Western vs Eastern: Divisions in VGM

Two of the biggest terms that one encounters in VGM are west and east, and while they inherently don’t, – or shouldn’t – play a role in the quality of music, there are some appreciable differences that are worth being aware of in order to fully appreciate the music. This article will give you a brief picture of the divided world of Video Game music fandom.

Historically, there was an obvious divide in VGM, and this had a lot to do with reception. Sadly, a larger portion of America will even today imagine video game music to extend no further than Koji Kondo’s 1985 hallmark, but that was over 17 years ago. What went differently in the east was simply respect. There was renown, popularity, an actual market, and respect for video game music and its fantastic composers.

Nobuo Uematsu

What does this gap do? To be honest…nothing. If an American writes a song, and a Japanese person writes a song, there’s no different value or even necessarily a different style. Even if western society is still marginally prejudiced against video game music, a composer like David Wise has just as much validity as any other. (My hopes of course ride on the Smithsonian exhibit helping to further this art)

In the minds of fans, however, there develops a split because of these vastly different approaches to video game music. Even simply just looking at names, and historically, at compositional styles, one can notice distinct differences in video game music between west and east composers, but I argue that now, more than ever: There Is No Difference.

I’ll contradict myself though before going further by pointing out some of the more salient characteristics of both sides in regards to covering and market.

In western music, we currently have a pretty good system going for covering video game music: The excellent Dwelling of Duels proffers a place for artists to get hands on with re-interpreting video game music in a monthly contest; Overclocked Remix offers a massive compilation of remixes from artists all over the world and their own personal projects that they release practically monthly; and finally our beloved gaming companies seem to have not a single legal problem with the two previous groups nor the coverbands that stretch across America, from Armcannon in Buffalo to the Minibosses in Arizona.

In the east, my knowledge of any larger sharing sites and groups is rather limited so I can’t comment if there is such a one, but as far as I know, they’re neither denied from participating in DoD or OcRemix ; but, the big difference here is the market and name. Cover artists in Japan go by the name Doujin. This has some big differences, both positive and negative, and they come from the same fact: Doujin’s rarely seem to run into legal trouble in releasing commercial CD’s of their covers. Of course, most Doujin’s are small-time and maybe release a <1000 or 3000 cd run of their album before they disappear again, which makes many talented artists hard to follow and find.

In the western market, I am seeing a satisfying shift. Instead of having to rip just about every western game release, now companies will not only bundle the music in the game, but they will often times sell it themselves in physical form or sell it through itunes. Great! This means that composers finally have respect for the amazing work they perform – bad because I lose my excuse for not buying every CD of my exponentially growing collection – Nevertheless, the market is still not quite as big as it should be, and many major games just don’t see release (or they just have a horribly limited OST) In most cases, I’ll grab a game rip anyway to be safe.

The eastern market, not only filled with a large quantity of these cool Doujin covers, is also saturated with music releases. Not only is a OST commonly bundled with a game, but there is A BAJILLION of different releases for every game and quantillions of interpretations of the music (good and BAAAAD).

eastern rule of thumb for one game
Piano collection
Wind verson/String Version
vocal collection
(era dependent) popular music interpretation [may or may not include jazz version]
Live album (maybe not Okami…yet)

Returning to my ultimate point though, there really is no difference between the two. If you don’t believe me, go listen to Valkyria Chronicles. Japanese, eastern composer, and yet entirely western sounding – Michael Giacciono could have written it himself (‘cept it wouldn’t have been as good). Then go listen to the work of Jake Kaufman on Shantae, it sounds like hip-hop middle eastern. Limiting an artist to his/her nationality makes about as much sense as limiting video game music to bleeps and bloops.

What I will concede is that the east garners a lot of favor with most VGM fans because of its strong reception of the music, and because of its strong influence and huge pool of famous composers. So many of our favorite games have been done by brilliant eastern composers, but that is no excuses for not being aware of the many amazing ones that the west is filled with. In honor of this, I’ll make some tables showing some of the big names in either side, and also recommend a few resources for western music.

One of the best sites you can go to in order to learn about western music is VGM rush. While I don’t agree with Rimo’s one sided love of western music, I do agree with his support of its artists, and I salute his amazing efforts in building this website. You can learn and listen to more music here than you would ever dream of. As a VGM fan, you owe yourself a visit here

As for tables:
Western Pantheon

Jeremy Soule – Chosen One
Michael Land – Lucas Arts 1
Grant Kirkkhoppe – Later DK
David Wise – Everything Rare
Geoff Follin – Twin God Brother
Tim Follin – GOD
Spencer Nilson – Sonic CD
Stephane Picq – Dune
Clint Bajakian – Lucas Arts 2
Peter McConnel – Lucas Arts 3
Michael Jackson – Sonic 3 (supposedly with 6 others)
Normand Corbeil
Matt Uelmen

Eastern Pantheon (I don’t need to describe any of them)

Nobuo Uematsu – Do I need to say anything?
Yoko Shimomura
Koji Kondo
Akira Yamaoka
Hirokki Kikuta
Michiru Yamane (Johnny Bandana)
Yasunori Mitsuda
Motoi Sakuraba
Hitoshi Sakimoto
Hajime Wakai
Koichi Sugiyama
Go Ichinose
Junichi Masuda

And, “That’s all folks” I leave the decision making to you. Go check out and see what both sides have to offer and you tell me which one sounds a certain way. Just please, and I mean really, stay away from any Metal commercial covers from the 80s X.x

~Dan

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