Tag Archives: uematsu

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.

Final Fantasy X Tidus Wallpaper

During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.

Final Fantasy XI Battle

After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.

Final Fantasy XII Boss

Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Donald Goofy

With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.

Final Fantasy The Spirits Within

During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as  directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…

Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

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Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Vagrant Story

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 1) – Telling a Story

During the 1990s SquareSoft was synonymous with quality RPGs. From Final Fantasy, to the Chrono or Mana series players were exploring magical worlds and experiencing unforgettable stories for over a decade. This series of articles will recount how a small Japanese video game company known as Square rose to become the king of RPGs and create some of the best games ever made.

In the late 1980s Square had produced a few games in different genres for Nintendo’s first home console, but were struggling financially. A young employee by the name of Hironobu Sakaguchi decided that his last game would be an RPG and if it failed he would retire from the games industry and return to university. Inspired by other RPGs of the time such as Dragon Quest from Enix, Final Fantasy was a success for Square and was translated and released in English by its North American branch SquareSoft, leading to a sequel and Sakaguchi becoming the director of the series.

“I don’t have what it takes to make an action game. I think I’m better at telling a story.” – Hironobu Sakaguchi

The first three games in the Final Fantasy series were developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but only the original was released outside of Japan at the time. These games established many of the foundations the series would continue for over a decade including turn-based combat, a job system for the characters, a world map and dungeons to explore. The second game featured a more involved story and an experimental leveling system, while the third returned to the style of the original but allowed characters to change their job throughout the game. The key staff members of the early instalments were Sakaguchi as creator, artist Yoshitaka Amano, Nobuo Uematsu and game designer Akitoshi Kawazu. Each new Final Fantasy game was an indirect sequel, presenting a brand new world and characters, that let the series evolve and grow as technology progressed.

While the early Final Fantasy games were proving very popular, Square also starting creating other RPG franchises around this time, such as the Seiken Densetsu (later known as the Mana series in English) and SaGa series on Nintendo’s first handheld console the Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu featured an action-based battle system similar to Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda, while Akitoshi Kawazu’s SaGa series expanded on elements he had incorporated into Final Fantasy II. Both were marketed as Final Fantasy spin-offs in North America and Europe to increase sales, but as SquareSoft’s popularity grew both series would use their original Japanese names in later instalments.

With the Final Fantasy series as their main franchise, as well as many other talented designers working on establishing their own series, Square had built a solid foundation that enabled them to transition into the next generation of video game consoles with the release of the Super Nintendo and to what many fans refer to as their golden age…

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Filed under Dragon Quest Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, SaGa Series

Top 5 Songs From Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X was the first main title to feature composers other than Nobuo Uematsu. This gave the soundtrack a more diverse sound and featured multilayered melodies. It was also the first Final Fantasy game with voice acting. These are my top 5 songs from Final Fantasy X:

1. -To Zanarkand-

This is a deeply beautiful and sad song. With only the use of piano, this melody transports you to another world and takes you through the emotions of despair, regret, loss and hope. One of Uematsu’s greatest compositions.

2. -Suteki Da Ne-

The main vocal piece of the soundtrack, sung in Japanese. It is a tragic, but heartfelt love song featuring a sweeping melody and nice vocals. I would also recommend listening to the English version translated for the Final Fantasy orchestral concerts.

3. -Main Battle Theme –

The main battle theme of Final Fantasy X is very different to others in the series. It is more upbeat and rhythmical. It matches Tidus jumping back and forth getting ready for action. While the melody starts off calm and collected, it still includes enough energy to fit the harder battles.

4. -Silence Before The Storm-

An eerie and mysterious song, like you have just wandered into an enchanted forest. The melody is both comforting and intriguing. The composition features a wonderful chord progression that really makes the song stand out.

5. -Otherworld-

Something completely new to the series, the distorted guitar and grinding vocals came as a surprise to long time players, but the heavy metal sound was the perfect background for the final battle against Jecht as Braska’s Final Aeon.

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Filed under Final Fantasy Series, Music, Top 5 Lists

Top 5 RPG Composers

The musical scores of RPG’s do so much more than just provide some pleasant background tunes. Some tracks give life to the fantasy worlds, while others provide personality to the game’s characters and some of the best pieces leave players with their fondest RPG memories. Many composers are as legendary as the games their soundtracks appear in and here are my top 5 RPG composers:

1. -Nobuo Uematsu –

Uematsu found fame scoring the magical soundtracks of the Final Fantasy Series. Uematsu’s strength lies in his ability to convey emotion, through his music, in a variety of scenes and situations. His most memorable compositions usually include character themes and battle music. He consistently pushed the limits of RPG music throughout the years and has delivered some of the most recognised tracks in video game history.

Best works: Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX

2. -Yasunori Mitsuda-

As a young composer at SquareSoft, Mitsuda was given the responsibility of providing the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger. After producing one of the best RPG scores of its time, he went on to establish himself as one of the greats of the genre. His celtic and jazz inspired music tends to define the world of the game it appears in and makes every location both unique and exciting. Mitsuda’s soundtracks leave a lasting impression both on the game and on the player.

Best works: Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Xenosaga: Episode 1

3. -Yoko Shimomura –

After starting her career with SquareSoft before going freelance, Shimomura has provided lots of different melodies to many RPG series. Her style lends itself perfectly to grandiose main themes and adds a sense of fun and adventure to any RPG her music appears in. Shimomura has provided plenty of diversity in her soundtracks, ranging from traditional compositions such as the Kingdom Hearts series to more experimental ones found in the Parasite Eve series.

Best works: Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve, Radiant Historia

4. -Hitoshi Sakimoto-

Sakimoto’s style is complex and translates differently to each of his soundtracks. Able to provide great ambiance in his musical compositions, his scores convey mystery and intrigue to perfectly accompany the narrative of the RPG, such as his score for Vagrant Story. His more recent orchestral soundtracks found in the likes of Final Fantasy XII, have taken this style to a grander scale and the outcome has been magnificent.

Best works: Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, Valkyria Chronicles

5. -Masashi Hamauzu –

Used to working with other composers on many soundtracks Hamauzu developed his own style working on the SaGa series. Hamauzu was the sole composer for Final Fantasy XIII and he produced his finest work. His beautiful soundtracks add enchanting melodies to their respective games, but when the need arises he creates epic musical pieces to compliment the expanding nature of RPG video game development.

Best works: SaGa Frontier 2, Unlimited Saga, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIII

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Filed under Chrono Series, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Parasite Eve Series, SaGa Series, Top 5 Lists, Vagrant Story, Xenogears