Cinematech Episode 155: Nobuo Uematsu Tribute
Exactly What It Says on the Tin. This ep was made to celebrate the inaugural “Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy” concert in 2004. They featured some of the best and most iconic compositions from various FF games, along with short interviews with Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for most of the FF games. This entire episode is up on YouTube.
Timeline: 0:19: The "Main Theme" of Final Fantasy, as heard in Final Fantasy VII. First composed for Final Fantasy I (multiplatform), the theme was reused for many of the later games in the series, usually as a title screen theme.
- Uematsu: “You know, it's very tough to choose my favorite composition from 600 or 700 songs of compositions that we have created for Final Fantasy to date. It would be a very difficult task for me to choose just one. But if I had to, it would probably be the piece titled 'Final Fantasy'. It's the one that's played throughout the series, and I would think that, for the fans, that's probably one song that they can immediately react to, and know that's from Final Fantasy.”
The FFVII version of “Final Fantasy” is played to a sampling of FMV cutscenes from the game (and a random insert of chocobo riding), eventually showing a part of the ending. It may look dated now, but it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen back in the day.
3:14: "Liberi Fatali” from Final Fantasy VIII (PS 1, 1999), used for the game's intro.
- Uematsu: “There was a time when I went to see a performance of a choir from Europe. It had always been something that inspired me, the use of a huge chorus. It just amazes me. It's a different feeling from just instruments. So, I decided that I would open up Final Fantasy VIII with a chorus performance piece.I didn't want the chorus there to be just in Japanese, or English, or French. I didn't really want to limit myself to a language, which, for one reason or another, drew me to Latin. When I hear Latin spoken, it's not very harsh to the ears. It's very easy to listen to. 'Liberi Fatali', the opening to Final Fantasy VIII, is definitely one of my favorite pieces.”
FFVIII in a nutshell: Tough Act to Follow: The Game. I used to be a part of the “hate it” camp for years due to its unfriendly protagonist and odd gameplay design choices. It was not until years later that I moved past my initial impressions and started to enjoy the game for what it was. Now, I feel kind of sad that it does not have such a great reputation among the fans.
8:43: “Dancing Mad”, the final battle theme for Final Fantasy VI, originally released in North America as Final Fantasy III because it was the third main FF game released over here. It was the last masterpiece FF game made for the Super NES/Super Famicom. It was also my first FF game. I was obsessed with it even before playing it, but I don't remember how I reacted when we first got it.
- Uematsu: “The composition 'Dancing Mad' was written for the long battle sequence at the end of Final Fantasy III. If I remember correctly, the organ is played until the end. The opening theme for Final Fantasy III also starts out with a piece that has the pipe organ, so I knew immediately that we were going to open and close with something that had to do with the pipe organ.”
They showed some of the Final Boss, Kefka's dialog before the fight, and then some scenes from earlier in the game showing how Terra was used as an enslaved soldier by Kefka for The Empire, as well as the desperation and hopelessness caused by the Empire and their Magitek armor.
- Uematsu: “The reason it's such a long and complex piece is obvious. If you played the game, you would know that the final battle is not an easy one. So immediately, I knew I had to create enough music to last the entire battle. The player defeats the first monster, and then moves on to fight the second one. So we actually had a challenge where, as soon as the first monster was defeated, we had a transition where we basically created the signal that would go from the first part into the second part. So that was something that we customized, or specifically created for this particular piece. It was a huge challenge to accomplish that, but we were very satisfied with the outcome of the piece, and how we imagined it in our heads. It is actually one of my favorite pieces.”
The clip skipped the segmented final boss fight to the last battle against Kefka, and then skipped around to show other battles from earlier in the game, as well as some scenes from the ending.
Gush time: I love FFVI. I have not played it in years, though. I remember replaying the final battle several times just to relive it. “Dancing Mad” is definitely a Crowning Music Of Awesome.
Maaany years later, I would learn, through TV Tropes, several interesting facts about the game, like how it was translated, coining the term “Woolseyism”, and how the game was altered to stay in line with Nintendo's strict censorship policies for the American market. Like how “Holy” was translated as “Pearl”, taking its new name from the appearance of the spell.
