In honour of the HD remake, a Final Fantasy X audio mash-up
by James M. Potter
It’s good news that Final Fantasy X is getting an HD makeover. It’s good news because another generation will get to experience one of the series’ most cohesive and beautifully-made entries, and it’s going to be all glammed-up for the HD TVs and whatnot. I sank many hours into it when it first came out, and since then I’ve regarded it as particularly unified in terms of art design – and that extends to sound as well. After the jump is something that illustrates that quite neatly (or if not, is just quite fun).
It was the first entry in which beloved series veteran Nobuo Uematsu shared compositional duties instead of going solo. He continued to do what he does best – shaping melodic themes and their architecture across an enormous game. In fact he continued a weird and wonderful trend for which we have Japanese RPG’s to thank – that of strewing long games with musical motifs with Wagnerian abandon (more on that another time). The other two composers played to their strengths: Junya Nakano provided ambient electronica, and Masashi Hamauzu contributed a few original tracks as well as some dazzlingly inventive arranging of Uematsu’s themes (he went on to arrange the wonderful Piano Collections, and then to helm Final Fantasy XIII’s score). The various permutations of the game’s themes as you progress through it are deftly-handled. Some iterations are obvious; some more subtle, just hinting, perhaps, at the opening gesture of the Song of Prayer.
When I say that the sound design on this game is cohesive, what I mean is that it sounds like each composer is working from the same texture palette. I don’t know if they’re planning to remaster the audio for this new release, but if they are they’ll have to be careful to preserve this sense. With the game’s title song, Suteki da Ne, the studio was following what had become a tradition since the hit Eyes on Me from FFVIII. It’s perhaps not quite as sophisticated a song as its chart-topping predecessor, or even of FFIX’s Melodies of Life, but it’s effective (it has a killer violin solo), and its themes are sprinkled through the game like leitmotifs. Another favourite track from the game is the one translated variously on the soundtrack as ‘People of the North Pole’ of ‘People of the Cold North’. This is a Hamauzu original which plays ingame as your party ascends the snowy trails of holy Mount Gagazet. With its simple, repetitive structure and refrain, it channels Japanese chill-out pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
About six years ago I set out to prove something about the unity of the game’s art design, perhaps to find some hidden connection. I listened to those two songs, Suteki da Ne and People of the North Pole. Even though the latter doesn’t reference the theme of the former, I felt like they shared something. So I experimented, fiddled around – then it occurred to me to superimpose the melody of Suteki onto People. The result is quite surprising:
Obviously I had to a) separate Rikki’s vocal from the backing (not entirely cleanly as you can hear), b) transpose it down to the right pitch, and c) slow it down to the right tempo – but the overall effect works quite well. I’m not saying that Hamauzu intended this hidden connection, but it’s rather fun that one more imaginary line can be drawn connecting different parts of an already cohesive score.