Posts Tagged ‘Nobuo Uematsu’

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Final Fantasy II – “The Promised Land” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 29, 2010

Though I have never played the game (despite having Final Fantasy Origins on the PS1 and Final Fantasy I+II for GameBoy Advance), I have heard Final Fantasy II‘s main theme, “The Promised Land” several times and find it to be one of the most memorable themes from the series. The “Main Theme” is played on the overworld while walking around the map screen. The song has no connection with the beautiful choral piece, “The Promised Land” from Final Fantasy: Advent Children. This version is from the PSP version of Final Fantasy I+II. It is very close to the Final Fantasy Origins version.

“The Promised Land” is a little quaint, its main melody lightly tapping through short steps and holding long, hummable notes. This rendition is played with clarinet and later supported by strings. It’s a ballad sung in a thickly forested world where vision is obscured by fog and scoured by war. It is a wish for a world that’s perfect, a hope to cut through the mists and dark.

As far as arrangements go, Final Fantasy: Dissidia has an interesting lounge-style mix of the theme. More famously, there is also a vocal arrange of this piece from Final Fantasy Vocal Collections – Pray. The lyrics at times feel a little forced, the English words a little too clunky for the smoothly dancing meldoy; sentences break in the middle of a stanza, giving the text an awkward flow. The lyrics are also more about the game than anything of greater meaning. There’s a shorter version from Love Will Grow; both are sung by Risa Ohki, who has an absolutely beautiful voice.

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Final Fantasy – “Main Theme” (arr. Shirou Hamaguchi)

September 28, 2010

The main theme of Final Fantasy is called – surprise, surprise – “Main Theme” but is sometimes also known as “Final Fantasy” or “Opening Theme” depending on the game and album. The track is sometimes played as a standalone song, such as in Final Fantasy I and III as an ‘overture’ for the adventure, but in later games (IV and on), it is usually played during the credits, as the song has a triumphant, almost victory processional feel. The best renditions of this theme seem to always be the orchestral versions, particularly those from the concert series. Sometimes it’s played in medleys of other Final Fantasy tunes, but it seems to work best alone. My pick goes to the version from More Friends – music from Final Fantasy which is a recording of an orchestral concert for the series played in Los Angeles in 2005. The track, originally composed by Nobuo Uematsu, was arranged by Shirou Hamaguchi (Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XI) and was performed by the World Festival Symphony Orchestra. The piece was actually originally arranged for the 20020220 Music from Final Fantasy concert and has since become a staple of most orchestral concerts for the series. Sadly, just the 20020220 version is available on iTunes, and it contains applause halfway through as Mr. Uematsu comes on stage to conduct.

More Friends – music from FINAL FANTASY – “Main Theme” (arr. Shirou Hamaguchi)

It is easy to see the series’ roots in classical music, particularly works of Hayden, as Hamaguchi’s arrangement fluidly weaves strings, flute, clarinet, and trumpets together, first one at a time, then finally drawing them all together in the end (beginning 2:00) up to a glorious finale at 2:46. The two main sections of the theme have a nice call and and response, one answering the symphonic poetry of the other. The theme is kingly, proud, and sincere, a call to adventure and an honoring of the adventurers, and is one of the great themes of videogames. In fact, I can’t help but compare it with Koichi Sugiyama’s “Opening” theme for Dragon Quest.

Another amazing performance of this tune is from Tour de Japon (pictured above), performed by the New Japan Philharmonic and also conducted by Shirou Hamaguchi. However, halfway through the performance, Mr. Uematsu comes on stage to conduct! Tour de Japon traveled around Japan in the spring of 2004 and built off the success of the 20020220 concert. This performance was recorded in Yokohama.

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Final Fantasy I – “Matoya’s Cave” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 27, 2010

So Final Fantasy is getting a bit of love here these days. Today’s 8-bit Monday goes WAY back to the original Final Fantasy (1988). The series began with four unnamed warriors’ quest to find the four elemental orbs and bring order back to the universe. The whole soundtrack is pretty well composed, which is pretty surprising for the mega-blockbuster series’ humble beginnings with a soundtrack inspired by classical music. Within are three major tunes that have appeared in nearly every game since: the “Prelude,” “Opening Theme,” and “Victory.” I’ll give these tracks their day sometime, but for now I want to focus on one of the more popular themes from the game (which has plenty of good music), “Matoya’s Cave”.

With a 31 second loop, “Matoya’s Cave” is pretty short, though about average for an NES track. The track is pretty fast-paced, and with a well-developed melody to make up for the short length. The piece is homely, with easy notes and little major leaps about the scale, which makes perfect sense as Matoya’s Cave is a safe house of sorts located deep in the middle of monster country. Matoya is a witch who has become blinded since her special crystal eye was stolen by an evil wizard; once she gets her eye back, she finds the party too ugly to keep around and kicks them out!

