There are certain things Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is remembered for. The unique gameplay elements and ability to play with Game Boy Advances back in the day is one. The incredible music is the other. Some consider it among the finest Final Fantasy music ever written. Siliconera was fortunate enough to ask composers Kumi Tanioka and Hidenori Iwasaki and Donna Burke, the narrator and singer behind “Morning Sky” and “Moonless Starry Night” some questions about the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles soundtrack and what it was like to come back to it so many years later.
Jenni Lada, Siliconera: What was it like to return to the world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles so many years later? How did you get back into the right mindset for the remaster?
Kumi Tanioka: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is a game that I have continued to truly cherish, so I really had a wonderful time revisiting the world and its music. There was a sense of nostalgia, but there were also instances where I’d realize something I hadn’t before, even though I’m the one who composed the music. It made me notice certain things that I had done back then, so the undertaking was also fun in that sense.
When working on the remaster, I didn’t really switch my mindset; I simply listened to the original soundtrack numerous times to recall my memories, so it almost feels like I was preparing the new songs and remake tracks so that they’re in line with the feelings and thoughts I had back then.
Hidenori Iwasaki: The experience was filled with nostalgia. I was, once again, working through the files I created 17 years ago after all. Fortunately, all data, including music and materials, were stored in my Mac in almost perfect condition. Therefore, it allowed me to jump straight into the project as though I was working with the files I had just opened yesterday.
Lada: Part of what makes the soundtrack so special is how it builds on itself and maintains connections between tracks and areas. How did you determine what musical threads to piece together?
Tanioka: It’ll be a long answer if I delve into which tracks and in what way, but at the beginning, I start by understanding the flow of the game, and consider which tracks will play after one another and which tracks will be heard most often before diving into production. But there isn’t much I do aside from that. During production, I think there were hardly any instances where I checked the flow of the songs using the game’s debug. Perhaps it’s closer to say we’d been fortunate to see them tie into one another naturally.
Iwasaki: If that’s how people feel, that would make me very happy. I think the biggest reason comes down to Ms. Tanioka’s music simply being wonderful, but specifically speaking from my standpoint as the synth operator and arranger, I think it was good that the tones were decided based on a concept that was clearly defined upfront, including: only using period instruments to perform all tracks, using medieval rather than modern percussion instruments, using instruments that generate an air of simplicity for anything else, and only using the synthesizer for choirs or spaces like dungeons.
Kazuma Hashimoto, Siliconera: The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles soundtrack is, without a doubt, one of the more memorable ones in the series due to how it has implemented use of medieval instruments, like the crumhorn. What inspired you to use these instruments in your compositions?
Tanioka: I’d have to say the presence of the Roba Music Theatre was huge. While the game carries a harsh theme encompassing a journey to survive, the overarching atmosphere from the characters, scenery, and scenario have a gentle aura, so in order to instill that in the music, from the very beginning I had envisioned using various folk instruments to create songs that felt genre-less. Meanwhile, Mr. Iwasaki, who handled the arrangements, found the Roba Music Theatre and I was drawn to them immediately thinking, “This is the world we’re striving the achieve!” The music for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was born, thanks to Mr. Iwasaki.
Iwasaki: I’ve always liked folk and early music, and I took Irish fiddle lessons from a Canadian person once a week with Mr. Uematsu and others. Amidst that, it was around the year 2000 that I came across the Roba Music Theatre, a music group that specializes in playing period instruments. Their albums only used instruments like the crumhorn, gemshorn, hurdy-gurdy, and recorder, but it didn’t sound tiresome as it is often the case for early music; these were sounds that children would even perceive as cute and fun. I wanted to incorporate this type of music into a game someday.
And, when we were preparing to create the music for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles around 2002, I invited the composer, Kumi Tanioka, to see the Roba Music Theatre perform and we went to see their concert together. Reason being, I felt that the memorable melodies she creates, and the Roba Music Theatre’s performances would resonate well with one another. She also ended up enjoying the Roba Music Theatre’s performance very much.
Thereafter, we were fortunate to hear that the Roba Music Theatre would take on the performance for this project, and that’s how the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles’ music was born.
Hashimoto: Did the scenario and world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition influence your instrumental decisions? What part of the world or character made you go,"Of course, the crumhorn!" for a track?
Tanioka: The overall soft color scheme and character details, their comical actions, their gentle presence, or seeing them tremble with unspeakable anger… I feel that those types of things matched the nostalgic and gentle tone of period instruments. Also, the characters’ faces were cute, but more than that, they gave off a strong “gentle” impression and I think that was another big point of inspiration.
Iwasaki: Although this overlaps with my earlier response, at the beginning, we decided to limit instruments to period instruments, so they were selected within those boundaries. The Roba Music Theatre, the group that performed the music, also provided many suggestions based on their take on interesting instruments.
And, there were also many instances where they added further arrangements and instruments on their end. The saz, a guitar-type instrument from the Middle East, in such tracks like the one used at River Belle Path is an example of something that didn’t exist in the original version. There is nothing more useful than receiving advice from the experts themselves, and the majority of their suggestions were incorporated.
