Released in the early 2000s, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is one of the most beloved entries in the long-running JRPG series. With a new remaster, publisher Square Enix is looking to revamp the title with some new music. We got in touch with Kumi Tanioka and Hidenori Iwasaki, the composers on Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition to get some insight into the creation of the game’s score.
What were your first projects within the gaming industry and how did they shape your involvement within the Final Fantasy and Crystal Chronicles series?
KT: The first project I worked on at SQUARE ENIX was Chocobo’s Dungeon 2. I remember working so nervously alongside three of my seniors, including Kenji Ito. The fact that the development staff took a liking to the music I composed at that time, still serves as personal motivation to this day. Therefore, I think this should have had a large impact on my involvement in FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES as well.
HI: The first project I handled in the gaming industry was a racing game that was released in 1999 called Chocobo Racing. Work on the title was very fulfilling, making full use of the analog synthesizer and creating the tones for all instruments from scratch. I think the approach to sound creation, where I looked to synth music from the past (1960s) like Perrey & Kingsley and Wendy Carlos, created something interesting that was rarely heard in other game music. I think that experience has influenced our approach to the music for FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES as well, in the way that we established the concept that aimed for originality, something that was rarely heard in other game music. For FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES, we took the approach of creating music with only period instruments from medieval Europe.
What was the process for remastering the game’s original score like? Were there particular songs that you were excited to give new life to?
KT: The biggest highlight of the music in the Remastered Edition is the fact that we used all the unused performance data that had remained from the original. And furthermore, that the sound quality improved. On top of that, I believe we were able to create wonderful remixes and rearrangements that don’t spoil the atmosphere created by the original soundtrack created 17 years ago. Mr. Iwasaki took on the majority of that work. Just like me, he had also cherished the atmosphere of the original game, so I was able to place the utmost trust and leave it in his hands. The remixed or remade tracks have that element of surprise, so it’d make me happy if everyone were to discover/find them.
HI: Thankfully, the music from the original game was received well, so with the remaster, we didn’t think about making bold changes that could potentially disappoint fans. Of course, changes have been made and sounds have been powered up, but we were always conscious about doing this at a level that may go unnoticed. The two theme songs— “Morning Sky” and “Moonless Starry Night”—as well as the stage music for River Belle Path and Tida were really fun to work on. I think we succeeded in evolving the tracks by adding new elements without breaking the universe.
Did you draw inspiration from any specific genre or artist when creating the new tracks for the remastered edition?
KT: There isn’t anything in particular in relation to the Remastered Edition. If anything, there is the sense that I had reflected on my thoughts and feelings from 17 years ago.
HI: There wasn’t anything in particular. We intentionally sealed this, as we wanted to avoid creating music that deviates from world and atmosphere depicted in the original as much as possible.
Do you think the soundtrack has played an important role in cementing Crystal Chronicles as an important part of the Final Fantasy series over the years?
KT: It would make me sincerely happy if that were the case. If the soundtrack is ingrained as part of everyone’s FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES memories, this would mean that the soundtrack I created had been successful in serving its purpose as the music for the game.
HI: I think there’s a good chance that it did have an important role. After all, until then, there weren’t any FINAL FANTASY titles with music that had only been performed with period instruments from medieval European times. On the other hand, the music’s success had also created a conundrum in that similar music became expected from sequels in the CRYSTAL CHRONICLES series, which had initially been created so that SQUARE ENIX could pursue titles with new approaches in generating fun experiences every time. Based on this, it would be acceptable to drastically change the music each time, according to the game. However, the game instilled a strong image in the minds of many players where they feel, “FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES means music that uses period instruments!” I think you’ll get the sense that the soundtrack played a large role from this phenomenon as well.
What is the music creation process like for you? Do you often collaborate when working on melodies or is it a solo affair?
KT: Generally, the process is a solo affair from the beginning. However, the reason I’m able to take on the work alone is because of the experience I’ve gained working with so many people across tons of work, not only with musicians, but also people in various positions involved in games and a variety of projects.
HI: As far as the music creation process goes, I always work on the melodies alone. Since the melody is an important aspect in which you can assert your individuality, I don’t work on them collaboratively with other people.
When I want to make an objective decision on an arrangement or composition of a song, there are cases where I ask my colleagues for their opinions. At times, I reach out to staff that have no part in a given project and ask them to listen with fresh ears. Furthermore, in cases where we do recordings of live performances, on occasion, we bring the arranger or orchestrator into the production process intentionally to take in something other than your own color.
