I've been wanting to do a vertical tasting sort of comparison: same composer, same series, same game function. In this case, that corresponds with Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy, and battle music. Based on this incredible video, comparing these themes was easily possible. I noted some basic musical features of these battle tracks: speed, key, length, and form.
I had three hypotheses:
1- that the music would get longer over time as technology improved
2- that the music would change most significantly between game systems
3- the the music would share similar compositional traits not only because it's composed by the same composer, but also because "Battle music" shares a common function in these games.
The table below shows each theme's composer, length (time), tempo (Beats per minute) key, and notable features.
|FF 1||Uematsu||NES||45 sec||150||G minor||The beginning of awesomeness|
|FF 2||Uematsu||NES||42 sec||150||A minor||Also a simple form similar to the original|
|FF Legend||Uematsu||Gameboy||36 sec||162||C minor||Repetitive phrases that vary pitch stepwise|
|FF 3||Uematsu||NES||43 sec||159||A minor||Prominent percussion|
|FF Legend 2||Uematsu||Gameboy||41 sec||171||F# minor||Awkward connection at loop point|
|FF 4||Uematsu||SNES||49 sec||167||A minor||Teeters between F major and A minor|
|FF 5||Uematsu||(SNES)||34 sec||162||A minor||Very simple in form|
|FF 6||Uematsu||SNES||56 sec||169||A minor||A8-B8-A8-C10 form|
|FF 7||Uematsu||Playstation||1:10||177||F minor||First game where instruments (midi, brass) sustain over the return loop|
|FF 8||Uematsu||Playstation||1:27||165||A minor||First use of irregular meter in battle music|
|FF 9||Uematsu||Playstation||1:12||160||A minor||Also uses irregular meter|
|FF 10||Uematsu||Playstation 2||1:40||190||C# minor||Irregular meter again|
|FF 10-2||Eguchi||Playstation 2||44 sec||179||A minor||Very short battle theme for its time|
|FF 11||Mizuta||Playstation 2||1:45||165||B minor||Two big sections, very strong A-B feel|
|FF 13||Hamauzu||Playstation 3||1:15||163||F# minor||Prominent use of looping and multi-tracks|
|FF 13-2||Mizuta||Playstation 3||2:29||143||C minor||The longest battle theme to date|
|FF 14||Uematsu||Windows PC||1:47||125||C minor||Teeters between major and minor like FF4|
One note, the above video doesn't allow the entirety of the FF6 battle theme to play-- instead hear all of it here. Also, as is obvious, though Final Fantasy Legend I and II were for the Gameboy and arguably for a different series, I included them here to study variations in Gameboy audio and to flesh out my understanding of Uematsu's compositional style.
How did my hypotheses do?
1- The battle music length does increase generally over time. FF 6, 7, and 8 are each a notable jump in length over their predecessors. The longest battle music is for 13-2, which is as long as three repetitions of the original music.
2-The music makes a jump in length with each new platform. The NES and Gameboy share similar track lengths, but the SNES, Playstation, and Playstation 2 make large gains. To date, 13-2 for the Playstation 3 has the longest battle theme track.
3- The battle theme tempos follow an overall arch through time. From 150 beats per minute in FF 1 accelerating to 177 BPM at FF7 and peak at 190 BPM in FF 10 before relaxing to 125 BPM in FF 14. Of course, the battle themes are one of the most energized portions of gameplay, so one would expect them to have a rapid pulse. I'm wondering more about the acceleration and then slow down we've seen of the battle music over time. Could technological limitations have impacted this somehow? Pacing of other music in the games? Deliberate decisions to match with onscreen visuals?
What I hadn't predicted:
Each battle theme is in minor mode! Although 4 and 14 seem to verge on major I hear each squarely in the minor. A minor is the overwhelming key of choice for Final Fantasy battle music. The 16 themes I list use 8 keys. Repetitions:
A minor (8) FF 2, FF 3, FF 4, FF 5, FF 6, FF 8, FF 9, and FF 10-2
C minor (3) Final Fantasy Legend, FF 13, and FF 14
F# minor (2) Final Fantasy Legend 2 and FF 13
Considering composers, Eguchi and Hamauzu give significantly shorter battle themes than the contemporary battle themes. Eguchi continues the classic tonality of A minor while Hamauzu uses the more rare F# minor.
What do you notice when you compare these battle themes? What other composers and tracks should I considered as they develop over time? How is this sort of observation enlightening?