A day in the life of Nobuo Uematsu

Interview conducted by EGM. copyrighted by EGM. To read the full interview including video clips of the interview, please visit EGM interview page.


EGM: Yesterday, after we left the Tokyo Game Show, we met with and were speaking with [Hironobu] Sakaguchi at the Mistwalker studio, and he was describing to us how you and he originally met. You were working at a record shop, and a mutual friend recommended you as somebody who might be interested in doing music for their games. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kyoko Yamashita [Translator] (KY): You mean, his version of the story?

EGM: Yeah, let's get it from his perspective.

[Kyoko conveys the story that Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi told us only one day earlier, about how he and Uematsu had met up as college students, to work on some game software together, for Square, which was -- at that point in time -- literally the 80s equivalent of an Internet café. To be more precise, it was actually a computer café, which is where Sakaguchi and his friends went to work on game software ideas, because no one could afford their own personal computer in those days. Eventually, the café owners hired Sakaguchi to make computer games -- which were eventually manufactured in limited quantities, but were very expensive to buy. Sakaguchi needed a composer to write music for the software, and Uematsu needed some extra income, and so a dynasty was born.]

KY: Bear with me, I'm going to have a lot of ins and outs in the followup, but, remember when Sakaguchi said there were half a dozen PC titles that he made for Squaresoft that no one ever really knew about? There was a title called Blasty [1986].

EGM: Yeah, I remember when he mentioned Blasty.

Nobuo Uematsu (NU): That was an early title. Sakaguchi-san's part of the story [about how we met and started working together] was pretty much accurate, but to go back a couple of steps or a couple of months before the actual job portion started with him entering the doors of Square, I was living in [Sugoshiyoshi] and working at a music rental company, and a bunch of us would always get together. We didn't have the luxury of going out and stuff, but for some reason there was always alcohol. It was pretty much a party every night, and my friends around me were all - come to think of it - wanting to be either an artist, a musician, or a director, myself included.

We all had dreams but we didn't know what our next steps were. Every night was a party just talking about what we wanted to do, what we dreamt about, and how we could achieve that. Time went by and amongst our group there was this one girl who also at the same time started working at Square. She was already working in the art department., which they wanted to fulfill, and she got that position. So one night when we were talking, she was asking if I would be interested in taking part in creating some music for some of the titles they were working on at that time. So I said, "Okay, for sure I'll do it." But that was totally a side job, and I wasn't considering that this would become any sort of full-time gig. It was one way to make some money on the side, while also keeping my part time job at the music rental shop.

My first project, per sé, was creating the music for Blasty, the PC game at Square. At that time Square wasn't a huge software company. It was pretty much a group of university students or graduates that sort of created this company to have this modern day -- now we call it an Internet café -- rental computer station or so on. I wasn't even sure of the direction that the company was going to go in. But like I said, it was a way to make money, and I wanted to create music, so I said yes. And then from there on I ended up being with the company for twenty-something years. It's something that I never planned for. It just happened.

EGM: If you could look back in hindsight, are you surprised that what started out as a little side job has turned you into an internationally renowned composer? Millions of people all over the world love your music. Did you imagine something like this happening?
NU: Of course I never thought I'd be where I am, here today, it having started as a part-time deal at Square and getting to know Sakaguchi-san. At the same time I was going to get married and was already engaged to [Reiko], so I knew that if I didn't have a stable job, if I didn't have a stable income, she probably wouldn't accept it. So I told myself, "I need some income, so let me try this for a couple of years -- maybe two or three years."

Deep down inside I wanted to compose music for movies, so I never thought I would fit into game music for such a long time. But it just turns out that it was a good fit for me. So the two-to-three year plan turned into something much longer than my original plan. That's how I got started.

There's a story that I remember -- in fact, Sakaguchi-san may have mentioned this to you yesterday -- that among this group of friends that I had at that time, there was this one guy who predicted everyone's future. Going through the [month] of trying to maintain my part time job at the rental company, and then also helping that girl at Square with the music, it wasn't a fun time. It was pretty harsh. And I wasn't making loads of money, so I knew I had to find my next step. But at that time he predicted my future. He said, "Next week, something is going to happen, and it will eventually take Nobuo Uematsu to the world. You will be widely known."

Come to think of it, that following week was when I met Sakaguchi-san on the street, and he said, "Why don't you come to the company because we need someone to really make music for our upcoming games and our creations." That happened exactly the week after the guy made that prediction. He told me that I needed to believe in him, but at that time I didn't really believe in him. Now I do.

EGM: You said you felt like you needed to nail down a full-time job because you were going to propose to your wife and get married, and you didn't think she would accept if you didn't have yourself stabilized, so is she pretty happy about how things turned out?
NU: You'll have to ask her. [Laughs]

EGM: We'll actually ask her after this! You were saying you originally wanted to make music for films, but nowadays, especially with the way entertainment has evolved, games are much more cinematic. There is a lot of attention that goes to plot, structure, storyline, and music. Now that games are kind of at that level -- you know, when you look at games like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Halo and things like that -- do you feel that you are now in the place where you want to be in terms of what kind of music you can create? Or do you still actually want to score live-action films?
NU: In a way I feel that even though I ended up staying in the games business, I feel like I've fulfilled my dreams and my goals. When I say "composing music for films," a lot of people associate that with Hollywood blockbuster-type films, but that's not the genre of movie that I wanted to compose music for. I was going more in the direction of the European side, a lot of films with different atmospheres and moods. For example, composing one major scene's soundtrack that you would never forget after watching the film. That's the type of music I was going for. Being able to compose music for games, especially the Final Fantasy series -- you know what a Final Fantasy music track is going to sound like. For me, I think I was able to fulfill the goals I had in mind if I were to go in the direction of film. Hearing the music performed live by an orchestra, making sure that this is what I intended, and whether it's being translated correctly for the orchestra, I feel a sense of satisfaction. So I don't necessarily want to change directions now and say that I'm still pursuing that dream of composing music for film.

EGM: Let's wind it back a little bit and talk about when you were a kid. I'm not sure if this is correct or not, but I seem to remember you mentioning before that you weren't actually classically trained in music and were kind of self-taught. Growing up as a kid, did you have a piano that you played on? How did you become musical?
NU: You're right. I've never been trained, and I've never been to a music school. It's all self-taught. I admit that I still don't like to look at my notes -- any type of musical notes I look at, I kind of have to take a step back, but I know I have to read my notes. But I guess the first introduction for myself to music is when I was at my grandparents' house. This is when I was in elementary school around eleven or twelve years old. There was a guitar sitting there, and I knew it was an instrument, but obviously I didn't know how to play it at that time. I just asked my grandpa if I could just take it home.

EGM: The Guitar?
NU: Yeah, I took the guitar and figured it out. He didn't teach me at that point, but I just took it back home. I don't think they publish it any more, but there was this series of magazines kind of like Teen Beat -- most of the book was about idols and bands and whatnot, but there was always a songbook included in every issue of the magazine. I would open up the songbook and see these lines and these dots and thought, "The lines kind of look like the strings of the guitar. I wonder if I just go after these dots...and I see these letters; so maybe this means something." So at first I didn't know what it meant, I just kind of followed with my eyes and had my fingers go along with that, and I heard something coming out of it. That was my first discovery. "Maybe this is here so that people can read music using an instrument." That's all I thought of when I saw the songbook. This is for guidance; this is for people interested in reading music and who need to play music using an instrument. I didn't know what it was for.

