Next Tuesday marks a quarter century since the release of the first Final Fantasy game in Japan. To put this amount of time in perspetive – the Final Fantasy era – if you travel back an equivalent amount of time before Final Fantasy existed, to 1962, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, the Civil Rights Act had yet to pass, no one had walked on the moon, Wal-Mart had just opened its first store, and the Beatles were basically a popular Liverpudlian nightclub band.
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These games have been in our lives for a LONG time; Wikipedia calls Final Fantasy a “media franchise” and not a game series. An unquestionably huge part of their success stems from the music of the Nobuo Uematsu. While his soundtracks now feature full orchestras and operatic pop, he will always be known for the divine melodies he was able to wring from the extremely limited musical tools of the cartidge era. Joystiq talked with him in Chicago, where he was traveling with a touring concert series dedicated to the series’ music. He spoke about the very small toolbox afforded early game music writers:
As far as composing for the Famicom, I didn’t find it to be that difficult. It’s a limitation, but for me it was like a game. What can I make using just three channels? Maybe somebody who had been classically trained, who was more used to a more versatile canvas, they might have had a different time. But I didn’t look on it as a negative. I saw it as a challenge. I liked to try out stuff. What can I do with just three sounds?
My favorite anecdote in the interview comes when Uematsu tells the story of his initiation into game music:
Thinking back, it was about 27 or 28 years ago. At my apartment, all my artist friends would get together — people who wanted to become painters or poets or musicians. They would hang out at my apartment and just have fun and drink and get creative. One of my friends, this girl, she worked with the former Squaresoft as a game planner. That was my introduction to the concept of making game music. Through her, I got to visit Squaresoft, and that’s when I met [Final Fantasy director Hironobu] Sakaguchi-san. If she hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t opened up my apartment to have all those friends over, I might have never gotten into game music.
The patron saint of great nerdy game music was a bohemian!