A person would be hard pressed to deeply explore the world of video game music without coming across the name of Nobuo Uematsu. With 17 years of composing experience for one of the most widely respected game series of all time, Final Fantasy, the man has become an icon in his field. Recently, Uematsu sat down for an interview about the past, present, and future of his work, among other things.
Speaking of days past, Mr. Uematsu said the biggest change in game music composition that has come along in his 17 years in the business has been the transition to the PlayStation era. The change that occurred with this was the ability to use sounds recorded in the studio, not previously possible on cartridge-based systems. Despite this change as well as other, much smaller changes that have come along, Uematsu maintains that the role of music in games, as well as the role of those that compose it, has stayed the same as they always were.
The composer then spoke of his particular role in each title. He told the interviewer that he begins to compose music for a given title after the game scenario and main plot are finished. Final Fantasy XI proved to be a very different project, however. This game would be an MMORPG, rather than a single-player affair, and Uematsu would be working with two other writers, namely Naoshi Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka. When asked if that particular game was more difficult to compose music for, he responded, "As you know, up to Final Fantasy XI, the story was on a linear timescale, so it was easier to set music to it. But for XI, we lost the control over that--so yes, I'd say it was kind of difficult." On the topic of working with others, which was also the case in Final Fantasy X, he said he needed the help because everyone was so busy, and noted that he enjoyed it very much.
Uematsu also revealed the origin of his heavy metal band, The Black Mages. He told the story of how the people who would later become the band's guitarist and keyboard player made a demo tape and sent it to Nobuo, saying, "Listen to this, it's so funny!" Apparently this rock arrangement of an unidentified game's "battle scene" was more than just funny, because Nobuo and the others decided to make an album of such pieces, and have now gone on to release two of such CDs in Japan. When asked of international releases of Black Mages albums, Uematsu said, "I'm currently expecting someone to help us to release in the UK."
The topic of conversation then moved to the orchestrated concerts which have been performed in Japan and a few select locations in the USA (see RPGamer's concert review of the Chicago show). Uematsu said that the same show would also be seen in some other American cities. He also said that a European tour is being considered for next summer, but no official plans have been made.
Of course, the topic of no longer being restricted to composing music for only Square Enix was bound to come up. In a quick summary of current plans as a freelancer, Uematsu said, "I'm definitely going to continue to work with Square Enix, as well as doing other things. For example, this year I have a classical concert with an orchestra, and also the Black Mages live gigs and CD releases."
Near the end of the interview, Nobuo was asked for his opinion of the two newest handheld game systems, Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP and if they might change the way music is used in handheld games. Showing his quick wit, Uematsu responded, "I guess that people might be playing in the city, which means that they're going to have to keep the sound muted. If they end up switching off the sound... Then I'd say that's really sad!"
The interview ended with the composer naming three of his personal favorites in different categories. When asked to name a favorite series of game soundtracks, he remarked that the music from Super Mario is "the best" and that it is absolutely his favorite. His favorite soundtrack from among his own compositions is Final Fantasy IX, which he declares with no hesitation. He finally stated that of all the tracks on all the Final Fantasy soundtracks he has composed, the final battle theme of Final Fantasy VII, better known as "One-Winged Angel," is his personal favorite track.
Nobuo Uematsu's other future projects not addressed in the interview include writing the score of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and contributing select tracks to Final Fantasy XII. Non-Square Enix plans have Uematsu composing for at least one of Mist Walker's upcoming RPGs, under the label of his own studio, called "Smile Please."