Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Analysis: Comparing Final Fantasy NES and Final Fantasy for iOS

Here are two games I've played a lot, the original Final Fantasy, and the iOS version as well, which is in essence the PSP version.  I want to compare their music.  What's the same between the two, what's different?  Obviously, arrangements of the music have changed and the audio is no longer limited to the square, triangle, and noise channels of the NES.  But beyond these changes, what about the key, tempo, and form of the pieces?  Have these musical features stayed the same or have they been adjusted (updated?) as well?  Generally, I'm wondering: how does music change between an original release and a modern remake?  This study will shed light on these questions.

Note: I know Uematsu created the original music.  Can anyone help me to learn who rearranged the audio for the update and composed the new tracks?  Thanks!


1- The keys of pieces will change.  The iOS speaker is very different from the sound system of the NES.  Keys will have been optimized for the portable playing systems.  This is very common in older games when moving across platforms (Contra from arcade to NES or Up 'N Down from the arcade to the Atari).  I'd like to think that the music of FF is so class, such perfection, and with established key relationships that transcend the game.  As a whole, it all flows together and creates a unity; key centers are important to the overall aural pacing of the game and these will be maintained.  However, I'm not optimistic for this result.

2- The tempos of the tracks will stay the change.  The pacing of the game is different on the iOS version-- easier, faster.  Music will be altered to better suit the onscreen action.  Similar to my argument for keys, the tempos will change.  I'd like to think that these were planned, but they're probably planned to math with onscreen action, which is quite a bit faster in this new game.

3- There's added music in the iOS version of the game.  I believe this to be true from having played both versions, but I'm not actually sure.  If memory serves, some tracks have extended sections.  Also, there are new dungeons available and it would make sense to have new music composed for these new places.

Here we go.  This chart is the breakdown of the comparison of key, tempo, musical form, and lengths of the tracks.  The original soundtrack I examined is here.  The remake soundtrack is here.

Theme iOS Key NES Key iOS BPM NES BPM iOS Form NES Form iOS Length NES Length
Intro Bb major Bb major 88 100 A A B C A A B C 43 sec 38 sec
FF Theme F major F major 89 75 A A B A A A A B 46 sec 38 sec
Castle D major D major 96 100 A A A A 60 sec 20 sec
Overworld G major G major 136 151 Intro'(4) A B A B Intro(4) A B 77 sec 26 sec
Town C major C major 85 90 Intro(4) A B A B A B 51 sec 21 sec
Shop C major C major 66 67 A B(6) A B(6) 26 sec 26 sec
Sleep A major A major 6 sec 5 sec
Key item G major G major 5 sec 3 sec
Battle G minor G minor 160 150 Gliss- Intro(2) A B(4) C D(6) Gliss- Intro(2) A B(4) C D(6) 3 sec intro, 39 sec loop sec 3 sec intro, 41 sec loop
Victory Eb major Eb major 151 150 Fanfare(4) A A' Fanfare(4) A A' 3 sec intro, 13 sec loop sec 3 sec intro, 13 sec loop
Game Over D minor D minor 80 91 A A' A A' 26 sec 21 sec
Menu Bb major Bb major 60 60 A A 16 sec 16 sec
Garland's Castle E minor E minor 127 151 Intro A B A B 44 sec 26 sec
Matoya's Cave B minor/ D major B minor/ D major 147 150 A(4) B C A(4) B C A(4) B C 66 sec 32 sec
Ship F major F major 146 150 A A' B A A B 40 sec 38 sec
Dungeon C minor C minor 148 150 A B C A B 35 sec 24 sec
Earth Cave/ Volcano D minor D minor 120 150 Intro(2) A B(4) C(12) D A(4) B C 68 sec 32 sec
Airship F major F major 160 180 A B A B 24 sec 21 sec
Sky Palace Eb minor Eb minor 103 100 Intro(4) A A B(10) A A B(10) A A B 65 sec 31 sec
Chaos Temple/Water Shrine Ab minor Ab minor 150 136 Intro A B A B 42 sec 26 sec
End Game G major G major 85 90 Intro A A' B B' A A' B B' Intro(10) A A' B B' 1:53 12 sec intro, 45 sec loop
Church Eb major 86 A B C D(12) 50
Ruined Castle D major 101 Intro A A' 57 sec
Lute Bb major 86 11 sec
Bridge Cutscene D major 142 13 sec
Barrel Cutscene G minor (Picardy 3rd) 52 14 sec
Boss Battle 1 Bb minor 161 A B C D E* 38 sec
Boss Battle 2 C minor 142 A B(12) C(4) D(10)* 2 sec intro, 55 sec loop
Final Battle Bb minor 181 Intro A B C(7) C'(5) D(12)* 8 sec intro, 49 sec loop

*All of this added battle music is unusual in some way.  The first boss music additions make use of irregular meter; it also uses meters of 5 and 7.  As you can see from the table, the second boss battle music has very irregular phrase shapes.  The Final battle makes use of both irregular meter, with groups of 7, 5, 3, and varying between compound and duple meter, as well as using irregular phrase shapes for groups of 7, 5, and 12 measure phrases.