11:40: “One Winged Angel”, the theme for the final battle of FFVII.
- Uematsu: “This is one of my favorite pieces for Final Fantasy VII. Here was the thought that I had in creating this piece: 'Take Jimi Hendrix and mix that with the Russian composer Stravinksy'. I wanted to know what it would sound like to mix those two. Though it might sound very extreme, at the same time, I felt as if there was a common element, so I kind of took that and made my own variation of the music, and result is the last battle for Final Fantasy VII.”
The clip shows numerous scenes related to Sephiroth, the Big Bad of FFVII: His destruction of Nibelheim, his meeting with his “mother” Jenova (whom he was cloned from), and his murder of a certain member of the good guys' party. Finally, they showed clips from the final battle with Sephiroth and the crazy form he took.
- Uematsu: “With regards to the chorus, we are talking about the original Play Station One, so I wouldn't necessarily say that the quality was the best at the time. Obviously, now we can do a little bit more, but it was simply my wish, or my hope, to implement a chorus during the last battle scene.”
Let's see who the CT producers chose for the last battle. Cloud, Cid, and... Yuffie?! Doesn't everyone think she's The Scrappy due to her lack of strength and the infamous part of the game where she strands the rest of the party and takes almost all of their magic-endowing Materia?! Or maybe I just think that because of early strategy guides saying that she was weak.
Just like Kefka at the end of FFVI, Sephiroth's mutant form disintegrates. But Wait, There's More!! Cloud is sucked down into a black void for the final, one-on-one duel against a weakened Sephiroth, who is back to his original form, sans shirt. Heyyy.
Once defeated, blood pours down Sephiroth's face and light pours from his body as he explodes.
Is it just me, or do the more flat-shaded, anime-styled graphics of VII look better than the grainy, pixelated realism of VIII?
15:50: “Otherworld”, the theme used for the intro of Final Fantasy X (PS 2, 2001).
- Uematsu: “A lot of people might have a different take on who I am. They think that I have more of a classical musical background, that I had a lot of involvement with orchestras. But that's a misunderstanding. I love rock and roll.”
He strums an imaginary guitar at the end of that sentence. It's kind of cute.
I love FFX, too. The characters, world, and battle system. It was a very pretty next-gen game, with realistic, smooth graphics, and a lot of voice acting. I can not recall if the whole game was voiced or not, though.
The CG intro to FFX and “Otherworld” kick ass. The stunning visuals, the athleticism of the Blitzball players, the destruction of Zanarkand by Sin, the establishment of Auron as a total Bad Ass...
I loved the song so much, I would play on the Zanarkand level in Dissidia Final Fantasy (PSP, 2009) just as an excuse to hear it.
- Uematsu: “Our localization producer's name is Alex Smith. He was on the project for Final Fantasy X, and he's actually the one who wrote the lyrics for this piece. One night, he was out having a drink, and he bumped into a vocalist from the States living in Japan temporarily, as an exchange student. He had an amateur band, and he just started singing. So Alex asked him right there if he wanted to sing for the piece. He wasn't anyone famous. We don't even know where he is right now.”
He smiled as he recounted the story of finding the vocalist. Again: adorable.
It's a good thing that X was as good and successful as it was, because Square was still hurting from the massive failure of Final Fantasy The Spirits Within.
The ep ends with an excerpt from the “Dear Friends” concert, where they performed “Liberi Fatali”. It sounds pretty great, just like it did in the game.
In the years since, Uematsu composed music for games made by Mistwalker, the company founded by FF creator Hironobu Sakaguchi after he left Square shortly after FF: TSW. Of course, the music in games like Blue Dragon and especially Lost Odyssey was pretty gorgeous.
"Dear Friends", which shared a name with the ending theme of Final Fantasy V, only ran from May 2004 to July 2005.
Reader Participation: What are your favorite things about FF? It doesn't just have to involve the music, it can be anything.