"One-Winged Angel" is the musical theme for the final boss of Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation, released 1997. I no longer have my copy, sadly.

In spite of consisting of no less than three CDs, the game's soundtrack, either mostly or exclusively (that's the question), uses not CD audio tracks for the music (besides the FMV sequences), but rather the PlayStation's built-in "MIDI"-like sound chip/mechanism. That is, it stores an efficient and compact series of signals for which instruments to play and when, rather than an actual "audio stream" like a CD audio track.

However, the "One-Winged Angel" song sounds quite a bit different from the other melodies in the game. And I'm not just talking about the fact that it has vocals. It seems to be using a traditional orchestra, which I wonder if they really had virtual "instruments" for inside the PlayStation.

I suppose it's possible that the PlayStation audio format does have the required instruments, and then they added the few repeated audio samples on top of that in the game engine, while playing the melody, but it sounds to me as if they made an actual CD audio recording of the song and used that in the game for this particular song.

Can somebody please verify or reject my theory? I've tried to find out on my own.

This is the song I'm talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDD-iYkHBhc

PS: I'm only talking about the original game -- not the butchered re-releases.

  • That track is, to me, painfully obviously synth based (I've never been able to stand most MIDI). Recording a synthesizer for a track would be "expensive" for the result - you'd need far more disk space than doing the track as samples at runtime. Note too that the number of instruments in use at any one time is very limited (which would not be a limitation of a recording) - I think I'm hearing only four samples at any given time. Contrast that with the Distant Worlds version; there's multiple instruments for each sampled orchestra hit. – Clockwork-Muse Feb 12 at 19:55
  • One feature of the original PlayStation was the ability to load custom MIDI tables. I had the PC version of FFVII, and one thing I discovered was that the MIDI table that game installed could be used to improve the sound quality of MIDI files even outside of the game. I kept the disc around even after I was done with the game because of how much it improved MIDI on my old computer. (It's still MIDI of course, so pretty out of date, but it was great at the time, and much better than the default MIDI tables that came with Windows.) – Darrel Hoffman Feb 12 at 20:47

suppose it's possible that the PlayStation audio format does have the required instruments, and then they added the few repeated audio samples on top of that in the game engine

There are no instruments "built into" the PlayStation. Games provide their own. The PlayStation sound chip is basically a 24-channel ADPCM playback with 512KB of sample memory, a digital mixer, the ability to alter the sample rate of each channel independently, and to apply a few effects to channels. Most games will use some number of channels for sample-based synthesized music and the remainder for sound effects, although with DMA it can also support streaming, CDDA, and even CPU-based synth if you wanted to spend the CPU on it. What the sound chip doesn't have is a collection of wave generators like the SNES or many older consoles have.

Point is, One Winged Angel is using the same music playback routines as the rest of the game, and the vocal parts are just extra-big "instrument" samples. If you give it a listen, it's clearly synthesized — the woodwinds from 0:04 to 0:08 are used elsewhere in the game (and they're not terribly realistic) and the string hits from 0:08 to 0:40 are clearly the same sample played over and over. I won't go through the whole track pointing out such details, but they're there, telling you that this is by no means a single recorded track.

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    +1 This type of composition was popular during the transition from MIDI and waveform/wavetable synth sound to fully PCM digital playback. There was a large "MOD Tracker" scene producing music this way also - effectively a mix of synthesizers and samplers. – J... Feb 12 at 18:29

It's a PSF (Portable Sound Format, see Wikipedia) music file, the PlayStation equivalent of the Amiga's module (.mod) format, where sound samples and replay data sequences are stored inside one file, so tracked music instead of streamed music.

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    A PSF is what gets exported to play it on a PC. Playstation games don't store their music in PSF format; it's just executable code that's part of the game. – hobbs Feb 11 at 16:30
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    Yes, the .psf format is Neil Corlett's work, btw those data structures (PCM samples and note tracking data) exist in the disc, it's not only about executable data. – Lorenzo Feb 11 at 17:32
  • Yeah, fair enough. It could be entirely procedural but usually it's a small program that reads some other sequence format off of disc, as you say :) – hobbs Feb 11 at 21:33

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