So the next thing is that I have an older sister that had a piano. I translated the sheet music thinking, "Hey, maybe I could also use this on a piano." So I just followed the notes and checked out the sound and noticed what sound was coming out of each letter on each note of the songbook. On one hand I was testing it out on guitar, and on the other hand I was testing it out on piano. It sort of started to make sense because I was hearing the same notes. So that's when I discovered that this is the thing called music. And then later on I started making my own music in a sense that I would switch up the notes or extend whatever was on the sheet music and added my own notes. That was a neat discovery for me, and like I said that's when I was eleven or twelve -- I couldn't believe what I had discovered in front of my eyes. Now I'm forty-eight and I'm still doing the same thing.

EGM: So you basically taught yourself how to play by ear. Really, the hard way.
NU: So in the songbook they had sheet music, but they also had a section that was dedicated to people who wanted to play music using the guitar. So I just used that to make sure that I was hitting the right notes. When you were growing up, what were some of your favorite bands? What kind of music inspired you?
NU: The Beatles are obviously a classic. I think everyone would agree that they make great music. That was always there. I don't know how huge of an impact Elton John had for people overseas, especially in the States, but for me personally he was a huge influence and inspiration. I wanted to be Elton John.

And following up on the Elton John factor, obviously some other musicians and artists I listened to at that time as well. It's really about the balance, how beautiful the melody was but at the same time they were able to blend that and mix that in with other types of rock music. There was a progressive rock movement from the UK, and I was totally into that and wanted to be there in person and feel it, too. The great thing about that was to have rock as the basis but then to apply that to other genres, and that was what I wanted to achieve at some point.

Going into making music for the Final Fantasy series, I think I was able to execute that in my own way. It's not all just one type of music. There are always those very passionate, beautiful melodies, but at the same time there's something involved with more emotion. All types of emotions have to blend into the beat of my music. I think I was able to achieve that by making music for the Final Fantasy series. Some of the bands and artists that I looked up to at that time in the early 70's are...Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Having listened to their music, it was like there was no way outside of what they had created. It was an obligation that I create my own music having heard their music.

EGM: Let's stop for a moment for a total music geek out. I gotta say that the Elton John thing -- I love hearing that because I listen to Elton John so much even now. I mean, "Rocket Man," "Someone Saved My Live Tonight." That's great music.
NU: After so many years of collecting Elton John's works and albums in every form in my office and in the house, finally this year I was able to frame them and put them on my wall.

EGM: Elton John specifically?
NU: Yes, so this means that the 'king' was Elton John for me.

EGM: I always thought it was amazing how he would just receive lyrics from Bernie Taupin, and with no semblance of what this song was supposed to be like -- whether it was supposed to be fast tempo or down tempo -- how he would just create the most meticulous melodies around the lyrics with time changes, chord changes, everything. It was just brilliant. And with melodies that stay in your head, do you think along those lines with a lyricist or a singer? Do you compose from maybe the same mindset as Elton John?
NU: I'm sure there's some influence when I'm creating music [upon] receiving these lyrics, but I don't think I've ever been conscious about it, or think that I'm going to be in an Elton John mindset.

EGM: Elton John mode.
NU: Obviously if I think about it too much, I get worried that I'm going to pick up parts of his music or I feel like I'm going to be influenced too much. My basic focus is to let it be simple, to let it speak for itself. I'm sure there's some sort of effect on me from having listened to his music for a long amount of time, but I don't necessarily think about his music or even listen to his music when I'm composing my own.

And also when I'm making music, I try to keep from adding too much to the simple factors. I think a lot of music [that we hear at theses days] now, sometimes it can get a little too complicated. Going on the simple chain of thought, it's really starting out with an arrangement that introduces the song and then adding whatever the focus or mood is going to be for that song. Going from [A melody] to [B melody] and then adding [the C] will really finish it off like a Carpenters song would do for example. I'm not sure about Barbara Streisand, but something that's really simple to understand and know where the climax is for that melody. That's what I aim for.

EGM: We're doing a good job of drumming up your memory banks. In addition to your classic rock influences from America and England, around the time when video games like Final Fantasy were being made, Japanese bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra were popular and had a lot in common with video game music because it was electronics and synthesizers. Did you find any influence or inspiration from Japanese bands like YMO?
NU: When I got into junior high and I discovered at the same time that I could play my own music and make my own music using the piano, I knew that I wanted to do this pretty much for the rest of my life and was already sucked into it. This was given to me as a kid. Knowing that some people around me who were already taking piano lessons from when they were like five or six -- younger than me -- I knew I had to sort of make a difference and do something different in order to be able to stand out. So in that sense, I didn't really care for Japanese music at that time. I didn't think that I had to listen to Japanese music to learn something new.

It wasn't really as fresh to me as it was with the other artists from the UK or the US. In a way I may be spoiled, but I felt like the Japanese was already in me so if I really wanted to make Japanese music for Japanese people, it wouldn't take me a long time to do that. I wouldn't really have to learn how to make Japanese music. I was kind of in denial and I put myself away from hearing or being around Japanese music. Even if I was watching TV and there was a music show on, I would turn down the volume and not be interested.

As for YMO, that was probably when I was in college already, and I guess I thought it wasn't that important, that it was just a Japanese version of Kraftwerk from Germany. So it wasn't necessarily a big hit with me.

EGM: You were saying that you really started to make your own music after you were about fourteen years old in junior high school and through college. How did you actually go about doing it? Can you resurrect what you did? Did you have a tape recorder? What was your first keyboard? Was it an electronic keyboard? An organ?
NU: My first and probably only instrument for a long time was just a piano. No keyboards, synthesizers or anything. Just a piano. There were no synthesizers at that time. And if you really think about it, playing a piano is much easier than learning to play a guitar. The piano was my instrument. I didn't have any tape recorders. I didn't necessarily want to write my own sheet music to play the piano to.

I knew I wanted to create the melody for a song, so I had about three of my friends that were assigned by me to write lyrics. As soon as I would get the lyrics from these three friends, it would be my job to write the melody and the music for it. It would just be a repeat of that. The song would then be sort of finished, and I would present it to them. Over the course of my high school days, I think there were about 100 songs that I ended up making with the three of them. They would be the ones to provide the lyrics, and I would attach the song to it. And then we would perform those in a really small 'live house' around the corner.

EGM: This was...in the college days?
NU: High school.

EGM: Wow, that's brave. Can you talk a little bit about the early days of Square from Final Fantasy onwards? What were the challenges for you personally as a composer? Obviously the limitations of the cartridge size and what you could do with the music chips, but were you free to work on your stuff while the development team went crazy with development, or did you also have a very high-pressure deadline because you were doing things like the sound effects as well?
NU: Starting to create music for the Final Fantasy series, I remember with the first one...Sakaguchi-san would come up to me and give me a sort of a set of instructions. There were specific ones like the battle music or music while in a town or village or a field, but other than that, the bulk of it was done through my going through the scenario and being given some direction or instructions. But pretty much I was given a lot of creative freedom from the very beginning.

As for the limitations and the programming side of things, I didn't quite understand what the limitations were unless I was told. He'd tell me that this area needs to be done within this limitation and even specify things to the point where he'd tell me that these were the only notes we could use with this tempo. So depending on the tempo, I had a certain limit to which notes I could use. I didn't really think about it twice because I knew he was going to be in charge of programming the music and implementing that into the game, so I kind of just listened to him and went with the flow.

EGM: When you were composing your music for the games, did you ever look at the visuals or the visual aspect of what Amano-san had created in order to get some kind of inspiration, because in movies they'll show roughs or [rushes] of the day's filming just to give the composer an idea of what the tone should be. Did you ever look at the artwork that Amano had provided to create anything?
NU: Obviously the art aspect and how it affected my going in to create music was huge. It's a huge part of getting motivated and to see what is demanded, what's being wanted from the creators -- not just from Sakaguchi-san but from the entire team. There was never a time where I would come in contact directly with Amano-san because he was not a Square employee, but I believe the way it worked is that Square would ask him to come up with image illustrations that would work for this title and then we'd get passed around color copies of his work. His work is so unique, and it's one of a kind. The impression I still remember after seeing the first couple of drafts or whatnot is that I was very impressed and influenced by his artwork in trying to portray the next Final Fantasy -- the next installment of Final Fantasy. So there was a huge influence I got from looking at Amano-san's artwork in going into creating the music.

