshiro (@yuzokoshiro) October 7, 2021
For its part, Square Enix issued a press release stating the publisher “mourns his death”.
Yosuke Matsuda, President and CEO of Square Enix, added, “I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to Koichi Sugiyama’s friends and family. Words cannot express the extent of Koichi Sugiyama’s contribution since the DRAGON QUEST series was born . ” until now. I remember seeing him conduct the orchestra at a DRAGON QUEST concert like it was yesterday. I thank and honor him for his many years of service and the many wonderful pieces of music he has written for our games, and I say prayers from the bottom of my heart for the rest of his soul. “
Sugiyama was to serve as the composer for Dragon Quest 12, which was announced earlier this year. Square Enix has not yet announced who will replace it.
Kat Bailey is IGN’s Senior News Editor