A scene from “Final Fantasy” VII | All images courtesy of Square Enix
We’re celebrating the Classical California Ultimate Playlist with a series of fun and informative blogs about the music you love.
Perusing the Classical California Ultimate Playlist, you’ll see many familiar names and selections. Several Beethoven Symphonies, the Meditation from Thaïs by Massenet, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring by Bach, Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy Theme, Debussy’s Clair de Lune . . . wait hold on. Who is Nobuo Uematsu and what is a Final Fantasy?
For many fans of the role-playing game (RPG) genre within video games, Final Fantasy is the benchmark by which all other franchises are judged. Kicking off with the first of 15 games all the way back in 1987 for the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System, known there as the Famicom, it was an instant hit for developer Square and creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. The (now debunked) myth was that Sakaguchi was considering leaving the beleaguered video game business after creating one “final” game for Square. However, the truth has since come out that the title was merely a replacement for the original which was Fighting Fantasy. That trademark was already held by a boardgame and Sakaguchi admits that any word starting with “f” would have sufficed. (I voted for Fortuitous Fantasy in the informal office poll at the station.)
A scene from “Final Fantasy” XIII
Before the original Final Fantasy’s development, composer Nobuo Uematsu was working in a musical rental shop in Tokyo. He was asked to join developer Square in 1985 to create musical scores for their games, a job that he admits he approached as side work. In 1987, he was assigned the task of building the musical landscape for Final Fantasy. The rest is video game history. He has since gone on to score all but three of the franchise’s main 15 games. 1994’s Final Fantasy VI has been hailed as some of the best music ever written for gaming. And 1999’s Final Fantasy VIII for the original Playstation (a score that clocks in at over four hours) was one of the first games to use a studio orchestra in place of sequenced instruments. Uematsu’s main title theme for the franchise has become one of the most recognizable melodies to video game fans the world over.
Today, it is not unusual to see a concert of Final Fantasy’s music programmed on an orchestra’s concert season or to have a selection included on a specialized game music concert, such as Video Games Live. These performances regularly sell out. Past performances of Video Games Live that I have participated in have included selections from the Final Fantasy franchise and the audience reaction tops anything else on the program. It is this emotional connection, the memory of hearing these lush melodies while “saving the world,” that makes this music endure.