EGM: What are your distinct memories of those days, the early 80's or mid-80's? Because when you really look back at it between Amano-san, Sakaguchi-san, and yourself, it was almost like the Beatles of Japanese development. Amano-san already had an established career, but as an individual he was also beginning to take off at that point. So this game really exploded things for you guys. And you even look at the back of this [Blue Dragon] packaging and it says, "Legendary RPG-creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Renowned character designer" -- well, this is [Dragon Ball creator] Akira Toriyama -- "and famed music composer Nobuo Uematsu." So each core creator -- the three of you -- have gone on to achieve kind of a legendary status, but back then it was much simpler. What were some of your memories of the beginning of the Final Fantasy days?
NU: Well first of all, I never knew that the Final Fantasy we know today was going to be what it is when we started working on the first one. So that's already a huge accomplishment and a big surprise if we look back at where we started back in the 80's. At that time, the president of Square was considering using Japanese artists or a group to fulfill the music role for Final Fantasy. It would have been like a collaboration that you see with a lot of Japanese titles today with the artists singing the theme song. And I was OK with this, but at the same time Sakaguchi-san had told me that I should go ahead and create the music for it, so I went ahead and did that.

And there was another story about when Sakaguchi-san actually went out and picked up the completed game the day it came back from the production facilities. The company was already about to fold. If this wasn't going to be a success it might have collapsed and gone bankrupt. These weren't the glory days at Square. So, Sakaguchi-san, knowing that Dragon Quest was selling really well and there was this genre called 'role-playing games' that was gaining a lot of popularity (and we knew we could do something with the Famicom), pretty much begged the company to allow him to make his dream project. And said "If this is going to be the final project, I don't care." So that's why we all know how the name Final Fantasy came to be.

EGM: First Fantasy.
NU: [Laughs] The business side of the company, after taking a look at the completed product, said, "This is only going to sell so much." And I don't remember exactly what the number was but the forecast was around 200,000. Sakaguchi was really upset with that number, and he said, "No, I definitely want at least half a million made." But the company still came back and said, "No, we're putting a limit at 200,000." So what he did was in the first pack that came from the production facility, he took every single ROM to every publication that was out there at that time, and he basically did his own PR with the first Final Fantasy. So I considered him a very strong and brave man at that time for him to have gone out and done his own PR for his game. That was a moment we probably won't forget.

The one thing I can say from that is that he must have had full confidence in his product -- in his game -- because putting aside the PR people and the sales and marketing people, he just did it himself.

EGM: It must have been really inspiring to work with someone like Sakaguchi-san because it seems like without his determination, especially at such an embryonic time for video games...it was really courageous for him to put it all out there, and he believed in it. Looking back do you feel grateful having been able to work with him, because without that kind of determination -- without him being the point man -- who knows what would have happened to everything else?
NU: There was definitely something about Sakaguchi-san at that time, and even now his strong will and determination to follow through with what he puts out and sets out as a goal. But I think a lot of people who have met Sakaguchi after the huge success of Final Fantasy may have a different opinion. He may be stubborn. He may be hard to work with. He may not be a likable character. But that's only because of the surroundings that happen when you have a successful product or a successful something that labels you as a successful game creator.

But I, having had the honor of working with him from back in the days when he was doing his own PR for his own game, which he had total confidence in but the company was sort of downgrading him over, I can see that he'll continue to work in that manner with that very strong attitude. And that's something I'm grateful for, that I was able to work with him, along side him during those days. Because even now if he comes to me and asks me to do something, I can't say no to that guy. There's no way I can say no.

[At this point, Uematsu's dog, Pao, starts snoring] EGM: That's awesome. [Laughs] That's so cute. Pao's dreaming.

[At this point, it starts getting colder outside and clouds are starting to gather, so we grab our stuff and move inside to continue the interview in the shelter of the Uematsu's summer cabin.]

[Sitting down in the Uematsu's living room] EGM: This rug is totally awesome. Seriously. [Pause] Do you mind if we ask Mrs. Uematsu the question we were going to ask before? About what you were saying about your job situation back in your college days?

[To Reiko Uematsu]

EGM: Uematsu-san was saying he had to nail down a steady job or else you were going to kick him to the curb. So he started working at Square. Now twenty-five or thirty years later, how do you feel it all worked out?
Reiko Uematsu (RU): Because I had a real job, it wasn't really going to be that big of a problem if he didn't take that job. I mean, at least if one of us had a steady income, we could live under a roof and eat. And I think he was kind of depending on some of my income, too, if he knew he wasn't going to get this job.
NU: Yeah, I think I depended on your bonus at that time. [Laughs]
RU: So it would have worked out anyway.

EGM: How do you feel all this time later? You've seen what kind of success your husband has had. How do you feel about that? Did you ever expect symphonies to be playing music he composed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall?
RU: Well obviously the Uematsu-san I see in the house roaming around having a beer and playing around with Pao is probably a completely different character than what you know as the person who was employed by Square as a composer. That was him in the work environment. But one thing's for sure -- to know that he's created something that is listened to and heard worldwide (and not just by game fans but people who love music) is something I didn't expect, but you can't really exchange that for anything. So I'm very proud of his work. But it's not just him, himself as an individual; at the right time he was surrounded by the staff and producer, people like Sakaguchi-san who were able to bring him up to the next level. So I'm also very appreciative of the people who supported him along the way.

EGM: That's very nice. Good answer. [Laughs] Obviously throughout the 8- and 16-bit era, the Super Famicom -- there are some very famous compositions that you made which are very big favorites of the many Final Fantasy fans, especially from Final Fantasy VI. But once the 32-bit era kicked in and Final Fantasy VII came around...I mean the production values between Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII are light years apart in terms of graphics. And more importantly to you suddenly gaming was using the CD format, which meant you had a much greater capacity for what you wanted to compose. Was it intimidating to go from the limitations of a 16-bit cartridge to the full orchestral possibilities? Was it nerve-wracking as a composer to suddenly have to make something that could live up to the lush, lavish potential of the CD?
NU: Going from the series turning point, going from VI to VII and PlayStation hardware changes, I didn't really care for "Well, we need to sell more units," or "We need to push it to this level," or "We have to sell X amount of software." Maybe on the business and management side with Sakaguchi-san, they were under a lot of pressure to make things happen. It was going to be the first Final Fantasy for a different console. But for me personally, it was just to make sure that we would be able to translate what we set as a goal for the next installment of Final Fantasy and be able to reach that.

So it's actually more looking forward to what we can do with the new hardware, and I was just waiting to hear what the specs were going to be. It was actually a kind of enjoyment because we were able to experiment a lot with things we weren't able to do prior to the development of Final Fantasy VII. One thing that came up in the early stages is that we wanted to see if we could have a theme song or insert a theme song for Final Fantasy VII. It never really happened. There is no song that really has lyrics except for the final track.

EGM: For Sephiroth?
NU: Yeah, for Sephiroth. The song title "One-Winged Angel." That would be the only one that technically speaking has some sort of lyrics. But it's not necessarily a theme song that's sung by an artist or some performer. But even that was an experiment. That wasn't an orchestrated song that was directly inserted into a game. We actually experimented with that piece, and we took the recording of it and reduced it in a way that it would fit the game. So it actually we used some of our techniques at that time to be able to match what was being shown on the screen to what we had recorded and took home. That was a huge experiment piece that fit well and as we all know is liked by a lot of people and a lot of fans of the game. The part of the experimenting with new ways to insert and apply music was probably the best thing to happen with Final Fantasy VII for me personally.