“Matoya’s Cave” has seen quite a few mixes over the years, including The Black Mages II as a rock arrange and Final Fantasy Vocal Collections I – Pray as a French pop song. In contrast to the original is “Matoya’s Grave“, a beautifully sorrowful arrange by deim0s from OCR.

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Final Fantasy V – “Death Battle at the Big Bridge” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 26, 2010

Final Fantasy V brought to the forefront of the Final Fantasy series one of the most memorable characters, Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is based loosely on the hero from the Babylonian epic of the same name and is characterized as a polite, sword-greedy warrior who pops out at the most inopportune moments to challenge you for some item. In later games, he can be obtained as an ally. His first major appearance in Final Fantasy V is on a level called the Big Bridge, which is just that – a giant bridge over the ocean separating two continents. Gilgamesh serves as one of the guards, but later shows up numerous other places to challenge you to battle. The theme that plays on this level – “Death Battle at the Big Bridge” is sometimes known as “Big Bridge”, “Clash on Big Bridge” or “Battle with Gilgamesh” as it appears in several other battles with him.

“Death Battle at the Big Bridge” is characterized by trumpets and slide piano/organ and Nobuo Uematsu’s trademark drumset. The track opens with the slide piano and some excellent drum and cymbal synths for pounding, clanging armor, followed by a nice cymbal break at 0:32 – I can imagine Mr. Uematsu smiling as he composed that part. The main theme is full-on rolling trumpet with slide piano support that’s straight out of swordsman footwork. The trumpet and drums together give the piece a slight samurai western feel, which probably relates to the epic duel and Gilgamesh’s antique armor and his haughty airs, all of which are captured in the theme. At the end, the track begins to fade out as in a haze, but quickly rebounds to the main melody and action. With such a memorable melody, this is by far one of the best Final Fantasy tunes and one of the best on the SNES; classic oldschool Uematsu.

There have been several arranges of this theme, but the best seems to be the one by – surprise, surprise – the Black Mages. I prefer the version from The Black Mages over the live recording.  Another excellent arrange – in slower pace – is “Down to Big Bridge” by Japanese rock arranger Crow’s Claw (aka Taka). He’s done two different versions of this piece, the first (2004) being slower rock and the second being faster-paced metal (2005). I prefer the second, though it comes off as a little too intense! There was also a more traditional rock arrange on Dissidia: Final Fantasy, a fighting game that brought together characters across the series.

As for fan mixes, MV did an amazing chip arrange of this theme on VGMix 2.0 called “Battle with GilgaNES“. There’s another interesting arrange from there as well that’s not as good (heavy MIDI synths) but is an interesting orchestral take on the track. The arrange is by Shoryuken from VGMix 2.0 and has a well-thought out composition that is a departure from the mainly metal arranges this track has seen.

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Final Fantasy VIII – “The Man with the Machine Gun” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 25, 2010

My favorite piece from Final Fantasy VIII (1999) is “The Man with the Machine Gun,” the battle theme for Laguna who is, in short, some guy with a machine gun. Final Fantasy VIII has a very strange plot, part of which involves the characters in the present dreaming about events in the past where Laguna and his sidekicks Kiros (who had his hands replaced with swords) and Ward (who fights with a giant anchor(!)) are involved in an insurrection of some sort while he searches for his fiancee. Ultimately, Laguna was a lot more interesting for me than the other characters and that coupled with the abrupt jump to a brand new team was enough to make things interesting. While there are several songs in the game that are really better composed than “The Man with the Machine Gun” (such as “Fisherman’s Horizon”), this piece is the one I remember best.

As a synth/trance piece, “The Man with the Machine Gun” doesn’t really sound like the standard PlayStation fare, which tends to be more orchestral in presentation. The piece uses primarily synth lines with a nice electronica drumset and has a strong square wave at 0:52 that reminds me of the NES. Mr. Uematsu adds a trumpet at 1:05 for the end of the loop before transitioning into a variation of the track’s intro where an electric bass line is added along with some subtle choral support for a great loop back to the main melody. The song’s fast pace and roots with traditional game music make it a great battle theme, while the high notes of the main melody capture Laguna’s guerrilla style of warfare, dropping down into the staccato drumbeats that recall machine gun fire. Great track, and highly memorable.

“The Man with the Machine Gun” saw two official remixes. The first is from Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec: Final Fantasy VIII and is an orchestral remix heavy with strings, replacing the main synth line with a mellow trumpet. A break with new material has been added at 2:05, and the second loop begins more straightforward with a pop drum beat (2:40) that is more in line with the original. The second is a rock arrange recorded by The Black Mages, a band formed by Mr. Uematsu himself which performs music from the series. Mr. Uematsu plays keyboard. The synth player, Kenichiro Fukui, has a background with Konami’s MIDI Power pro series of albums. Guitarist Tusyoshi Sekito helped compose the new tracks for Chrono Trigger on the PlayStation and also has a background with Konami, composing Space Manbow for the MSX. Most of the fan arranges are done in trance/electronica form, which is admittedly a genre I dislike, so I can’t really recommend any specific one.

