Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VI Soundtrack Set the Stage for Contemporary Music in JRPGs

The stylings of Square's legendary composer opened the door for those who followed

Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VI Soundtrack Set the Stage for Contemporary Music in JRPGs
Nobuo Uematsu. Source: Wikipedia, license CC BY-SA 3.0.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Square Enix's Final Fantasy VI. For me, this game is memorable because not only was it the first Final Fantasy game I ever played, but also due to its standout soundtrack composed by Nobuo Uematsu. By combining classical music and contemporary music genres, it laid the groundwork for the use of contemporary music in future video games.

Prior to Nobuo Uematsu, there had been video game composers such as Yuzo Koshiro and Masato Nakumura who used contemporary musical influences, especially synths in video games like Streets of Rage and Sonic The Hedgehog. According to a Composer Code article, Koshiro was one of the first people to use FM synths and electronic music, while Nakumara's experience as a bassist in rock bands gave Sonic The Hedgehog its driven melodies.

But Uematsu's soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI took a cinematic approach that heightened the emotions of the game's world as well as its characters. You can feel the tension and sense of wonder in the game's opening scene when the track "Omen" plays. You can also feel the tension and desire to win in the game's main battle theme. Through the former's use of orchestral music and the latter's use of synth-like bass guitar, the player's experience of the game is enhanced, immersing them further in the game's world.

Source: YouTube.

A personal favorite track from this game is "Phantom Train", which shows influences from both classical music and blues music through its use of horns and orchestra. It complements the ghost train setting with its haunting and mournful tune as the characters explore the area. The blues influence is even more noticeable on the piano version of the track.

Source: YouTube.

In fact, Uematsu's eclectic music compositions in this game are especially striking when you learn more about him. DB Damage's article for the website The Sound of Life notes that Uematsu was influenced by musical artists ranging from Tchaichovsky to Elton John and Deep Purple.

Although Uematsu isn't the only innovative composer by any means, I can't help but recall his work when I listen to the soundtracks from modern games such as Ace Attorney and Persona 5. Featuring music by composers Noriyuki Iwadare and Shoji Meguro, their compositions showcase the influence of modern musical genres such as techno and jazz.

Source: YouTube.

When it comes to the first Ace Attorney game, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, one of the most notable themes is called "Cornered", which plays whenever the titular character manages to put a witness in a tight spot. When I first heard this theme, I couldn't help but liken it to a JRPG boss fight theme due to how the music makes players feel like they are fighting and winning a battle.

A similar effect can be seen with Persona 5's battle theme music "Last Surprise", which expounds upon how the Phantom Thief protagonists will conquer any opponent. It's quite epic to hear as you explore dungeons and fight enemies. While the original is jazz-influenced, another version of this song seen in the sequel Persona 5 Strikers is rock-influenced, which demonstrates the song's versatility.

Source: YouTube.

As with Uematsu, both Noriyuki Iwadare and Shoji Meguro state that they've been influenced by contemporary music artists. In the aforementioned Composer Code article, Meguro's section notes that he draws inspiration from J-pop and J-fusion bands like T-Square and Casiopea. Meanwhile, Michael Weber's essay on JRPG soundtracks notes Iwadare being influenced by Daft Punk.

By combining both classical music and contemporary music genres such as rock and blues in Final Fantasy VI, Nobuo Uematsu paved the way for contemporary music genres in JRPGs. Not only has it made video games more engaging to play, but it has also given music lovers like me great tunes to listen to, not just in the game but whenever we want, with the advent of streaming music services.


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