interview by Yoshitake Maeda

Interview conducted by Yoshitake Maeda, copyrighted by Digicube.

Intro by Yoshitake Maeda

I don't know if he agrees, but I think I find a strange relation between me and Nobuo Uematsu. It first started when I started playing "Final Fantasy" on my Nintendo.   The beautiful arpeggio at the title had an impact upone me which was as great as the fanfare in Dragon Quest.   Since then, I have become a fan of FF music.   I jumped on to the chance when I was brought up a plan about creating an arragement of FF4 (2 US) music in Ireland a few years later.   Irish traditionals are one of my favorite styles of music, so "Celtic Moon" still is my favorite CD.

I remember meeting Shannon Sharon, who is the most renowned accordion player in Ireland.   Meeting Nobuo was a greater experience for me, though...! Anyway, my ardor of Irish music increased siginificantly by this event.   Since then, I have been going to every Irish performance in Japan as well as Irish Cafes nearby. I was surprized when I found out the Nobuo went to the same cafe.   He told me that he also had began to love Irish music, that he began to learn fiddle. At the same time I was into Irish music, I was also into Asian Pops.   I even wrote a book called "Encyclopedia of Asian Pops".   That ways why I was excited to hear that Faye Wong was going to sing in FF8. I couldn't believe that Nobuo chose her out of thousands of others.   Faye was born in Peking, and started off her career in Hong Kong as a vocalist.   She lead another new era in Asia as the best singer in the 90th centry, too. Hearing that Nobuo chose her, I started to feel that he was my buddy. Of course, I don't know if he agrees.

Interview

Maeda ("M"): Where do you start when you start your job?
Uematsu ("U"): I read the screenplay first. I usually start with the main theme, but this is probably the hardest task.

M : Do you get to chose where the main theme comes in?
U : Yes. I usually chose between playing the main theme, like in the opening and the world map, but I don't know which song is the main theme this time.

M : Why is that?
U : At first, I was going to make the opening song the main theme, and to play it in various spots throughout the game. Still, I began to realize that I have always been playing the main theme in the world map. This time, I decided to experiment by not playing the main theme in the world map. In addition, when I created "Eyes On Me", both songs had become the main theme. I, myself, couldn't decide which one to be the main theme. That's why a main theme does not exist in FF8.

M : Do you get a general picture by reading the screenplay?
U : There is a secret page for SQAURE staffs in the SQUARE home page which includes character designs, screenplays, etc. I print them out, because I don't like reading on computers. Then, I start taking notes by blocking scenes by their moods. This way, I can get the general picture of what kinds of songs and how many of them I must write.

M : Are your song themes affected by the main characters?
U : Yes, yes. I won't be able to express the emotions of the heros just by following the plot. For example, I won't be able to tell if a girl is brave and strong or kind and modest by just reading the plot. I need to see how she looks like and how she dresses to have a better idea. The diaglogues aren't usually complete at first, but reading them is crucial, too. It's important to know when their emotions are at their heights, but it usually takes until a moth before release for them to to finish the ending dialogue..! (LOL)

M : Why is it that there are no character themes this time?
U : Did you realize that? I found that the effect of character themes weren't as great as I thought in FF 6 and 7. It is reasonable to have character themes if each of the main characters have their own highlights in the game, but in FF8, the "main character" is focused in a single couple of SQuall and Rinoa. Considering "Eyes On Me", I let the other characters take a step back music-wise.

M : It's a change of the subject, but what kind of an environment do you work in?
U : I usually come to work on time, turn on my keyboard, and then decide to work. I don't have expensive equipment in my room. I have a hard time trying to learn new machines, so I stick to my old ones. It's a waste of time to go over the manual, search my harddrive, or go get a floppy disk just be trying to find a single trumpet synth. I could be coming up with a great melody in the very moment! The only instrument I used is the "Roland SC88", which is a beginners' synth wich costs about 50,000 yen. (about 400 dollars) Just one. The maxium simultaneous sound is like 64 or 128, and I don't need to worry about quality unless I want to have a special traditional instrument. I cant say that its symphonic recreation is the best, but it has most that I need. The best of all, everything only costs 50,000 yen. I hear that people say that "Nobuo is surrounded by computers these days", but the truth is that I'm really bad at computers.

