We had the chance to talk to Kumi Tanioka, Hidenori Iwasaki, and Donna Burke about the music in the GameCube remaster.
Before the launch of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered, we had the chance to send off a few questions to key members of game's memorable soundtrack, composers Kumi Tanioka and Hidenori Iwasaki as well as vocalist Donna Burke. Tanioka and Iwasaki have worked with Square since the late '90s, with Tanioka's work with the original Crystal Chronicles being one of their defining contributions. Tanioka also has done remix arrangement for the Smash Bros. series and Iwasaki has ties to the Front Mission series and even Mario Sports Mix. Donna Burke is the narrator and vocalist for Crystal Chronicles. She's a 20-year veteran of video game voice acting. If you remember Mrs. Arrow from F-Zero GX (you probably don't), that was her. More relevantly, she was a part of Metal Gear Solid V.
While our review of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered was mixed, far and away one of the triumphs is the soundtrack, which you can buy here. Enjoy the insights from this trio who helped make that soundtrack so special.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): Crystal Chronicles has a very distinct sound compared to other Final Fantasy titles. What other scores and composers inspired the original soundtrack?
Kumi Tanioka (KT): There isn’t anything in particular that directly impacted the style of FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES. If anything, I feel like I was very much influenced by the Roba Music Theatre’s music and the world it creates.
Hidenori Iwasaki (HI): I’ve always loved folk music and period music, but what gave me the greatest inspiration at the time was the Roba Music Theatre, a group that performs music using period instruments. When I heard their album, I thought, “I want to use this within the world of a game.” Subsequently, this wish of mine came true, and we were able to have the Roba Music Theatre perform all the pieces. Although Kumi Tanioka is the composer of almost all the memorable music in FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES, I think that the Roba Music Theatre’s performances drew out the game’s world and atmosphere.
NWR: What kind of guidance and direction were you given to come up with the style?
KT: Actually, Mr. Iwasaki and I presented our ideas before we received any kind of direction from the team. We presented a plan to the team director, stating we wanted to make the music genre-less using period and folk instruments in addition to our desire to approach the Roba Music Theatre to perform the music. We were truly fortunate that they accepted our concept.
HI: There wasn’t anything in particular. The only instance I recall is when Mr. Kataoka (Masahiro Kataoka), who worked on the scenario, mentioned, “What about this type of music?” and presented music with a strong beat from a shooting game. Ms. Tanioka and I listened to the music and thought, “No way!” We decided to ignore the input and proceeded to trust our own instincts (laughs). It’s probably unimaginable for anyone involved in movie music production where temp tracks exist, but at SQUARE, composers have traditionally been granted leeway and have been entrusted to make decisions in many cases, and the general mood was that ultimately anything goes as long as players are happy.
NWR: There was talk of hardware limitations that held back the original soundtrack. What limitations were they and how are these previously lost songs being brought back into the game?
HI: It would be correct to say that there were unused performance phrases rather that lost/unused songs to be precise. Speaking of gaming hardware from the early 2000s, it was common to have 256 KB or 512 KB of memory available for music. When you attempt to sound music within that size, the only approach available is sampling an instrument’s waveform for each music interval (for example, the C and E sounds) and using MIDI for playback. The main programmer on FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES was very capable though, and they were able to allocate 2 MB of memory for music (even though that may still be a small amount (laughs)).
That’s when we really thought things through. If we have this much memory to work with, we thought we’d be able to use half (1 MB) in the traditional way, sampling intervals (i.e. C and E) and playing back those sounds using MIDI, and use the other half for sampling the Roba Music Theatre’s performance data by breaking them down and playing them back in phrases. The strategy ended up working, and we were able to achieve music that sounded as though you’re listening to something streamed (like mp3s and wavs). That said, in actuality, the task of putting all live performance data into 1 MB was quite a challenge, and an immense amount of trial and error awaited me; it was as though I was trying to solve a large jigsaw puzzle. Even after other team members went home, I worked into the late hours, chopping up the performance phrases, reusing the same parts, and dropping the sample rate among other things. Somehow, I fit everything within the available memory, but there were some phrases that couldn’t be kept, leaving us no choice but to cut them out. This time, we were able to revive the performance phrases that were originally supposed to be incorporated but ended up going unused.
KT: There were no unused tracks, but despite having the Roba Music Theatre perform the music, there were quite a lot of data that couldn’t be used due to the above reasons. Therefore, now that there was a great amount of space to work with, we revived all performance data and remixed/remade the tracks so that everyone can enjoy the gentle performances of the Roba Music Theatre, more than ever.
NWR: What is your favorite of the new songs added to the remaster?
KT: There are only two new songs this time around, but I put a lot of heart and soul into both tracks.
HI: Perhaps the new boss battle track. This is the only track that had been arranged with a slightly more current rhythm and flashier sounds, but it still properly retains the original universe, so I’m looking forward to seeing how players respond to this piece.
NWR: Revisiting the original Crystal Chronicles all these years later, what part of upgrading the music and sound was most important?
