Nobuo Uematsu (born March 21, 1959) is one of the most important composers of Video Game music to date. Ever since starting his career at 1985, he has worked on the soundtracks of over forty games. His best known work is with the Final Fantasy series, whose main installments all had completely Uematsu-made songs up until the tenth part. However, he returned to the series to compose for Final Fantasy XIV.
Since leaving Square Enix in 2004, Uematsu has worked as a freelancer, composing for such projects as Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He also had a rock band, called The Black Mages, which played heavy rock covers of his Final Fantasy songs, as well as another band called Earthbound Papas (no relation to the game). For the past decade, Uematsu has also been arranging his work for orchestras. He personally travels with the Distant Worlds concert tour, directed and conducted by fellow game-composer Arnie Roth.
He considers the soundtrack of Final Fantasy IX to be his favorite.
Major works where he contributed more than one original song include:
- Rad Racer (1987)
- Final Fantasy (1987)
- Final Fantasy II (1988)
- Final Fantasy III (1990)
- Final Fantasy IV (1991)
- Final Fantasy V (1992)
- Final Fantasy VI (1994)
- Chrono Trigger (1995; contributed nine songsnote after main composer Yasunori Mitsuda overworked himself to the point of stomach ulcers; also contributed an arrangement for the boss battle theme, which was written by Noriko Matsueda)
- Final Fantasy VII (1997)
- Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
- Final Fantasy IX (2000)
- Final Fantasy X (2001; with Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano; first game in the series where he didn't write all the music)
- Final Fantasy XI (2002; with Naoshi Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka)
- Blue Dragon (2006)
- Lost Odyssey (2007)
- Final Fantasy XIV (2010; later editions of the game added other composers' works, but Uematsu was the only composer for the initial launch)
- The Last Story (2011)
- Granblue Fantasy (2014; with Tsutomu Narita)
- Fantasian (2021)
Trope Namer for (alongside the games where these songs appeared):
- Laughing Mad (variant of his Final Fantasy VI song title "Dancing Mad", though, as mentioned below under Title Confusion, the original Japanese title is a bit more complex)
- One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII)
- You Are Not Alone (Final Fantasy IX)
Tropes present in his work include:
- Audio Adaptation: "One-Winged Angel" qualifies in a way, since apart from the insertion of its eponymous villain's name, most of its lyrics are taken directly from the Carmina Burana (AKA the same text that provides the words for Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" - i.e., the stock dramatic film trailer music). Later arrangements have sometimes added new lyrics (also usually in Latin), sometimes original.
- Bilingual Bonus: When his work gets adapted for vocal arrangements, they are frequently in many different languages. Languages used have included Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Saami. Song titles sometimes qualify as well. In addition to the expected Japanese titles, a few other songs are generally officially translated in foreign languages. "Waltz suomi" on Final Fantasy V: Dear Friends, perhaps unsurprisingly, means "Finnish Waltz" or "Finland Waltz" (the album was performed by a group of mostly Finnish musicians). "Aria di mezzo carattere" from Final Fantasy VI translates literally from Italian as "Air of Medium Character". "Liberi fatali" is Latin for "Fated Children".
- Dark Reprise: It's extremely common for character themes to get darker arrangements to highlight tragic events in the characters' past. For a few examples from Final Fantasy VI, "Locke's Theme" gets a minor-key rearrangement as "Forever, Rachel"; "Setzer's Theme" gets the more subdued "Epitaph" to highlight his tragic past; "Coin of Fate" is a slower and sadder rearrangement of "Edgar and Sabin's Theme"; "Awakening" is a more subdued version of "Terra's Theme" (which also has a subdued version in the game opening); "Celes' Theme" is a tempestuous version of "Aria di mezzo carattere" that plays during Celes' Attempted Suicide; Shadow's spaghetti western-styled theme gets a dramatic, tragic orchestral rearrangement when he is Driven to Suicide in the finale; and, of course, the entire final movement of "Dancing Mad" is made of re-arrangements of Kefka's theme, not to mention the re-used leitmotif in the rest of the song (see 8-Bit Music Theory's analysis for details). From Final Fantasy VII, "Flowers Blooming in the Church" gets rearranged as "Aerith's Theme" for that scene; "Cid's Theme" gets a slower, sadder rearrangement as "Launching a Dream into Space"; "Red XIII's Theme" gets a more dramatic rearrangement as "The Great Warrior" (and is also worked into "Cosmo Canyon"). Nearly every game contains multiple examples of this.
- Epic Rocking: With "Dancing Mad" (at around seventeen minutes on the OST) and the ending theme of Final Fantasy VI (at around twenty-one) standing out as the top examples. The opera from the same game could be considered even longer, but it's usually divided up into multiple tracks; however, one arrangement had the entire opera included as a single track that lasted for over twenty-three minutes.
