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Computer game and television soundtracks are rarely considered as artistic as their cinematic and classical cousins. As computer games and anime have been subsumed into mainstream culture, the work of these composers should be celebrated. Here is the first article of three.
Nobuo Uematsu is a self-taught Japanese composer, who is famous for writing the soundtracks of most Final Fantasy games. The Final Fantasy series is one of the best-selling computer game franchises, selling over 100 million games.
Uematsu’s fantastic scores match the game’s grand quests, levying great weights on the player’s heart-strings. Final Fantasy III’s open map theme, Eternal Wind, smoothly assists the characters walking from town to town. That game’s final boss – the Cloud of Darkness – is portentously backed by a fusion of orchestral strings and techno bass. Final Fantasy IV focused on the characters’ empowered emotions, against which Uematsu composed Theme of Love, a popular track. Uematsu’s work flourished: Final Fantasy V contained the frenetic Clash on the Big Bridge, which was later reused in Final Fantasy XII. The next game featured the marching Terra’s Theme, an astounding opera, and Dancing Mad – a 17-minute final boss theme with four movements. Uematsu described Dancing Mad as “really one of my favourites”.
When Squaresoft moved the Final Fantasy games to the PlayStation console, the graphics were improved and the soundtracks could become even deeper. From the sombre Aerith’s Theme to the Latin choirs of One-Winged Angel, Final Fantasy VII was a varied and fine soundtrack. Due to Final Fantasy VII’s supreme popularity, Uematsu’s work in the rest of the PlayStation era is usually overlooked. Final Fantasy VIII’s introduction is backed by Liberi Fatali. For anyone who speaks Latin and is good at anagrams, the lyrics to this orchestral mini-masterpiece actually reveal the game’s themes. The soundtrack rarely lets go of this summit, following it with the wondrously tranquil Blue Fields, Balamb Garden’s serene theme, the highly militaristic The Landing, and five brilliant battle themes. The quasi-trance The Man with the Machine Gun accompanies battles under the control of a secondary protagonist.
Final Fantasy IX features the bouncy rock of Hunter’s Chance, and the processional piano of Kuja’s Theme. Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack was produced with co-composers Masashi Hamazu and Junya Nakano. Uematsu composed the opening and most celebrated track – To Zanarkand – as well as the main battle theme and Fight with Seymour. Nakano produced the boss battle theme Enemy Attack, along with the bombastic Summoned Beast Battle.
Uematsu left Square Enix in 2004, to focus on freelance work and his band The Black Mages, which played rock arrangements of Uematsu’s Final Fantasy work. Despite leaving, Uematsu kept a regular relationship with Square Enix, and he was chosen to compose the music for the CGI film Final Fantasy: Advent Children. That film’s soundtrack was piqued by a piano version of Those Who Fight, an orchestrated One-Winged Angel fused with thrashing electric guitars, and a flowing theme for Battle in the Forgotten City.
Uematsu’s work is gaining wide recognition, being voted 3rd in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame 2013. These compositions have been played with a huge number of orchestras, in many concerts around the world. Uematsu often attends the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concerts, conducted by Arnie Roth, to many standing ovations.
Other articles in the series: