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[Interview] Original composers and vocalist on returning to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

Posted on September 19, 2020 by (@NE_Brian) in GameCube, Interviews, Switch

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition

For the release of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, Square Enix revisited the original game’s soundtrack. Not only were many pieces of music revamped, but a couple of new tracks were added to the experience as well. That all comes courtesy of original composers Kumi Tanioka and Hidenori Iwasaki as well as English vocalist and game narrator Donna Burke.

Prior to the launch of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, Nintendo Everything was given the opportunity to pass along a few questions to Tanioka, Iwasaki, and Burke. They touched on their experience with the original game as well as their contributions to the new version.

You can read our full discussion with Tanioka, Iwasaki, and Burke below.

What was it like returning to these classic arrangements after so long? Did you ever foresee yourself coming back to these tracks?

KT: Each track felt nostalgic; there were new discoveries in relation to how I approached the creation of those tracks and I had a very fun time. Rather than “foresee”, I did always hope that the moment for a remaster or remake would come at some point.

HI: Facing the version of myself from 17 years ago through an old computer file was an experience that was part nostalgic, part bittersweet, and part happy.

Of course, I never imagined that such a day would come.

But thankfully, all the music files had been preserved in a fully ready state.

Can you talk about your original inspiration for the soundtrack and if there were any new sources of inspiration during this remaster?

KT: When I first started to explore the direction for the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles music, I felt that something genre-less and gentle or kind would be fitting for the game. Although the game carries a harsh theme where one journeys to survive and protect their home, in contrast, the characters, scenery, and scenario all have a very gentle aura. Therefore, I thought, “something multinational yet stateless at the same time, something that evokes the colors of various nations…how about period and folk instruments?” As I was thinking about that, I came across the Roba Music Theatre, and these music pieces came to be.

The inspiration behind the Remastered Edition’s music is in fact the tracks from the original game. I wanted to retain the atmosphere without breaking or changing the universe because it’s a remaster, so I had approached the project with the mindset that the new, remixed, and remade tracks are being allowed to join and be a part of the world established through the original soundtrack.  

HI: I love folk music and period music, so I always wanted to incorporate those sounds in a game someday.

In 2002, immediately prior to the start of development for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, I went on a trip by myself to the French countryside, in search of inspiration, where townscapes from medieval times remain.

I also visited museums of historic instruments in Paris, Vienna, and Berlin.

What gave me the greatest musical inspiration at the time was the Roba Music Theatre, a group that performs music using period instruments.

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.

When approaching the remastered edition’s soundtrack, there was no intention of inserting something strange and alien into it. We proceeded in a way that would avoid destroying the world that was created back then.

How did it feel to team back up with the vocalist Donna Burke after so long?

KT: It was such an honor and it made me happy. It seems like she loved these two songs and had been singing them often in her own live performances, and I was able to sincerely feel that during the recordings done this time around. She sang the songs with great care, just as if they were her own.

HI: I was very happy to have been able to work with Donna again. She’s always bright and friendly, but also has a powerful presence, and she’s someone who is always very fun to work with.

I’m glad to say that she likes the theme song for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles very much, and she has even performed it during her own concerts and such several times.

So in that respect, it didn’t feel as though we were recording after a long hiatus; it felt more like we were recording her song that she had performed many times and with which she had a great familiarity, so the process went very smoothly.

There was no need at all for any vocal direction from us.

Are there any tracks you felt needed more work than others during this remaster?

KT: Generally, I believe that the music created at any given time is in its best form at that time, so I didn’t feel like anything needed more work. More so, I focused on making arrangements that maintained the atmosphere of the original soundtrack so that it doesn’t spoil the game world when it comes to the tracks for which remakes or remixes were added.

HI: As you might expect, that would probably be the two theme songs, “Morning Sky” and “Moonless Starry Night.”

The vocals on both of these tracks have, of course, been powered up, but what’s interesting is the backing tracks.

We rerecorded almost all of the instrumentals for each of these tracks, but we carefully researched the instruments that had been used and the performers who had played them back then, so the difference isn’t immediately noticeable (laughs).

But if you listen more closely, you’ll notice that it’s all very powered up, with the rhythm-keeping saz now doubled with two between the left and the right, the bagpipes during the interlude now having an additional harmony, and the harp rendition now switched to a live performance.

As one of the most iconic soundtracks in the Final Fantasy collection, were you afraid to make any changes so as not to upset fans? 

KT: That’s definitely something I wanted to absolutely avoid, so any changes were made with the utmost consideration in that regard. On the other hand, both the game and the soundtrack also include tracks that haven’t been changed at all.

HI: It’s a great honor to know that this is one of the soundtracks that has been supported by so many fans. We felt strongly about not disappointing our fans as well, so “how can we change things while making it feel as though nothing at all changed” is something we kept in mind while working on the soundtrack with utmost care.  

What are some new elements of the soundtrack we can look forward to? Are there any other soundtracks that you have created that you’d like to revisit and modernize?

KT: The part where two new tracks have been added. For these, I’m still worried about whether they are properly in line with the universe and whether fans would feel that they’re off. However, my hope is that won’t be the case and that they will accept these new tracks. Furthermore, for the music that has been remixed or remade, we fully utilized the performance data that couldn’t be implemented 17 years ago due to space limitations, and we were mindful about not breaking the atmosphere generated from the original soundtrack, so I’m hoping this spirit will be felt by those listening to the music.

