“Lost in Thoughts, All Alone”: An In-Depth Musical Analysis
*WARNING* Mild spoilers ahead, about Fire Emblem Fates, Birthright (Chapter 12) and Conquest (Chapter 14). If you have not yet gotten to either of those chapters, be advised that I will include cutscenes that are in those chapters, but I won’t go too deep into the storyline, besides a brief and vague explanation as to what is happening on screen. If you are currently playing or intend to play one or both of these games, and would prefer to have every cutscene be a complete surprise, I suggest you not continue reading! But please come back after you get past those parts :3
However, if you do not mind a minor spoiler (I think one of the cutscenes was used in a trailer, actually) (not that trailers never ruin anything though -___-), or if you’ve already gotten this far in the game(s), OR if you are simply never going to play the game(s), then please, by all means keep reading! ^_^
*Disclaimer* One of the subtitles for this article is “An In-Depth Musical Analysis”, so a bit of music theory knowledge will certainly help in understanding this article in its entirety! Even so, I hope everyone can gain some insight into this beautiful song and learn something new, with or without any knowledge of music theory. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments! 🙂
Those of you still reading, thank you! :3 I spent quite a while really obsessing over this song and its variations. I am so proud of my findings, and am very excited to share them with everyone! ^_^
First, please listen to the original version of “Lost in Thoughts, All Alone”, the theme song to Fire Emblem Fates, composed by Hiroki Morishita, in the link below. Although this song is originally in Japanese, I will be talking about the English versions of all of these variations.
That version is shortened from the full length one, which is 6 minutes long but includes both the Hoshido and Nohr verses. Unfortunately the original original was taken down from YouTube for copyright purposes, so this full-length version is slowed down 1% (so not quite in the same key as the original). Please listen to the full length version if you would like to hear the entire song! 🙂
Now, please watch this video that a fan made that shows two different performances/variations of the theme song. The first performance (the Hoshido kingdom version) happens in Chapter 12 of Birthright, and the second performance (the Nohr kingdom version) occurs in Chapter 14 of Conquest. The character singing and dancing is named Azura, and her audience is the evil king Garon. Azura’s song “Lost in Thoughts, All Alone” has magical powers, and is being used to weaken the evil king, which explains his discomfort and unsettling groans.
I will be discussing genres, rhythms and time signatures, vocal textures and ranges, keys/modes, instrumentations, and dance styles, for both the Hoshido and Nohr versions, with brief acknowledgements to the original version as well.
Hoshido Version – Genre
The first version of this song, the Hoshido version, is a Bolero, a style which originates in Spain, and describes both the music and dance. Boleros can be categorized under Western “classical” music, and are most often at a fairly slow tempo, in a 3/4 time signature, with frequent sixtuplet subdivisions (twice as fast as triplets). One of the most famous bolero pieces in the Western music world is a composition by Maurice Ravel, aptly titled “Bolero”.
An example of this musical style in the video game world is “Bolero of Fire”, from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Hoshido Version – Rhythm and Time Signature
Musically, one of the main differences between this version and the original theme is the rhythm of the vocal melody against the time signature, which surprisingly enough is 3/4 for both. Compare the notations of the vocal melodies in the chorus sections below:
Original Version (chorus section, with Hoshido lyrics)
Hoshido Version (chorus section)
Again, notice how both versions are in a 3/4 time signature, but the rhythms go by twice as fast in the Hoshido/Bolero version. The Bolero version is much more syncopated, as the melody line does not always fall on a strong beat.
Hoshido Version – Vocal Texture and Range
Azura’s singing style is nothing too out of the ordinary for people accustomed to Western classical music—her vocal tone is quite pure throughout, using gentle vibrato on the longer notes. Her melody in this version falls between C4 (middle C) and D5 (an octave above the D right above middle C), fitting comfortably into a soprano vocal range. The highest note she sings is the second note sung in the song, “in the white light”. I did not include the first part of the song in the transcription though because I want to focus mainly on the chorus part, not the verses.
Hoshido Version – Key / Mode
Now, let’s discuss the melody lines. While all versions are in different keys, they are also all in different modes. In my music theory classes, we talk about major keys, and three types of minor keys, only one of those three which I will talk about right now: natural minor (or Aeolian mode). The original version is in the key of Eb natural minor/Eb Aeolian (relative major is Gb). I could also say D# minor / F# major, but I chose to say Eb minor because I like Eb! >u< Anyway, the original version is in Eb natural minor/Eb Aeolian, meaning that it has the same key signature as Gb major, but starts and ends on Eb (scale degree 6).