- Genre Roulette: His soundtracks frequently flit from genre to genre at the drop of a hat. For example, "Otherworld" from Final Fantasy X is basically straight-up Death Metal (although the Black Mages' remake turns it into more or less Power Metal).
- Instrumentals: Most of his stuff. Starting from Final Fantasy VI, there is usually at least one song that contains lyrics (although the limitations of the technology at the time meant that the SNES couldn't actually produce vocal sounds, which made their first appearance in his soundtracks with Final Fantasy VII's "One-Winged Angel"), but the majority of his work is still instrumental. However, some of the songs also have vocals added in their arranged versions ("Dancing Mad" and "My Home Sweet Home" are two good recurring examples of this), and Earthbound Papas' albums actually contain more tracks with vocals than without.
- Leitmotif: His soundtracks make liberal uses of this. Final Fantasy VI gives every permanent playable character at least two versions of his or her own theme (with the exception of twins Edgar and Sabin, who share the same theme): the main version of the theme, plus a reprise in the finale. Several character themes, including Terra's, Edgar/Sabin's, Locke's, Celes's, and Setzer's, get three or more arrangements. Most other soundtracks he's composed don't go to quite this extent, but it's still uncommon starting from Final Fantasy IV for a major character not to receive at least one version of his or her own theme.
- Loudness War: His game soundtracks don't get this for the most part, but most of the Black Mages' material was badly brickwalled. It got less severe on each of their releases, though, to the point where only a couple of songs on the third album were noticeably affected, and doesn't affect Earthbound Papas' material too badly (Dancing Dad even comes out to a highly respectable DR10). Songs that were streamed from live audio within the games themselves (as opposed to being put together from instrument samples) may sometimes fall under this trope as well; "Otherworld", from the Final Fantasy X soundtrack, particularly stands out for this (but then, it's metal, and ubiquitous clipping distortion had already been par for the course in the genre since years before the game's release, so this may not be terribly surprising).
- Ominous Latin Chanting: "One-Winged Angel" is probably the Trope Codifier for video game soundtracks, and it's far from the only time he used the trope.
- Rearrange the Song: His work has frequently been rearranged for various formats, usually orchestral or Progressive Metal adaptations. Uematsu himself plays keyboards in the Black Mages and Earthbound Papas, and is partially responsible for the arrangements. Nearly every one of his Final Fantasy soundtracks also was given an arrangement album, sometimes in wildly different genres like Celtic folk music.
- Recurring Riff: There are several throughout his work on the Final Fantasy series:
- For example, most of the battle themes contain the same bass line (Final Fantasy VIII leaves the bass line out... until the final battle theme, "The Extreme"), and almost all of them open with the same sequence of notes.
- The eponymous "Final Fantasy" theme appears in almost every game he composed as well (it's absent from Final Fantasy X, and also doesn't appear until the ending of a couple others).
- The "Prelude" also appears in every game he composed, although the Final Fantasy X arrangement is strikingly different from any of the earlier ones (still the same melody, though).
- The "Victory Fanfare" had identical melodies in all games until Final Fantasy VII, and even in that game it made a cameo as the chocobo racing victory theme (as well as a minor-key Dark Reprise for chocobo racing losses), and also reappeared with the same melody in Final Fantasy IX. Moreover, even Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII's fanfares open with the same notes as the others.
- The chocobo theme appears in countless variants throughout the games he's worked on (and some he hasn't).
- The moogles also have the same theme in most of the games they appear in.
- Most of the time, individual games will have recurring themes as well. Some are described above under Dark Reprise, but nearly every major character has his or her own leitmotif.
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: He's quite fond of quoting Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor in particular. Examples appear in "Golbeza, Clad in Darkness" and "Dancing Mad" amongst other songs.
- Running Gag: Very nearly every rendition of the Chocobo theme, particularly since Final Fantasy VI, has been titled with some form of either Gratuitous Spanish or Gratuitous French,note to the point where one rendition manages to subvert expectations by making a multilingual pun out of the expected convention instead ("Odeka ke Chocobo" from Final Fantasy VIII, which replaces the expected phrase with a Japanese phrase ["おでかけ" in kana] that literally means "go out"). In most cases, the title provides some indication of the arrangement's musical style, though some of the references may require some music knowledge to comprehend.note Others describe other aspects of the song ("Cinco de Chocobo" refers to the song's meter signature of 5/4, which is a very transparent Shout-Out to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", while "Brass de Chocobo", obviously, refers to the track's dominant instrument family rather than its musical genre). "Techno de Chocobo" does not refer to techno music but is instead a Shout-Out to the song "Technopolis" by Yellow Magic Orchestra". Even arrangement albums get in on the fun, often using differing titles from their respective game versions ("Milan de Chocobo" on Final Fantasy VI: Grand Finale'', for instance).
