May 10, 2004
Too bad while Robin’s in L.A. he won’t be able to catch the sold out performance of selected works from the score of the Final Fantasy video game series, by the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
I’ve talked before about my love for Final Fantasy IV (II in US), but how could I get away without mentioning my love for its music? Before video games could signal emotion with actual, recognizable facial expressions (when “faces” were a few murky pixels on a 16-bit, or God forbid, 8-bit screen), the music heroically took the place of the visuals in directing us how to feel. This was usually a bad thing, of course — those midi files always teetered on the edge of being cloying and obvious.
But especially with the music of Nobuo Uematsu from Final Fantasy, the themes often had a beautiful subtlety to them. And I think Uematsu did some of his best work in Final Fantasy IV. The game’s story was so wonderfully over-the-top — it was honestly the apotheosis of epic in 16 beautiful bits. Pick a theme, any theme, it’s in there. The quest for ultimate knowledge — Adam and Eve and the Manhattan Project (“I am become death, destroyer of worlds”) — played itself out in Tellah’s quest for Meteo, the Spell to end all Spells, and the “King of Baron’s” pursuit of the sacred crystals. Folly of the elderly leads to the death of the young? You know, Daedalus and Icarus, Romeo and Juliet — look no further than Palom and Porom, the pint-size twin magicians who turn themselves to stone to save the other adventurers, or Anna and Edward, the young pair whose love is sacrificed to Tellah’s fury. Oh, and there’s a ton more — the quest for self-redemption, avenging the death of a parent, you name it.
My point is that the music had to be pretty nimble to handle all this drama. Uematsu had to go from Wagner to Brahms in the blink of an eye … and he did. Take, for example, what’s probably my favorite piece of video game music ever — the Red Wings theme. It’s an anthemic military march — in a minor key. Follow the melody as it crests and falls towards its sad, sweet high note, falls again into that ominous rat-tat-tat, then explodes into the dissonant, aggressive coda that doesn’t really resolve so much as suffer a heart attack. Once you’ve got a handle on that melody, check out where Uematsu reprises it in “Suspicion” and the beginning of “Cry In Sorrow.”
OK, I’m done showing you cheesy midi files. But clearly other people love Uematsu’s stuff, too. This isn’t the first time Nobuo Uematsu’s work will be performed with instruments:
The first FINAL FANTASY symphony concert was held in Japan in February of 2002, performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The sold-out concert led to a six-city, seven-show concert series titled “Tour de Japon - music from FINAL FANTASY -” which will be held this coming March and April throughout Japan. The Czech National Symphony Orchestra also performed some of Uematsu’s compositions in the Symphonic Game Music Concert held in Leipzig, Germany in 2002.
In February 2003, Uematsu formed a group called “The Black Mages,” producing a self-titled album composed of FINAL FANTASY battle music arranged in rock style. Uematsu himself performs as the keyboardist.
As video games have gotten better at feeding you emotions through graphics, sometimes even through rumble packs, the music tends more towards subtle tone-setting with occasional moments of pop/rock, which is probably the stuff the L.A. Philharmonic will be taking on.
Another example of undeniable masterpiece in video game music: the theme from the original Super Mario Bros.