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Nobuo Uematsu :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Terraguy, Chris, and Scherzo. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on September 26, 2007.

Nobuo Uematsu was born in Kouchi City, Japan, on March 21, 1959. Though he is regarded today as one of the most famous and successful video game music composers, he received almost no formal musical training as a child. At 12, inspired by Elton John, he started teaching himself the piano. After graduating from Kanagawa University at 22, he played keyboards in many amateur bands. It was in this setting that he discovered a talent for writing music and was able to apply this by writing music for television commercials. In 1985, a friend who worked part time at Square Co., Ltd. approached Uematsu with a job offer — writing music for a game called Genesis that the company was currently developing. This was Uematsu's first game score. Though it didn't bring him any great fame or recognition, it was good enough to land Uematsu a full-time position as part of Square's composing team. He wrote more scores for various NES and Famicom Disc System games, including King's Knight, Rad Racer, Alpha, 3D World Runner, and Cleopatra no Mahou. It wasn't until 1987 when Uematsu's career took off.

In 1987, Square was facing impending bankruptcy, and decided to make one more game. An RPG, its success or failure would likewise determine the fate of the company hence its title Final Fantasy. Uematsu was chosen to write the music for this new game. Fortunately for Square, Final Fantasy was a huge hit, redefining the RPG genre and starting one of the most successful franchises in gaming history. Uematsu, meanwhile, also enjoyed success, as the soundtrack itself gained some attention for its memorable, emotional melodies and distinct style. When Square almost immediately began planning a sequel to the game, Uematsu was chosen as composer. He would remain in that position for more than a decade, writing soundtracks for the series' first ten games. His scores were lauded as being able to convey the true emotion of a scene. One of the most notable examples lies in his work for the revolutionary Final Fantasy VII. In what has been called one of the most memorable moments in gaming, millions of players wept to Uematsu's gentle melodies and "Aerith's Theme" was ingrained into the general gaming consciousness.

Throughout his Final Fantasy career, Uematsu has run the gamut of genres of music. He tends to compose in a traditional, classically-oriented style, but has explored everything from rock (FFX's "Overworld") to techno (FFVIII's "The Man with the Machine Gun"), to world music (FFIX's "Vamo Alla Flamenco" or FFVII's "Cosmo Canyon") in his works. He has also explored pop music, going back to his roots as an Elton John fan. For the romantically-oriented FFVIII, he wrote a love ballad called "Eyes on Me" that was used during a pivotal scene in the game. It was sung by Faye Wong, a notable Chinese pop star, and went on to become a hit even outside of the gaming community, winning "Song of the Year (Western Music)" at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1999. Ever since then, there has been a theme song composed for each Final Fantasy game. Uematsu usually pens thee with assistance from an orchestrator. His other hits include FFIX's "Melodies of Life", FFX's "Suteki da ne", and, released after he left Square Enix, FFXII's "Kiss Me Good-Bye".

Though his name is most closely associated with his Final Fantasy oeuvre, Uematsu worked on many other projects during his time at Square. He established the SaGa series with its first two Game Boy instalments and worked with Yasunori Mitsuda on Chrono Trigger and Front Mission: Gun Hazard. In a light-hearted parodic setting, he scored several Hanjuku Hero games and DynamiTracer. Outside video games, he has co-composed the animes Ah! My Goddess and Final Fantasy Unlimited with Final Fantasy orchestrator Shiro Hamaguchi and contributed material to the movie Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. He has also headed two of a popular line of Final Fantasy arranged albums, Final Fantasy III Legend of Eternal Wind and Final Fantasy V Dear Friends, and inspired the Ten Plants duo of concept albums. In addition to all these achievements, he released an easy listening solo album, Phantasmagoria, in 1994.

Uematsu's music has also been featured at many symphonic game music concerts, and is often the main feature. A CD recording of one such concert, 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy became a hit, and was the impetus for more events to follow. These included Tour de Japon, the United States tour Dear Friends, and the vocal concert VOICES. His music has been brought to Europe at the annual Game Developers' Conference concerts in Leipzig and to Australia with the Eminence Symphony Orchestra's events. His works are currently featured in the international concert tour PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. Most recently, Uematsu has been involved with the Japanese Press Start: Symphony of Games series and has headlined the Extra: Hyper Game Music Event concert with his band, The Black Mages. Though the Uematsu pieces performed at each concert tend to stay the same, hearing them live and receiving the opportunity to meet or see Uematsu is a big enough thrill that thousands of fans have flocked to these venues.

Formed in February 2003, Uematsu's rock band The Black Mages are principally dedicated to performing arrangements of Final Fantasy music. Founded by guitarist Tsuyoshi Sekito and keyboardist Kenichiro Fukui, responsible for arranging and implementing their first album, four additional members joined the band for their first concert appearance. Nobuo Uematsu headlined the band as an organist, while guitarist Michio Okamiya, bassist Keiji Kawamori, and drummer Arata Hanyuda completed the lineup. In addition to two studio albums and live concerts DVDs exclusive to Uematsu's Japanese fan club, they have made guest appearances on the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, Final Fantasy III Original Soundtrack, the Los Angeles spinoff concert More Friends, and Extra: Hyper Game Music Event. The band is currently at work on their third album, which is planned to be a double disc release. Half will be akin in style to their earlier albums while the second disc will experiment with rock-operatic songs based on Japanese mythology. Though it was originally slated for a 2006 release, it is currently scheduled to come out in 2008.

Despite successes in projects outside of game-scoring, Uematsu became gradually more dissatisfied and uninspired in his final years as a Square Enix employee. He requested the assistance of two other composers, Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu, for the Final Fantasy X soundtrack. Naoshi Mizuta, another Square Enix employee, scored the majority of Final Fantasy XI while Uematsu was responsible for only 11 tracks. Though the role of composer for Final Fantasy XII was offered to Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto was eventually assigned the entire score, leaving only the theme song to Uematsu. In October 2004, Uematsu officially left Square Enix. In recent interviews, Uematsu has expressed great dissatisfaction with the direction the Final Fantasy series has headed since his departure, and has claimed he was progressively undermined as leader of the Square Enix music team after the merger. He regards his best works as those up to and including the soundtrack to Final Fantasy VI, and has all but disowned his Final Fantasy compositions created after that point.

After leaving Square Enix, Uematsu formed his own company called Smile Please. Shortly after the company's inception, Uematsu was signed on to write music for three Xbox 360 RPGs on behalf of Hinorobu Sakaguchi's Mistwalker Studios: Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and Cry On. Thus far, only Blue Dragon has been released but its light-hearted rock-tinged music, all arranged by Satoshi Henmi and Hiroyuki Nakayama, was fairly well-received by fans. Despite the split, Uematsu occasionally contributes a few new pieces of music for Square Enix. Notably, he will create the score for the Arcade's Lord of Vermillion and the main theme for Final Fantasy XIII, otherwise scored by Masashi Hamauzu. He of course remains a member of The Black Mages and continues to represent his Final Fantasy music at live concerts. Other recent works have included an opening fanfare for PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, the main theme for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and the music direction of the portable titles Anata o Yurusanai, Blue Dragon DS, and Away: Shuffle Dungeon.

Uematsu today is still widely considered to be one of the greatest and most famous video game music composers of all time. His music has brought many fans into the world of VGM, and affected countless other gamers besides. Because of his involvement the Final Fantasy series, he has become known informally as the "John Williams of video game music". The title is well deserved; with such a popular body of work behind him, Nobuo Uematsu remains one of the most well-regarded composers of game music since its advent.