Q&A: Final Fantasy bard Nobuo Uematsu

Uematsu shares his experience with Blue Dragon Plus and hints at something "big" for the Black Mages.

A self-taught musician, Nobuo Uematsu joined Square back in 1985, and in 1987 Hironobu Sakaguchi asked if he would like to compose music for a role-playing game called Final Fantasy. The subsequent success of the series launched his career as a video game music composer, eventually making Uematsu one of the most well-known video game music composers among Western audiences, often referred to as the John Williams of video games.

Nobuo Uematsu

Uematsu stayed with Square Enix until 2004, when he left to form his own production company, Smile Please. He continues to compose for video games, working alongside Sakaguchi, who left Square Enix in 2004 to start his own studio, Mistwalker. Uematsu's recent works can be heard in Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360. He also composed the main theme for Super Smash Bros. Brawl last year.

In addition to composing game music, Uematsu formed the Black Mages in 2003, an instrumental rock band that takes his original Final Fantasy compositions and arranges them into rock music. The group has released three albums: The Black Mages, The Black Mages II: The Skies Above, and their most recent album, The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight," which was released last year.

In 2004, Uematsu made an appearance at Dear Friends--Music From Final Fantasy, the first-ever video game music concert in the United States, which was held in Los Angeles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Due to its success, another follow-up concert was held the year after in LA, titled More Friends--Music From Final Fantasy. This was also the first time that the Black Mages performed live in the US.

Since then, Uematsu's work can be heard live in various concert series, such as Video Games Live and Play: A Video Game Symphony. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy, AWR Music Productions is currently presenting a concert world tour titled Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy, with performances scheduled across multiple cities in the US as well as Singapore.

Amid all the excitement with the concerts, album releases, and video games, Uematsu shared his thoughts with GameSpot through an e-mail interview about composing for the upcoming Blue Dragon Plus on the Nintendo DS and talked about his band, the Black Mages.

GameSpot: What is it like to work with Sakaguchi again at Mistwalker?

Nobuo Uematsu: Business as usual, but his ability to get things done never ceases to amaze me. Achieving goals is just second nature to him.

GS: What will the music be like in Blue Dragon Plus? Is it similar to the previous Blue Dragon?

NU: There are slight variations in the arrangements, but it's more or less the same; plus, there's one new track.

GS: What challenges did you face when composing for the Nintendo DS versus a current-gen console?

NU: It was just that it had been quite a while since I last worked with internal sound hardware.

GS: What kind of process do you go through when composing a track for a specific area in the game?

NU: After I draw inspiration from the scenario and artwork, I just let my imagination take me along for the ride.

Midi tunes aren't Uematsu's only forte.

GS: After composing hundreds if not thousands of different tunes, how do you manage to continue to stay original?

NU: Actually, all of my music sounds the same to me, to the point I get fed up with myself sometimes.

GS: What is your band working on now? Are you working on another album?

NU: There's the DVD of the live concert we did in August; it's coming out next year. I'm thinking of doing "something big" for the end of 2009, but I can't really say anything at this stage. You'll just have to keep your ears peeled.

GS: How do you select which pieces to use for your album? What are some of your favorites to perform?

NU: I draw up a list of things, and then we all get together and decide which ones we're going to do. I have fond memories of all of my music, so picking out favorites is difficult. But the live concert we did this year featuring "Maria and Draco" was fully accompanied by a drama ensemble; this was a first for us, so it was really exciting.

GS: When will we see the Black Mages again in North America?

NU: We don't have any plans as of yet, but we're definitely looking forward to another performance overseas; the sooner the better.

GS: You've been able to travel across the United States for the Dear Friends concerts as well as Distant Worlds. What has the experience been like? What has been the most memorable moment for you?

NU: It was really gratifying to receive such a thunderous ovation from all the people who came out to our concerts overseas. I truly felt thankful that I was born. The fact that people from different countries all over the world can experience the same universal joy from the same music...Doesn't that inspire you to believe there's hope for a world of peace, free from war and conflict?

GS: We can agree on that. Thank you for your time.