With "One-Winged Angel," that's a very good example of an experimental song or a result that we didn't really expect from the beginning because it was done from a blank sheet, and I'm not someone who has been trained or has been in an orchestra or was even close to being able to instruct an orchestra on how to play music. I wanted to keep the orchestral music atmosphere but be able to "rock it" and have sort of a thick orchestral feel to it, so it was asking for a lot from an orchestral standpoint. But I said, "You know what? The computer's going to be able to figure it out anyway, so why not just have a set that I can toss to an orchestrator and then have them figure it out?" So I had a bunch of samples of stuff that I had prepared for them, but in the end I sort of tossed it over to them and saw how they could perform that. I knew it wasn't something they wanted to do at all; I knew I was pushing it to the limits, but in the end it sort of worked out. I know that with every concert that we have, when we have the orchestra perform "One-Winged Angel," for some reason or another that's the one that has the biggest reaction, and everyone sort of expects that to be in a Final Fantasy concert. I still can't figure out why. I know that I pushed everyone to his/her limits, but then it worked out in the end.

Two years ago [in Japan] we had a Final Fantasy concert entitled "Voices," and the encore piece was "One-Winged Angel." An orchestra plus the Black Mages performed "One-Winged Angel." At that moment, I knew that was the complete "One-Winged Angel." So I still think "One-Winged Angel" is a rock piece.

EGM: Really?
NU: It's rock to me. Have you seen the performance on DVD?

EGM: No.
NU: After the interview, we'll let you look at it.

EGM: Great, great. To offer some kind of insight into why I think "One-Winged Angel" resonates with people so much is that obviously there's the association with the game and the final battle and culmination of three discs worth of role-playing, but I also think it's because it has a lot of Wagner in it. You know he was kind of the rock star of the classical era because he would always create these huge bombastic pieces that were just so powerful. I don't think there has been any theme song of the dramatic type in any RPG that has ever matched "One-Winged Angel." There certainly have been pieces that go for the same kind of effect, but that one -- I think because it was so new and so many people latched onto it and it was such a landmark game, that it was the landmark piece for a landmark game.

I don't know what most people think about in terms of their legacy, but obviously things like Beethoven's music lives on long after he's been gone. It must be pretty neat to know that you've got a piece that could do that as well.
NU: Thank you. [Laughs] The legacy, the way you thought about that as an example and Beethoven, who we all know even after his death. I don't imagine you would put me in that example.

EGM: Not that I expect you to go anytime soon. [Laughs] As much as people tend to gravitate toward "One-Winged Angel" as the key music moment for Final Fantasy VII, for me personally, I actually think it's the opening theme, because when you first hear the locomotion of the train, and as the scene moves into full view of the city, the synthesizers have the crescendo there...every time I hear that I get goose bumps. It actually reminded me of the opening score to Blade Runner a little bit. Can you reminisce about what you were going through when you were thinking about composing that opening theme?
NU: I knew it! I have really great memories about the opening theme to Final Fantasy VII. In fact, that was the first song I was asked to make for the game. At that time [FFVII director, Yoshinori Kitase]-san came to me and showed me the opening cinematic, and told me, "Just go ahead and start with this." So I went back into my office and then started. At that time, [Kitase]-san was the middleman to all the different departments during a time where he was still getting all his approvals from Sakaguchi-san. As soon as I was done, I felt really, really good about it. I knew that I did a pretty good job considering the time that I was given and for the amount of scenes I had seen. I had a lot of confidence, but then one day [Kitase]-san finally brought Sakaguchi-san to where I was sitting and he was like, "Show it to me." So the three of us looked at it, listened to it, and for some reason -- I don't know why -- but in English he just said, "Very good." And then he just left. He knew at that time, and I felt that he was pretty happy with what I had created. So I had a sense that it was going to be a really good project for me moving forward with Final Fantasy VII and all the other components I ended up making.

EGM: Last year or the year before, Square put together a little tech demo for PS3 where they basically recreated the opening scene from Final Fantasy VII using PlayStation 3-quality graphics. Did you actually rescore the opening theme yourself, or is that something that Square did?
NU: I wasn't involved in all.

EGM: As you know and as everyone knows, Square really likes to cash in on their previous games and re-release their games over and over again. Do you think that a Final Fantasy VII remake would be good? Not meaning 'would it turn out good,' but do you think it would be a fun idea? Would you be interested in rearranging your classic tracks from VII?
NU: I personally think it would be a good idea, and from my standpoint if we were just to rearrange the music using some of the technologies we didn't have at that time and to be allowed to brush up some of the things that we couldn't do at that time, I would definitely go for it. But if they added something here and there, maybe added some scenes and new music to Final Fantasy VII, I wouldn't really be all for it. Sort of to give a fresh look to it is fine, but still keep the music components.

I don't think you would want to see the scenes that you have in your head with the music that you know fits well and to have me change things here and there. So rearranging meaning getting it up to the standards we have today is fine, but I wouldn't change a thing.

EGM: You know what's interesting is that when you go to a concert and see your favorite band -- me, I usually use U2 as an example -- they're not my favorite band, but when you go to a U2 concert, all you have to hear is the first or maybe the second note of "Pride in the Name of Love" or something and you know instantly what that song is and the crowd goes crazy. I think your most easily identifiable three seconds -- and it's not even a full song, it doesn't even last more than five seconds at most -- is the victory theme for Final Fantasy battles. How does it feel to create such a distinctive piece of music that only lasts five seconds long?
NU: I think it's purely a great thing that people can identify what that song is immediately. If nothing more I'd be just happy to hear those comments over and over again even if I hear it for the rest of my life. But the biggest difference between music that's made for film and a game is that it's really up to the user, the person who's playing the game...like if you leave a town and go to different music...you have the victory after that battle and then you press a button and move on to the next scene. It's up to the user whether they want to hear it or not. If they want to hear it forever then maybe they'll continue to battle forever and ever, but you don't always have to listen to it over and over again.

EGM: I think the advantage that the fanfare has in planting itself in people's minds is that throughout the majority of the Final Fantasy games up until about X-2, with the exception of FFXI, everything was random battles. You couldn't move two feet in any Final Fantasy without getting into a random battle, so you're pretty much forced to hear that theme hundreds of times.

With Final Fantasy VIII and beyond, I'm pretty sure by then you had gotten very comfortable with the CD-ROM medium and composing more lavish scores and whatnot for the format because you had so much more space and freedom. Can you talk a little bit about composing the music for the big scenes in those games, like the ballroom dance? Up to and including the move to PlayStation 2.
NU: Throughout the entire series, not just VIII, IX, and X and going onto PS2 like you just mentioned, my personal approach to making music for Final Fantasy never really changed from throughout one through X. Even though the hardware changed and the medium changed and they got more advanced technologies and I had to worry more about the programming side and whatnot, I mean, that's a given when you're moving forward and using new technology you're always going to have some challenges. But in the sense of my approach in making the music for the game, it never really changed. The only thing that I can really say that made a progression from VII to VIII, IX, and X is that we were becoming more elaborate with the types of sound that we used, whether it was a slow tempo or more of a rock or symphonic; anything just became more elaborate, but that's also more natural. Even the game development side became more and more elaborate; there was a lot more to work with. That's just something we're going to have to live with pretty much even from now moving forward, but my basic approach never changed.

The only thing that I took as a criticism was that people were starting to say that the Final Fantasy music is beginning to become orchestral music, and the direction for the music in these games was becoming orchestra music. And I thought, "Oh shoot! We really need to balance out the types of [tunes] that are in the game." Maybe because of that I reacted and formed the Black Mages because I still have the rock in me, and maybe I wasn't able to put that out in VIII because the ballroom dancing that we just talked about, you know, that's waltz and [tango]. I can see how people started seeing myself and our team as, "Oh, they're sort of getting into a different direction of music and only using orchestral music." That wasn't really the case. So for me personally I thought, "Oh sh... I need to spend more time in rock music." Maybe the Black Mages is a result of that.