Eb natural minor / Eb Aeolian scale:
The Hoshido version is in what we call D Dorian mode. There are a few ways to think about Dorian mode. One way is to visualize the major scale of C, but to start on D (C major’s scale degree 2) instead. That way we play all of the white keys, but the tonal center is now on D rather than C.
D Dorian scale:
Note that all three D Dorian scales pictured here SOUND EXACTLY THE SAME! The differences are in the key signatures and accidentals pictured.
Another way to think about Dorian mode is to imagine a D Major scale, and lower scale degrees 3 and 7, meaning the F# and C# become F natural and C natural.
The third way to think about Dorian mode is to picture D natural minor, and raise scale degree 6. D natural minor would use the same key signature as F major, which has one flat: Bb. Usually, D natural minor would have a Bb as its 6th scale degree, but in D Dorian mode, it has a B natural.
In this particular excerpt, for comparison purposes I just wanted a pictorial example of the chorus part of this song. There is no B (flat or natural) in the chorus. However, earlier in this version of the song, Azura does sing a B natural, and while she does also hit a Bb, it sounds like that Bb is part of a chord that is not naturally occurring in the key, therefore we would use an accidental (a flat).
Think of the first part of the song “In the white light, a hand reaches through. A double-edged blade…”: each bolded/underlined syllable is the highest note of that particular melody phrase.
The second and third high notes are each one whole tone down from the previous high note. It would make more sense that the Bb is an accidental, as that same place in the melody of the original song is an accidental as well. The overall key is D Dorian, rather than D natural minor.
While Dorian mode is considered a minor scale because of its minor 3rd and minor 7th, the major 6th gives it a slightly less somber feeling—that sort of hopefulness among the gloom is very fitting for the main character in Fire Emblem Fates.
Hoshido Version – Instrumentation
The instrumentation of this version is very string-heavy, with percussion instruments like the cymbal and snare drum. During the chorus, we have some innocuous winds come in, very inconspicuously—the texture does not change much at all. We have usual Western orchestral instruments, joining together to play as one block of sound. There are some pretty nice harmonies, but overall the instrumentation is nothing too special.
Hoshido Version – Dance
Let’s talk briefly about the dance. A lot of Azura’s moves are standard in ballet:
Straight-legged high kick
Many elegantly stricken still poses with very straight limbs
While it is a very graceful dance, there is nothing too exciting (besides the incredible water effects!) or passionate, and nothing foreign to a Western audience. Perhaps the lack of passion is also shown in Azura’s very stoic and essentially expressionless face throughout the entire dance.
Nohr Version – Genre
The second version of this song has many differences, as you could probably hear on the first listen! The overall feel of this song is very reminiscent of Middle Eastern music. But what exactly does “Middle Eastern music” mean?
Nohr Version – Rhythm and Time Signature
Rhythmically, this version is different because of a couple reasons. We are now in a 4/4 time signature, rather than 3/4, and while the rhythm may sound drastically different, it actually is not as extreme as it seems. The same sort of long short-short, long short-short pattern (“Sing” is long, “with” is short-short, “me” is long, “a” is short-short) that is in the original version is still present in this one. The only difference is that now, there are four beats in the measure, and the long notes are relatively longer, while the short notes are relatively shorter.
Let’s look at the rhythms of the original version and the Nohr version.
Original Version (chorus section, with Nohr lyrics)
Nohr Version (chorus section)
Notice how in the original version, we have our long notes as half notes, and our short notes as eighth notes.
One half note is equivalent to two quarter notes, and each quarter note is the same length as two eighth notes. So one half note is the same duration as a total of FOUR eighth notes, therefore each long note is FOUR times as long as each short note.
Conversely, in the Nohr version, our long notes are quarter notes tied to eighth notes, and our short notes are sixteenth notes.
One quarter note is the same duration as four sixteenth notes, and one eighth note is equivalent to two sixteenth notes. So, a quarter note tied to an eighth note is the same duration as SIX sixteenth notes, therefore each long note is SIX times as long as each short note.
