Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is not the most famous of all Final Fantasys, and to be honest, it is certainly not the best from a playful perspective. But no matter what anyone else thinks of the game, almost everyone agrees on one point: The music is beyond reproach – well, not everyone. Tastes vary, but there is largely consensus that this is a very special soundtrack. So it’s time to talk to the composers Kumi Tanioka – FF Crystal Chronicles, Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, Ragnarok Odyssey – and Hidenori Iwasaki – FF Crystal Chronicles, Front Mission 4 + 5, Front Mission: Left Alive -, as well as the singer and spokeswoman Donna Burke speaks about it.

SamaGame:
As far as I can tell, you haven’t worked on a project together since the original Final Fantasy: Chrystal Chronicles. What was it like to be back in the studio after 15 years, a decade and a half wiser?

Kumi Tanioka:
We helped create this world 17 years ago and having him – Iwasaki – by my side after so many years was very comforting. I was able to concentrate fully on Final Fantasy CC Remastered Edition and knew that he understands and shares my vision for the world and the setting.

Hidenori Iwasaki:


I had worked on a few smaller projects with Tanioka since Final Fantasy: Chrystal Chronicles, but it really was a few years ago. When we started together again, it quickly became clear that our idea of ​​what the music of Final Fantasy is and has to achieve is very similar and also how we would shape it. There is the Japanese phrase “ishin denshin”, which describes when two people subconsciously understand each other perfectly and that describes our cooperation here perfectly. That was also the reason why everything went smoothly.

A new, old soundtrack for Crystal Chronicles.

SamaGame:
It’s been a long time since the original was released, you’ve both produced a lot of soundtracks since then. How have game soundtracks changed since the early 2000s and how has that influenced your own style?

Kumi Tanioka:
I would say it’s just the amount of system memory that can now be used by music. You can create any kind of music you want without relying on chip-generated internal sounds. Today, game music can be so different: You can use 8-bit sounds if you want, or you can create a thick Hollywood music carpet. I like to write music within certain limits, but of course it’s great to be able to do anything without having to think about the old limitations. There are so many options today that it can be tiring at times (laughs)!

Hidenori Iwasaki:
The early 2000s marked the transition from on-chip music to streaming from CD. In the time before that, the emphasis was almost always on clear, easily understandable melodies, but with streaming there was the possibility to use umpteen instrumental sounds freely and that expanded the horizons of what could be expressed through music immensely. You could do anything from a full orchestra to simple ambient music.

SamaGame:
A small technical question, since a lot is lost over the years: Did you have the old master files directly available or did you have to search for a long time? Or was some of it really just

lost?

Kumi Tanioka:
Thanks to Iwasaki-san and the Square Enix sound team, the original music was kept safe. I still had them, of course, but he archived them so well that we had immediate access to them at any time. The sound team also conscientiously put down all effects and that helped a lot with the remaster to make them authentic.

Hidenori Iwasaki:
It was lucky that the Chrystal Chronicles sound source files were perfectly archived on my Mac. Not just the music, but also the scenarios, track lists and more. We were able to use the master files directly, just as if we had just put them there yesterday. It also showed us once again how the technology has changed, what we actually wanted to do back then, but could not implement musically due to the technical conditions.

SamaGame:
I think there is always something timeless about Final Fantasy, especially the music – Chrystal Chronicles is no exception. How radical do you approach a remaster project? Does it require a lot of sensitivity or is it better to start straight away with a blank sheet of music?

Kumi Tanioka:
We are using some of the original tracks, so some parts feel the same as they were 17 years ago. In others we revive unused pieces that were not feasible back then. And in other places we use remixes and remakes of the old tracks. I hope fans can enjoy all of these different approaches. There are also two completely new tracks in the Remaster Edition, which are composed in such a way that they match the mood of the original, but at the same time bring the new technology even more into play.

Hidenori Iwasaki:
The music of Chrystal Chronicles was very well received by the fans back in 2003. So this time I already knew that the fans like this own setting and the music, so I consciously chose a very thoughtful approach to renew the music without damaging it. Ms. Tanioka wanted this approach too. It almost seemed like the approach was to ask what we can change without people noticing that we have changed it (laughs).

Kumi Tanioka:
Once we got the lineup, I think we might have been a bit conservative and then took a more proactive approach to the final track, the theme for Tida Village – the track is called Eternal Oath.

Kumi Tanioka and Donna Burke in the studio.

SamaGame:
Do you expect some fans to have the usual reaction: “The old things were much better! Everything used to be better!” And if so, how can you convince them otherwise?

Hidenori Iwasaki:
I approached the project with exactly this thought, knowing that there are a number of fans who could and want to think that everything stays as close to the original as possible. I think what we have created here can stand for itself and will hopefully convince you.

SamaGame:
Are there any notable changes in the themes of the characters? Did your view of the characters change when you saw the remaster?

Kumi Tanioka:
There are some controls in the remaster and a few other new elements in the game, but at heart it shows a lot of respect for the original. So far I haven’t touched the character issues at all. I think this philosophy of respect for the original game was something that was shared by the whole team.

Hidenori Iwasaki:
There were no changes from the original music on these issues. The graphics have improved and developed, but the setting and its world itself haven’t changed, so we deliberately left the music that way.

SamaGame:
(To Kumi Tanioka) Your music has a very specific style, more “organic” to paraphrase, with a kind of “world music vibe”. How compatible is this style with the usually more symphonic touch of the other Final Fantasy games?

