Music Spotlight: Nobuo Uematsu

We hope that eventually there would be an occasion which I can personally prove that game music can in fact impress many different people and move them.

Nobuo Uematsu

Video game composers are becoming more and more recognized for their craft. The evolution of music in this industry has been extraordinary, and many talented names have come out with their own unique styles and staples; many of which have endured for around forty years.

I’d like to celebrate these incredible artists by showcasing their careers, their masterpieces, and sharing some personal favorites that I believe will endure for years to come.

In this new series I’m calling Music Spotlight, I’m beginning by highlighting the career and talent of a man who has been called ‘the Beethoven of video game music’

His name is Nobuo Uematsu.

Uematsu (born in 1959) has been in the video game industry for almost 35 years now. A self-taught musician, his claim to fame was mostly a happy accident. While creating scores for radio commercials and music demos, he was asked to try creating music for upcoming titles at the video game company Square. Uematsu agreed, thinking that this would be a short-term arrangement, and he would then go back to working on other projects.

Uematsu helped with various Square games when he joined the company in 1985, and when Square director Hironobu Sakaguichi asked him to compose the music for what he thought would be his last game for the company, he couldn’t help but say yes.

The rest, as they say, is history.

When Final Fantasy was released in 1987, it turned out to be a runaway hit. Half a million copies were sold in Japan, and the demand for more Final Fantasy games increased.

The urging to attach Uematsu to them also increased. Nobuo Uematsu continued creating and arranging music for the Final Fantasy series until he resigned from Square (which had merged to become Square Enix) in 2004. However, while currently working as a freelancer, he still occasionally produces music with Square Enix, on top of branching out to other companies and franchises. 

Among his accomplishments are forming a rock band (the now-defunct The Black Mages), creating the main theme for the hit cross-over fighting game Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008), appearing in concerts featuring his music, and forming a music production company called Dog Ear Records.

His latest works include working on the hit mobile game Terra Wars (developed by long-time collaborator Hironobu Sakaguichi), and returning to the Final Fantasy series once again by recreating the music of Final Fantasy VII Remake for a new generation to enjoy.

In late 2018, Uematsu announced that it would take the remainder of that year from touring and composing to recover from an undisclosed illness. He has since slowly returned to creating the music that so many of us cherish – here is hoping that we will get to hear many more masterpieces from this incredible composer!

When sharing the best of Nobuo Uematsu’s work, it’s hard for me not to plop one big Spotify list and say “Everything!!” The truth is there are certain tracks that hit people harder than others, and there’s a reason they continue to be performed live in concerts to this day. 

At the same time, though, I also want to showcase pieces that I think are grand but may not be as well renowned as others.

The scope of Uematsu’s work is long and vast, not to mention varied and eclectic. There’s at least one type of song from the Final Fantasy franchise alone that just about any person would enjoy by him because his musical versatility is simply that broad. From hard rock to baroque, to Celtic, to comedic, Nobuo has done it all. 

I know lists have been made that count at least 200 on YouTube as far as figuring out their rank in popularity. There are also many orchestral versions of many of these songs that have been adapted and performed with the highest caliber. Some game composers sometimes also put their own spin on his compositions for sequels or related works, continuing to give his work new life and new ways to be appreciated.

I want to highlight Nobuo Uematsu’s talent in its original format here for this series so that others can see and appreciate his talent for what it is. I’ve decided for the sake of this article to highlight ten different songs by him from the Final Fantasy franchise, one from various main games that Uematsu has contributed to. 

Not all of these are the most popular in their respective game, but I think the passion and hard work is shown in the quality in each of these below.

Without further ado, here are my picks of Nobuo Uematsu’s music from the Final Fantasy franchise that I think you should definitely check out! Who knows – you may even discover some new favorites that you may not have even considered before!

Final Fantasy (1987) – Matoya’s Cave

One of the dungeon themes from the original FF. The surprisingly cheerful melody thrills with the promise of great adventure. It is still a fan favorite today.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy description

The first Final Fantasy stands out with great memorable tracks that also appear in future installments (such as the Prelude and Main ThemeMatoya’s Cave stands out to me for being both jovial and mysterious, which are great ingredients for an adventure ahead – which is what Final Fantasy is all about!

Final Fantasy II (1988) – Main Theme

This theme from Final Fantasy II stands out to me in that it contrasts the first game by having a more melancholy melody. You’re not quite sure what to expect ahead, but it sounds like heavier times are ahead for the characters and the adventure will end to be more bittersweet than before.

Final Fantasy IV (1991) – Theme of Love

Final Fantasy IV is the game where many fans feel the series begins to come into its own. It’s got a fleshed-out cast, the stakes are higher than ever, and the music becomes more complex.