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Discussion

125 comments
Shadow94
Shadow94

i'm glad in crisis core they had some of his music remixed, it just felt like final fantasy again =]

DarkGothic
DarkGothic

Uematsu, come back to Final Fantasy please, this game is one piece of crap without you...

deadlywizard234
deadlywizard234

I heard the main theme to SSBB, made me want to play a genre I don't even like. He's still got it

TheAustrian
TheAustrian

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant composer. Final Fantasy series (excluding XI and XII), Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey; I could listen to this guy's stuff all day.

FathaLove
FathaLove

Nobuo is a GOD. Really, he's a master of melody and harmony. Listen to how much there is going on in his songs, how many simultaneous melodies and harmonies, and he manages to make it sound perfectly complex without being cluttered. FFVI is my fav... Decicive Battle, Fierce Battle, Dancing Mad, Chocobo theme, world map theme, Moogle theme, hell they all ruled

noamatt128
noamatt128

It still baffles me how the god one person can just continually produce insane musical compositions from the start; he must have at least 200 songs under his belt! My favorite song might just be the FFVII overworld theme. Too bad they can't play his pieces at Video Games Live!!

riariases
riariases

By the way, Starry Moonlit Night is his best song ever.

riariases
riariases

He made amazing music in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for GameCube. I just wish he stuck with Square-Enix so I could hear more of his music in my favorite rpg's.

plainelmo
plainelmo

Respect, one of gaming's big daddies.

dark-Lv5
dark-Lv5

Mr. Uematsu is a genius, he is the best. I love VOICES music from FINAL FANTASY.

Blu-Fan-Boy
Blu-Fan-Boy

FOR FACEBOOK USERS THERE IS A GROUP FOR HIM JOIN TO SHOW THE LOVE!!!

senjutsu
senjutsu

I wonder if the boss battles in blue dragon use a song from the black mages... (sky abooooove)

Marcster1994
Marcster1994

him and Yoko shimomura are my fav composers

P0T
P0T

What a musical genius, I have loved all of his work.

Ironfungus
Ironfungus

He's a genius. Anyone who says otherwise is a mindless brat with no taste in talent. That's all I have to say.

noctis_caelum
noctis_caelum

Great person. Can create something so beautiful from scratch. Two songs of his I will forever treasure are 'To Zanarkand' and Melodies of Life'. I absolutely loved the soundtrack for 10. I hope does oneday do music for another FF.

zgreenwell
zgreenwell

"Actually, all of my music sounds the same to me, to the point I get fed up with myself sometimes. " lol. If it was too different no one would like it.

loshiscka
loshiscka

this man is a genius ! i looove you Uematsu

2mrw
2mrw

hands down for his work in FFX, my favorite in the series in all aspects if square is reasonable enough, it must try 2 get him back......... seems impossible though

LaLeishtek
LaLeishtek

This guy is incredible in every way. I simply love him!

amkalfus
amkalfus

one of the most amazing composers of our time! i got so much final fantasy music, love it!

Compilation
Compilation

He seems like a geniune guy. It would be great to meet him. He is a brilliant composer of music which has not only stunned me, it has stunned the era of gaming. Long live his compositions and music pieces! Terrific music in Final Fantasy :)

Link_Destined_1
Link_Destined_1

Ah, Nobuo Uematsu...the man who turned video game music into a true genre of music...if only American media stores would be willing to sell video game OSTs.

SackboyAuron
SackboyAuron

I first heard his work playing my first FF (FFX) and his music captured me in the opening sequence,before the game even starts. He inspired me to keep learning the piano, and I can play some of his work now. He's a brilliant guy, wish him the best for the future

TechDragon
TechDragon

Nobuo Uematsu has Really Exellent music that a person could listen to for a long time. Always look forward for more music.

King_wiL
King_wiL

Such an amazing composer. I never tire to listen to his work, its a huge part of my life :)

Seipher85
Seipher85

Legend. is all i can say, his music has been a big part of my life.