Did you change anything about “Sound of the Wind” or “Starry Moonlit Night” that fans will immediately pick up on?
KT: One aspect is that there are live performance parts that have been re-recorded. And another aspect is that there is a full version for “Morning Sky”. That is, the phrase that connects the first verse and the second verse is the same as the background music that plays during an important event in-game. In fact, at the very beginning, I had created a longer version of “Morning Sky” assuming there would be lyrics to the second verse of the song. However, the decision was made to produce the song with just the first verse due to the game’s specifications, and the other part had disappeared during the demo phase. That said, I really love this phrase and wanted to somehow use it in-game. And so, I found the part where I wanted to use the phrase and incorporated it into the music placed there. It would make me happy if someone takes notice.
HI: Yes, there are. For these two tracks, it goes without saying that the vocals are one aspect, but the backtracks were newly recorded as well. For example, with “Morning Sky” we doubled on the rhythm-keeping saz (guitar type instrument from the Middle East) which allowed us to spread the sound across left and right, and the bagpipes during the interlude now have an additional harmony. The harp rendition in the original had been programmed with MIDI, but this has been switched to a live performance. Interestingly, even with all these changes, we had the exact same musician perform on the exact same instruments as those used in the original (for the darbuka and frame drum, even the size and pitch perfectly matched the original!) so you probably won’t notice it’s different if you were to just listen to it in a flash, but that’s exactly what we were aiming for.
How did you go about ensuring you kept the same tone from the original game’s music for the remastered version to make sure both new and old audiences would be pleased?
KT: First, that we’ve used the original tracks as-is without any modifications. And, for the newly added high-difficulty dungeons, while cherishing the original versions of the tracks, we incorporated many things that can only be done now that 17 years have passed. I’m sure people will find that the tracks feel in sync while enjoying the game, and I’m truly hoping that turns out to be the case.
HI: The additional new tracks were performed by the Roba Music Theatre, the same as the Original. For mixing music, we used new equipment that is currently available, but we made sure that the sounds didn’t become too flashy and adjusted things such as reverb and EQ while keeping the sounds from back then in mind. For re-manipulated and remixed tracks, we also took a similar approach while listening and comparing against the original.
We also contacted Donna Burke, who does narration for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, as well as lends her voice for some of the game’s iconic songs.
You’re known for several iconic roles throughout the video game industry as well as memorable songs. How was your work as the Crystal Chronicles narrator different from, say, the Metal Gear series?
DB: Thank you! Well, I think I got the job for narrating for Metal Gear not because of my previous game work but because I am the English Announcer on a very popular bullet train in Japan that nearly everyone in the country has heard. So yeah, I got that gig not because of my great acting ability! Cruel but true! For FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES, the narrator is more of an acting job where I am a loving, wise, maternal presence reminiscing and sharing stories and advice. I used an Irish accent, not my usual Australian which I have not done before or since. I got to channel the nuns that taught me when I was in school. I learned how to voice act by imitating people growing up so it was fun to channel Sister Cecilia from my childhood… and get paid for it!
What were the biggest challenges or surprises that came from working with the team to bring Crystal Chronicles to new audiences?
DB: Well, I’m not party to the ins and outs of why the release was delayed. but now, does it not seem that the August 2020 date is perfect? Don’t we all need something to look forward to at the end of summer and during a pandemic where gaming is now a desirable, safe activity for all the family?! When we re-recorded the songs it was back in early 2019. Fast forward to 2020 and for safety reasons, I recorded remotely, with all of the team listening in on video chat.
Are you a Final Fantasy fan and have you played the original Crystal Chronicles or any of the numbered entries?
DB: Um er no?! I like watching other people who know how to play properly though. I’m a wimp but also impatient with my lack of ability to use a controller... I love reading stories. For example, I have read all the Game of Thrones books and was eagerly awaiting the TV show only to not be able to watch it because it was too scary.
How did you get your start within the anime/gaming music industry?
DB: I think I got it through being a singer and then found out about auditions from the same agencies who were giving me singing gigs. Getting the role of Claudia in SH2 really helped my career in acting and getting to sing “After All” in the Gundam movie in 2001 was huge for me. Wait, no, moving to Tokyo in 1996 is what got me a start in this industry! If I didn’t live here, I would never have had all the opportunities I have. Yep, that’s it. It’s living in Japan!
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is available now for $29.99. More information can be found on the game's