Bard Banter – Favorites From Nobuo Uematsu
Bard Banter is a new series which highlights an RPG composer’s work by listening to, and discussing some of their greatest works throughout the years.
When it comes to mainstream JRPGs, Nobuo Uematsu needs little introduction. For many years he was solely responsible for the compositions of every mainline Final Fantasy title, and certainly captured the hearts of many – including myself – along the way. One of the reasons I fell in love with one of my first RPGs- Final Fantasy IV- decades ago was because of Uematsu’s work, and that’s something I’ll never forget.
In this inaugural edition of Bard Banter, I’m going to list my top ten favorite tracks from the mind of Nobuo Uematsu. To achieve a better smorgasbord of products – and to cut down on an endless amount of
torture self-debate – I’m limiting myself to one composition per game. Be sure to share your own picks for Uematsu, as well!
#10 – Searching for the Secret Treasure – Final Fantasy Legend II (SaGa)
A couple of things I’ve learned through compiling this list are: Nobuo co-composed for many games I was unaware of, and I tend to be drawn towards many of his tracks with distinct, powerful bass lines. Nobuo was only responsible for a handful of tracks for the Final Fantasy Legend II – Kenji Ito tackled the rest – but this is easily my favorite among the ones he composed for the Gameboy RPG.
#9 – Main Theme – Final Fantasy V
Many people have mixed opinions on Final Fantasy V, but I believe it was a bit doomed from the start here in the West, considering it did not release officially until many years after the original. The narrative in particular draws scrutiny from some, but I think its overall “goofy” approach with its characters and excellent job system more than make up for its setbacks. If this track doesn’t make you want to get up and go on adventure, well, I don’t know what to do with you!
#8 – Hurry Up! – Final Fantasy Legend (SaGa)
Before Kenji Ito dominated the majority of soundtrack affairs with the SaGa franchise, Nobuo Uematsu was tasked with solo-composing the very first title in the series. As per usual, he created a compelling, catchy soundtrack despite the obvious hardware limitations. While not as impressive as the later Gameboy works of Ito, this track is still impressive in its own right.
#7 – JENOVA – Final Fantasy VII
This is likely to be my first of many controversial picks, but that’s what ranked lists and self-imposed limitations are all about, right? I’m actually not keen on super fast-paced battle themes, though I do make exceptions from time-to-time. It is pretty clear from the tempo and instrumentation of this iconic theme that the party is about to face some crazy, otherworldly creature, and for that I love it.
#6 – The Man With The Machine Gun – Final Fantasy VIII
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Final Fantasy VIII failed to impress me as a teenager, and failed once more when I recently played it for review for the site. Parts of it I do like though, such as this incredibly wicked battle theme, and that leg-cramped dog, Laguna.
#5 – Silent Light – Chrono Trigger
Prior to this list, I was unaware that Uematsu was responsible for a couple of tracks in Chrono Trigger, as was the case with Final Fantasy Legend II before it. Once you give this one a listen however, the Nobuo influence is pretty clear, especially with the emphasis on the bass line. While these slower pieces may not resonate with everyone, I think they are some of his best works, much like the aforementioned “Wanderer of Darkness.”
#4 – The Wanderer of Darkness – Lost Odyssey
2008’s Lost Odyssey was largely responsible for my brief departure from “no-lifeing” World of Warcraft. Developed by Mistwalker, helmed by Final Fantasy veteran Hironobu Sakaguchi, it felt like a “spiritual successor” to a certain franchise I had grown a bit tired of – or dare I say disappointed with – in recent years.
The interesting, though occasionally depressing take on the immortal protagonist is something that has stuck with me for well over a decade now, and Uematsu’s work here certainly adds to that nostalgia. With the current craze of ports and remasters, I sincerely hope that we someday see this excellent JRPG, and Blue Dragon for that matter, on the Switch.
#3 – The Serpent Trench – Final Fantasy VI
I’ve always believed that location-specific themes should be able to tonally paint a portrait of their terrain, even moreso in the days prior to three-dimensional, highly animated graphics. Serpent Trench is one of the best examples of a genuine, accurate aquatic theme, as I feel one could close their eyes while listening and still be able to visualize the scenario.
#2 – Dungeon – Final Fantasy I (PS1 Version)
Surprised to see a tune from the first game this high? Me too! Although this particular version of Dungeon is from the PS1 version of the game, my thoughts about it apply across all iterations. This Dungeon theme is not afraid to assault your ears with a strong feeling of unease – quite appropriate for dungeons. I prefer the PS1 version simply because it adds some flair that wasn’t possible in the NES era, but you can’t go wrong either way.
#1 – Within the Giant – Final Fantasy IV
Before I even made this list, I knew that Within The Giant would be the top dog! I’ve written at length about this track in the past so I’ll keep it short here – I love it, and it is easily my favorite track ever from Nobuo Uematsu. The wicked bass line, the subtle technology/futuristic highlights, and the powerful brass melody culminates into a track that isn’t confined to a single setting, nor does it serve just one purpose. To me, it equally represents the journey so far, what is to come, and the push that the party needs at this very important point in their journey.
Well, that sums it up for this Bard Banter, but there will be more to come soon! What are your thoughts on Nobuo Uematsu? What are some of your favorites from his portfolio? What did you think about mine? Let me know!