Saturday, February 23, 2013

Music making in Video Games: Final Fantasy 5 piano

Last year, I played through almost all of Final Fantasy 5 on my PS3.  It's not a game that I knew as a child, since it wasn't released then in the US, but I probably would have loved the piano progression that takes place in the game.  I bet I would've wanted to play all these pieces-- which, in fact, I did anyway, except for the Schubert.

For those who haven't played the game before, let me explain: there are keyboards (visual is organ, internet lingo calls them pianos and the pieces performed are for piano) in various towns across throughout the game that you can play.  The pianos are found in: Tule, Kerwin, Karnak, Crescent, Jachol, Lugar, Moor, and Mirage.  At first you start out with basic beginning scales and exercises and eventually progress to simple classical piano pieces.  It's pretty cool to experience this progression.  The first scale is hesitating and inaccurate, the hands not quite together in 2-3.  4: The start/stop/start, then double time of the Hanon feels like a sudden leap in skill.  From 5 on, there's no metronome anymore.  6: The Schubert is brilliant except for the last note.  7:Beautiful Dreamer has a more subtle mixture between two measures in four and two in three.  The Mozart and Debussy are both pristine and common pieces for those who progress to an intermediate level of piano study.

1: Single handed scale up
2: Two handed 9 note scale up and down
3: 5 note pattern of thirds, in octaves
4: Hanon The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises-- exercise 1
5: Franz Schubert March Militaire, Op 51-- intro
6: Stephen Foster: Beautiful Dreamer
7: W. A. Mozart: Turkish Rondo  K 331, Third Movement from Piano Sonata 11
8: Claude Debussy: Arabesque No. 1

I was surprised that there wasn't already a video of this progression of piano ability online, although there is a live version of these pieces played by VirtualHarmonies in this video.  For me, the coolest thing about this progression is this: it's Uematsu's idea of how to represent someone's achievements and skill building at the piano.  From the first couple of exercises that are really fumbled around, rhythmic inaccuracies emphasized by the metronome, assuring the listener hears a steady pulse so the playing sounds "right" or "wrong"-- all the way to the intermediate classical piano pieces.

From 1992, Final Fantasy 5 is the first game I can think of with a musical progression that your avatar makes as the game progresses and that which unlocks certain skills as you progress through it.  Do you know of an earlier example of musical skill building by an avatar in a game?  What other musical progressions do you enjoy watching your characters make in video games?  I also used to level up my piano skills in The Sims, but that title is from 8 years after FF 5.

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