Posts Tagged ‘Nobuo Uematsu’

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What Makes it Memorable? – Final Fantasy VII – “Aerith’s Theme” (Nobuo Uematsu)

November 16, 2010

One of the questions I’ve been asking over the past year is “what makes a song memorable?” I’ve tried to address this in several places, but not yet in-depth, which is what I would like to do for the next week. In a sense, it requires this because there are many components that make up a memorable song even though there is no formula for creating one.

The first element I choose is emotional attachment. Before moving forward, I go back to the very first song I posted, the Super Mario Bros. theme. With regards to this song, Koji Kondo said that he did not feel the music would have been memorable if the game weren’t any good. On the one hand, the song’s memorability stems from its simple repetition: kids played this game for hours and hours and they had no choice but to memorize the music. However, I also feel there is a stronger tie here, that of emotional attachment, the recollection of fond memories people had from their play experience and those connections with their childhood. This is one of the ways that a song can be memorable – it can recall a point or period of your life or an event associated with that scene (like the music that was playing when you had your first date or got married). Essentially, music and memory become tied into one.

One of the strongest emotional moments from games was the death of Aerith (Aeris is her translated name) in Final Fantasy VII. Though characters had been killed off in Final Fantasy games before (I’m looking at you, Galuf!), the player had never developed a very strong attachment to those characters. With Aeris, players formed an emotional attachment with her early on through the love triangle of Aeris-Cloud-Tifa. Aeris also became an important member of the team who healed the party, providing a sense of compassion the other characters lacked. The fact that the player was in a sense led to fall in love with Aeris through his empathy and identification with Cloud made her death all the more powerful. As a result, it is this memory of Aeris, of all the emotions leading up to the moment of her death, that make it resonate with the heartstrings of fans. I have heard reports of players who have even broken into tears when listening to this song, and perhaps you are one of those listeners who feel sadness upon hearing it. Incidentally, it is for this reason that I enjoy the Distant Worlds presentation of “Aerith’s Theme” – they showed one of Cloud’s happier moments with Aeris in the playground, eliminating the text boxes and letting the listener’s imagination fill in the blanks of their conversation).

In fact, every element of “Aerith’s Theme” is used to support this emotion. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Final Fantasy VII – “One-Winged Angel” (Nobuo Uematsu)

October 31, 2010

Go to any Final Fantasy or general game music concert, and unless it’s specifically organized for a particular series or company, you will probably hear an arrangement of “One Winged Angel” (often by howling encore request).  The song’s popularity is probably due to four main reasons: the fame of Final Fantasy VII is such a popular game, the battle scene with Safer Sephiroth was very memorable (particularly its combination of long, cinematic magic spells wreaking apocalyptic destruction at a time when such things were novel), it used a recorded choir for the first time in the series’ history (and good audio quality always makes things seem better), and that it’s a good song. You combine all three together, and you give a piece legendary status. It is perhaps best to view “One Winged Angel” in regards to its orchestral arrangements, as these place the song in the way it was meant to be played, to which the original synths, good as they are, can’t compare. Run-down of both major versions, with lyrics, after the break.

The best recording of “One-Winged Angel” is from Distant Worlds and conducted by Arnie Roth Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Black Mages II – “The Skies Above” (arr. Kenichiro Fukui)

October 5, 2010

There are only two songs I really enjoy from Final Fantasy X, and both are best enjoyed (so I think) as arranges. The first is the “Song of Prayer” which plays when the player unlocks a new summon and appears with one variation per summon. The second is “At Zanarkand”, the haunting piano overture through which the game opens, revealing the ruins of a destroyed city, and a theme which appears in different guises throughout the soundtrack – though never with more emotion than here. The latter is my favorite of the two, instantly recognizable and touching, a piano solo with melancholic power. A piano arrange was featured in Final Fantasy X Piano Arranges and later 20020220 music from Final Fantasy as well as Distant Worlds II. However, my favorite arrange is “The Skies Above”, the titular piece from The Black Mages II: The Skies Above (2004). The track is absolutely brilliant, the crown jewel in an amazing album. Note there have also been several music videos of this piece, but having never played the game, I prefer the music to create its own images (though the lyrics seem a more or less literal translation of the game’s narrative core).

Nobuo Uematsu’s original work is here arranged by Kenichiro Fukui (XEXEX, Midi Power Pro, Front Mission 5). The piece opens with a piano solo conducted by none other than Fukui himself (Mr. Uematsu in the live performance), a piece that plays haltingly but precisely, a cautious step into legend…

The piece then blasts open to a fierce guitar heaven (1:40), a driving bass like a diving bomber that drives past radiantly shrill guitar riffs. The guitar work is profound, melody yielding to the sweet sound of the electric that surfs the curve with ease into a lyrical inferno.