- Sincerest Form of Flattery: He's admitted the intro of "One-Winged Angel" was stolen from Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze", and has said the song as a whole is a fusion of Hendrix' style with that of Igor Stravinsky.
- Spell My Name with an "S":
- The use of katakana for some of his song titles has resulted in occasional title confusion in English. The theme for Zozo from Final Fantasy VI is usually translated as "Slam Shuffle" (including in official releases), but there is good reason to suspect that it may have been intended to be translated as "Slum Shuffle", since Zozo is a slum. The katakana for the two words is the same (スラム, suramu). Additionally, the Final Fantasy IX song "Rose of May" is frequently mistranslated as "Loss of Me".
- Spiritual Successor: Earthbound Papas to the Black Mages. The reason the latter was disbanded is because Square Enix owned the trademark, which prevented the band from performing material Uematsu had written for games not related to the Final Fantasy series (as well as from performing much original material). Earthbound Papas' lineup also does not contain any current Square Enix employees for this reason.
- Spoiled by the Song Title: His titles are usually good about avoiding this (even the most notorious It Was His Sled twist from Final Fantasy VII isn't spoiled by any of the official titles of its corresponding song), but the Final Fantasy X track title "My Father's Murderer" gives away a fairly significant plot point if one connects the title with the leitmotif that appears in it.
- Title Confusion: This is probably bound to happen with a composer as prolific as Uematsu. This is likely worsened by the fact that the Japanese titles of Uematsu's songs, where they exist, are usually considered more official; they have also been translated in multiple ways, which means some songs can be known by several different titles in English. (For some reason, Final Fantasy VIII's soundtrack only has official titles in [usually] English; all the others have official titles for most songs in both Japanese and English.)
- Some official English titles don't correspond to their Japanese titles at all, which is sometimes for the better ("Devil's Lab" was "Magitek Research Facility"; "Tenderness in the Air" was "Town Theme"; "Fate in Haze" was "Dungeon"; "Another World of Beasts" and "Illusionary World" were both "Phantom Beast World"; "Ahead on Our Way" from Final Fantasy V was just "Main Theme of Final Fantasy V", although see directly below for confusion that has resulted from this) and sometimes not ("Mad Dance of the Ominous Star" is arguably an even cooler title than "Dancing Mad", and "Tower of an Evil God" is definitely cooler than "Kefka's Tower" or "Last Dungeon". Also, sometimes the ending theme of Final Fantasy VI is given the bland English-language title of "Ending Theme", while the Japanese title means something like "Resurrecting Green" or "Restoring Green" [in the sense of plant life]; on the plus side, some other releases of the soundtrack have given it the more evocative title of "Balance Is Restored").
- Another potential source of confusion is that sometimes two or more different songs are given the same title. For instance, the main theme of Final Fantasy V is known as "Ahead on Our Way" in English; so is one of the town themes from Final Fantasy VII. Similarly, a character theme from Final Fantasy VI is, quite naturally, often referred to as "Terra" (or "Terra's Theme") in English; there's also a map theme from Final Fantasy IX known as "Terra".note There are also, quite naturally, several different songs named "Ending Theme", "Battle Theme", and so forth.
- Finally, of course, is the matter of one title simply getting multiple translations, which wreaks particular havoc with music databases such as last.fm that attempt to track users' listening habits. It might be intuitive to human listeners that "Prelude to the Void" and "The Prelude of Empty Skies" are the same song (though not so much to a database), but others make no sense at all - "As I Feel, You Feel" can also be known as "Legend of the Great Forest" (which is, in fact, a more accurate translation of its Japanese title). There really isn't any way to keep track of this except by making note of the different titles these songs have been given on their many different releases throughout the years - and if you don't possess at least rudimentary knowledge of the Japanese language (or at least access to online resources about it; Google Translate and J-Talk's Kanji Converter may be helpful, though it should be noted that neither are anywhere close to infallible), it's probably a hopeless task.
- Triumphant Reprise: There have been quite a few of them. For example, Beatrix' subdued theme, "Rose of May", gets a much more upbeat reprise as "Protecting My Devotion" (or "Someone to Protect") towards the climax of the game. More notably, the finale of Final Fantasy VI contains of examples of this for nearly every character theme (Shadow's gets a Dark Reprise instead, and Setzer's is reprised in both forms to highlight the danger the party faces at certain points in the narrative), with Celes and Locke's standing out as perhaps the best example of this, as the two themes, which had been played separately throughout the game to that point, finally interlock with one another to commemorate the characters' romance. And then the series' main theme gets a triumphant reprise to top the whole thing off. It is an unquestionable example of Awesome Music.
- Uncommon Time: Most of his soundtracks will have several examples of this, and sometimes they get really complicated. Details can be found on the trope page.
- Word Purée Title: "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec", obtained by throwing the words "Succession of Witches" and "Love" into a blender.