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A defense for Ishimoto



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RonaldPoe

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Hi, hope everyone's doing well. As you know I'm an amateur musician and huge KH fan. Today I want to discuss everyone's favorite scape goat of the music, Ishimoto. I know he's not as great as Yoko Shimomura but I don't think he deserves all the hate the fanbase gives him.

First, his work on Final Fantasy Type 0, The World Ends with You, and Dissidia is generally well recieved. In fact, I consider Feral Chaos' battle themes from Dissidia Duodecim to be in my top 5 FF Final boss themes. He also wrote Vanitas' battle themes (all of which are considered good) in Birth by Sleep.

Feral Chaos' themes.
"Enter the Darkness" is a classic. Yoko only helped with a few basic motifs and the rest was pure Ishimoto.
I know this is a controversial opinion but I consider "Replicas" to be an epic variation of "Destati" that's full of hype and fits the fight well. It's at least better than the two themes after it.

Secondly, He's written less tracks than Sekito Tsuyoshi or Yoko Shimomura in the Kingdom Hearts franchise yet gets most of the blame. It's not like the other 2 haven't had their weak tracks such as the themes for Monstro and KH1 Neverland. Yoko Shimomura actually has great respect for Ishimoto (I'll link the interview) so that's a plus.
Third he's got a distinct style. You can tell his specialty electronic music and that he learned orchestration later on. I've been trying to write midi-mockups myself and it's proven to be very difficult. It's a skill that needs to be mastered and isn't for most people.

I'll admit that "Dark Domination" is one of the weakest KH final boss themes because it only incorporates "Guardando Nel Buio" and "Rage Awakened" (Terra's boss theme) in a kinda lackluster way. I'm pretty sure he also wrote Armored Xehanort's unfitting theme (I feel it would be a better fit as a mid-game Resident Evil boss theme). Those I feel are his two biggest duds. That being said, I doubt most of us or his detractors could do much better than "Dark Domination" ...

Tell what your opinions on this are. What are your biggest problems and best traits in his KH music?
 
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Honestly, since I've been so used to Yoko Shimomura's work, Ishimoto kinda caught me off guard in the final stretch of the game in the segments Shimomura wasn't involved in. By all means, he's great, and he's definitely got a unique style that has him stand out! And I do love Feral Chaos's theme, it truly is top notch! I'm sure that if he works on the franchise again in the future, he'll make even better tracks.
 

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Replicas is one of my favorite KH tracks ever.
 

SuperSaiyanSora

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I'm a musician as well (although in a vastly different genre) and he's not a bad composer by any means. I wouldn't even say he's "not as good" as Yoko -- I'd say he's equally as skilled, but the styles are just vastly different, and their strengths lies in different areas. For example, his work on TWEWY is probably one of the biggest reasons why people even love that game the way they do. It'd be a completely different vibe if Yoko was the main composer and had composed a bunch of KH-style tracks for TWEWY. Would they be amazing compositions? Absolutely, but Ishimoto's compositions are equally as important to the game as the plot and characters itself.

Crisis Core's soundtrack is also largely done by him, and people love that soundtrack a lot. The main melody occurs in a lot of the songs, but I personally feel it's done in order to connect all of the moods together. Sometimes the melody may be used in a more upbeat song compared to where it may usually appear in a very somber song. The heavy guitar element is also used often, and when you listen to KH3's rendition of Enter the Darkness, you sorta hear the Crisis Core vibe (or at least, I do).

People have also been used to Yoko's work throughout the series from the very beginning, whereas Ishimoto's earliest work in the series was KH CoM and hadn't really had compositions in a KH game until BBS (Enter the Darkness, Enter the Void, Unbreakable Chains), which is relatively recent (even though BBS is 10 years old now). And those are some of the most iconic songs in the series. So it's really just a matter of him getting more experience to make stuff in the traditional KH sound, and there's not many composers out there that really nail it truly, because that sound is literally Yoko Shimomura's composing style. You can emulate her style, but coming up with something unique in your own style and flavor while also trying to compliment and remain true to a certain existing soundscape is WAY harder than it sounds.