Lada: Which songs would you especially consider your favorites? What do you love most about them? Were there any special stories behind their creation?
Tanioka: It’s quite difficult to choose since my feelings towards them are so strong, but “Maggie is Everything” and “If It’s Three People…?” are pieces that I wrote relatively smoothly. It’s quite fun, creating tracks like these where they’re comical and funny, but kind at the root.
In contrast, I remember struggling to come up with an idea for “Monster’s Dance”, and after contemplating for a few days, the motif suddenly came down and I was able to compose it in one fell swoop after that.
Iwasaki: I like the music for the River Belle Path. It’s so soothing, just listening to the melody that plays out on the alto recorder, and the rhythm kept on the saz. Ms. Tanioka created the original version in G-sharp minor, but the key was changed to A minor in the final version so that the music could be performed on period instruments.
The music for Tida is the first piece I created after joining Square, so it’s quite memorable. I played the melody on a flute for the guide track, but when the Roba Music Theatre listened to it, they mentioned the faint/raspy sounds (the noise-like sound that’s generated as air leaks out when someone who doesn’t excel at playing blows into an instrument) are good, and suggested using it as-is, so it was directly used in the game. For the Remastered Edition, we switched the melody from the flute to Bulgarian Voices, a specific type of traditional Bulgarian vocal performance, so please try listening to the track as well.
Lada: The remaster presented an opportunity to return to potentially unused tracks. How much work went into preparing them for this more widespread release?
Tanioka: Unfortunately, there weren’t any unused tracks (laughs). Therefore, the new songs were newly written. That said, in order to regain the state of mind I had back then, I listened to the original soundtrack again and recalled the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles universe, characters, and story when composing the new songs; the process didn’t take too long, though.
Iwasaki: The original music files were stored in perfect condition, so not much time was needed for preparations. I think we were involved in development for over a year, but in terms of the actual work done, it probably netted out to three months or so.
Lada: Which track are you most excited for people to hear and why?
Tanioka: Honestly, my heart is pounding to see whether everyone will react favorably towards the two new songs as music for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.
You can also compare the remade and remixed tracks to their original versions and see how they’ve changed; I’d be happy to see people enjoying the music in this way.
Iwasaki: 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.
Joel Couture, Siliconera: How does it feel to know fans are still looking forward to listening to music you recorded over fifteen years ago?
Tanioka: I am very happy and honored. All the tracks are so special to me as well, but just thinking the music may have remained in the hearts of everyone who has played Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles makes me overflow with joy.
Iwasaki: It’s something to be truly grateful about. We’ve been lucky (laughs). Normally, we compose music without knowing whether the game will sell or not. Regardless of the game, we always strive to put our all into creating the music so that it can be enjoyed by our players.
That said, in actuality, if the game doesn’t sell, the music could disappear without it being known by anyone, even if the composer feels certain pieces turned out very well. And, it’s probably safe to say that those instances are more common.
Therefore, I have been very lucky and am very grateful to have taken part in the creation of music that players look forward to this day, even after more than 15 years have passed.
Couture: What was it like returning to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles after so many years?
Donna Burke: What a gift! I love how the important elements of the game have been retained and then expanded on to become even more beautiful to look at and play. It’s always been sad for me that not many people got to play it when it first came out. It was a cult classic but not universally known. Fast forward to 2020 and now it’s going to be a mainstream classic!
Writing new lyrics for “Morning Sky” was an unexpected treat too which I hope fans will get a kick out of. I think the new version is more anthemic and even more inspiring than the original. I like that it acknowledges the diehard fans that played it seventeen years ago and asks them “Fifteen memories, do you still recall those stories?”
I’m also delighted that I got the chance to sing new versions because now I have more experience and depth to put into my performances. I still like listening to the original versions but it’s nice to get another crack and try a different take!
I noticed that I am more confident and commanding in this new version… or is it that now I’m older, I’m more bossy… or more loud? I dunno, maybe both!
Lada: How did acting as a narrator here compare to other game roles where you acted as a narrator or announcer?
Burke: I think the narration here has a lot of motherly tones and humour. I think it is closer to the announcements on the Shinkansen than a fighting game or robot voice!
Lada: What kinds of challenges do you face when recording English versions of Japanese theme songs? How do you approach them?
Burke: That’s a great question. If you look at the original Japanese lyrics, they need more melody to say less. So, when you go to adapt them into English, you have to pad them out about 30-40%. I’m fortunate that Japanese lyricists understand this and allow me some license. So you’re never cutting to fit a melody, you’re having to pad things out.
My adaptation is not a direct translation of the Japanese lyrics but a faithful attempt to create the same feeling in the listener.
I also have a useful trick where I submit the first draft as a “rough, very rough, no worries if you hate it” version, so that they can get their knives out with gusto without worrying they’ll upset me!
Part of my success and longevity as an artist is that I aspire to be “easy to work with”. That’s why I keep getting more work. It’s that I pretend to be nice on the job and then I go home and if needed, shout into a pillow. But working in Japan is really fun–just look at the photos of Ms. Tanioka and I at the recording! Proof!
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and both Android and Apple iOS devices. The soundtrack is available through Square Enix’s online storefront for $34.99.