Home | Reviews | Features | Master List | Links | Contribute | Forums
Sega Stars: Tokuhiko "Bo" Uwabo
By: Ken Horowitz
One of the most prolific and talented composers to ever work in gaming, Tokuhiko "Bo" Uwabo is a man who seeming lives in the shadows. Very little is known about him, aside from a list of the games he has worked on and this further adds to his mystique. Credited with roles in sound, programming, support, and production, he has been associated with games made by Sega, Sonic Team, and even Overworks. Still, he's never received any accolades from the gaming press and is barely a footnote in the industry's history. Who is Bo? Where has he gone? Does he still even compose game music?
The answers to those questions are a bit hard to come by. There are the games, however, and they speak volumes about both the man and the companies for which he worked.
The man who went by the names "Bo" and "Noah Toku" has an extensive gameography, spanning from 1986 to 1994. During that time frame, he was responsible for some of the most memorable music ever written for a game. When you think of the influence and popularity of most of the titles he worked on, it's a wonder he never got as much attention as other Sega wonder boys (no pun intended), like Yuji Naka and Yuzo Koshiro did.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Master System, 1986)
Probably Sega's first real attempt at a mascot to rival Mario, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is actually a pretty darn good game. There were lots of gadgets and stages to keep things interesting. Bo's score was very crisp and bouncy, making the most out of the Master System's FM sound chip. The music was entirely scored by Bo, although most people were unable to finish the insanely hard game to see the credits. Alex's classic theme was brought back for the Genesis sequel Alex Kidd in Enchanted Castle when the system launched in 1989. Miracle World was the only game in the series to be scored by Bo, which is a shame, since it would have been interesting to see him evolve the themes as the series progressed.
Fantasy Zone (Master System, 1986)
Another in a great series of arcade ports by Sega, Fantasy Zone was a great shmup before most people even knew what shmups were. Bright, colorful graphics, big bosses, and one of the most recognizable soundtracks in gaming. Bo really did a fine job with this one and most of the themes have become instant classics. Opa-Opa's theme, for example, has been featured in almost every incarnation of the game, including the Mega Drive sequel Super Fantasy Zone (read the review here), and was even a bonus track in Sonic Team's Dreamcast classic Samba de Amigo. Shmups in general went on to feature heavy, guitar-laden soundtracks, but Fantasy Zone proved that a great score can be both light and happy and still be great for saving the universe.
Space Harrier (Master System, 1986)
I remember walking into the local arcade in Florida and hearing that booming "Get ready!" coming at me from the back of the room. I'd never seen a machine like Space Harrier before and was quickly enthralled by its lightning-fast game play and great graphics. When I found out that it was coming for my beloved Master System, it became an instant purchase. Though scaled down quite a bit, the game retained all the magic of the coin-op and even had a few surprises! The music has always had a special place in my heart and even through the lousy RF connection on my TV, it sounded great. Bo was quite adept at composing music that fit the overall tone of the game and his work in Space Harrier is an excellent example of this. Speedy riffs and spacey tones gave life to the Fantasy Zone (weird name coincidence?) and made you want to see just how much volume that little TV speaker could handle.
Zillion & Zillion II: The Tri Formation (Master System, 1987)
Ask a Master System fan to name their favorite games and Zillion is sure to be in the top five. Using Metroid-like game play, the game is famous for being hard and long. Being able to change between J.J., Champ, and Apple was very cool at the time and actually made you think for a change, as opposed to just blasting your way from screen to screen. The soundtrack was very tense and action-oriented, which made searching for those key cards even more nerve-wracking. Though Sega changed the game play formula a bit for the sequel, the music is as good as ever.
Overclocked Remix has some great remixes that you should download now!
Phantasy Star (Master System, 1987)
This is a title that needs no introduction. By far the best RPG on the Master System and one of the greatest of all time, Phantasy Star set the bar for other games in the genre for years to come. As the music composer, Bo went above and beyond anything he had done to this point. Pushing the system's audio capabilities to their limits, virtually the entire soundtrack is a classic. From the overworld theme to any one of the three dungeon pieces, the whole Algol Star System can be defined by his music. Many of the songs from Phantasy Star were remixed or rescored for soundtrack CDs that are very rare now and some tunes (including my favorite dungeon theme) were incorporated in the series' final 16-bit incarnation. Truly one of gaming's greatest scores, Phantasy Star remains one of the high points in Bo's career.
Ys: The Vanished Omens (Master System, 1988)
Ah, Falcom's Ys series. One of my favorites and an enduring franchise that is coming back in a big way. First getting its start on the Famicom and Master System, the game was later ported to the Turbo-Grafx. While the soundtrack for the Master System version pales in quality to its CD counterpart, the fact that most of the themes originated here shows the vision and talent that the compact disc format let run wild. Bo was co-composer for Ys (part of group called Sound Team JDK) along with gaming legend Yuzo Koshiro (look for him in a future edition of Sega Stars). Although regarded as inferior to the Famicom release, the Master System cart was the only one brought stateside until Books I&II came out. I still like the FM charm Sega's version has, as it was the first one I played.
Continue to Page Two.