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Music / Hiroki Kikuta

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Hiroki Kikuta (born August 29, 1962) is one of the more eccentric video game music composers. His discography has not been very long, but it has been punctuated by extremely notable works, especially the music of Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana. His early game music work was for SquareSoft, but after he left, he branched out into game design, founding the company Sacnoth (later renamed Nautilus) which developed the Shadow Hearts series. In addition to game music, Kikuta has also composed some anime soundtracks. While at Sacnoth, Kikuta fiercely resisted Executive Meddling from publishers — this earned him something of an Auteur License reputation, whether or not he actually deserves it.

Anime Music

Video Game Music

Tropes present in his work include:

  • Dark Reprise: There are a few. "I Won't Forget You", a minor-key rearrangement of "Fear of the Heavens", is a notable one. Sometimes he'll also throw in a more subdued version of a theme that doesn't entirely qualify as dark, but certainly isn't as triumphant as the main version. "Angel's Fear" from Trials of Mana (note the different title) and "Breezin" both qualify as examples of these for "Fear of the Heavens".
  • Diegetic Switch: In Secret of Mana +, probably meant as a tribute to Wish You Were Here (1975) - Kikuta's usage of the trope is very similar to Pink Floyd's.
  • Epic Rocking: Some of his tracks, while qualifying, still aren't extreme examples even by video game standards; for instance, there are several on the Trials of Mana soundtracknote  that would be around six minutes if they were looped properly (most of them fade out after about one and a half playthroughs), and then the final battle song "The Sacrifice, Part Three" (8:05) and the final credits song "Return to Forever" (8:39) are even longer. But then there's the arranged album Secret of Mana +, which consists of a single 49:27 track. To be fair, it's something of a medley of Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana songs (interestingly, since the latter game wouldn't even be released for nearly two years afterwards).note 
    • The remade Secret of Mana soundtrack adds several more examples to this. "Secret of the Burning Sands" runs for 6:51; "Did You See the Ocean?" runs for 6:56; "Where the Wind Rests" runs for 7:12; "Flight into the Unknown" runs for 6:05; "Prayers and Whispers" runs for 7:23; "One of Them Is Hope" runs for 5:54; "The Penultimate Truth" runs for 7:31; and, taking the cake, "Danger (ARM version)" runs for 8:25. Interestingly, even though the liberties taken with the arrangements have been one of the most common points of criticism, the long tracks aren't the ones that have had mixed receptions; most of these are quite well liked. However, the longest tracks also keep fairly close to the original sounds of their respective tracks; they just add new segments.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Secret of Mana + takes this practically up to eleven. In particular, it commonly uses dial tone as an instrument - something of a case of Technology Marches On for younger listeners, probably, since people who only use cell phones may never actually hear dial tone.
  • Genre Mashup: He has stated that he is not particularly concerned with genre when composing, with the result that many of his compositions resemble several different genres mashed together. This is likely a major factor in his distinctive style.
  • Gratuitous English:
    • The Trials of Mana songs only have English titles, which is particularly inexplicable because the game itself wasn't even officially released in English until 2019 as part of Collection of Mana (before then, the only available English version was a fan translation). Many of the titles are grammatically correct, or at least not that far off (e.g., "Religion Thunder" = "Religious Thunder" or "Thunder of Religion"; Japanese adjectives are... quite different from English ones, and by syntactic definitions, the language technically doesn't even have them), but there are a few, like "Axe Bring Storm", "Faith Total Machine", and "Hope Isolation Pray", where it's not entirely clear what the intended meaning of the title was.
    • This also holds true for Soukiagi, which, again, wasn't even released outside Japan (and thus far, this one hasn't even had a fan translation to English). Most of these only have one- or two-word titles, though, and "Die on Destiny" is the only one that sticks out as particularly ungrammatical.
