I work in healthcare and play games. I write when I’m frustrated. How perfect.
Edit: Bossman said this wasn’t long enough and to write about 1000 words, so here goes. “1000 Words” (1000の言葉, Sen no Kotoba in Japanese) was the pop single from the game Final Fantasy X-2, the first direct sequel to any Final Fantasy game and the first to openly display its Japanese pop culture and idol worship influences. The music was written by Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, with lyrics by Kazushige Nojima. Written in B major (but more like G-sharp minor) with a tempo at 102, this was the quintessential ballad to the grossly melodramatic opera that was the FFX duology. Both games in the series center on themes of departure and saying farewell, making the job easy for the lyricist. That’s not to say ease implies poor worksmanship. The final product was translated to English as well, and I must say I thoroughly enjoy both. The lyrics in its native Japanese fit every note in the melody, while not much is lost to Engrish in the international release. Speaking of international releases, FFX-2 was also the first in the mainline series to have a separate remake with an improved job system and some extra plot points. At the time, J-pop star Koda Kumi sang the Japanese version and American vocalist Jade Villalon from pop group Sweetbox sang the English (I went to college with her cousin, my claim to fame).
At the time of release, I did not own a Playstation 2 or have internet, so I never played FFX or FFX-2. What I did have was access to my friend’s external HDD, filled with all the music he downloaded from reputable sources Limewire and Kazaa. Combing through this treasure trove, I found one track simply titled “Final Fantasy”. I played it and it began with a nice clean synthesizer and some wind chimes. Then the Japanese vocals come in, swept in shortly by the strings. I was sitting in my room with headphones and for the next 6 minutes, I was enchanted. I was immediately in another world, but without a clue as to which Final Fantasy and to which world. My friend didn’t know either, he just downloaded everything labeled ‘Final Fantasy’ en masse. And honestly, I felt the magic of the song would be better served if I didn’t go looking for the answer (an ironic antithesis to the game’s premise).
Years later, Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi released the arranged Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collections, a pivotal collection in my musical identity. At this point, I still hadn’t played either FFX game and decided to instead be satisfied with simply enjoying the world it created. When the track 1000 Words came on, I initially did not recognize it until the melody starts 20 seconds in. The rest of the track is a building, melancholic performance reminiscent of a lonely seat at the bar trying to convince yourself to move on. A quick google revealed the information I had coyfully left covered in a corner of my brain. It was like rediscovering an old friend.
In any case, 1000 Words was also unique in that it was the first single from an FF game not to be written by famed composer Nobuo Uematsu, who I personally credit for revolutionizing video game music and legitimizing it first as an art form and then as an industry. Matsueda and Eguchi had big shoes to fill, but what was especially surprising was how they easily surpassed doubts and expectations without seemingly breaking a sweat. Eguchi hadn’t done much video game work before this one, just 1999’s Japan-exclusive Racing Lagoon, and Matsueda was on then-Squaresoft’s side projects (Front Mission and Tobal, although she did collaborate with Uematsu for “Boss Battle 1” for Chrono Trigger), and if you listen to either soundtrack, they’re nothing like 1000 Words or the beautiful Eternity: Memory of Lightwaves, which graces the menu screen and is the first thing to meet players’ ears after popping the disc in. Squaresoft had to part with Uematsu at some point, and fans first expressed doubts and trepidation when Masashi Hamauzu was announced to be the primary composer for FFX. Fears were quelled after the game’s release. Hamauzu did a great job. And in the sequel’s release, Eguchi and Matsueda did a fantastic job as well. Upon reflection, was 1000 Words also a farewell song to the widely-loved Nobuo Uematsu?
1000 Words was an immediate success upon release, debuting in the top 10 and peaking at #3 on Japan’s Oricon Music Charts, reigniting Koda Kumi’s pop career in its tailpipes. The song would reappear later in spinoff rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call and is alluded to in a quest titled “A Thousand Words” in MMO Final Fantasy XIV. Despite its native success, no such accolades would appear in Western markets, perhaps a reflection of the times, given that it is only in late 2017 that Super Mario Odyssey’s theme song “Jump Up, Super Star” would crack iTunes’s Top 40 All Genre category. A well-crafted pop ballad through and through, I think it would have done well. In 2003, however, the video game industry had not attained its grounding in the general consciousness, and it did not have the multibillion dollar grip it has now, let alone video game music’s little corner of the house.
If this piece was actually about me, it would still take place in said room. It would be me with headphones, clicking through trying to find little treasures that others had drudged up through the depths of the information dump that is the internet. It would be me looking at something without understanding it, listening to something that is strange and new, but still captivating. It would then be me trying to figure it out in my own way, and maybe talking to you about it. And then maybe it would be about 1000 words long.