NACVGM 2020 – Musical Form and Gameplay Context in the Japanese Role-Playing Game

From the Abstract

Alan Elkins (Florida State University)

Musical Form and Gameplay Context in the Japanese Role-Playing Game

The music of role-playing games (RPGs) has been a frequent site of exploration for scholars of video game music in recent years-especially Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series.  Many authors have addressed the ways that polyphonic development (Greenfield-Cases 2016), thematic/motivic recall (Kizzire 2014, Atkinson 2019), and musical topic (Gallagher 2018) may inform interpretation of musical meaning in RPGs; relatively little attention has been paid, however, to the means by which musical form may create or reinforce these interpretations. 

Building upon recent expansions to Formenlehre theory (Richards, 2011, Vande Moortele 2011) and their application to video game music (Schartmann 2018), I argue that musical form aids in differentiating musical spaces in early Final Fantasy entries and other Japanese RPGs.  The bulk of music in early role-playing titles can be divided into four categories: town music, overworld exploration music, dungeon music, battle music. 

Town music tends to be the most likely site for period structures and authentic cadential closure, which provide a sense of musical balance and rest largely absent from other theme types.  Overworld theme, on the other hand, are more likely to consist of sentential structures, which are inherently characterized by what Vande Moortele calls a “forward orient and dynamic character”; this is especially true of Uematsu’s airship themes. 

Dungeon themes are often characterized by tonally static or ambiguous harmonies and lack of functional harmony, as well a significant amount of internal repetition; battle themes retain some, but not all, of these characteristics.

Source: Bardic Knowledge

Source: NACVGM

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