Editorial: The Nobuo Review Part One: Final Fantasy VII OST

I must admit, Lusipurrians, to feeling a little left out as a few of my cohorts here have had interesting multi-part editorial series’. As such, I have stolen the idea and will run a currently undecided number of editorial spotlights on the musical wizard known as Nobuo Uematsu.

I thought a good place to start would be with not only one of Uematsu’s most beloved soundtracks, but also the soundtrack that introduced me to his music, the Final Fantasy VII OST.

What a hero.
The man himself.

As I mentioned in a previous editorial, my love for Final Fantasy VII is often so overshadowed by my fanboy adoration of Final Fantasy IX that many do not even realize my deep appreciation for the series’ first PlayStation era title. The game’s opening sucked me right in. In fact, the Midgar section remains one of my favourite few hours in gaming. This effect was in no small part due to Uematsu’s score.

The music – in Midgar particularly – most impresses me with its ability to capture tragedy, loneliness, hope, and beauty within simple melodies. A song like Anxious Heart is a perfect example of that.

It is Nobuo’s perpetual focus on melody that impresses most. Even in a heavily industrial theme like Mako Reactor, he expertly builds an industrial atmosphere of menace without resorting to a random assortment of clicks, whirs, and clanks that are the default in so many game soundtracks.

But what makes the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack really stand out to me is its focus on simple beauty. The game has a complicated and sad story. The world is rich, as are the characters. The word “epic” is properly used to describe the game in an age when that word is vastly overused. However, the music responds to the heavy task of supporting all these elements by largely staying simple. Both Tifa and Aerith‘s themes are uncluttered and focused entirely on melody, and this method is largely indicative of the entire OST.

Although a surprising few composers have taken note, this method is incredibly effective. If every track were over-orchestrated, the game would not be able to keep up the pace. As Nobuo is able to slow things down and bring peace, simplicity, and beauty to his melodies, he is breathing life into Final Fantasy VII at the same time. The music reflects on minutia and personality. Nobuo made it such that notes and visuals in Final Fantasy VII are irreversibly intertwined. Hearing the soundtrack will cause visuals to flood into one’s mind and recalling one’s experience with the game will similarly cause melodies to play in the imagination.

It would be easy for me to continue to link to endless examples of how Nobuo Uematsu is able to make masterpieces out of tracks that would be throwaways to so many other composers, but it would grow tiresome linking to what would ultimately be the entire soundtrack.

But seriously, just listen to that last link. The piece is engaging enough, but instead of simply looping the track, Uematsu runs with the melody and gives it more depth than he ever needed to.

Perfectly scored.
Can't you just hear it?

The man is not restricted to his brilliant simplicity either, as he is no stranger to the expertly placed complex or epic track either. In fact, the game greets the player with an appropriately bombastic and complex opening number. Also, what would the game be without its unforgettable battle theme? Any RPG fan has heard that track thousands of times, but it is still a joy to listen to, and that alone is quite a feat.

Speaking of variety, while I believe some of Nobuo’s other work to be a greater example of this, Final Fantasy VII still shows remarkable variety. Take Costa Del Sol or – of course – The Gold Saucer as examples. Despite the OST’s distinctive mood, Uematsu was still able to produce very different sounds when the scenario called for it.

I am not very familiar with his earlier work (future editions in this series seek to remedy that), and I hear that a few choice numbers from Final Fantasy VI rival the following claim, but I believe One Winged Angel to be Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest work. I praise VII‘s soundtrack for its beautiful simplicity, but in the ultimate act of juxtaposition, Uematsu pulled this wonder out for the end. Sinister, complex, and wonderfully layered, One Winged Angel has been brought to life in a number of different ways, but it is perhaps most impressive how the original holds up, MIDI and all.

While it may not place as everyone’s number one as it does for me, One Winged Angel is a shining example of how Nobuo Uematsu raised the bar incredibly high for video game music.

Video games require music in a way that movies never have. The notes have to capture locations and periods of time instead of precise moments. Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VII – led by One Winged Angel – is nearly five hours of heartfelt mood and melody, and an incredible achievement.

Oh, and I think this is a nice track too.

9 comments

  1. Nearly every track on this OST is a glory.

    It is majestic in every single way.

  2. No “Birth of a God” makes me sad in the pants. And I like “One-Winged Angel”, but I would agree with the sentiment that a particular FFVI song is just a bit better, especially compared to the original version of OWA. The Advent Children version of OWA, though…well, it almost made sitting through Advent Children worth the price of admission.

    Overall, I’d have to say FFVII is probably my favorite OST in gaming, but FFVI and Kingdom Hearts II are damn close behind it.

  3. This soundtrack really never does get old does it? It helps make playing through this game over and over that much more enjoyable. There are a few games I would like to play through again, but refuse to because the soundtracks are so bad.

  4. @Deimosion – I agree that the Advent Children (and regular orchestrated) version of OWA are amazing, I was more just impressed that when I returned to the original, it held up WAY more than I expected after being so familiar with the orchestrated versions.

    I’ve only had single digit listens of most FFVI stuff, so my preference for OWA is definitely not informed. However, I’d say that Kingdom Hearts II is pretty far behind for me. There are some great tracks, but those OSTs just don’t have the depth, variety, and mastery that Nobuo’s classic OSTs have.

    @Durga – Yup, it has a giant hand in the nostalgia.

  5. @Ethos
    Check out the NES or PSX Origins version of FF1 that game in the first hour has the FF prelude thing, the post-princess rescue bridge repair exposition, and the Corneria town music. All of which are fucking amazing compared to the shit you see in 8bit games.

  6. Love it. Most of these songs aren’t just awesome, cool, majestic, and/or masterpieces, but are highly emotionally evocative. Yes, there’s a strong correlation between how you might have connected to a piece by its scene (i.e., my favorite is “Interrupted By Fireworks,” what plays when you go on the Gold Saucer date, both superbly powerful and melodious), but like any good piece of music they can become a soundtrack to your own life, seperate from the orignal context of video game nostalgia. I mean, I think that can be generally said about Uematsu’s music above any others’.

  7. FF7’s soundtrack is brilliant. It’s been a long time since I have played the game, but I can still recall most of the soundtrack quite vividly. Jenova is one of my favorites, stays in my head for hours at a time.

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