Meeting Nobuo Uematsu is always a pleasure. Few people in the gaming industry are as relaxed, nice and friendly as the composer of the first eleven episodes of Final Fantasy. Thanks to Thomas Böcker , one of the managers of the Leipzig concert, we were able to sit down with Mr. Uematsu for a long talk.
Gorillas: So, how did you like yesterday's concert in the Gewandhaus Leipzig?
Nobuo Uematsu: In Japan, it's not unusual that an orchestra should play music from a game at such an event. However, I never saw such diversity at such a concert. In Japan, these things are usually held under the motto of a certain game like Final Fantasy. Here, however, they combined music from many different titles and many different cultures.
Gorillas: We noticed you can't walk three steps without being asked for an autograph to be given or a photograph to be taken...
Uematsu: I never thought I had so many fans over here. I mean, I've been to some other countries like America and I was in a way expecting to be recognised. But the incredibly positive reception here was still quite a surprise.
G wie Gorilla: Now that we have got to meet you personally, you seem very relaxed and happy. Yesterday however, we had the pleasure of listening to 'One-winged Angel' and 'Dancing Mad', two comparatively dark pieces of music. Please tell us a bit about the dark side of Nobuo Uematsu.
Uematsu: (laughing) My dark side? Well, I don't know... I don't think I have any particularly dark character traits. I'm not a very brooding person, I don't worry too often. Okay, sometimes I become insecure rather quickly, but getting really worried and gloomy at such times won't help anyway. So I just try to forget these things.
G wie Gorilla: So, how do you go about writing a darker piece of music?
Uematsu: The happy pieces already exist. So when I write something dark, I write it to counterbalance these happy ones. A negative mirror so as to say...
G wie Gorilla: What were the reactions in the industry when it became known that you were starting your own company called Smile Please?
Uematsu: Of course I got quite a number of offers. One was from Nintendo for the new Smash Bros., another one from Mr. Sakaguchi's new company Mistwalker.
G wie Gorilla: So you have even more work now than before?
Uematsu: Absolutely, you could put it that way...
G wie Gorilla: And how did this change your everyday life?
Uematsu: Well, that didn't much change, actually. I get up at half past seven in the morning and walk the dog. Then, at about ten, I start working. When I'm done I return home and have a beer. More or less the same thing as before.
G wie Gorilla: What does your way to work look like?
Uematsu: I rented a room rather close to my home. That's where I work. I go there by car, it takes about ten minutes to get there.
G wie Gorilla: You wrote the title track to the new Smash Bros. game. How did this come about? Why did you decide to do that?
Uematsu: Around this time about I year ago I was having a drink with a few colleagues from the gaming industry. The producer of Smash Bros., Mr. Sakurai and the series composer, Mr. Ando were present as well. So we were just chatting, the three of us. And at one point, Mr. Ando asked "Would you like to do a bit of music for the new Smash Bros.?“. So I just said: "Sure thing!“
G wie Gorilla: And that's all? It was that simple?
Uematsu: It was that simple!
G wie Gorilla: So you guys are friends?
Uematsu: Yes, we are. Next month, there will be a concert with a piece of music we both worked on together.
G wie Gorilla: Can you tell us how you go about choosing a new project?
Uematsu: I'll give you an example. A short time ago, I got an offer from Square Enix. When they showed me the game, I saw that it was all about fighting and little else. I'm not really interested in this sort of game, so I refused.
G wie Gorilla: Games like Death Sword which Will Wright mentioned yesterday (a fictitious hack'n'slay brawler Will Wright used to demonstrate the blandness of many of the games released these days) wouldn't have a chance with you?
Uematsu: No, I don't really want to compose music for games like that. It's important for me that a game has dramatic elements und stories. It must have the potential to move the player.
G wie Gorilla: How do you prepare when you work on a game? Do you study the characters and the story intensely before you start?
Uematsu: Yes, usually I get everything I need before I start working. All the information about the story, the characters and also the world map.
G wie Gorilla: How is your band 'The Black Mages' doing?
Uematsu: We are currently planning our third album
G wie Gorilla: Are you also planning on doing live concerts?
Uematsu: Not at the moment. But last year, there was a concert called 'Voices' in Yokohama. Out encore there was something from the Black mages.
