Nobuo Uematsu: Musical Genius, Gaming Legend

I remember the first time I got to the scene in the Ragnarok’s cockpit in Final Fantasy VIII. Squall sat the lifeless Rinoa down and, after contacting the earth, poured his heart out to her. In the background, a song started that didn’t sound like the MIDI-influenced soundtrack, instead like a studio recording. Then, I heard Faye Wong singing, and the scene entered a whole new plane. “Eyes On Me” is the song that started my love for gaming music, and the man behind it is none other than Nobuo Uematsu, who has lent his musical genius to the gaming world for almost 25 years.


Nobuo. The man, the myth, the 'stache.


Uematsu, born in Kochi, Japan in 1959, started his composing-for-gaming career with Square (now Square Enix) in 1985, his first game called Genesis. The game was not successful, and Square was facing bankruptcy. However, after agreeing to compose for another gaming legend, Hironobu Sakaguchi, his career was launched. Final Fantasy I became a huge success, saving Square from bankruptcy and remaining to this day one of the strongest-selling franchises ever. Uematsu has composed for every Final Fantasy, among other games, and considers the score to Final Fantasy IX as his best work.

I’m inclined to agree (and really, who am I to disagree with Ue-freakin-matsu?), however, I have trouble pinpointing a single favorite score, as all of Uematsu’s songs are amazing. I have favorite songs, but finding a favorite complete score is tough. His ability to branch out into any genre of music is uncanny, and his knack for making any song he writes fit into the scene is unreal. Just take a look at the games, besides the FF series, in which he has composed: Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, the main theme to Super Smash Brothers Brawl. He even created a rock band, The Black Mages, strictly to cover his music! But enough about talking about Uematsu, let’s hear some Uematsu!

Super Smash Bros. Brawl Main Theme

The aforementioned main theme to Super Smash Bros. Brawl is an epic piece that sets the mood for the battles to come. Seeing the trailer shown at E3 2006 for the first time was amazing, but the experience was heightened through the driving drum beats and bellowing chorus of the song behind the pictures. What a perfect way to prepare gamers for the frenzied fights to come than by setting them up with epic music. One of Uematsu’s best, and it’s the only song he did for the game!

The Black Mages – The Skies Above

Go back to my column last week on voice-acting, and take a listen to the preview piece I left for you. Go ahead, I’ll wait. (Read it while you’re there, it’s good stuff.)

Welcome back. Calm? Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside? Or perhaps sad and reverent of a past loved one? "In Zanarkand" will do that, as well as a number of other emotions. Now, take that melody, add lyrics, and morph it into a rocking, guitar-laden thrashfest, and you have "The Skies Above." This song blew me away when I first heard it. It starts with the song we all recognize, then transforms into a metal super-beast. In like a lamb, out like a lion, or however that saying goes. It takes a special kind of musical mind to be able to take a slow, melodic, beautiful piece and change it to a rock ballad, but the Black Mages did it. Awesome song.

Final Fantasy IX – Ukelele de Chocobo

My favorite version of a Final Fantasy standard. The Chocobo theme is a cheery, light-hearted piece that plays when every FF player’s favorite yellow bird arrives on the scene (and no, not Big Bird). This particular version gives the theme a Hawaiian twist, introducing a ukulele and shakers to the popular melody. A close second goes to "Mambo de Chocobo" from Final Fantasy V, but that version is only ranked that high because of the “UH!” in the middle of it.

Chrono Trigger – Burn! Bobonga!

I didn’t even know Uematsu was a part of this until after I played through the entire game, but now that I go back and listen to his songs, it makes perfect sense. The strange thing is, as I played, I made note of what my favorite songs were. Two of the top three are Uematsu. This is a prehistoric equivalent to rock music, as it should be, as it’s played during the dancing scene in 65 million BC.

Final Fantasy VIII – Ride On

This song is my second favorite Uematsu song ever, next to the aforementioned "Eyes On Me." It may be an odd choice, but I have fond memories of flying around in the Ragnarok, going from place to place and fighting whatever comes my way. I particularly liked flying it into Lunatic Pandora; that was awesome. It’s a majestic piece, perfect for soaring through the open skies. Truly awesome.

These five songs merely scratch the surface of Uematsu’s discography. Whether you like him or not, you cannot deny his musical talent, nor can you even argue his incredible knack for writing the perfect song for any moment. I can only hope that I hear more unforgettable songs from good ol’ Nobuo Uematsu for a long, long time.

Plus, go look at that pic again. What a killer ‘stache.

Until next time,
Keep listening. You’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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