One fun fact about Theme of Love is that this piece is now officially a part of the Japanese school curriculum used in sixth-grade music classes. It’s a testament to how well-regarded Mr. Uematsu’s work has become over the years.

Final Fantasy V (1992) – Ahead on Our Way

Final Fantasy V‘s music returns to its early roots with a more lighthearted romp and adventurous flair, both to its cast and to its music. Ahead on Our Way brings out a sense of friendship and excitement that makes the adventure that lies ahead a fun one for the player to experience.

Final Fantasy VI (1994) – Celes’ Theme

One of the most beloved pieces from the entire Final Fantasy franchise is the Aria Di Mezzo Caratterre, which comes from an opera that the player has to participate in during a pivotal part of the story. 

The opera was unique in that Nobuo took the time to craft a smaller story that required the player to play along with, through blocking and memorizing lines. Celes, one of the main characters who is first introduced as a hardened Magitek soldier (or a soldier embedded with magic), is tasked to play the role of Maria, and to perform the Aria

The Aria later returns to serve as Celes’ personal musical theme and is masterfully played later in the game when the story takes a focus on her and her dilemmas. 

Final Fantasy VII (1997) – Flowers Blooming in the Church

Flowers Blooming in the Church contrasts much of the other music in Final Fantasy VII in that it’s quiet and ethereal-sounding, giving the player a sense of peace and light, compared to all the dredge the player has seen so far in this world. 

It’s a variant of Aerith’s Theme, and plays when the focus is on Aerith and her personal development, or when she and main character Cloud Strife are interacting with each other privately.

It fits Aerith’s spiritual nature and helps to show how much she differs from the other denizens of Midgar that the player has interacted with early on in the game.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999) – Balamb Garden

Final Fantasy VIII was the first game I got to play in the series, and I immediately fell in love with Balamb Garden, and its theme. Soft and gentle, it helped show that the Garden was very much home for Squall Leonhart and the other playable cast members, as well as their school and training ground. 

It helped make exploring the Garden more fun than I even realized, and I was always happy to return to it afterward, no matter how high the stakes became in the story.

Final Fantasy IX (2000) – Hunter’s Chance

This has to be one of my favorite tracks from Final Fantasy IX. I think this soundtrack especially showcases Nobuo’s eclectic talent when it comes to creating music with different styles; from medieval, to baroque, to downright silly, this game has it all.

Hunter’s Chance (also known as Festival of the Hunt) is intense as it plays during a competition the main character Zidane Tribal finds himself in, in order to win a date with the game’s main heroine Princess Garnet (or Dagger, as she asks to be called while on the run and wishing to conceal her true identity).

This was another track that was recently given an orchestral upgrade, which helped make it sound much more ardent and extreme than the original version.

Final Fantasy X (2001) – To Zanarkand

To Zanarkand is probably Final Fantasy X‘s most famous track, and for very good reason. It plays as a recurring theme throughout the game, and its bittersweet melody helps set the mood the main cast find themselves in, and helps show players just how much in despair the people of Spira are.

It makes me weep every time I hear it, and I think it’s one of Nobuo’s masterpieces that transcends even the franchise. Even folks who are not familiar with the series may recognize or use this song for videos they create, and it’s fitting as it is made to be a quiet and sad melody.

Final Fantasy XI (2002) – Ronfaure

I’ve never had the privilege of playing Final Fantasy XI, but I am hoping to one day in the future, if only for the chance to listen to this song play.

Ronfaure fits very well with the medieval fantasy setting that Final Fantasy has become well-known for, and I love listening to this track and imagining I’m going on a journey and exploring. The orchestral is one version that I enjoy listening to over and over again.

I hope you enjoyed these tracks from the Final Fantasy series that Nobuo Uematsu created! Obviously, there are many, many more wonderful pieces of music he’s written for this series, and for other properties, and I hope to share more with you in the future.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from the master musician himself:

I believe that there are still people who believe that game music is something equal to just an effect incorporated into the game, something like a BGM. And therefore this is something that I would like to show that is not true.

Nobuo Uemtasu

Let us hope he can continue to do that for many more games to come!

I hope you enjoyed the beginning of this new series; what are some of your favorite Nobuo Uematsu compositions? If you have a favorite composer that you think needs more recognition, let me know in the comments below or in a message!


One thought on “Music Spotlight: Nobuo Uematsu

  1. I’m more into the battle music, actually! If we’re talking about the original arranges, then I’d consider FF3’s (Battle 1, Battle 2, and This is the Last Battle), FF4’s (Battle 2), FF8’s (The Man with the Machine Gun), and FF10’s (Fight with Seymour) my favorites so far! Others, well, I came to enjoy through their PSP Dissidia arranges, hahaha~ XD

Leave a Reply