  • Musical Pastiche: An awful lot of Secret of Mana + comes across as an attempt to answer the question, "What if Pink Floyd had composed a video game soundtrack?", from the very David Gilmour-esque guitar solos to the use of sound effects and transitional passages (particularly the radio static at about 34:10 transitioning to a sample of "Return to Forever" sounding as though it were being played through a radio speaker before full instrumentation begins fading in). Kikuta has, to the surprise of probably no one who's ever heard the album, cited Pink Floyd as his single biggest musical influence, so it's pretty clear he's paying them tribute.
  • Progressive Rock: A fan of the genre since childhood (he credited Emerson, Lake & Palmer for inspiring his interest in music in the first place), and it's a conspicuous influence on some of his works. In particular, Secret of Mana + unambiguously belongs to the genre, and the Soukiagi soundtrack is often categorised as a work of progressive rock despite its relatively short compositions. His appreciation for the genre was actually part of what got him his job for Square in the first place, as he and Nobuo Uematsu bonded over it in his interview. He cites Pink Floyd as his single biggest musical influence and stated that prog rock/jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth was the musician he would most have liked to collaborate with.
  • Rearrange the Song: In addition to the typical video game Recurring Riffs, there are several arrangement albums for Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana. Secret of Mana + is a particularly bizarre example that incorporates Electronic Music, Progressive Rock, and ambient influence and runs as a single track (and, unusually for this trope, includes melodies from the latter game almost two years before its release; see Epic Rocking above). There are more traditional examples as well, like the Seiken Densetsu 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert CD.
    • Both Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana got complete rearrangements for their remakes in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Secret arrangements often differed radically from the originals, to divided reception; some of the new arrangements were well liked and others... weren't. Interestingly, three of the most divisive rearrangements ("The Boy Heads into the Wilderness", "Danger", and "The Sorcerer") were done by Kikuta himself, though Kikuta's other arrangements for the game ("Child of the Fairy Tribe", "Flight into the Unknown", and "The Meridian Festival") are very well liked, with many fans deeming the latter three better than the originals. Trials of Mana's remade tracks are almost uniformly much more faithful to the original arrangements and have been much less divisive.
  • Recurring Riff: A frequent video game trope, and his work is no exception. An incomplete list:
    • "Fear of the Heavens", the main theme for Secret of Mana, gets rearranged several times over the course of his two contributions to the series ("I Won't Forget You", and then from Trials of Mana, "Where Angels Fear to Tread", "Angel's Fear", and "Breezin", among others).
    • "The Boy Heads into the Wilderness" from Secret of Mana also gets reused as "Did You See the Ocean?" and, in Trials of Mana, "Electric Talk" and "Frenzy".
    • In Trials of Mana, "Innocent Sea" and "Innocent Water" are two different arrangements of the same melody.
    • One of the melodies from "The Meridian Festival", the final boss music for Secret of Mana, got reused for "Meridian Child" in Trials of Mana. Something of a Triumphant Reprise.
    • "Holy Invasion" and "Prayers and Whispers" from Secret of Mana use the same melody.
    • "Farewell Song" is a subdued rearrangement of the more triumphant "Delicate Affection" (both from Trials of Mana). Then this reappears at the end of "Return to Forever", which means it's the final theme in the game.
  • Shout-Out: Seemingly a quarter of his song titles with more than one word are examples of these tropes. Amongst them are "Where Angels Fear to Tread" (which actually comes from a line from Alexander Pope, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread", making it a Literary Allusion Title twice over), "Heart of Darkness", "Eternal Recurrence", "Time Enough for Love" (or possibly "A Time for Love" - it can be credibly translated as either), "The Long Goodbye", "Return to Forever", and so on. Some of these may not actually be obvious to English-speaking audiences because the official English translations don't match the source material ("Heart of Darkness", for example, was translated in the American soundtrack release as "In the Dead of Night", but the song's Japanese title, "闇の奥" ["Yami no oku", literally meaning something like "The Inner Depths of Darkness"], matches that of the most common Japanese translation of Conrad's novel. The same goes for "Time Enough for Love"; "愛に時間を" ["Ai ni jikan o"] was used for Heinlein's novel in its Japanese translation).
  • Uncommon Time: Like many other game composers, he uses this trope frequently. "Crisis", the boss battle theme from Secret of Mana, is probably his best known example.