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Spotlight: Nobuo Uematsu, Part One

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It’s time for our Nobuo Uematsu spotlight episode. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the tunes!

 

PART I

 

With the exception of Hironobu Sakaguchi, there really isn’t any other name more synonymous with Final Fantasy than that of “Nobuo Uematsu”. Composing either all or part of 12 of the 15 main-series final fantasy games, much of the feel and atmosphere, that visceral, unspeakable part of us that sings when we are reminded of a Final Fantasy, may be the melodies that Nobuo Uematsu is responsible for. With numerous remixes, live symphonic performances, and the original scores themselves, fans of Final Fantasy have relived their FF adventures through listening to the plethora of material presented by Nobuo Uematsu through their headphones while they do homework, clean their homes, or drive to work. There is no doubt that without the contribution that Nobuo Uematsu has brought to the series, much of our experiences with these games would be dramatically altered from what they are. Where would Star Wars be if it weren’t for John Williams? You could ask the same of Uematsu.

 

Note: You will be hearing a large number of remixes through this two-part Nobuo Uematsu spotlight, as well as some concert performances, and tracks from the games themselves. The youtube links for all of the pieces will be provided in the descriptions, and we ask that if you like a particular piece to consider following the links and supporting the artists that keep the music of Uematsu alive.

 

Let’s get to it…

 

[small interlude with the main FF theme]

 

Nobuo Uematsu was born on March 21st, 1959 in Kochi, Japan. Inspired by the music of Elton John, he taught himself how to play the piano at the age of 12.

 

Shortly after graduating from Kanagawa University, Uematsu began writing music for commercials before being hired by Square Co. in 1986 to work on video game scores.

 

For 18 years Uematsu worked at Square, creating over 30 video game and movie soundtracks before separating from square in 2004 to become an independant contracter.

 

We’re gonna pay special attention to these years, as that’s where most of the Final Fantasy meat is at; but first, let’s rewind the clock back to his very first game score, co-written with Takashi Uno, this is a piece from “Cruise Chaser Blassy” called “Space”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcmWisadc9Q

 

1986 would end up being a very busy year for rookie Nobuo, the next game he’d work on would be his first that he’d compose entirely on his own called “Alpha”, although we can’t seem to find any tracks for that game, his next would be a NES classic called “King’s Knight”. Here’s the theme from that game:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBui5DMZAVs

 

December of 1986 would feature his next soundtrack, that for Suishō no Dragon. Here’s the intro track for that game:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MIhB2mgcRA

 

The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner would push Square’s stereoscopic 3D technology to the limits and with the music of this game, we would see a side of Nobuo we hadn’t seen before, you could call it “super pep” here’s a cover of the main theme:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDZhruBVzP4

 

Another soundtrack was made for a little piece of software called “Apple town story”, and he would follow that up with “Mystery Quest” (not to be confused with Mystic Quest, a later game). Here’s a taste:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_qIcMhmXJ0

 

With few exceptions, most of the pre-FF games Nobuo Uematsu worked on have been forgotten, with the most notable detail about them being that they had soundtracks created by Uematsu. Nearly forgotten games such as Genesis, Alien 2, and Cleopatra no Maho, which were next up in line, could probably be seen as pot boilers for what was to come, quick cash grabs before Square’s impending doom in 1987. Here’s a taste from the 26/40-famitsu scored Cleopatra game:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGnh3e6wNdo

 

Rad racer would come next, notable for being one of the few racing games on the NES. This is a track called “Grand Canyon”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpzbHphuVrk&index=4&list=PL0D98064E11A94D91

 

One of the first dating sim games would follow (I sense desperation) with the long-winded mother fucking title of a game called “Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School”, that Nobuo would co-score with Toshiaki Imai. And the last game Nobuo would score, a sequel of sorts to 3D worldrunner would be that of “JJ”. But ya’ll wanna get to the good stuff. I can feel it. Fine. His last effort of 1987 would be the soundtrack for Final Fantasy.