EGM: Why did you choose the name the "Black Mages" for the band. Why not white or red mages?
NU: [Laughs] There's nothing dramatic. I don't have an episode to talk about behind the name of the Black Mages. One of our staff members, Mr. Matsushita, just said in Japanese "the Black Mages." But in Japanese it wouldn't really stand out, so let's just use the English version of that -- the Black Mages. The idea of rearranging the Final Fantasy music into rock style and putting that out as an album/CD was my idea, but initially I wasn't going to take part in the band. I was just going to be taking on the producer role. But the members -- especially the guitarist -- said, "If Uematsu-san's not going to be part of the band then I'm not going to do it either." I was sort of brought back into being a part of the band. That's how we got together.

EGM: But it was fun though, making music like that?
NU: It was definitely a fun thing to do outside of thinking of this as a business or work. It was just us enjoying what we like to do, but since my high school days of performing in front of people it had been something like twenty years since I had performed in front of an audience, so I wasn't sure if we were just saying to ourselves, "We're all middle-aged men. Can we be rocking out with an audience in front of us?" I was a bit nervous, but once we performed, the audience was reacting. We knew that they liked us, so we continued that. I didn't think when we were growing up and were in high school that we would be performing in front of an audience. We didn't have someone to look up to who was in their forties or fifties who was still rocking it, so back then I didn't think that was going to be okay to do when you're in your forties and fifties. But now when you look at The Rolling Stones and other bands, they're probably almost in their 60's and still rocking it.

EGM: The Rolling Stones are almost in their 70s.
NU: [Laughs] So I guess it's okay for us to be doing it too.

EGM: Speaking of the diversity of older Final Fantasy music, one CD that Square put out that was kind of fun was the F.F. Mix album, and they had remixes of '"Dear Friends" that went into hip hop...there were hip hop remixes. And one was -- I can't remember the exact title -- but it was the chocobo theme. It was "Mambo de Chocobo" or something like that, and that was really fun. Did you have any involvement with that remix project?
NU: Ah. I wasn't involved in that. I know about it, though. I've heard it.

EGM: What did you think about the remixes? What was done to your music?
NU: At that time, well, you asked me what I think about the remixes. Back then because it was the "it" thing to have a remix album, I wasn't completely sold on the idea. I just thought we were trying to ride the waves because everyone else was doing it, so I didn't think very highly of the CD. But nowadays it's almost like a given. Every other CD you can pick up might be a remix or a special version of a given theme or something. I think it's okay to do something like that. In fact, we're working on a Final Fantasy remix album that'll be coming out from Dog Ear Records.

EGM: Oh really? Now this is more of a weird question, but Square has released so many soundtracks -- take Final Fantasy VIII for example -- there'll be the original score and then there will be the piano arrangement...they'll come out with like five different versions. In a traditional musician/publisher relationship, if a band puts out an album, they get royalties on every album sold, but I can't imagine Square was giving you royalties for this kind of music. Did it ever seem unfair that they keep selling these albums? I really don't know how the whole composing music for game publishers works, but did you ever feel like you were being taken advantage of?
NU: I didn't necessarily think of it that way. At that time I was just an employee and just part of a staff that made video games and me just being the side of the composer, nothing really came back directly into my pocket. There was really no incentive per se in having five different CDs for Final Fantasy VIII. That didn't directly come back to me. But it was kind of a natural movement because there were a lot of tracks that didn't make it into the game or weren't produced on the CD format, so if you look at the original soundtrack and then the piano arrangement and then the orchestral arrangement, bits and pieces that were not used would end up in those tracks anyway. I didn't feel like I was being taken advantage of, and there was more to see, more to hear, and more to appreciate, so that was okay at that time. Now I feel like now that I've left, I want my music back.

EGM: Really?
NU: Yeah, I feel like I'm being taken advantage of now more than before since I've left Square since my music is still being used.

EGM: You know, when I worked with Amano-san to do a couple of commissioned covers for EGM, I actually got a chance to direct Amano in what we wanted in the layout and stuff like that. When we tried to do a third cover -- I've actually worked on two with him, so far -- but when we tried to do a third cover...Square has become a bit more anal over the years. When we tried to do a third one, Square got really involved. They got so involved that it actually never happened because they reminded us that whether or not Amano-san drew the characters in the past or whatever, for him to do a collaborative customized cover now, he's actually illustrating Square properties, which is kind of disappointing to put it in such literal terms. So I can see what you mean by that. Does it annoy you that if you want to -- I don't know how it really works in terms of usage rights -- but does it annoy you that you might have to get permission to actually use your own compositions?
NU: Obviously if I'm going to perform or use any part of the Final Fantasy music outside of the Square boundaries, I would have to go out and get their permission now that I've left the company. But if you think about it, anything surrounding usage rights, it's probably not worth it to fight over and make a stink out of "this is something that I made that I can use freely." So if it's written and documented and we agree to certain terms, then I'd rather just stick with that instead of fight over it and not make it an issue. And I'd rather be making money with some other gigs anyway. I don't necessarily feel like it's unfair or that they are taking advantage of me. I'll just go with what we agreed on.

EGM: What made you finally decide to leave Square altogether? Was it just that you wanted more creative freedom or you didn't want to be tied down to Final Fantasy projects specifically? Or maybe you didn't like the direction the company was going in when they merged with Enix? What made you want to break out and form your own company like Dog Ear Records and Smile Please?
KY: [In Japanese] This is probably the question that everyone wants to ask the most...
NU: [In Japanese] The answer's not going to be that exciting.
KY: [In Japanese] I haven't even asked it yet. [Laughs]
NU: It's not exciting at all. I don't even know if you're going to be convinced with it. It's because the SquareEnix office moved from Meguro to Shinjuku.

EGM: Un-huh.
NU: And I never really liked the Shinjuku space, and I was so comfortable being in Meguro. Where [Reiko and I] live is actually farther away from Meguro, so to go to Shinjuku and make that commute even by car would be over an hour, and it just wasn't the right place for me. I felt whenever I stepped out of the station in the center of Shinjuku, I felt I lost direction, and it's always crowded and you can't breathe the clean air. Compared to Meguro, that wasn't the environment that I wanted to be in.

EGM: I accept that answer.
NU: One alternate answer I can give that would make it a bit more legit and business-oriented is that as I moved up the ladder and it became more of a seniority thing, I got pulled into a lot of meetings during the day, and I never got to spend time focused and concentrating on making music. So being grabbed in different directions and not being able to spend time within the company to make the music, I lost the concentration. My decision was "do I want to stay at a company that's going to require a lot of non-creative time" or "do I want to continue to make music?" So continuing to make music was what I wanted to do and what I decided to do.

EGM: That's the answer that all the artists inside of us want to hear.
NU: But the truth is the first answer. It didn't feel right walking into the office because there was so much going on. It was never a relaxing area.

EGM: Why did they pick Shinjuku? You look at a company like Konami, and it's amazing how often that company moves. They want to stay in the trendiest, coolest building no matter what. Omote-sando Hills to Mori Tower to Tokyo Midtown. And where does Square move? They move to the [Pfizer] building in Shinjuku. I don't understand that.
NU: Well I heard from [Yoichi] Wada-san, president of Square Enix, that he took a couple of locations to a fortuneteller, and that person Pao-san, a Taiwanese person...

EGM: Not your dog?
NU: [Laughs] Not my dog. And that person said the Meguro space was not going to bring any fortune in the future of the company, so that person pointed at Shinjuku. That's why he decided to move it there. But I heard this directly from Wada.