I've seen people say how he uses "synthetic strings" for instruments, and... I get what they're saying, but that's why you can't listen to everyone lmao, because that's not what that is. He's using a VST (Virtual Instrument) sound bank that has the orchestral instruments needed for whatever he wants to make. Which is a completely different thing. This isn't a bad thing at all, because most composers do this -- even Yoko. That's why there's a difference between how in-game/soundtrack music sounds, and an actual orchestra. Live instruments do get used, but, you just know the difference. Game audio sounds "cleaner". But Ishimoto's style isn't like Yoko's, so that's why it throws people off at times, and his orchestral library might actually be different too. Hearing Replicas orchestrated, for example, shows how great he is at composing. Sometimes it may even come down to how things get mixed, there's a lot that can go into it.

But yeah, guy's great. Some of my favorite KH3 tracks are actually from him.
 

Deliverance

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He’s done some good work on other games, but I’ve disliked almost every single track he’s made for KH.

KH3 solidified this for me. The soundtrack was one of the few things I was genuinely looking forward to in the game. I can’t even describe the face I made when I was greeted with the most generic and unmemorable boss themes the series has ever seen. All of his tracks for the game just blended together and I forgot them 5 seconds after they stopped playing.

Not surprised to learn Yoko helped him make Vanitas’ themes. They’re the only orchestral tracks of his I like.
 

Xagzan

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FWIW, his other games have no bearing on how I receive his work on KH. Which is not especially charitable.

It's not like the other 2 haven't had their weak tracks such as the themes for Monstro and KH1 Neverland. Yoko

I see this a lot and I don't get it. The Monstro theme is great lol

I doubt most of us or his detractors could do much better than "Dark Domination" ...

That's kind of the problem. I probably couldn't do much better, but then I'm not a composer. I'd hope one could do better.

So it's really just a matter of him getting more experience to make stuff in the traditional KH sound, and there's not many composers out there that really nail it truly, because that sound is literally Yoko Shimomura's composing style. You can emulate her style, but coming up with something unique in your own style and flavor while also trying to compliment and remain true to a certain existing soundscape is WAY harder than it sounds.

Naturally. And yet like I said in another thread, every single one of the other dozen or so contributors to KH3 pulled it off better. Sachiko Miyano, Yasunori Nishiki, all of them flawlessly arranged Yoko's material in faithful and fresh ways. I hope their involvement in the series only grows in the future, if necessary.

I've seen people say how he uses "synthetic strings" for instruments, and... I get what they're saying, but that's why you can't listen to everyone lmao, because that's not what that is. He's using a VST (Virtual Instrument) sound bank that has the orchestral instruments needed for whatever he wants to make. Which is a completely different thing. This isn't a bad thing at all, because most composers do this -- even Yoko. That's why there's a difference between how in-game/soundtrack music sounds, and an actual orchestra. Live instruments do get used, but, you just know the difference. Game audio sounds "cleaner". But Ishimoto's style isn't like Yoko's, so that's why it throws people off at times, and his orchestral library might actually be different too

This isn't a new issue, by the way. Back in KH2, when he was just the synth operator, remember how we all thought the music sounded inferior to KH1? Remember Reviving Hollow Bastion? Or He's a Pirate? It sounded like a PS1 game. Whereas KH1 at least sounded more like "real" orchestra, even though it still obviously wasn't. (Now of course I'd joke that we hit the PS4 era and his samples sound like a PS2 game.)

But that's just the problem. Whatever the explanation behind it, his samples are never up to par with KH's standard. He doesn't have the right tools for the job. And to top it off, KH3 and the Rage Awakened debacle made me question whether he even understands KH's musical themes after 15 years.

I don't place all of the blame on him though. He shouldn't have been assigned something like Dark Domination in the first place, given his KH track record. Especially, again, when you had these dozen other artists working on KH3. If Yoko was unavailable, I would've loved to fight Xehanort with Miyano's magic in my ear, or Nishiki, Suzuki, Kameoka, literally anyone else whose work blew me away in KH3 and Remind.

Hearing Replicas orchestrated, for example, shows how great he is at composing.

I remember when I first recognized it in Remind, I thought, under the assumption it's Yoko or someone else arranging it, "See what happens when you give your tunes to someone with the right tools for the job?" It sounded so much better, had a great cinematic feel (although I don't know if I'd go quite so far as "great," especially since the parts that made the arrangement epic were absent in the original). Too bad it wasn't in the OST.
 

bambii

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I'm not too familiar with the Type-0 and Crisis Core soundtracks, but Ishimoto's work for TWEWY is phenomenal. His work for Kingdom Hearts however, IMO, is mediocre at best. As others have said, I think what this comes down to is that orchestration and classical/traditional composition are clearly new to him, which is acceptable for one-off tracks, but unacceptable if you're composing the vast majority of new boss themes, including for the final boss gauntlet.