 

This now-legendary soundtrack featured both the arpeggio prelude and main theme that would be staples in the series to come. He remarked once that he felt kind-of embarrassed as he hadn’t worked all that hard on pieces that would be hummed by gamers around the world. This is one of the best songs in the game. Here’s a cover for “Matoya’s theme”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdRMfqWNJok

 

Beginning in 1988, Nobuo would slow down his work to 1 to 2 games per year, primarily being that of the scores for Final Fantasy games. Occasionally though, he would take a detour. Here’s a track from “Hanjuku Hero”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebIzHCFGxTc

 

His other score of 1988 would be for the sequel to FInal Fantasy, Final Fantasy 2. Much of the original score from FF1 would make it into FF2 for our enjoyment, along with some original works. Here’s a remix of “Rebellion”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU06ttrbqcM

 

For some reason Square thought it would be a really awesome idea to make a game based on the book Tom Sawyer, but if there were someone who could make a killer soundtrack for such a game, it would be Uematsu for Square’s Tom Sawyer in 1989.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auLBLk4ibAk

 

Ha ha jk

 

Here’s a real piece from the game. An effort from Nobuo to make a soundtrack more, as he calls it “scenic”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2uUfAcF7T8&list=PLfUvsxulQQd-zuBTVzmYzj1RvOArPnnEp&index=1

 

The Final Fantasy Legend, or as it was originally called in Japan, “Makai Toushi Saga” (the reason it’s not counted as an FF game in our podcast) would round out 1989 with this Game Boy classic and square’s first platinum hit at the time with 1.37 million copies sold. Nobuo remarked that he had difficulty coming up with the 16 tracks for the game because of the hardware limitations of the game boy. Despite this, the game would have a soundtrack considered as classic for many of its fans. Here’s a remix of “Battle With Creator”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXTMQ4APiwg

 

Final Fantasy 3 would follow in 1990, and with this game came the fucking awesome piece “Crystal Tower” check out this power-metal remix:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT8humrSC2c

 

Considered one of the best Racing Games of the NES, Rad Racer II would be yet another game graced with Uematsu’s presence, as his 11th game score. Here’s a super upbeat cover of Gumball Crash titled “Fire in the Tires”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trFfjaNtySI

The second Saga game or “Final Fantasy Legend 2” would come next, and would eventually be heralded as 97th of the greatest games of all time in a poll by Famitsu. For this game, Kenji Ito would assist in composition. Here’s a piano cover of “Save the World”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCLU6V6coqg

 

Nobuo’s first masterpiece would come on the SNES and would be his only game of 1991. He’s called the composing process for the game one of the hardest in his career.  Staying up with the sound team deep into the night, the music would be so heralded that one of the tracks from the game would go on to be official music curriculum for japanese school students. That game would be Final Fantasy IV, and that song would be “Theme of Love”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfV0YlvBpvE

 

And, how can we call ourselves fans of FF IV if we don’t include Fabul’s Theme?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlklyML9Pu8

 

Nobuo wouldn’t write anything for Romancing Saga, although for it and its sequel he would assist with the arrangement, his next mega-work would be Final Fantasy V. FF5 would require Uematsu to create over 56 tracks, a favorite of the game being the song “Dear Friends”, which Nobuo has performed on countless occasions:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgBccEEtu64

 

The next track is featured during the fight with one of the series’ most beloved opponents; Gilgamesh. Here’s a cover of “Clash on the Big Bridge”:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQGcv3encAo

 

We could legiimately make one of these entire episodes about FF6, but we’re gonna go ahead with the two big tracks from that masterpiece of a game. Here’s an amazing metal cover of “Dancing Mad”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqPP9tp6PKo

 

And let’s finish it off with a favorite of ours, Terra’s theme. Join us next week for part 2.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG-Q9ELmGpw


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