What’s really interesting is the soundtrack actually saw a US release in Final Fantasy VIII Music Collection, though the circumstances surrounding the release are foggy. These days, it can be picked up on iTunes.

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Final Fantasy VI – “Shadow” (Nobuo Uematsu)

September 21, 2010

So I thought it was time for another ninja theme. Here we have Shadow’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI, a nice little ditty that deserved to be developed a little more. Shadow is a ninja and a bounty hunter. According to Edgar, “He’d slit his momma’s throat for a nickel!” (O_O) He’ll join your team in a couple points, but likes to leave if the money’s not in it. There’s another point where he’s on a flying island and you can either leave him there to die or wait for him and he’ll show up at the very last second. If you take him, you can learn a little bit more about his past, which involves leaving an island of magicians and an ill-fated train robbery. He eventually sits back and lets the apocalypse take him out of regret.

The original version of “Shadow” is very minimal, with a nice guitar, Jew’s harp, drums, and flute. It’s got a certain kind of hollow loneliness to it, the sort of thing you’d expect from a solitary ninja – but also a cute infusion of spaghetti western. That’s really all the instrumentation that’s needed, and each one is given a turn at taking the lead. The track is kind of asking for a bit more development though as its 45 second length is asking for a bit more development, though the variation of a few simple notes and the rarity of the song seems enough to warrant a shorter tune. This also probably helps make it more memorable.

There have been a decent number of remixes, including a version by K. Praslowicz which uses a heavy, hollow rock guitar and goes on for perhaps a little too long, and “Cast a Lonely Shadow” by Journey of Sols from VGMix 2.0 which arranges “Shadow” and “Terra” into a nice orchestral piece (lacking only in sub-par synths, but still tight in composition, something that quite a few tracks on VGMix 2.0 seemed to have – which was great as it allowed the composers to get a lot of feedback on their music).

Anyway, the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes, which is great considering the original was out of print for awhile and usually set people back about $50 when it wasn’t.

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Final Fantasy V: The Fabled Warriors ~I.Wind – “A Healer’s Touch ~Theme of White Mage~” (Level 99, Avaris)

September 12, 2010

OCRemix has numerous arrange projects going on in the background, the latest of which is Final Fantasy V: The Fabled Warriors. A five-part project lead by Darkesword, the first album, Wind, was released today to great fanfare. It’s a pretty slick album with high production values and a wide variety of musical styles – though it’s really Western style of vgm mixing (particularly with the electronica pieces). While I find myself very pleased with the first four tracks (and “Vessel of the Void ~Theme of Exdeath~”), the remaining part of the album is too heavy on the electronica side for my tastes. My top pick has to be “A Healer’s Touch ~Theme of White Mage~” by Level 99 and Avaris (though “The Path to Glory ~Theme of Bartz~” stands out for its rock mix by Sixto Sounds (who also did “Ken’s Theme” from Blood on the Asphalt).

Final Fantasy V: The Fabled Warriors ~I. Wind

“A Healer’s Touch ~Theme of White Mage~” contains a unique arrange of the “Prelude” with a glorious acoustic guitar and celestial bells, something that hasn’t really been associated with the harp-heavy theme. The rest of the track contains arranges of “The Day Will Come” which also has plenty of thematic connections with Final Fantasy VII music, particularly “Aeris’ Theme”. I’m actually surprised at how recognizable Nobuo Uematsu’s musical style is, just by listening to his second SNES soundtrack. Anyway, this is peaceful town music, folksy-type stuff you’d expect to hear during the calm part of the journey, with wood smoke rising through the chimneys and old folks rocking on lazy chairs and friendly people. A nice home-like quality to it.

In all honesty, Final Fantasy V‘s soundtrack (1992) had some pretty impressive music, such as “Death Battle at the Big Bridge” (better known as “Gilgamesh”), and included some themes that became more widely recognized through other games. Take “The Book of Sealings”, better known as “One Winged Angel” (arranged here as “Little Black Book ~Theme of Black Mage~”). Most people don’t realize the track was not original to Final Fantasy VII, but made its debut in Final Fantasy V (though obviously not without the live choir).

While the game has a good soundtrack – and I also love its job system (especially since it gives me something new to work on each battle) – the narrative was a bit too sprawled and unemotional for me. This arrange album though has gotten me interested in the whole soundtrack again as each piece has its own ethnic flavor, similar to Vurez’s Intercontinental Warriors. As with most of the Final Fantasy music, Final Fantasy V is available through iTunes at an affordable price. Beats the heck out of importing.

Lastly, I have to say poor Bartz. He’s the most unfortunately named hero in game history. While the American PS1 re-release gave him the acceptable name of Bartz, he has the unfortunate luck to be called ‘Butz’ in Japan. Someone didn’t quite think this through on the Square side.