EGM: Maybe that's the guy responsible for making all the different versions of the games.
NU: I thought remakes were a no-no just in Japan, but I guess you guys are not really liking the idea of remakes, huh?

EGM: There's a couple of angles to it. For one, the original Final Fantasy theme was "no sequels." Each game was its own self-contained world, and the next game would be something new, and after X when they came out with X-2, they were like, "Okay, we can do this." Then with all the side projects they made resurrecting Final Fantasy VII, that's kind of become a hit factory. Now you can't even have a chance to have a sequel. Now with Final Fantasy XIII they've created like five simultaneous sequels, five Final Fantasy XIII games. That's not like the old Square.
NU: It's just a lot of Final Fantasies. I can't even track which ones came out for what format, and I see a lot of commercials with the name Final Fantasy on it. But I feel like I've seen this commercial just a couple of months ago coming out on a different console. For me, I've lost track of all the remakes or new installments outside of the numbered Final Fantasies.

EGM: A lot of people have suggested that it's the Enix side of the company trying to maximize the potential of it. But you know what's interesting is if it is the Enix side of the company that's trying to generate this big cash cow out of Final Fantasy, they're not really doing the same thing with Dragon Quest. In fact, they're scaling it back. The next Dragon Quest is coming out on the DS, so it's funny how they're not pouring out Dragon Quests.
NU: [Laughs] Maybe we shouldn't use the entirety of what I just said.

EGM: So, the short of it is that I know that you still work with Square, but SquareEnix basically lost their most significant in-house composer because they followed a fortune teller's directions and moved everything to Shinjuku. That's the short story.
NU: Maybe not that far either. Not everyone and not all the employees know why they moved to Shinjuku, so maybe you shouldn't use that part either.

EGM: With your music label and with Smile Please, what's your goal with these companies?
NU: Just to clarify who's who and what's what between Smile Please and Dog Ear Records, Smile Please is just the two of us, my wife and myself. And Pao. She's the mascot. It's more just to have my Nobuo Uematsu office. It's an independent management company. But with Dog Ear Records, I'm the owner, and maybe in the near future we'll have up to four employees, and it's more of a music production company. So any incoming jobs or projects that I bring to the table will be managed and operated by Dog Ear Records. That includes making music as well as any sort of CD productions we might have in the future.

EGM: Now that you're a free composer, now that you're available to anyone who wants to hire you to create music, do you have people tripping over themselves trying to get you to work on their games with them?
NU: Sakaguchi-san's titles are on a different scale. It's not just like me being asked to do the theme song. It just takes a long amount of time, but that hasn't really occupied my entire time. I actually did the main theme song for Super Smash Bros.

EGM: The one for the Wii?
NU: Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Nintendo.

EGM: I didn't know that.
NU: And a PSP adventure game that's coming out in Japan soon, but I don't think that's going to come out in the U.S. Anata o Yurusanai. "I won't forgive you." An AQ Interactive PSP game. That's the direct translation.

EGM: So you have been busy, and people are always calling you up. The fact that Nintendo had you do the theme song for Super Smash Bros. Brawl is pretty big. That's going to be a big game.
NU: My name has never been really public on that. They didn't really push that.

EGM: No, Nintendo rarely does. Who would you rate most highly amongst your contemporaries, like other composers in the video game field? Who would you consider the cream of the crop besides yourself?
NU: I think there are a lot of talented composers these days compared to when we started back in the day. But if I were to name just one person then it would be [Koji] Kondo-san and his beats and music in Super Mario, just his upbeat tempos. I'm sure everyone in the world -- no borderlines or age limit -- everyone in the world who's come across Super Mario's music will never forget that melody. And his character himself in person -- I just saw him a couple of days ago in Osaka, but every time I see him, his music and his personality and his characteristics are just one big package. It's him and his music. Just being very relaxed and fun and upbeat and no ulterior motives, no lies. There's nothing that's not him that's in his music. His style is purely translated into the music he creates.

And I think Super Mario music from Super Mario games, and also the music in the Dragon Quest series when they first hit it big, sort of stepped up the level for game music in Japanese gaming culture, so I think a lot of people who came across that were surprised that music can have so much impact in a game and that a lot of people started showing more and more interest in game music after those two came out. I know I said one person, but if I were to name another person, it would be [Dragon Quest composer, Koichi] Sugiyama-san.

I think that the Super Mario song should be the national anthem for Japan. [Hums the death refrain] So when someone wins a gold medal at the Olympics, a Japanese athlete, the flag should go up with the theme song. Shoop!

EGM: Japan would become a lot more popular.
NU: Yeah, yeah. The world would have a different image of Japan if we use that.

EGM: I'm sure Kondo-san would really like to hear that quote.
KY: That's a good idea. [Laughs]

EGM: But before he wins the gold medal, after every victory along the way they could play...
[Kyoko sings the battle victory fanfare from Final Fantasy, then laughs]

EGM: What's the event where they're hurdling? The race where they have to jump over the hurdles? That'd be funny if every time a Japanese runner goes over the hurdles it makes the Mario boing sound.

[All laughs]
KY: You know what? Next Olympics, you should tape it and edit and put it on YouTube. [Laughs] Everyone would just go after the coins then.

EGM: What if all of Japanese life was accompanied by Super Mario sounds? Like when you jump on the mushrooms or something? That'd be great. I'd move here in a second.
KY: You should do it on 1UP for the next Olympics.

EGM: Just redub the entire Olympics with cool sounds...all the Olympic Japanese gold medal winners should be required to jump on a flagpole and ride it down.
RU: But if they fall... [Laughs]

EGM: With Blue Dragon, to talk about something very "now," I know you said your creative approach remains the same, but since this was a super big project. One, it was an Xbox 360, which is obviously not very successful in Japan, but because it had Sakaguchi-san's involvement, it became a very big deal worldwide. It was kind of a rejoining of many creative powers. Was there any sort of special approach you took to creating the score for Blue Dragon?
NU: I knew and was already told that I was going to be able to use pretty much all and every component of the music that I made whether it was going to be performed by an orchestra or using a synthesizer, so there were really no barriers or boundaries. In that sense, everything felt really good. It felt like a perfect match for all the musical notes to come into play and fall into the right place that I imagined, so there was nothing that I really wanted to adjust or take back nor did I have to make any adjustments after everything was put into place. The process that I was used to, before making Blue Dragon, was that all the musical components were sort of installed inside the hardware and having to have to make things work and make things fit. So it was a different approach from what I was able to do with Blue Dragon.

The more recent Final Fantasies, like the ones after Sakaguchi-san left Square, there are a lot of different opinions when completing and finalizing the entire story and scenarios, so I felt like it wasn't purely a Sakaguchi title even though it carried the name Final Fantasy. Blue Dragon, being done and written and solely handled by Sakaguchi, brought back a lot of memories of when we first started working on Final Fantasy. I felt like it was going to make sense for me to work on this title as well.

EGM: Just to remind myself -- speaking of another Sakaguchi project -- did you do the soundtrack to Spirits Within?
KY: No, I met the composer. Elliot Goldenthal? I met him. I think we were at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch.
NU: During a business trip, Sakaguchi was visiting Tokyo because he was in Hawaii at that time, and we were having dinner -- yakiniku at [Takayama] -- and he actually asked me, "Can't you just write the main theme song for the film?" But it was over drinks and over good times, so I wasn't sure if he was serious and that he was already giving me a project to work on, but after the film came up and after it was done, he came up to me and said, "You know, you never wrote that piece for me." So I wasn't sure at the time if it was for real or not, but I guess I should have taken that job, huh?