It's obvious even just comparing his pieces within the KH3 soundtrack. Ishimoto's strongest pieces here are his compositions for San Fransokyo, which has a markedly different style with synth- and rock-heavy instrumentation and structure. Robot Overdrive and Heroes' Gathering are solid.

Everything else is too one-note and flat. Titanic Clash, Anger Unchained, and Flags of Fury - all of them new boss themes - are so remarkably similar in timbre, orchestration, and harmony that I struggle to tell them apart. They use the same exact sound palette. There's also very little dynamic variation. Meanwhile, Flantastic Fight and AR -Augmented Rhythm- are rhythmically nearly identical. This is clearly the work of an electronic producer who was handed an elementary suite of orchestral VSTs and asked to throw something together. Again, if this were some random platformer... fine. But these pieces are just not up to the standards this series has set. Like I'm genuinely shocked some of these pieces got approved. Not that there isn't scope for Ishimoto to compose for KH, but what I don't understand is why they don't play to his strengths.

More than anything, his melodies are simply... not memorable, with the exception of Enter the Darkness. And even then, I think that track's main success here is the amazing metal arrangement, which again plays to Ishimoto's strengths.

I can’t even describe the face I made when I was greeted with the most generic and unmemorable boss themes the series has ever seen. All of his tracks for the game just blended together and I forgot them 5 seconds after they stopped playing.

Exactly.

I've seen people say how he uses "synthetic strings" for instruments, and... I get what they're saying, but that's why you can't listen to everyone lmao, because that's not what that is. He's using a VST (Virtual Instrument) sound bank that has the orchestral instruments needed for whatever he wants to make.

To be clear, my issue is not at all that he uses VST plug-ins, it's that I think his orchestral VST library is straight-up not very good, and he also doesn't seem to be using the full breadth of their capabilities. You could get better sounding strings for free from Spitfire Audio than what he's using. They should really just keep him on synth programming and rock instrumentation.
 
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SuperSaiyanSora

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I believe people began dunking more on him when they heard that Dark Domination was just Rage Awakened with Destati in it.

Right, which I mean, I get why people might not dig that as the Final Boss theme for the Dark Seeker saga. You'd think it'd sound way more grand, sorta building off how True Darkness sounds, which Yoko did. Listening to FFXV's soundtrack, you know a Yoko-composed KH3 Final Boss track would've been next level, because look at Nachtflugel. I personally wish she handled Dark Domination too, but it is what it is.

This isn't a new issue, by the way. Back in KH2, when he was just the synth operator, remember how we all thought the music sounded inferior to KH1? Remember Reviving Hollow Bastion? Or He's a Pirate? It sounded like a PS1 game. Whereas KH1 at least sounded more like "real" orchestra, even though it still obviously wasn't. (Now of course I'd joke that we hit the PS4 era and his samples sound like a PS2 game.)

But that's just the problem. Whatever the explanation behind it, his samples are never up to par with KH's standard. He doesn't have the right tools for the job. And to top it off, KH3 and the Rage Awakened debacle made me question whether he even understands KH's musical themes after 15 years.

I don't place all of the blame on him though. He shouldn't have been assigned something like Dark Domination in the first place, given his KH track record. Especially, again, when you had these dozen other artists working on KH3. If Yoko was unavailable, I would've loved to fight Xehanort with Miyano's magic in my ear, or Nishiki, Suzuki, Kameoka, literally anyone else whose work blew me away in KH3 and Remind.

I don't specifically remember the KH2 OST complaints, but I do believe you. It's ironic though because it wasn't too much later on that KH2's OST became a fan-favorite. So I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. People dislike things now, but they come to appreciate it more as time goes on.

Regarding the point about his tools, that's what I'm thinking, because I listened to Eye of The Storm and Anger Unchained to compare, and the string libraries don't sound the same. It might be my brain playing tricks, but aside from the composition, the strings don't sound alike. I personally feel like he did an excellent job for The Caribbean though, because that sound and style fits that world. But in terms of KH3 and Rage Awakened... Surely he and Yoko worked closed together on some of these, so maybe she signed off on the idea? I have no idea. The only reasoning I can give for Dark Domination having Rage Awakened is due to Sora being pissed off at that point because of what Xehanort did to Kairi.

