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The Musical Box #16: An Oboe Joins Your Party

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #16: Phantasy Star III

Phantasy Star III is an iconic JRPG game released for the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in North America) in 1990. Featuring avant-garde design decisions, such as the option to get married, have kids and play through 3 entire generations of characters, PSIII may not be the most acclaimed entry in the franchise, but one can notice a pioneering implementation of dynamic music, which became standard in our industry: the use of multi-layered music.

Profile:
Game: Phantasy Star III
Released: 1990
Platform: Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive
Developer: SEGA
Composer: Izuho Numata

The Set-Up

The use of layered tracks (also known as dynamic mixing) is one of the most popular techniques of dynamic music implementation. It basically consists of adding one or more layers of pre-rendered music to the theme that is currently playing. The objective is to add tension/drama to the moment without harshly interrupting the music. The result of layered tracks is a fuller version of the current theme or a completely different arrangement that may adapt to whatever is happening in the game.

In Phantasy Star III, one can notice a particular musical piece that made evident use of multi-layered music combined with gameplay. Each member of your party corresponds to a musical instrument, and the player can notice the music building up when new members join your team. The music is a pretty simple chiptune song, but it may be (and please correct me if I am wrong in the comments section below) one of the first evident uses of multi-layered music in a videogame.

The Moment

See the video below and notice how the instrumentation changes when new members join your party.

 

 

The Impact

Phantasy Star 1 for the Master System was the first RPG I ever played, and I became a huge fan of the franchise during the 16-bit era. Since PSIII was a massive game at that time, I spent many hours playing it. In fact, I played it so many times to see all the different endings that I even noticed that subtle change in the music. Obviously, I had absolutely no idea what was going on technically, but I could tell that something was changing.

Maybe that experience was so strong in my childhood that it influenced my decision to do what I do today. Even though I can't be sure of that, we all should thank Izuho Numata and many other great composers for the innovation they brought to music in videogames.

Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, and Sandro Tomasetti.

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