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Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama dead at 90

The controversial nationalist composer died in September

Koichi Sugiyama speaks during the unveiling of Dragon Quest 11 in Tokyo, Japan in 2015
Sugiyama in 2015, seen during the reveal of Dragon Quest 11.
Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Composer Koichi Sugiyama, known for his contributions to the music of Dragon Quest, died at the age of 90, publisher Square Enix confirmed on the series’ Japanese website. Sugiyama died on Sept. 30, Square Enix said, from septic shock.

Sugiyama contributed music, including the main theme, for every mainline Dragon Quest role-playing game, dating back to the 1986 original. His first musical score for Enix, then the developer of Dragon Quest, was the 1985 game World Golf for home computers. He was composing music for the next game in the series, Dragon Quest 12: The Flames of Fate, before his death, Square Enix said.

The composer had been recognized by the Japanese government for his artistic and cultural accomplishments. Sugiyama earned the Order of the Rising Sun in 2018 and was named Person of Cultural Merit in 2020. Sugiyama’s Dragon Quest theme was the opening music at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremonies.

Sugiyama also promoted far-right nationalist views and publicly denied Japanese war crimes. He refuted the historical record involving Japan’s role in the 1937 Nanking Massacre, during which Japanese troops killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese people and raped upwards of 80,000 Chinese women, and opposed an apology from the Japanese government for its use of so-called comfort women, a softened term for women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

In addition, Dragon Quest fans have criticized Sugiyama for what they perceive as egregious use of copyright for his music. Fans have blamed him for differences in the Western versions of soundtracks — which have used sampled instruments, instead of orchestral recordings, in the past — compared to their Japanese counterparts.

Square Enix president and CEO Yosuke Matsuda said in a corporate statement, “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.”

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