I remember when I first recognized it in Remind, I thought, under the assumption it's Yoko or someone else arranging it, "See what happens when you give your tunes to someone with the right tools for the job?" It sounded so much better, had a great cinematic feel (although I don't know if I'd go quite so far as "great," especially since the parts that made the arrangement epic were absent in the original). Too bad it wasn't in the OST.

And this is why I think it has to be his sound bank that's throwing people off. Because Replicas is a track I enjoy, but I find myself coming back to the Remind Orchestra version more. Every track he did that received the orchestra treatment sounds way better.

To be clear, my issue is not at all that he uses VST plug-ins, it's that I think his VST library is straight-up not very good, and he also doesn't seem to be using the full breadth of their capabilities. You could get better sounding strings for free from Spitfire Audio than what he's using. They should really just keep him on synth programming and rock instrumentation.

That's fair, I just mean when people (not you) say his strings sound "synthy", they make people think that he's using some 1980s Yamaha keyboard preset or something lmao. Spitfire Audio is amazing (the fact that it's even free is mind blowing), and I actually would love to know exactly what each composer uses.

Jeremiah George, a VGM YouTuber Composer who I'm a big fan of, is heavily inspired by Yoko Shimomura, but his songs themselves sound different because of the strings he uses (and because of course, the guy isn't Yoko). Alex Moukala is another composer (who I'd actually love to see him break down the differences in Ishimoto's work compared to Yoko's) with a different sound bank, but his stuff sounds a lot grander and more cinematic. Both styles are great, but they give a different vibe, so it depends on what you're going for.

His rock instrumentation is great too, and I'd love to see him do more of that in KH.
 

bambii

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I actually would love to know exactly what each composer uses.

Alex Moukala is another composer (who I'd actually love to see him break down the differences in Ishimoto's work compared to Yoko's)

Yes and yes. An Alex Moukala breakdown on these would be amazing.

Man ugh it's just... like, listen to Dark Domination and Nacthflugel back to back. It's not a fair comparison lol. When I hear his boss tracks I just think that they must've really been desperate to push the game through the door by the end of its dev cycle. It's not that every other composer working on KH should perfectly emulate Yoko, but she's clearly established a series of timbral/musical "stamps" for the series that should at minimum serve as a baseline. It's a question of consistency
 
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SuperSaiyanSora

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Yes and yes. An Alex Moukala breakdown on these would be amazing.

Man ugh it's just... like, listen to Dark Domination and Nacthflugel back to back. It's not a fair comparison lol. When I hear his boss tracks I just think that they must've really been desperate to push the game through the door by the end of its dev cycle. It's not that every other composer working on KH should perfectly emulate Yoko, but she's clearly established a series of timbral/musical "stamps" for the series that should at minimum serve as a baseline. It's a question of consistency

Yeah, I agree. The soundscape or "style" for the whole series thus far is literally Yoko herself, with Sekito's work heavily coming to the forefront starting in BBS. In terms of what you said about musical "stamps", I think he compliments Yoko incredibly well when it comes to KH tracks. He sadly doesn't get as much love in the fandom as Yoko does, but I think Sekito should be getting a lot more.

In fact, due to this thread, I actually decided to look up who composed what, and I'm surprised to discover what Yoko actually did and didn't compose/arrange. This seems to be a good source of info for anyone wanting to look into it: https://kingdomhearts.fandom.com/wiki/Kingdom_Hearts_Birth_by_Sleep_&_358/2_Days_Original_Soundtrack

I think DDD makes it easier to tell the difference between what the three of them make. All For One is Yoko, while Majestic Wings is Sekito. Ishimoto thrives on the TWEWY remixes and the more electronic/rock stuff in DDD too.
 

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I don't specifically remember the KH2 OST complaints, but I do believe you. It's ironic though because it wasn't too much later on that KH2's OST became a fan-favorite. So I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. People dislike things now, but they come to appreciate it more as time goes on.

Ohh I think in general KH2's OST was never really disliked. The strength of the material was mostly able to supersede any technical deficiencies, except in those few tracks where it was just too glaring to ignore. And later I'd say its case was helped even more when it got the 2.5 treatment ;)

Alex Moukala is another composer (who I'd actually love to see him break down the differences in Ishimoto's work compared to Yoko's) with a different sound bank, but his stuff sounds a lot grander and more cinematic. Both styles are great, but they give a different vibe, so it depends on what you're going for.