G wie Gorilla: What sort of music will be on the new Black Mages-Album?
Uematsu: This time, we will release a double album. The first CD will contain the usual arranged Final Fantasy themes. But the second disc will be something new. We're trying to represent old japanese folk tales in terms of music.
G wie Gorilla: Does the music you wrote for Square oder Square Enix belong to you or to Square Enix? Do you have to ask Square Enix if you want to write a remix for a piece like 'Dancing Mad'?
Uematsu: Square owns alle the rights to them. But if I want to do something with them, I can usually do that without any problems.
G wie Gorilla: And do you own the rights of the music you write under the 'Smile please' label yourself?
Uematsu: Of course!
G wie Gorilla: In Final Fantasy VI, every person and place had its own separate piece of music, like a theme or leitmotiv. In the later games of the series, however, you stopped using individual character themes, at least in such an extensive, all-encompassing way. Why is that?
Uematsu: I think, that was a method that was especially suitable for part six of the series. And Mr. Sakaguchi asked me to do it. He said he'd like separate themes for each and every character. Personally, I'm not overly fond of this method. I mean, think about it: Even if there are ten main characters it's fairly certain that they won't be all equally important. Three or four, certainly not more. The others might just be a nice addition. So it's very difficult to write an equally good theme for every single character.
G wie Gorilla: Square-Enix is one of the biggest gaming companies and most certainly a muchdifferent employer than it was back in the eighties. Did the sheer size of the company at a certain point become an obstacle to your creativity? Did the expectations of fans and superiors ever put you under a negative kind of pressure?
Uematsu: When a company with ten employees grows to employ a thousand people, a lot of things change, of course. The most important thing then is making money. When Squaresoft employed ten to twenty people, the most important thing was to make something interesting and entertaining. All the people were following their ideas and their dreams or did what they thought was right. A company witha thousand employees can't be run on dreams anymore. So there certainly is that kind of pressure.
G wie Gorilla: The soundtrack to Final Fantasy XII was largely composed by Hitoshi Sakamoto, the score to part XIII - except for the title track - is written by Masashi Hamauzo. How do you feel about leaving your 'child' Final Fantasy in the hands of other composers?
Uematsu: I do not actually feel that Final Fantasy is in any way 'my' series. I think one can say that the original Final Fantasy ended with part six. From Final Fantasy VII onwards, a lot of new, younger people came aboard the development team and it wasn't possible to point to an actual author of the game. Before, there was a set team with equally important contributors. Everything that came after part six I don't really consider my work anymore.
G wie Gorilla: That´s one of the things where Final Fantasy differs greatly from Dragon Quest. The Dragon Quest Team is rather constant since the first episode.
Uematsu: Exactly. On Final Fantasy the whole team is changing all the time. I do not think there's this kind of consistency when it comes to Final Fantasy.
G wie Gorilla: So your new projects like for example Blue Dragon are more personal experiences again?
Uematsu: On my new projects at Smile Please, I have the chance to concentrate completely on one game. During my work on the last couple of Final Fantasy games, I worked on several projects at the same time. This was of course very time-consuming and I couldn't do these projects just by myself. On Blue Dragon however, I did everything myself again. That certainly helped and I had lots of fun.
G wie Gorilla: So we can expect a real great soundtrack?
Uematsu: (becomes very enthusiastic) Absolutely! I'm not joking here... I have a feeling that, after a long time, I finally managed to write something really good again.
G wie Gorilla: Now we're really curious...
Uematsu: Oh, that's a pity. I could have brought a few samples... The music has already been recorded and the game should hit the shelves towards the end of the year in Japan. The soundtrack will probably be released in November. You can expect quite a lot of it. For example, there are many songs in the game with lyrics written by Mr. Sakaguchi himself! Really good stuff! A had a lot of freedom with the game. Orchestration, choirs, things like that.
G wie Gorilla: Sounds great... So we thank you for the interview. It was a real pleasure talking to you again.
Uematsu: The pleasure was all mine!
Interview with Hiroshi Minagawa (Final Fantasy XII)
Interview with Hiromichi Tanaka (Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy III)
Text Copyright 2006 Thomas Nickel, Michael Ecke, Anna-Selina Sander
Pictures Copyright Square Enix, Mistwalker