EGM: Are you bummed out that you wanted to work in film -- and here was a bona fide Hollywood film with special effects and everything -- are you kind of bummed out that you didn't supply the theme song for that movie?
NU: It wasn't really about, "Oh, this is my perfect opportunity to make music for a film." It was just that if only Sakaguchi-san had been more serious about it and pushed me repeatedly to make music...I just feel bad that I couldn't respond to his quest because I wasn't sure if he was serious. I thought there was already something going on and planned for the film, so I didn't even think about it after he left, and he never bugged me about it. I just feel bad that I wasn't able to do that for him.

EGM: Back on the topic of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within specifically -- you know, there was a lot of excitement leading up to the release of the movie, and I was at a couple of the media events and also the fan events, which let me witness sneak previews of the fan reaction, which was so overwhelmingly positive, and it seemed like such good times. But after Spirits Within came out...I guess it just wasn't the right time or the right place -- North America.

The consumer reaction, how many people went to go see it, wasn't very much, and it became a big financial failure for Square, and despite how much Sakaguchi-san had done for Square, it was this project that kind of led to his eventually leaving the company. Looking back, do you think that was a sad moment, especially considering how much he had done for the company and where he had brought the company? Japanese companies in general seem to be quick to look for a scapegoat whenever something doesn't go right. How did you feel about what happened with Sakaguchi-san?
NU: [Long pause] No matter what happens in the future with the company of SquareEnix and with the individual Sakaguchi, one thing that's not going to change is that he is the father of Final Fantasy. He made the series. And it was a difficult time when he left Square -- at that time it was still Square. As an individual myself, as someone who creates content, not purely for business purposes or making money or gaining profit from something I create as a content creator, it's really hard to say this, but I really don't think Final Fantasy should have been made after Sakaguchi-san left the company. Square the company owns Final Fantasy the property, so it's really up to them what they decide to do. But me personally, that's what I thought when he left the company. And I think at the same time that they started to change the direction of the company. We weren't sure who was in charge of what. It meant a lot of things if we look back at that time when he left and maybe soon after he left. There were a lot of changes, and it was probably a turning point for the company. I don't know if there has been another turning point within SquareEnix the company, but that was definitely a moment that meant a lot of different things.

EGM: Companies like this, entertainment companies, are always in it to make some kind of money because without making money you can't continue to produce and create new entertainment, but would you say that when Sakaguchi left Square, would you equate that to something like when Walt Disney died? Because after Walt Disney died, it changed from Walt Disney Productions to the Walt Disney Company. It acquired more of a corporate mentality as opposed to this -- I don't want to say a family business necessarily -- but it turned it from something that seemed a lot more...it had a humble human element in Walt Disney Productions; you know, there were real people behind it. It wasn't just a faceless corporation. When Walt Disney died, it became the Walt Disney Company and it acquired a corporate feel and maybe it lost something. It lost some of that innocence. And Disney as a corporation just started cranking out annual animated movies to capitalize on the public's thirst for cartoons and family entertainment, and it became much more of a business. Would you say that sort of transformation took place because before there were individual Final Fantasy games, and now they come like five at a time. Final Fantasy XIII times five.
NU: You know, the example of when Walt Disney died and became corporate, now that I've left the company, I can't really say, "Yeah, it's completely changed." It's probably better to ask someone who went through that change with Sakaguchi-san leaving, what they think of the company today, but in my opinion -- and I hope that Sakaguchi-san feels the same way -- is that we did treat each and every Final Fantasy as a birth of something, as a great product that we believed in. All we really wanted to do was to be able to express a very simple belief of friendship or family love or just love in general and if that becomes something that is going to be bought by money and can easily be a base for making a successful business, I just want that to be sold in that manner. Like, this was going to be a boxed package that was going to make money. That's not -- as one of the creators of the games that we worked on -- that wasn't necessarily our purpose. So that's the line that we always have between the business side and the creative side of the business. But all I hope for is that with the people who are still at SquareEnix, I hope that they still have that belief in them, and I wish that they would continue to execute their jobs and projects in the way that we were able to do back then. It's not a MasterCard slogan, but it's priceless. The work is priceless. And I hope that everyone continues to hold that belief.

I don't know if this is going to be a good example, but if blood sells, that doesn't mean I think every single game is going to need blood because they think it'll make money. That's just easy to say in words, but it's not really why it should be in the game. There still has to be a very deep and important substance there to create that blood, and if it needs to be there, it needs to be there. But we're not going to make a game just based on blood and violence because it sells.

EGM: I have a few more different little topics. A couple of them are quick. Have you ever met with or worked directly with Akira Toriyama? And if so, how is it different from working with the visuals of Yoshitaka Amano?
NU: I've never met Akira Toriyama-san.

EGM: He's very reclusive.
NU: And one time -- my niece is a huge fan -- so just like anyone else, I wanted his autograph. So I was at the Tokyo Game Show and I was talking to the staff at Mistwalker to see if I can get an autograph, and that person said, "Yeah, I think I can get one for you." So I thought I was going to be able to give whatever I had in my hands directly to him, and then I was stopped before the door when he said, "I'll go get it for you."

EGM: Oh really?
NU: So I never actually got to meet him even though I was right there.

EGM: He was in the other room? Really?
NU: Yeah. So, I've never met him. Yet.

EGM: Wow, that's crazy. He was actually in another room.
NU: And a different staff person brought over whatever I had and had him autograph it. Then it came back to me. What if it was a fake Toriyama autograph?

[All laugh]

NU: So he was right there, but I never got to meet him. Amano-san's artwork and Toriyama-san's artwork are two completely different styles, so there's really no comparison that I can do. But maybe one thing that is slightly different in terms of how to be able to put those character designs and artwork into the world in story form is that Amano-san's artwork has more of a serious tone to it, and I think it opens up the possibilities of making it serious but also it doesn't limit itself into a certain world. Whereas Toriyama-san's artwork -- you can't really not be pop or not be in a world that has a lot of enjoyment and happiness just because of the look of the characters and the artwork. So maybe that's one sort of difference between those two.

EGM: And that affects your music a little bit?
NU: Definitely.

EGM: Speaking of music, one of the most interesting parts of Blue Dragon is the battle theme music, which really rocks out hard. And since you get in a lot of battles, you are constantly rocking out because the music comes in every time. It's got lyrics and everything. That's very different from what you usually do. Was this something that you just had to get out of your system? Or did Sakaguchi-san say, "Hey, let's make the battles rock!"
NU: The rock thing, making the whole battle music, it wasn't necessarily that I needed to get that out of my system. It was actually Sakaguchi-san that mentioned something like that, and so I was totally for it. And he was like, "Should we add vocals too? Let's go for it!" So it was really just between the two of us, and I started making it. Even until the very last phase of everything we didn't have a vocalist, and we were just thinking that we'll get someone who's available. But one of the staff at the production said, "I think we can get [Deep Purple singer] Ian Gillan to do it for us." And we were like, "Really?" So we approached him and we just talked about how us old middle-aged men can't be rocking it in our sixties. I'm sure he's around that age, but now that we've seen the final product, it's totally doable.

EGM: What was his reaction to being asked to sing a song for a video game made by Japanese people?
NU: I never got to hear what his reaction was. I don't even think that young people would even know who he is.

EGM: Who wrote the lyrics?
NU: Sakaguchi-san. And someone obviously translated that.

EGM: That's pretty interesting. Now, if you could work with any other classic rock star, who would you pick?
NU: It's a question I'm sure a lot of people have a certain answer to, but for me, I don't want to ruin the dream and image that I have of someone like Elton John. I admire and respect, but the 1972 Elton John is who brought me into this world. That's who I want to meet. And so even if an opportunity comes a long and someone says, "Oh, you have this great opportunity. How about working with Elton John today?" That's not really who I want to meet. I want to meet him back then.

