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
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.
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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