If I had to thank Hiranobou Sakaguchi for one thing aside from leaving Squaresoft to be replaced by those who have now lowered the effect that their games have on fans, it would be hiring world renowned game composer Nobuo Uematsu.
Aside from his prestigious work alongside Sakaguchi and the helping the company make epic games for the Final Fantasy series, Uematsu’s work also spans along the lines of other games that have by now reached legendary status based on the background jingles alone. With about 25 years under his belt, the man might as well take his money and go a beach somewhere—but he hasn’t; whatever he touches turns to gold, whatever music he composes sounds like it was made by the instruments that God himself provided.
Even though all of his musical adventures deserve everyone’s attention, some are better than others. Here’s a look at the top 10—past and present—Nobuo Uematsu compositions. Memory lane ahead!
10. “One Winged Angel” – Final Fantasy VII
We all know the song and we all know where we heard it too. Before reaching the One Winged Angel version of Sephiroth, Cloud and company had to fight his mother and another “complete” version of himself. These two battles—and the awesome fight themes—that came before them successfully built up to this particular battle and this particular song. Sephiroth was an evil and demented kind of guy, so rousing choir, triumphant horns and the back and forth movements between beat measures made the song that much epic. The song would get a couple of remixes in Kingdom Hearts 2 and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but no rendition could ever help recall the feeling of hearing that song when you fight him for the first time.
9. “Vama Alla Flamenco” – Final Fantasy IX
I knew Uematsu had a Spanish side to him, or is it Italian? The song title is roughly translated as “Let’s Go, Flamenco,” a term that many use in Spain. This song really moves, and so did the mini-game that you had to endure when Zidane and his crew of theives got caught up in a play, a minor change of plans while in pursuit of Princess Garnet. “Vamo Alla Flamenco” sounds like something you’d expect at someone’s Quinceañera or any sort of Mexican themed party that included a mariachi band…sultry, fast-paced and festive.
8. “Wind Scene” – Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger wasn’t Uematsu’s best work—in my humble opinion, it was his worst. I know that’s so blasphemous to say, go ahead and shoot me. Before you do, I do think that this is rather one of the best ‘world theme’ arrangements in any 90’s RPG. The strings throughout the track take the feeling home—walking outside to the vast world, everything was foggy and quite eerie, as if there were some danger to go through. However, Uematsu is smart with this one. The beginning and ending parts featured a mix of alternating plucking sounds of the strings, indicating that there’s still some hope and maybe a little bit of fun in danger.
7. “Ruins” – Blue Dragon
Remember when I was on the podcast one time, and I told the team that I had bought Blue Dragon on Amazon for $4. It was an investment well spent as the game looks and plays great, but Uematsu’s hands on the musical arrangements of the game is what really sold me onto the title. “Ruins” is probably the closest to a hip-hop sounding theme we’ll ever find in an RPG game, as the song really seems to tell us that the genre had met the composer’s ears one time or another. The drums are snappy and pulsating, and so are the organs that ride along with it. The arrangement sets a brooding tone once your party steps into the Ancient Hospital level.
6. “The Man With the Machine Gun” – Final Fantasy VIII
This track has the grooves. As a special theme paying homage to the 2nd protagonist in the game, this trance-like track definitely fueled the energy players needed to help Laguna, Kiros and Ward fight through. Whether it was keeping watch after Ellone or partaking in a movie deal consisting of fighting Ruby Dragons, Laguna was a clumsy, yet valiant and caring. Uematsu made sure this theme reflected his overall character into a nice upbeat breakdown.
5. “Suspicion” – Final Fantasy IV
Kain’s betrayal on Cecil was a pretty deep cut. I nearly flipped my trunks when I came to that part and vowed to never play the game again out of disappointment. While I ended up coming back a few days later with a new frame of mind, I still couldn’t get this one out of my head. The song sounds like what the player and Cecil felt: betrayed, disgusted and down right played.
This one plays in my head whenever I catch someone with ulterior motives. That’s how you know Uematsu knew what he was doing with this one.
4. “Dancing Mad” – Final Fantasy VI
Kefka wasn’t like any other villain. He toyed with the idea of being one until rose to power and sought to eliminate Locke and the gang. But still, he wasn’t your average final boss nor was he even supposed to be that intimidating. That was until you were met with about a tower of enemies, each depicting the theme of hell, purgatory, heaven and finally the boxing match with God himself (and deep down you’re hoping your arms aren’t too small).
The entire theme is actually split into two parts, but much of it is very orchestrated and dramatic. Like Sephiroth’s theme, “Dancing Mad” has been reworked by many Final Fantasy enthusiasts, but even with the SNES sounds—Uematsu made Kefka sound even more badass.
3. “To Zanarkand” – Final Fantasy X
Uematsu’s work on the grand piano had never sounded more melancholic. With his father wrecking havoc on Spira and with knowledge of Yuna’s consequences of completing her pilgrimage, the road to Zanarkard was definitely one that Tidus and the gang didn’t want to take. The feeling of trying to find an answer in the midst of a lost hope translates flawlessly through Uematsu’s touch on the keys.
It’s also worth noting that the main melody in “To Zanarkand” occurs in other music themes throughout the game, which constantly reminds players of an inevitable fate come.
2. “Sacred Ground, Esto Gaza” – Final Fantasy IX
The tranquility of this song is so Godlike that I nearly didn’t want to move on in the game after reaching Esto Gaza.
Uematsu is pretty witty with the strings and xylophones in this piece, which ultimately comes together with the chilling chorus for at the end of the song. The settlement of Esto Gaza is a quiet place, especially after Kuja and his troops ran through the town, an effort to flee from the scene after kidnapping Eiko.
For Zidane and the rest of the party, the turn of events definitely didn’t deem taking a rest stop, although Uematsu made it seem otherwise. “Sacred Ground, Esto Gaza” is jazzy, gentle and serene, marking it as one of Uematsu’s best compositions in Final Fantasy history.
1. “Aeris Theme” – Final Fantasy VII
Even the so-called tough guys had shed a tear the first time they heard this piece, because it was a moment that made losing one of your party members a big deal—and righteously so if that party member’s name was Aeris.
After Sephiroth came floating down from above and shoved his giant sword through her back, the event is fittingly followed by her materia bouncing off of the pillar—each bounce rung off the first few notes of Uematsu’s greatest accomplishment.
The piece progresses with a more orchestrated assembly of some interesting chord changes and it’s resounding return to the giant presence of loss and sadness; the game doesn’t even stop the song when you battle Jenova shortly after her death.
I’m willing to bet that a lot of avid Final Fantasy VII fans will agree that while the event was cruel the first time around, Uematsu’s clever positioning of the song came through beautifully—and thus this moment remains ingrained into our minds.
The fact that many can recall the event with the song easily merits its number one spot on this list. Uematsu’s intention for this song was that we’d never forget about Aeris. Her soul lives on forever and so does this theme.