KT: Originally, we didn’t really intend on upgrading the music. I felt that FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES in its original form makes it just that, and even now, my sentiment hasn’t changed. That said, we were informed high-difficulty dungeons were being added to the Remaster, so I thought it’d be interesting to have remake/remix tracks to juxtapose the original versions. Furthermore, we had a lot of performance data remaining that couldn’t be used 17 years ago due to hardware limitations; as such, I think it turned out be something that is very well-balanced, something that doesn’t break the universe created by the original soundtrack, while also being particular about the sound quality where 17 years of technological advancement can surely be felt (laughs).
HI: First of all, the theme we took on was: “how are we changing things while making it feel as though nothing at all changed?” This music is already loved by many people, so we mulled over how to make it even better without destroying the image of it within people’s hearts. Using the latest equipment would have allowed us to make the sounds flashier and bolder, but that would have also meant that the simplicity and atmosphere would have changed. That would have been the kind of change for the worse that’s typically seen, and I thought it wasn’t right. That’s what led to our approach of trying not to alter the simplicity or atmosphere even while using the latest equipment.
NWR: Knowing that Crystal Chronicles is intended to be more of a multi-player experience, rather than a 40-hour single-player one, was that a consideration when composing the game’s soundtrack?
KT: I hadn’t really considered this. This is because I envisioned and created music that would be similar to air, something that’s always flowing, unchanged, no matter the situation, just like the wind that blows against anyone indifferently; therefore, regardless of the player enjoying the game through single player or multiplayer, I created the music in the hopes of leaving the takeaway up to the player’s discretion.
HI: Specifically, in my role, I never needed to think about that aspect. We focused on ensuring that the music properly depicts the game’s world and atmosphere rather than focus on matching it with the game style.
NWR: The main Final Fantasy series and all of its spinoffs have been well-known for their amazing music. What is it about role-playing games that inspires such memorable soundtracks?
KT: I feel like the heart of an RPG is that they really build out the story. In that sense, FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES’ story is broad, and leaves a certain level of interpretation to the players. I did want to incorporate that contrast somehow. I think there are many instances in RPGs where the music draws closer to the player, where the music immediately transfers the atmosphere encompassing the scene/place to the player. In contrast, FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES endeavored, as much as possible, to create music that’s just present, that gently watches over the player, aside from key moments like climactic scenes. Generating that contrast may have been possible because of my personal love for RPG music.
HI: It may not be a proper answer to this question, but even in real life, it’s fun to take one step outside the country in which you were born and raised and travel to another country with different values and cultures. There’s a similar feeling when playing RPGs. Through the music, I want to capture that feeling of traveling in a different world. For me, I think that desire serves as one of the driving forces behind creating music.
NWR: Crystal Chronicles was the first Final Fantasy game to feature a storytelling narrator, Donna Burke. What led to the decision to include voiced narration, and what specific elements of the game inspired Burke’s performance?
Donna Burke (DB): I wasn’t a part of the decision making process to feature a narrator. But for years I’d be voice acting on a game and beg to sing on the sound track (Silent Hill 2 and 3) or be singing on a sound track and begging to do the mocap and/or a voice! My wish came true only on FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain! I do vividly remember how proud I was to be singing and voice acting on the same title. Back in 2003 I think we did the whole recording of the songs and narration on the same day.
I channeled the Irish nuns of the Order of Saint Dominic in my narration, mixed with a mother’s kindly tone. I remember it was important to have a slow, measured pacing in the narration. Most non-native English speakers cannot tell the difference between an English, US or Irish accent and back then most voice acting was done in either US or British English, never Australian or Irish so it is ground breaking that they went with an Irish accent, which I think really suited the story and feel of the game. This year when I re-recorded the narration, I of course, did an Irish accent again! It’s great nowadays that there is such a diversity of accents in games. Times have changed for the better.
NWR: Since the original release of the game, multiple other Crystal Chronicles games have come out. What was it like revisiting the original game after the other releases?
KT: The original FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES is where it all started, so it did feel like we were returning to the origin. It goes without saying that without the original game, the music for the series’ titles that followed may not have been born. The FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES series, in all honesty, is an extremely important game to me, so being able to go back to its roots and confront it once again, was a very enjoyable and happy time for me.
HI: The experience was one filled with nostalgia as I recalled how it all started here… (laughs). The CRYSTAL CHRONICLES series originally began as a title that would provide a new, different way to play when compared to traditional FINAL FANTASY titles that had come before it. It is a series that, in 2003, relentlessly pursued how to provide an entertaining multiplayer experience on the GameCube, and in 2009, strove to create the most fun gameplay possible using the Wii controllers in CRYSTAL BEARERS. I wanted to create sounds that were more in line with period music for CRYSTAL BEARERS as well, a title for which I composed music, but the producer asked me to create music that is completely different, so I remember being greatly conflicted at that time. This is because I felt that something along the lines of period music was what players were seeking… Interestingly, by revisiting the original work, it goes without saying that I have been able to notice the great aspects that made the original again, but also realized that I am able to perceive the music from CRYSTAL BEARERS, a game that didn’t see commercial success, positively now. I feel like time has inclined me to change my outlook.
DB: I’m not sure how to answer this. I never played them (sorry!) So, I can say how proud and excited I am that FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES is going to be a huge hit with a completely new generation of fans (like my niece and nephews) who never played the original. It’s such a lovely gift for me to see such a beautiful, fresh, modern version of the game. The characters are just so adorable! In a way it’s like it’s a completely new title for a lot of people.