EGM: You don't want the 2007 Elton John.
NU: No, the 1972 Elton John. That's the one I hold dear to my heart. So I don't necessarily have the desire to want to work with someone who I sort of...not grew up with, but who I listened to when I became sucked into creating my own music. It's funny because we're having the Blue Dragon lyrics sung by Deep Purple's singer and now with Lost Odyssey, by coincidence the theme song to Lost Odyssey is going to be sung by Sheena Easton.

EGM: For your eyes only.
NU: And both of those two we never really planned for; it was kind of an unexpected surprise, and it happened by coincidence. So some people have already come up to me and asked why do you keep on working with these older generation people, and everyone thinks that I want to continue to work with those people, but that's not really the case.

Even if these two examples or opportunities have been by coincidence, there's something that's striking about them because even after all these years, I sense that they have something really strong and unique about them because they haven't really changed from when we knew them as Sheena Easton back in the day in the 80's and also the same thing with Deep Purple. So it's not that they all of a sudden were asked to do this project for a specific game and they trained for it. They've had that inside them so they can execute whenever they're asked to. I was pretty impressed by both of them.

EGM: Do you think it was karma that brought you together? If I can just fantasize here for a second, if there was one singer that I could imagine singing a theme song that you would write for some epic RPG, it would be Freddie Mercury.
NU: Ah, I see.

EGM: Some big scene with lightning bolts and a showdown and Freddy Mercury's voice and your orchestral composition. That would be awesome.
NU: Maybe someday.

EGM: Maybe in the afterlife since Freddie Mercury's dead. Oh, and Blue Dragon is being developed for the DS. Are you working on the soundtrack for that?
NU: I've been asked to write at least one song for Blue Dragon DS. I've also been told that some of the songs I've already created will be rearranged for DS. As soon as the deadline comes, I'll start working on the song that they've ordered me to do. I haven't started yet.

EGM: Do you have any approach in mind knowing the limitations of the hardware? You know, compared to what you can do on DVDs and stuff?
NU: Yeah, that's something that I definitely need to think about. We just talked about the battle music with the vocals, and I know I'm going to have to do without vocals. I have to think about it. I haven't really started yet, but there are some adjustments that I need to make. The DS version was already announced?

EGM: Yes, very recently at TGS. You didn't ruin anything. The last thing I want to discuss is your Dear Friends concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles a few years back. Obviously there are a lot of fans that really enjoy your music, but it's another thing for you to see an entire concert hall filled with screaming fans. It's not like in Japan where you have a concert and they're very polite and [claps politely] clap like that. This place was going crazy. They were screaming from the rafters. You obviously looked like you were having fun because you were running around and waving your hands and jumping; you looked like a kid! That was one thing, but then when Sakaguchi-san and Amano-san got on the stage, the place was out of control. What were your feelings about the show? That must have been the high point of your life.
NU: It was one exciting night that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Even though being in Japan and having done some concerts for Final Fantasy in Tokyo and Osaka before the one in L.A. happened, we were hearing from overseas offices that Final Fantasy VII sold so many units or is selling very well or it's number one, but just being in front of the audience and appreciating them there and having known that everyone wanted to be there and to listen to music -- and they weren't even playing the games inside the concert hall -- just to know that they were there for the music made me feel really good, and I gained a lot of confidence after being there in person and seeing an audience that was outside of Japan. To know that this series and the music for the Final Fantasy series was being appreciated and loved by fans around the world made it just that much more bigger and better. The experience itself was something I didn't expect, so I gained a lot of confidence from going to that concert. And then after that, I think there have been a handful of concerts featuring Final Fantasy music. It's almost become like I can't not be there when they're playing Final Fantasy music. It gives me a sensation, a rush, to be there with an audience around the world whether it's in America or whether it's in the U.K. or somewhere around the world.

In fact, next month in Italy, there's going to be a convention or a show that's going to have a one-hour window of just playing Final Fantasy music by an orchestra in Italy. And starting at the end of this year, there's going to be a Final Fantasy worldwide orchestral concert series spanning 24 cities in three years, so I plan to going to as much as I can and seeing the audience in each country and appreciating their love for the music I was able to create for the Final Fantasy series. It's something that you can't buy. It's priceless. It's an experience that I can now appreciate, and I'm very happy that I was able to have a position as a composer for a game series that's so widely popular because even though I may not be able to understand the language of every country that we visit, between game and music I think there is a common feeling that we can all share. It's not really the language that we need to speak together because there's really no border line or barrier in music.

To close, I was able to gain a lot of confidence from that concert being outside of Japan, and I want to continue to be a part of something like that in the future.

EGM: That's a perfect quote to actually end the interview on, but just to continue on that thought...
KY: I cried at that concert.

EGM: I know. You know, [Pointing to Kyoko] she was responsible for making that concert to the States. You're were on the side of the stage in the back holding your little clipboard like... [Makes sobbing noises]
KY: [Laughs]

EGM: Yeah, I can't imagine what it must have been like to be one of you three guys up on that stage...
KY: And Amano-san talked and talked and he wouldn't stop!

EGM: Yeah.
KY: And Sakaguchi-san was like, "Are you okay? Daijoubu?"

EGM: I think it's because Amano-san doesn't get out that much. Not to that kind of audience. So that was a unique situation for everybody, huh? That was definitely an amazing show. It must be really cool to see a full orchestra with a well-known conductor and all those things coming together to play your music. It's one thing when you're sitting in front of the synthesizers and your computers making the soundtrack by yourself. You're very close to your work. But when you can stand back and see all these classically trained professionals bringing your music to life in a concert hall with the acoustics designed to magnify that sound, and everything is so optimal. That must be really incredible.
NU: You may think that I'm relaxed and that I can just sit back and listen to a performance, but I think I'm actually most nervous while they're playing the music because not every single orchestra is trained in performing (obviously) game music. During our seasonal performance, they have a certain set of music that they have played maybe 101,000 times, so I'm not too worried if they can't hit a note for a Beethoven classical music. But with game music they get sheet music beforehand but only get to rehearse maybe three times at most. I think I'm most nervous during the real show than afterwards when the last beat ends, that's when I have a sense of relief. Even after the performance when I get home and I get the recordings from the concert, that's when I feel like my work is done and I can move onto the next show. But I'm really nervous while watching the show inside the hall.

EGM: Well, if you're going to follow that three-year tour around, in 24 cities, you're going to be nervous for a pretty long time.
NU: I'm gonna die. [Laughs] I still remember at the Walt Disney Concert Hall watching one of the violinists and she was so surprised. The expression on her face was like, "I've never seen a crowd like this." Like a roar after ending the first song. I think they thought they were being appreciated more than their seasonal performances by a completely different audience, so they probably felt good getting that reaction. Maybe they were nervous but it let them loosen a bit, but I was still nervous during the performance.

EGM: Everybody -- the orchestra and yourself -- must have had goose bumps when One-Winged Angel started to play because once you start playing those notes and the Sephiroth CG scene came up on the screen, the place went ballistic. That must have been the key moment.
NU: I feel that compared to even just a couple of years ago, a lot of orchestras around the world are starting to accept and are wanting to perform video game music concerts. Not just to say that that's because of the Final Fantasy concerts, but they see a different audience come to the hall compared to their seasonal performances -- it's a much younger crowd -- and it's very hard to get that crowd with just their usual seasonal performances. Not only can they make money and operate a successful business outside of their scheduled performances, but they can also attract a younger crowd. In Stockholm last year, the tickets sold out right away for the one-night performance, so what they did was they printed out extra tickets to come see the rehearsal performance. And that even sold out. So now there are even other orchestras around the world that are now asking video game companies to come out and play at their hall, which was almost unheard of even four or five years ago. It almost us like us going to them and begging to see if they can allow video game music to be performed by an orchestra.

EGM: That's pretty amazing. I think we have everything we need. Uematsu-san, thank you so much for your time today. It's been absolutely amazing.
NU: Arigato gozaimashita!