Nobuo Uematsu is one of the most legendary video game composers of all time, creating some of the most memorable video game music from the last 20 years. We had the chance to briefly chat with Nobuo, and get his insight on the past and present of the video game industry, as well as how he feels his music has influenced others. Nobuo will be conducting at the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert this weekend in Los Angeles, and we'll be attending. Check back next week for a feature on the concert itself, which I couldn't be more thrilled to attend.
G4: What are some of your influences and who did you listen to that inspired you to start this career?
Nobuo Uematsu: Tape recorders, radios, equipment and synthesizers were my influences to start this career. A musician that inspired me is Elton John.
G4: I know it will be difficult to choose, but out of the hundreds of themes you’ve created, which ones do you feel the most passionate about?
NU: It’s hard for me to listen to my compositions equally without reminiscing on all the memories, but I do think “To Zanarkand” is not too bad. “To Zanarkand” seems to get lots of requests by fans for it to be played in the orchestra concert. How happy to be loved by both birth parent (me, the composer) and the foster parents (the fans.)
G4: What's the process for creating a song? Do you use visual aids of the game first or is it largely from scratch?
NU: By the time I start composing, there’s no game ready, so I read the scripts and look at the character illustrations to compose. The amount of the soundtracks that I need to compose may vary. Sometimes I write 20-30 soundtracks for a game, and sometimes it reaches up to 140 soundtracks.
G4: Video games now have full blown orchestral scores that rival those in feature films. How has the process of creating a song for a game evolved over the last thirty years?
NU: The role of the game music hasn’t changed, but the way we put sound to it has changed, I think. 20 years ago, there were no sound effects like the sound of the wind blowing, the water streaming, nor the voices of the actors. The only sounds available were that 3 simple electronic tones. To put the expression to the scenes in the game, the melody was the only way that we could rely on at that time. But nowadays, the environment has changed and we can put any sound effects like movies and there are voices. It might be too much to put very melodious soundtrack to it. I’m not saying which is good or bad.
G4: Do you have any ideas for music's integration in gaming and where it might go/be headed? Do you feel restricted or liberated by conducting music for games?
NU: I haven’t thought about that. My role is to create interesting music that moves people emotionally. It seems the environment to create music became freer rather than when we used PSG Instruments on the surface. But now, because the realistic sounds are available, the music for video games is often asked to be like Hollywood movie soundtracks. For that reason, I could say that it’s more limited now that composers are asked to create music like something else and not leave it to the composer’s creativity.
G4: We noticed, after a long hiatus from being the primary composer on a Final Fantasy game, you came back to compose the excellent soundtrack of Final Fantasy XIV. Do you think this was a one-time thing, or do you see yourself once again composing on a single-player FF title in the future?
NU: I will if a Square Enix staff that has a similar sensitivity offers me [the job], and I agree to the contents of the game.
G4: Games with dynamic soundtracks are becoming more and more popular; for instance, a fade from day to night might change the instrumentation or sound palette. Do you think this is a good approach, and do you see yourself experimenting with it in future games?
NU: Changing music for night & day means more works for me, but I do think it’s important to give different impressions for both night & day in the same scene. The one that I’m currently working on has different music for night & day as well.
G4: Do you often scale back a powerful melody or song because you thought it might be too distracting to what's happening in the game? And have you ever wanted to work on a title where music was the primary focus; i.e., a rhythm title?
NU: I think it’s important to keep a good balance for background music, sound effects, voices and the visual. If everything is emphasized at the same time, everything falls together. As for a rhythm title, I’d love to work on that!
G4: Many have said that they feel more attached to your earlier work, as the limitations of earlier chipsets forced a strong melodic focus, and thus, more memorable songs. Do you feel that there's any truth to this statement, and have the expanded possibilities of modern sound led to a reduction in creative, bold composing throughout the industry?
NU: I think things look different from where you look at them. Now there is less limitation technically so we can express any kind of music freely. However, we might be able to say that the video game music composers 20 years ago were full of creativity trying to express their originalities within the limitation.
G4: Can you give us any details on what you’re working on next?
NU: Besides “FANTASY LIFE”, I’m working on the theme song of “Jyuzaengi - Engetsu Sangokuden-” and other works that I can’t announce yet.
And there you have it. Personally, most of my favorite video game songs have been composed by Nobuo Uematsu, including one of his favorites "To Zanarkand", as well as the entire Final Fantasy 9 soundtrack. What are some of your favorite works by Nobuo, and are you going to be attending the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert when it comes to your town?