The lyrics here are sung by Mr. Goo (aka Tomoaki Watanabe, Lost Odyssey), who has a slight drawl to his singing, but such a heroic voice that it really doesn’t matter. He stands before the blazing, epic guitars as a figure out of dream, a man who stands against the darkness like some operatic god, words of valor pouring from his breast. He sings a cryptic poem penned by Alexander O. Smith that is as much a call to heroism as it is a desire to rise from this dim, hazy world to reach a purity, an ideal that is impossible to attain. It is more the quest than the goal that counts.

Sparks from the fire rise up to the sky;
Higher and higher, oh I want to fly!
Out of the story, this time I’ll be free;
Wake up for a moment from this dream of me.

Just a legend, cold words on a page;
Lift up my eyes and I’m soaring away
On silver wings spread out to the sun:
I’m leaving this city for the skies above.

O’er the ruins and ancient light,
Never lost, never failing;
Follow me on my path to the heights
Before the shadows fade into night.

Running back but I’m out of time.
I could tell everything,
Hear the words that fill my mind:
How can I say she was mine?

Between the third and fourth stanzas is a series of solos, first a guitar solo by Tsuyoshi Sekito followed by a synthesizer solo by Mr. Fukui and finally a bass guitar by Keiji Kawamori. After the final lyrics, the blazing guitar solo fades again to Fukui’s piano, which pools like a cool water, crystal and deep.

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Final Fantasy I – “Fanfare” (Nobuo Uematsu)

October 4, 2010
And now for one of the most classic Final Fantasy themes, “Fanfare”, the victory fanfare. This theme has appeared in some form or other through every single game in the series – except Final Fantasy XIII, which used a completely new victory fanfare (and as such was an even more extreme departure from the rest of the series). In fact, the “Fanfare” jingle even appeared in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children as a ringtone! The victory “Fanfare” made its first appearance in Final Fantasy I, so for the star of this 8-bit Monday, we showcase that version! However, the video below contains every single version (XIIXIV are poor rips).
The “Fanfare” to Final Fantasy I is my favorite in the series and also the best version on the NES. The track begins with a brief trumpet flare which begins with a flourish from 0 decibels to max that allows it to cut suddenly from an interruption at any point in the battle music. (Actually, in the original version, it sounds more like a cross between a piano and bells for that perfect, shiny victory). This jingle has played in every single game in the series save XIII and is heard at the end of every battle, making it THE most recognizable piece of Final Fantasy music.
Next comes the actual fanfare section, which plays as the game tallies up the experience points and items collected. The trumpets give the player a nice pat on the back while in the background, the bass (which in later versions has a nice little flute twirl) lets the player know they are looting the bodies and counting up the prizes. The simplicity of the theme made the track extremely memorable, and its appearance at the end of every battle creates a Pavlovian sense of victory and happiness in the heart of every fan who hears it outside of the game. You also have to enjoy the silly victory arm-waving that occurred during this sequence.
For some notable changes over the years, Final Fantasy II’s rendition (0:39) sounds a little tremulous, with more timbre on the square wave, while III (1:18) added a meaty drum for a kind of trance rendition. IV is a straight-up adaptation of the original, complete with a nice snare while V added a flute section that sounds more like glittering treasure. VI feels more like III with a plodding drumset and is sadly a little inferior to the rest of the soundtrack. VII was the first to add a completely new fanfare section, and while the series went back to the traditional composition for IX, I dislike any of the themes created after VII, though I do admit IX has a nice medieval festival feel to it. XII (9:10) would be awesome with its epic orchestration…but why did they cut out some of the notes?
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Final Fantasy IX – “Vamo’ alla flamenco” (Nobuo Uematsu)

October 3, 2010

I confess to not playing any of the Final Fantasy games past VIII. That crazy story just did it for me. Past this point, it really wasn’t worth it for me to play through the rest of the games. However, I have become somewhat familiar with the music through arrange albums such as The Black Mages and Distant Worlds in which this intriguing piece, “Vamo’ alla flamenco” appeared.

“Vamo’ alla flamenco” plays during the sword fight minigame at the beginning of the game. The track can literally be translated as “Let’s go, Flamenco!” Flamenco is a type of Spanish dance, and so it is not too much of a stretch to envision the connection between dance and swordplay – or, really, those smooth moves of Ricardo Montalban. The Spanish influences are clear within the piece, and the track is said to contain the harmonic center of the famous “La Malaguena”. The piece is quite whimsical, with a sense of spectacle through percussion and the playfulness of the melody, which supposes pomp and performance of the sword fight while presenting it as a mockery or sham.

The Distant Worlds played a beautiful rendition of this piece on an authentic Flamenco guitar (actually, the entire concert was phenomenal, and the album worth the purchase). I had the opportunity to see the concert when it came to Denver a couple years back. The recording on the album is from the Stockholm concert, conducted by the impeccable Arnie Roth and performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. In the concert, video from the game was projected in time with the music. A video of the Stockholm event is shown below, but the clip is the same regardless of where you happened to see it. It is interesting how they seem to have taken this song and presented it as a representation of the entire game. The next concert is set for Tokyo in early November.

