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1UP Article: A Day in the Life of Nobuo Uematsu

This is a good interview. I took some of the more interesting parts of the interview and posted them below.

The full interview:

Here are some parts of it:

1UP: 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.

1UP: 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.


1UP: 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 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.


1UP: 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.


1UP: 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.


1UP: 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.


1UP: 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.

"I really don't think Final Fantasy should have been made after Sakaguchi-san left the company."

-Uematsu on Hironobu Sakaguchi leaving SquareEnix


1UP: 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 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.


1UP: 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.

1UP: 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.

1UP: Who wrote the lyrics?

NU: Sakaguchi-san. And someone obviously translated that.

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