So, how did my hypotheses do?  

1- The keys of reused music stayed the same!!!  I'm floored!  Perhaps the modern trend is to preserve key relationships!  Could that be a result of better technologies?  Some of the most commonly heard themes: Overworld, Battle Music, and Key Item music are in G/g, as is the End Game music.  Perhaps the overall key of the game is G centered?  Almost all the shared music is in closely related keys for G/g (especially considering different minor scales) except for the sleeping music or the Chaos Temple music in the original game.  Perhaps Uematsu did have an overall key relationship planned for the themes.  Music that would certainly be heard in conjunction (Town and Shop themes, for instance) are in the same key.  Both the airship and the boat's musical themes are in F major.  All of the "dungeon" themes are in minor: Temple of Fiends, Marsh Cave/Earth Shrine, Volcano, Water Shrine, Sky Palace. There definitely seems to be some tonal planning.

2- The speed of tracks definitely changed across this remake.  I count three that sped up significantly on the iOS, six that are significantly faster on the NES, and ten of the tracks that are within about 5 BPM of their original version, which I consider not a large change.  Amazingly, then, in general, the music on the new game has slowed down!  Wonder why that is?  To hear the added voices and harmonies?  Or did it save memory to program faster music on the NES?  I was right, but that leaves me with more questions....

3- There is more music in the iOS version.  As you can see, the iOS version has eight added musical themes compared with the NES version.  Much of this music is for boss battles, which in the original NES game simply use the regular battle music.  This is keeping in line with other FF titles (certainly 4 onward, I need to check on 2 and 3) that have boss music to distinguish those battles from regular battles.  I remember playing the original version of this game several years ago and was surprised that the music for the boss battles was the same; especially considering that the bosses are significantly harder than regular enemies!

Considering the tracks common to both versions: A note about the form.  In the second and third tracks, for instance, I marked repeated sections of music with new letters because the instrumentation changed or countermelodies were added.  These minor changes weren't possible when the NES came out, but they're simple to do now.  Musically, though, the theme stays the same.  The loop is lengthened by extra repeated A sections, though.  Instrumentation changes or added countermelodies also lengthened the Sky Palace, End Game, Matoya's Cave, Castle, and the Overworld themes when compared with the original versions.

Another common change here is to add an introduction to the music, for instance in both the Overworld and Town music.  The Overworld music is very interesting in that it has an 8 bar "intro" between the A B form.  The first time you hear the theme in gameplay, it only plays the last 4 bars of this intro.  If you're lucky enough to make it all the way through the music without encountering a battle, you'll hear the full 8 bar intro before the Overworld theme plays the second time.  Hope that makes sense.  Give it a listen and you'll get it.  Introductions were also added to Chaos Temple, Sky Palace, Volcano, and Garland's Castle when compared with the original.

One of the biggest changes is in the way sound effects are handled.  In the new iOS version, when you cast a spell, for instance, the battle music ducks to a lower volume for the sound of the spell.  In old NES games, a voice of the music typically had to drop out to create the sound effect.  This is a microscopic version of the problem facing sound designers these days: now that there's not much of a limit to how many sounds can be happening at once, the skill is in deciding which ones are the most important to be heard at a given moment.

All that said, hearing all of the music of the iOS version takes just over 20 minutes compared with almost 9 and a half minutes with the original NES version.  When just considering common tracks, that difference drops to just over 15 minutes for the iOS and stays the same at 9 and a half minutes of music for the NES version.

Other interesting notes:

I noticed that a number of the NES tracks have a BPM of right around 150.  Could this be a common pulse for the game?  These tracks are the Earth Cave, Matoya's Cave, Garland's Castle, Dungeon, Ship, Battle, Victory, and Overworld Themes.  Definitely some of the most common music you hear in the game.  The average NES pulse is 120 BPM.  The average iOS pulse is 116, whether or not the added tracks are averaged in.  So, the NES game has a slightly faster aural pacing.  Interesting considering that the gameplay is faster on the iOS version.

One difference I recall from playing the games is the use of rubato in the new version.  Consider the shop theme, for instance.   The slowing down at the end of the loop isn't just in this theme, there's also subtle rubato in very beginning of the harp arpeggiation in the opening theme; it's as if the harpist is really strumming up the instrument and getting the pattern going!  The church music in the iOS version has slight pauses at the end of the phrases as if to give a congregation time to breathe before the next phrase.  Very clever and subtle musical touches to be appreciated by only the most discerning.

One other difference I've noticed from watching longplays and playing a bit myself tonight is that the new version of the game restarts the theme from where you left off before you were interrupted by battle.  The old game always starts the track at the beginning of the loop.  This is one way of reducing repetition slightly in the new version compared with the old.  

As I worked on this, I did the iOS version research because I knew there would be more music (at least boss music), and I wanted to get the largest portion of the work done first.  When I heard all the end game music with irregular meters, I thought that the original game wouldn't have any irregular meters.  However, the Dungeon theme does use irregular groups of 3 in the A sections!  Yay for another game using irregular meter!

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