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Final Fantasy VII – “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon” (arr. Reuben Kee)

October 2, 2010

While I personally feel that the “Main Theme” to Final Fantasy VII is the best composition in the game for capturing the game’s wide range of themes and emotions (sorry, OWA fans), the piece that moved me the most was “Canyon of Falling Stars” aka “Cosmo Canyon”. The track serves as a kind of leitmotif for Red XIII, the fire hound who joins the party after being rescued from the Shinra laboratories. “Red XIII’s Theme” contains the base of “Canyon of Falling Stars,” echoes of a song that is only partially realized, but with the youthful vigor befitting his age and the spirit of his hometown.

“Canyon of Falling Stars” opens with some heavy drumwork before adding a Chinese lute to create minimal melody. Suddenly, the song explodes with flute and choral ‘oofs’, each instrument layered together to create a rich tapestry of melody (actually, it kind of makes me wonder how Koji Hayama would handle it!). At about a minute in, the flute takes over with the lute replaced by an electric guitar. The flute gives a feel of antiquity to Cosmo Canyon, a town with both observatory watching the heavens and the ancient layers of the past rising above them in the canyon walls. Cosmo Canyon has the aura of a city with a past that is long and storied, but today is in decline from its golden age. It is therefore a reminisce of the past as well as an honor to the spirit of the place.

“Red XIII’s Theme” is revised again in “The Great Warrior,” which is Red XIII’s discovery of the petrified body of his estranged father, who died protecting the village in Cosmo Canyon. This sorrowful reunion uses bells and metallic plinks for the hollowness and loss Red feels for his father, who he had previously felt was a coward who had failed his hometown.

Final Fantasy VII – “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon” (arr. Reuben Kee)

However, I want to bring up the primary reason for this post, which is “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon,” arranged by the late Reuben Kee and my favorite rendition of my favorite piece from Final Fantasy VII. Kee was a promising master of the piano, and his subtle touch of the keys flows effortlessly like a river, deep and wide, or the sparkling drops of tears. In fact, it even surpasses the official piano arranges. He beings “Ascension to Cosmo Canyon” with piano, supported by cello and violin, the former of which has a wonderful timbre at 1:00. Partway into the track, at the end of the first loop, Kee begins his second take on the theme, adding taiko drums and choral before jumping straight into the lute and melancholic wooden flute, which from here on directs the melody with subtle touch (particularly at 2:30). At the end, Kee adds some new material which after a false ending takes the theme into the major scale for renewed vigor. He states that the title refers to Red XIII’s chidren, born some 250 years after the game ends.

It’s a shame Mr. Kee died so young. Listening to his music, it is possible to hear the power and passion behind his music and the promise of where he would have gone in another decade. A true talent who tried to make the world better, if even just a little, through his music.

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Final Fantasy III – “Elia, The Maiden of Water” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 30, 2010

Final Fantasy III is probably one of the weakest soundtracks in the series. After giving the whole thing a detailed listen-through, I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the tracks, aside from a handful such as “Battle 1”, “Eternal Wind,” “Go above the Clouds,” and “This is the Last Battle,” “The Crystal Tower,” – and of course “Elia, the Maiden of Water” (though the DS remake seems to have done a much better job of the original score, which seems overly ambitious for the NES 2A03 sound chip). Anyway, Elia is a girl of great purity who lives in the dark ocean below the world. We only see her for about 10 minutes before she’s killed by a kraken, her frail body already destined for the great beyond (Final Fantasy III wasn’t high on the writing either). Anyway, most arrangers seem to agree that “Elia” is one of the best songs on the album as it has been featured in a vocal collection as well as a flute arrange from Legend of the Eternal Wind. Thankfully, the DS version of the soundtrack seems to have done a better job.

I feel a little repetitive using yet another piece from Pray, but honestly, the album is that good. It’s one I really wish they would publish on iTunes. It has been out of print since 1994, too, which makes it hard to come by. The rendition here is “Once You Meet Her,” Risa Ohka gives a solid performance with lyrics that actually move beyond a description of the game to something a little more universal – praising the beauty of a mysterious young woman. Perhaps a little fantastic, but capturing of the romantic and fleeting nature of this young maiden (who the narrative doesn’t tells us much about anyway and kills off far too quickly for us to develop any kind of emotional attachment). Miss Ohka sings “Once You Meet Her” in English, which is both a relief for Western audiences as well as a testament to her abilities – she can also sing in French and Japanese (of course).

My other favorite rendition is from Legend of the Eternal Wind, a drama/arrange album performed with live instruments. This version is a flute and harp arrange that is sparing but perfect. The track is titled “The Water Maiden” and was reprinted in the US as part of Final Fantasy – N Generation (N for ‘Nintendo’). The DS soundtrack does a great job of replicating the feel of this version.

While you’re at it, check out the enchanting “Voyage – Endless Great Ocean“, one of the best actualization of the original song. Miss Ohka’s deep and powerful voice rolls with the strings like ocean waves, all sung in her original Japanese; it’s an emotional voyage into aural bliss.