Funny you should mention Alex Moukala, as he told me recently he thinks Ishimoto has been a "gift" to Square Enix. Maybe he meant overall, because needless to say I disagreed when it came to KH 😅
 

SuperSaiyanSora

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Ohh I think in general KH2's OST was never really disliked. The strength of the material was mostly able to supersede any technical deficiencies, except in those few tracks where it was just too glaring to ignore. And later I'd say its case was helped even more when it got the 2.5 treatment ;)

I see what you're saying. I DO remember that people complained about how "He's a Pirate!" sounded in KH2 and I agreed, but at the time, I pretty much chalked that up to the limitations on the disc. In all times I listen to the KH2 Soundtrack, it's been the 2.5 version, so I should really go back one of these days and listen to the OG stuff again.

Although there are some cases where I've seen people saying they prefer the older versions. I do know that some people prefer the OG Tension Rising over the 2.5 version. Or Dance to The Death. So it's cool to see how that kinda plays out.

Funny you should mention Alex Moukala, as he told me recently he thinks Ishimoto has been a "gift" to Square Enix. Maybe he meant overall, because needless to say I disagreed when it came to KH😅

It's kinda like what I was saying in the first post, the guy overall is great at what he does, even if some of the stuff in KH3 in particular might not be his greatest work. In KH3, he definitely had a bigger responsibility than he did in say, BBS or DDD. And Dark Domination is widely received as... "It's not bad, but it's kinda underwhelming." So maybe it's just a matter of him getting used to how KH tracks are composed and arranged, because the tracks he did for KH3 sound a lot better in the OST than they did in the game (but I mean, compression can sometimes doo-doo up the sound if done incorrectly too). They sound more touched up, and even though some changes are present that I personally don't agree with... It kinda shows that it could also be growing pains too.

Or, it just straight up could be not every composer really fits every game style. Who knows? 🤷‍♂️ But I do love the fact that there's more hands in the pot when it comes to Square Enix's games now. FF7R has an insanely good soundtrack and as someone who loves the XIII trilogy (especially for its music), I was in love. However, Hamauzu wasn't the only guy behind the boards too, there were many composers that came in that did work for different moods, and I really thought that was cool. Cause composing a game by yourself in these times can't be easy. Back in the day, it must've been different because games were on a smaller scale and weren't nearly as ambitious as they are today. But now, with how cutscenes are directed, it calls for more music.
 

Xagzan

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I see what you're saying. I DO remember that people complained about how "He's a Pirate!" sounded in KH2 and I agreed, but at the time, I pretty much chalked that up to the limitations on the disc. In all times I listen to the KH2 Soundtrack, it's been the 2.5 version, so I should really go back one of these days and listen to the OG stuff again.

Although there are some cases where I've seen people saying they prefer the older versions. I do know that some people prefer the OG Tension Rising over the 2.5 version. Or Dance to The Death. So it's cool to see how that kinda plays out.

Well yeah, me too, sometimes. Like the OG KH2 Disappeared I preferred to the remix, at least.

Or, it just straight up could be not every composer really fits every game style. Who knows? 🤷‍♂️

That'd be my thought. Luckily it's all come together for the most part in these games. It can be risky to have so many people composing for one thing, but with the right people in charge to guide everyone it seems to work out well. I just don't count Ishimoto's KH work among that, and he's been with the series for 15 years.
 

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I actually think Setko and Ishimoto are both very talented but their styles are also very different. I'm glad nobody's claiming I'm a troll (I try to be honest and polite online). Yoko Shimomura is actually one of my musical heroes so I might be biased. I don't think all the duds in KH3 were written by Ishimoto. That being said, he's not always the right fit for some situations (as shown by some of his KH3 work).

Despite not having played The World Ends With You, I feel "Twister Remix" is one of the most unique final boss themes I've ever heard yet it fits the fight well (I looked it up). Most RPG's use either an epic orchestral piece, Metal tune, both, or something imitating either style (usually for older games) for final bosses. This one is pretty much a Techno version of the J-Pop/Hip Hop opening. It's a risky move that paid off.

Also Alex Moukala and Jeremiah George are both excellent arrangers that I'm subscribed to. It'd be awesome if the former would do a video comparing/contrasting Ishimoto, Setko and Yoko. It'd be interesting to see him critique "Dark Domination" so we can get a more professional opinion. Also Jeremiah George's RWBY arrangements are absolutely killer (before you ask, I do like RWBY). This remix is the tip of the iceberg though.
 
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