M : What do you think of the evolution of gaming machines in music?
U : Everything is becoming simpler in that I can do anything I want. Because I can have sound sampling in PSX or SNES, it's even possible to suprize the audience by orchestraic hits. Still, I think everything isn't perfect yet. I don't think there is meaning to using sampling to mimic real instruments. If I were to use sampling, I would like to use it in a hip-hop kind of way. I think we're in the midth of a transition from synth game music to recorded game music right now.

M : What about the NES era?
U : The NES only had three tracks, and each of their sounds were very unique. I had to focus on the melody itself and think about how each chord will move the audience. I struggled to produce originality in the same three tones, just like any composer from that period. It's amazing to listen to how each of us: Konami composers, Koichi Sugiyama, and Namco composers each had totally different creations by using the same three instruments. There was an originallity in "Game Music" back then. In the future, game music will not be much different from movie soundtracks.

M : Why did you decide to put a vocal song?
U : Actaully, some of us came up with a plan to use a famous vocalist in the ending oF FF7. It didn't go through because the plan was too abrupt, and there was no themes or reason in the story for a vocal song to suddenly come up in the ending. On the other hand, the "song" has a meaning in the FF8 plot, and it closely relates to it main characters. That's why I wrote a ballard that I thought would suit the theme. Then, I asked everone to bring in CDs with vocalists who would match it. We listened to countless CDs in our staff meetings, but none of them didn't seem to match our expectations... until one CD was played. Everyone looked around and asked "Who is this...!?", even though it was the first track in the CD. We didn't have second thoughts. Some of you may ask why I chose Faye Wong, but I can't just say that it was my instinct. I didn't even know her when I listened to her CD, but her voice and mood seem to match my image of the song exactly. The fact that she was Chinese fits the international image of Final Fantasy, too.

M : What kind of a person was Faye Wong?
U : I wasn't the one who partipated in the negotiation, so I couldn't get to know her at first. Still, I found out that she was extraordinary as I gathered her information. She accepted our offer, but the recording had to take place in Hong Kong due to her schedule. Thus, I organized an orchestra and gave her a copy of the tape before everything. Her style was to concentrate alone for a while before recording, and sing in a one-shot deal. She also liked to sing in a complete darkness. I have to say she had mystic qualities.

M : Her mysteriousness is one of her traits.
U : I think we each received different impressions of her. Still, her skill as a singer is superior. Her voice is truly heavenly.

M : Do you think game music and regular commercial music would merge together someday?
U : I don't want to join the competition of pop music. "Eyes On Me" is still game music, although it will be released as a single. I'm not a pops pro, either. Also, game music still doesn't have the characteristics to compete with them. I think it's up to the composers' choice. Some makers would try to create a commercial "hit" of its music, like in the movie "Titanic". Others, like many of the European movies, totally separate from commercialism. That's why different composers will have different goals in game music, too.

M : Is it difficult to write music that matches the game's atomosphere?
U : Well, it is said that Final Fantasy is moving away from a "free game" more and more. We, as the creators, know this the best. Some criticize us for this, but we're doing this because we won't be able to find something new unless we try and go foward. If we aren't the ones who experiment, somebody else definately would. We may stop at a dead end, or we might be able to find a new horizon. We won't know that unless we go on.

M : Was this idea of Final Fantasy present from the beginning?
U : ...Maybe from about FF3j (unrealased in the US). We have a lot of people who love movies, so maybe that's why we're trying to recreate a movie in a game. Still, we often disucss that we will never be able to catch up to movies just by trying to mimic them. Right now, we're in a land where no one else have stepped in. That is why we think we'll experiment as of now.

M : Does this "cinematic thinking" come important in song writing?
U : Yes, definately. It would be strange not to have Hollywood style music in the FF8 cinematic action CG movies. Still, I'm not a movie expert, so it's hard for me to write cinematic music.

M : Then, what genre are you best at writing?
U : I'm good at writing ballards in the 70s style. I love writing lyrical songs. Still, I try not to be too genre-specific because now is the time that we, game creators, need to find out what we really must do. My task is to make sure that I am able to express the emotions I want to, and not just brushing up on my skills. I think it will be a shame if we won't be able to cry as we play our own game. I think we had some success this time, in that meaning. What do you think?