Final Fantasy X HD’s audio remaster – or is it a remix?

by James M. Potter

Since my last post concerning the HD remaster of Final Fantasies X and X-2, Square Enix have announced that the visuals won’t be the only aspect of the games to get a makeover. The game’s audio is being remastered as well, to the tune of (pardon the pun) about 60 tracks from its compendious soundtrack. This is sure to delight many fans, but I’m slightly more cautious. FFX came out at the tail-end of the use of disc-space-saving synthesised music, so in some ways it’s natural that they’d want to update it to something more organic. On the other hand, there’s a charm to MIDI music, and the synthetic nature of FFX’s score might be part of what lends it its unity and beauty.

Well, they’ve released some snippets which provide tantalising hints that this might be no mere audio clean-up, but more of a remix project. Let’s have a look for ourselves.

Here’s a video of the 2001 version of ‘Besaid Island’, a warm, ruminative piece written by Masashi Hamauzu to accompany a tropical idyll:

And here’s the new, ‘HD’ version:

There’s quite a difference. The tempo has been slowed down and some of the percussion removed. It’s less up-beat, more contemplative. There’s more variation in texture: a solo violin has been added, shadowing the melody, and there are nice moments where all the instruments drop out save for the omnipresent synth ostinato.

Is it better? That depends on your point of view, and the level of your attachment to the original version of the game. For example, one of my favourite features of the first version, the warm string pad that enters at 1:46, has been de-emphasised in the equivalent passage of the remaster (where it begins at 2:00). Music nerds will also note that one of Hamauzu’s trademark harmonic signatures – a variant dominant chord (at 2:02 old version) – is submerged under the new texture. A few more flourishes have been added, but at the expense of the directness of the first version. It’s shinier and more polished, but has it lost some impact? This is the question that I’m going to keep coming back to when playing the revamped game.

What’s for sure is that playing the HD remaster is going to be a very different sonic experience, and that’s sure to have emotional knock-ons too, possibly in some quite interesting ways. Already, an early environment in the game, Besaid, has been given a slightly more elegiac tone, by the simple addition of that wistful violin. In a game with an narrative arc as long as FFX’s, what other changes might be in store, and how might they affect players? Time will tell. But on this evidence we can expect a more radical overhaul of the music than the spit-and-polish being applied to the visuals.