Kumi Tanioka:
I don’t think I have to “make” him compatible here. Crystal Chronicles is a Final Fantasy title, but it has a certain setting that is a little off the main line of the series. This music then simply fits into the very own atmosphere. I think if another title had a similar setting and I was responsible for the music, I would vary the style a little from Crystal Chronicles, but not much. But besides, I really like this style and I’ve been given all the freedom to develop it as I wanted. So if this style should fit into a future game, I would love to deepen it.

SamaGame:
(To Kumi Tanioka) From an outsider’s perspective, your return to Square Enix is ​​a bit of a “homecoming” after many years spent at Marvelous, among others. Will we hear more from you in future SE games?

Kumi Tanioka:
That would be nice if that happened (laughs). Back at Square Enix has been a lot of fun, so of course I hope there will be opportunities in the near future.

SamaGame:
Theme songs are always a big moment in any Final Fantasy – you can see tough men cry on “Eyes on Me”. It’s the pieces that practically everyone remembers and the emotions of the game stand and fall with these songs. How do you deal with the pressure of this responsibility?

Donna Burke:
Well, I’ve never found it so much of a pressure before, so … Well. I think the greater pressure back then, in 2003, was on Kumi Tanioka and Masahiro Kataoka. When I write or adapt the songs, I’m never really nervous that I’m wrong, because there is a nice back and forth with a lot of feedback. I have a trick in submitting my work. I say, “Hey, this is a very rough draft.” That way the team can just tell if they hate it and don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings. In the past 20 years, I’ve only had to start over twice. The second time was last week, by the way. Right now, I only really feel that pressure when I’m performing, but I have to admit it was exciting to see Tanioka-san again the day the new recordings started.

SamaGame:
To underline the devotion of the fans, here is a comment from the YouTube video of “Moonless Starry Night”: “This song is very important to me. I think I was in 5th grade when I played Crystal Chronicles and the Music is absolutely magical, I know I kept playing the game to keep hearing “Morning Sky.” It was the only game that my grandmother wouldn’t mind if I played it for hours because she played her too Loved music. We sang Morning Sky and that song together the whole time. ” – You have probably read many such comments over the years. Did you think when you were recording that this music would ever have such an impact on anyone? Have video games and their music changed or will the new version of the song have such power again and there is a timeless quality to the game and song?

Donna Burke:

Well, in 2003 there was neither YouTube nor the easy way to leave comments. Most of the artists didn’t even have a community on their website. It’s actually been the last five years that I’ve been in direct contact with my fans. I’m even friends with some of them now. It’s fantastic to read the comments from the fans and to have a real dialogue. When I found out a few years ago that there was going to be a remaster for Chrystal Chronicles, I was enthusiastic at first. Then a little paranoid. “Are you going to get someone else to do the scoring?!?” I was very relieved that I got my role again and not a Hollywood star like Nicole Kidman or something like that. I was very happy that I had the chance singing these songs live at many concerts and making them so much more a part of me than they did in the studio in 2003. I think music helps us heal and connects us with the natural world. Tanioka-san’s compositions are so naturally uplifting. These days now it’s even more important to have nice music. I’m really happy that many people all over the world will experience these songs for the first time again.

SamaGame:
Is it easier to produce these dreamy and lighthearted pieces compared to the epic and dramatic “Sins of the Father” (MGS V) or the Bond-like “Hanging by a Thread” (from the MGS fan movie)? Is it more fun? Is it just different?

Donna Burke:
Ha, good question! (laughs) Hm, where do I start? Maybe 2003, when Crystal Chronicles came out, was an easier time? It was my job to write an English adaptation of the Japanese text. I wasn’t a famous singer, so it was very exciting to have a job that involved singing, adapting the lyrics and doing the in-game dubbing. I was a small part of a large team and very grateful for this opportunity.
Hanging by a Thread was a lot of fun because I had artistic control, could create it from the ground up, and didn’t have to wait years for it to be released. “Sins of the Father”, on the other hand, was a top secret project for years. I produced various demos and when the song was finished I was flown in to LA for the recording. For the Crystal Chronicles Remaster, I was able to drive from my apartment to the studio in Roppongi (AdR: a district in central Tokyo) and was back in my own bed that evening. No jet lag, I had my cats, fantastic! Nothing beats your own bed. Nothing!!

SamaGame:
How was it to get the chance not just to “revisit” the songs, but also to polish them up a bit?

Donna Burke:
I couldn’t be happier with it! Since 2003 I have sung these songs so often at concerts. That completely changed my relationship with the songs. A live performance is so theatrical, a form of acting without a director and without a safety net beyond the few musicians around you. In a studio, you just follow the melody and the rhythm, and if you make a mistake, try again. The way I sing Morning Sky in 2003 and 2020 is a big difference. In 2020 I will sound much more decisive and urgent. I was a bit shocked at how different I sound. In 2003 it was dreamy and hypnotic and 2020 is so much different. On “Moonless Starry Night” I think the differences are more subtle. 2003 is warmer and gentler,

SamaGame:
Let’s come back to the role of the narrator: Was there just a revision of the missing parts or was everything completely re-recorded?

Donna Burke:
As far as I know, everything was re-recorded. I spoke this at the same time that the soundtrack was being recorded for the trailer, remotely from my own studio in the Tokyo apartment. Some of that happened during the lockdown that year, so I had the entire Square Enix team video chat for it. At the end we opened a beer and toasted each other like that!