If it ever comes true someday, I would like to try revisiting the entire Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series. Of course, it wouldn’t be so meaningful just revisiting the soundtracks alone, so as a major premise, it would need to go hand-in-hand with releasing remastered versions of the games (laughs).

HI: You can, of course, look forward to the two main theme songs that were rerecorded, as mentioned earlier, and the manipulation and mixing were redone for all stage tracks. There are also instrumental parts that couldn’t be used back then due to the memory available on the GameCube and those have been revived; additionally, there are newly recorded instruments. We approached the music so not to break the universe generated by the original music, so it may also be interesting to listen and compare both to spot the differences. For the music I wrote for Tida, “Eternal Oath”, we changed the melody to Bulgarian Voices (a specific type of traditional Bulgarian vocal performance). And, there are also two new tracks.

How did it feel returning to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles after so many years?

DB: Just recently, I compared the new recordings to the originals and it’s really interesting to hear how different they are. Surprisingly my voice hasn’t changed much but how I interpret the songs has.

I’ve always felt a little bit sad that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which was a huge break career wise for me at the time, never really got the attention it deserved. So many times I would sing this fantastic songs at my concerts to polite faces who were only hearing them for the first time. Ouch!

So when I found out that Square Enix was going to release Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles as a remastered version I was so happy and grateful. Finally my young nephews will get to play it and having it spruced up with voice acting, gorgeous graphics and new features means it’ll be a big success.

The songs I sing and adapted lyrics for are very dear to my heart. For me, “Moonless Starry Night” is in some ways an ode to my journey of leaving Australia and being called to a different, more exciting path. “When the night was creeping and frightening” alludes to the times when I thought, “Why am I here again, so far from home, “aching for the arms of my family”? 

I love how the song acknowledges family and friends which have kept me going through life’s ups and downs too.

“Morning Sky” is so energetic and uplifting. It’s a really anthemic and encouraging. Often when I do a gig of my game and anime songs it can be like a never ending, “So, the next song is where the world is destroyed and only the moon is left.” And then, “So, in the next song, I’m sent into battle knowing I’m going to die.” “Okay, so the next song is about war. It’s bad!”

So when I get to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, songs which are so lovely,  it’s a massive relief to sing something where no one dies!  And I can sing with joy and hope “We are heading towards the light! We’ve got this!!”

I can’t wait to sing these songs to a live audience again. That’ll be awesome after all we’re going through now.

What was the experience like of providing narration for the game? 

DB: Even now, most directors are most familiar with North American or English accented voices so to be asked to do an Irish accent way back in 2003 for the narration was, in my opinion, ground-breaking. I have a lot of Irish friends, and have been in Irish bands in Australia and Japan and so “doing” the accent comes naturally- also honed by twelve years of imitating the Irish nuns at my school in Australia! “Donna Burke, stop daydreaming,” was what I heard all day from them!

Although much time has passed, do you have any particular memories working on the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles?

KT: Honestly, I don’t have any real specific memories, but I clearly remember my heart trembling with joy every time we received the performance data from the Roba Music Theatre, thinking “they’re really performing the music I had written.” I also remember how much fun I had producing the music, even during times of difficulty.

HI: On that point, I would love for you to read the liner notes in the soundtrack (laughs).

But the development team was really close; we hung out with each other, we enjoyed cherry blossoms, visited amusement parks (Fuji-Q Highland), camped at Lake Yamanaka among other things. After we finished developing the game, we visited the ocean in Izu as a celebratory trip, and I remember hurting my neck while falling off a high-speed banana boat; these are all bittersweet memories.

DB: To be honest, 2003 seems a long time ago. My emails from then are lost. It was the year before I created Dagmusic studio and moved house. But I do remember how excited and proud to be working on a Final Fantasy game not just as a singer but also as a voice actor! I’d begged the Silent Hill team to give me a song when I worked on SH2 and SH3 but nothing! So, it was a huge thrill to get to do both on Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.

I remember that there was a Celtic music boom in the early 2000s in Japan so I loved how Tanioka’s soundtrack tapped into the world music scene and yet made something fresh yet somehow familiar. My Tokyo based Irish music band Éirí na Gréine had released an album in Japan in 2001 so I think that is how I got on the radar for this job, as some of the musicians at the recording I recognized from the Irish music scene in Tokyo.

Do either of you have a favorite track from the soundtrack? And what’s the reason it is your favorite? 

KT: 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. 

HI: I personally like the music for the River Belle Path. I can’t forget how moved I was by the wistful sound of the recorder when we first received the performance data from the Roba Music Theatre.

DB: Ooooo! Tricky question!!!

I love the soft intimacy of “Moonless Starry Night.”

There is a line I love in it, about “aching for the arms of my family” that I find deeply personal as an expat who has lived away from my country of Australia, since 1996.  I also love it when I sing this song live, as there is a part where I can look at the audience, or in some rare instances, my best friend visiting from Australia, and sing to them “Holding dear, the times when my friends stayed near. They guided my path, from my heart, I thank you.” And then I can blow them a kiss. It always makes me feel humble and grateful. Without friendly fans to buy tickets, I wouldn’t be performing. And without friends, where would we all be?

So I love the warm, intimate tone of this song, about friends and also about quietly “holding back the darkness” that we all must battle every day.

It reminds me of a favorite G.K. Chesterton quote, “It is easy to be heavy, but hard to be light.”

But I also love Morning Sky too! Oh, dammit, you made me choose!!!

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