I don't always listen to game music, but when I do, I prefer these two guys most people don't know.
Game music composer Nobuo Uematsu is a legend of his craft and played an undeniable part in Final Fantasy's early success. Some of the warmest, fuzziest bits of nostalgia we have about FF's golden days are tracks like "Matoya's Cave", "Terra's Theme", "You Are Not Alone "Theme of Love", "The Other Side of the Mountain", and countless others (shed your nostalgia in the comments). Faced with limited game console technology for most of his career, the man had to focus on memorable melodies to help set the mood, and he did a heck of a job
Uematsu not being a Final Fantasy mainstay for these past several years has been sad for the series, not just because it misses his masterful compositions, but because the series needs a go-to guy for its music. I believe one small step (among many needed) toward Final Fantasy getting back to banging out the hits like it used to would be to have a dedicated music man on the team, in the same way Uematsu was the obvious choice for well over a decade. While Hitoshi Sakimoto did a decent job with FFXII and Masashi Hamazu deserves a tip of the hat for a good effort in FFXIII, they lack the power of so many other FF soundtracks.
I submit to you my two considerations for the heir to Mr. Uematsu's throne. One of these two awesome composers should be Final Fantasy's new music master. First up, meet Keiichi Okabe. He's this guy:
Look at him. This photo was taken after he executed everyone else in the room. Keiichi already has experience working on Square-published RPGs, as he did the soundtracks for Lord of Apocalypse and Nier. Cavia, the studio that developed the latter, no longer exists, so this free agent is a perfect, easy pickup for Square Enix. Cut this man a fat paycheck and let him give you soundtrack bliss, Square.
If there's a strike against Okabe, it's that his history of being radtastic doesn't stretch back through his whole career, as he tend to do some one-off tracks for random games that can be hit or miss. There were bright spots in it, though. Moreover, I find the second better than the first, and the man's work in general is constantly getting better. He might just be worth giving a shot at Final Fantasy.
Let's begin by sampling his best work, the Nier soundtrack:
Nier: Kaine ~ Salvation – More like the salvation of my playlist from bad tracks.
Nier: Emil ~ Karma – Battle music for people who like battle music.
Nier: Ashes of Dreams – Available in 4 languages, this dark vocal theme perfectly captures the grim mood of its game.
That whole soundtrack is dynamite. Okabe's other stuff isn't quite Nier level, and his most recent Lord of Apocalypse is loaded with ups and downs. It is for this reason that Okabe is not a shoe-in for this job. Say hello to perhaps a stronger candidate, Takeharu Ishimoto.
Ishimoto has two Final Fantasy spinoff soundtracks to his credit, Crisis Core and Type-0, both of which are among my top five favorite game soundtracks.
In my kickass Final Fantasy Type-0 review, I said, "If I were Johnny Depp and this were Once Upon a Time in Mexico, I would shoot a composer for making something this great." I invaded places to the tune of "Sacred Fire" and punched faces in time with "Three Hours of Fate". Hardly a moment passed by in which I was not appreciating the music of Type-0, and the same can be said of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.
To be fair, a lot of great tracks in Crisis Core were remixes of Uematsu's top-notch work on the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, but the original stuff was also very well done. In both CC:FFVII and FFT0, Ishimoto uses a mix of instruments and styles blended wonderfully. Check out a few solid tracks from the Crisis Core OST:
Crisis Core: The Burdened – How great is that violin right there?
Crisis Core: Under the Apple Tree – Like who wouldn't join S.O.L.D.I.E.R. if this played while the recruiter spoke?
Crisis Core: The Price of Freedom – Functions as Crisis Core's main theme, hell of a song.
Crisis Core: Fulfilled Desire – An FFVII Main Theme Remix.
Crisis Core: A Flower Blooming in the Slums – An FFVII Aeris Theme Remix
I could go on and on with these two games. Ishimoto has also done interesting things for Dissidia, The World Ends With You, and chunks of the Kingdom Hearts series that include Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance. This guy's already cranking out the hits for Square, but hardly anyone knows his name. I think he's ready to be right in the spotlight as the official composer for numbered Final Fantasy titles from here on out. Maybe he could do most of the battles and serious story moments songs while Okabe handles mostly field, dungeon, and town themes? I think it could be a winning combination.
Square, give Ishimoto or Okabe the music responsibilities of the Final Fantasy series. Let's do this.