I won’t even pretend that I’m not excited about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered. I’ve spent the majority of my spending money over the past year or so optimizing my audio/video setup for my Gamecube — the primary purpose being to play Crystal Chronicles with the highest fidelity possible. And now, on the cusp of making that dream a reality, it has all been rendered moot with the announcement of a Switch version. I’m not even a little bit mad; the more chances people get to play this tragically overlooked Final Fantasy the better. Especially if it means more people experiencing the soundtrack that proved Nobuo Uematsu wasn’t the only game in town.
Kumi Tanioka, who at this point in time was co-composer for Final Fantasy XI, masterfully scores the world of Crystal Chronicles with a band composed of traditional instruments from all over the world. We’re talking all kinds of lutes, recorders, bagpipes, crumhorns, and medieval instruments.
There are ton of highlights in the Crystal Chronicles OST; Departure, the game’s first dungeon theme sets the melancholy tone of a world full of adventurers not seeking glory, but the means to keep their villages alive. Sad Monster and Unite, Descent provide a backdrop for an uneasy and wholly unique final boss battle. Tanioka even provides two different takes on Uematsu’s Moogle Theme from Final Fantasy V, Cripper Tripper Fritter. That melody won’t see that much love again until Masayoshi Soken’s Danny Elfman-inspired rendition in Final Fantasy XIV a decade later.
The track that I want to highlight today is from around the midway point of the main story – Promised Grace, the theme of Veo Lu Sluice.
One thing that really can’t be captured by listening to just the OST track is the stage introductions that accompany entering an area for the first time. Every level begins with a brief but outrageously charming monologue narrated by a northern English dialect that would make even the citiest of slickers yearn for the rolling emerald hills and grey skies of some kind of ‘–shire’. It also features one of the best sound design details in the series. Check out the video below to around the 1:30 mark:
Leaving only the barest of instrumentation during the spoken intro and then firing up the melody right as the stage name is introduced is such an excellent touch. Crystal Chronicles is also not a particularly lore-heavy game so these drip-fed bits of detail about the world (also the only part of the original release of Crystal Chronicles to be fully voiced) are a welcome moment of appreciation.
The song itself is just a blast. The instrumentation and Renaissance flair are reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX’s more traditional tunes — Rose of May meets Vamo alla Flamenco – but with a nuance that only Tanioka’s live band can provide. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Final Fantasy IX character designer Toshiyuki Itahana’s involvement in the look of Crystal Chronicles could have influenced Tanioka in the same way it influenced Uematsu’s score for IX.
This really is one of the best examples in Crystal Chronicles of Tanioka’s commitment to a traditional sound. It’s not hard to imagine this playing in the background of any period film where everyone dances in a circle mid-high-five — I went to a Shakespeare festival or two; I know what’s up. In fact the return of Promised Grace’s melody is in nearly that exact kind of setting. Veo Lu Sluice’s theme returns in 2008’s spin-off of a spin-off, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers where it provides the music for one of the title’s several rhythm mini-games. Take a listen to it and some other further listening down below, including a piece from Tanioka’s beautiful stand-alone piano album, Sky’s The Limit and a piece from her iconic work on Final Fantasy XI.
Who knows if/when Tanioka will return to game composition but in the meantime she has left a unique footprint on the Final Fantasy series that deserves to be remembered fondly.