ShirkDawg
ShirkDawg

uh what? Yoshitaka Amano designed characters for more games of the original FF series. Ya, the movie was a huge disappointment plot-wise, but it did have some amazing animation. I haven't played through Blue Dragon yet, so I can't give it an accurate review, but Lost Odyssey was amazing. I wouldn't be so quick to judge him; his last game was way better than FFXII, so I'm excited to see what he'll come out with next.

guyvue
guyvue

not going to be mean but Hironobu Sakaguchi "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" suck so badly, i mean for real, that movie just suck!!!!!!!! Blue Dragon suck as well, except Lost Odyssey, i know he was the first guy to created Final Fantasy, but after that, his games wasn't that great. the guy i was impress most in Square was Tetsuya Nomura, he was the characters design on mostly every FF game.

swamptick
swamptick

The guy is amazing. Glad he was there for Final Fantasy X.....the last true Final Fantasy game. I guess you could say it was the FINAL Fantasy. Nyuk nyuk. I know some might consider this blasphemy but I feel that since FFX the whole FF series has become far to tangential and diluted. All the great old crew left. It's just not the same. Glad to see him recognized and interviewed. Nice work GS.

Stryker521
Stryker521

ShirkDawg: "Hironobu Sakaguchi left after FFX--actually most of the old Square left after the merger, which is one of the prominent reasons for the decline in quality of their games." Yea, the soundtrack for FFX was beautiful. No more Uematsu after that though :( Story lines, characters, music etc. for the subsequent Final Fantasies all feel very disconnected. And yea, nice to see him recognised :)

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

I wonder, is this a translation or Nobuo speaks English fluently?

TheLemonGelati
TheLemonGelati

Nobuo Uematsu & Koji Kondo are two of my favorite musicians. I hold high respect for both of them, being able to have tracks loop over and over and still humming the tunes after the game's turned off. It'll be sad the day they stop working on big titles. I hope he's working on FF13..

ShirkDawg
ShirkDawg

Hironobu Sakaguchi left after FFX--actually most of the old Square left after the merger, which is one of the prominent reasons for the decline in quality of their games. It's too bad most people continue buying Square-Enix games instead of buying games by Sakaguchi and other former Square staff like Lost Odyssey. Anyway, it's great to see Nobuo Uematsu recognized for his amazing achievements. He was one of the pioneers in video game music, and has produced hundreds of amazing pieces. I wish his Lost Odyssey soundtrack was available on Itunes. I also really liked his last comment in this interview. We need more people like that out there.

blueliquidplus
blueliquidplus

Man has done some amazing musical works in and beyond video games, and I had no idea Sakaguchi had left Square Enix... tobad.. no wonder I haven't been impressed with the FF Series lately lol.

tanjo
tanjo

His FF battle BGMs are my favorite. Boss battles especially. Simply the best.

enisguy
enisguy

He's a fabulous musician in his own right, not just in the video game world.

Garren666
Garren666

This man defined what music in an RPG should sound like, there is no-one like him and no-one better (Koji Kondo comes close though).

veganate
veganate

aspiring! and loaded i reckon hahah Rolex anyone?!

jasopan
jasopan

Great game, great music great composer Full respect

teeskoowared
teeskoowared

And I miss him....FFXII had really crappy music.

teeskoowared
teeskoowared

Uematsu is the best video game composer of all time, and one of the best composers of the last 50 years. Coming from a music major:)

mr_smee_01
mr_smee_01

@ Sean: I would agree LO has a nice soundtrack, but Blue Dragon's soundtrack is kinda lacking something that I can't put my finger on.

sean_ph
sean_ph

The victory BGM during FFX and the one in Blue Dragon are some of my favorite video game tunes ever. LO also has a great soundtrack thanks to this man.

Beesond
Beesond

If I had to sit down and make a list of my favorite twenty songs, this bad MFer had something to with it. I hope he makes some more diddies for future FFs. XII was alright in the music department, but it lacked that Nobuo juju.

ivan_osorio
ivan_osorio

I remember stay still in the Flying Fortress in FF1 just to listen to that song... The dude is and has always been a musical genius. Him and Mitsuda deserve all the respect possible (and then some).

FLEEBS
FLEEBS

Uematsu is a genius. I love his compositions.

01_855403
01_855403

square enix should really get Nobou back what ever it takes i like all his songs in FF