To celebrate the 13th edition of The Musical Box, I chose a particular franchise that is one of the flagships of the game music scene: Final Fantasy. This edition of TMB is dedicated to a recent entry of the influential J-RPG series, Final Fantasy XIII-2. The reason I chose this title is worth mentioning. Even though Final Fantasy has been known for its beautiful music since it was first released in 1987, few games feature implementation of dynamic (or adaptive) music. This is not the case for FFXIII-2.
Game: Final Fantasy XIII-2
Platform: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Developer: Square Enix
Composers: Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Mitsuto Suzuki
Final Fantasy XIII-2 features Serah, an apparently fragile character who must travel through time to find her missing sister Lightning. Like most RPGs, the player will have to explore many different worlds, talk to a lot of NPCs, collect equipment, and, of course, fight a lot of monsters. And the monster fights are the main focus of this article.
In the past, some RPGs have featured a system of "random" fights. A player would walk through a dungeon, when suddenly the screen would flash and a monster would appear. Most modern RPG game designers chose not to use this feature, and it’s become quite rare to see them at all these days. Final Fantasy XIII-2 looked to the past and brought back random fights, but with a solid justification.
Since the world in FFXIII-2 suffers from a time-continuum paradox issue, sometimes monsters emerge from other eras to invade your timeline. When this happens, a distortion similar to a black hole appears and monsters come out of it. This is where one can notice the implementation of dynamic music in the game.
In some areas, there are two different mixes for the same musical theme. One mix is "normal" and the other one is "aggressive," with different instrumentation that makes it sound heavier. During your exploration, the "normal" mix is played throughout that area, but when a monster appears, the "aggressive" mix is instantly played. The heavier instrumentation combined with the sound effect that plays when the burst appears, makes the transition sound natural and organic.
You can check out an example in the video below. For the sake of a spoiler-free article, the video is very short and is taken from one of the first areas in the game.
Although very subtle, this technique is used in Final Fantasy XIII-2 to add tension during monster encounters, enhancing the feeling of “danger,” and preparing the players for the imminent battle. Personally, it grabbed my attention mostly because it was the first time I’d ever seen an example of dynamic music implementation in the Final Fantasy franchise. If you know of any other instances, please share it in the comments section below!
Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, Sandro Tomasetti, and Rafael Martins (Sommastudio).