This rhythmic pattern is what gives the Nohr version of this song a more driving power than the other two versions—it sounds like the song is sung faster, when in fact it is also that the rhythms propel the melody forward more urgently.
Nohr Version – Vocal Range and Texture
While the Hoshido version’s vocal melody line fits comfortably in a soprano’s range, the Nohr version hits a few lower notes, and is overall at a lower register. The highest note Azura hits is the second syllable she sings: “Embrace the dark”, which is a B4. The lowest note is an A3, which she hits multiple times, including “The black pillar”, “Lost in thoughts, all alone.” This range fits better into a mezzo-soprano’s voice type, which is lower than that of a soprano.
What stands out the most about her vocal performance, however, is the unevenness of the inflections in her voice. Notice her voice at the very beginning of the song: “embrace” has a very strong emphasis on the first syllable, and a breathier sound, to the point where it sounds like “hembrace”. The word “lies” (“A legacy of lies”) also has a downward contour in terms of pitch, which could be described as being closer to a talking sound rather than singing. That sort of style, where a singer speaks a word instead of singing with a definite pitch, is very characteristic of musical theater, which is generally known to be a very, very expressive genre.
While Azura’s singing style in the Hoshido version is not quite operatic, it is more so than the Nohr version, as her vocal tone is very even. The Nohr version incorporates much more expressive freedom and vocal individuality, as exemplified in the way that Azura sings a few key words:
0:57 – “embrace” (sound more like “hembrace”)
1:02 – “call a home” (sounds more like “ca-all”)
1:05 – “upon an empty” (sounds more like “upo-on”)
1:10 – “lies” (more spoken than sung)
1:11 – “familiar” (her voice pinches at the end of the word)
1:16 – “sing with me” (her voice squeaks a little bit at the end of the word, sounds like “singh”)
1:19 – “conquest” (her voice pinches slightly in the first syllable)
1:26 – “through the day” (her voice pinches a tiny bit in the beginning of the word)
The very slight extra inflections in these words add a significant degree of individuality to the performance. Why is that? While every singer can be formally trained to sing a note purely and evenly, you wouldn’t teach someone to crack their voice. Well I mean, you could, but generally this is not a common practice and, in most classical settings, also not desirable.
Another question we must ask: Under what circumstances do people experience pinching and cracking in their voices? Do people’s voices waver when they are calm, content, or otherwise in a stable emotional state? No. People’s voices tend to pinch and crack and waver while they are furious, exuberant, grief-stricken, or otherwise experiencing any other intense emotion, usually to an extreme level.
It should also be mentioned that because the vocal range is fairly low, we can hear a more gritty tone, which is close to—but not to an inappropriate level—what we call vocal frying. Vocal frying occurs when a singer reaches just below his or her lowest pitch that he or she can comfortably sing. Everyone has one—try it right now! 🙂 Pick a mid to high note that you can comfortably sing, and notice the tone of that note. Your voice may quaver a little bit, especially if you haven’t talked (or sung!) in a little while, but the overall sound should be fairly even. Now, slowly start to sing pitches lower and lower. At some point you will hit a note that is too low for your singing register. That growling, uneven tone is the result of vocal frying.
Now, in Azura’s performance, she does not sing any notes that are too low for her register, but she does get close. The low A and B that she sings have tones that are between the pure, even tone, and the gritty, uneven tone—I’d even go as far as saying it’s closer to the gritty tone than the pure one. This is exemplified in the last note she holds, which is a low B.
The ways in which people’s voices crack and pinch and growl are entirely individual, and it’s those little unique imperfections in the Nohr version that add the special layer of emotion that the Hoshido version simply does not have.
Another aspect of the vocal line, not just her inflections, also adds to the Middle Eastern vibe of the song. The nature of the short-short notes being relatively even shorter than in the other versions provides a quick change in pitches over a single syllable (a technique called melisma), and is used quite frequently. Melisma is also common in Western pop music, where singers incorporate it into their ad libs (freestyle) often in the last iteration of the song’s chorus.
One of my favorite examples of melisma is in SNSD / Girls’ Generation’s song “Bump It”, where Taeyeon’s melisma-filled ad libs over the final rap section and final chorus gives me goosebumps almost every time! ^U^
3:00 – 3:07 Notice how many different pitches Taeyeon sings while holding the second syllable of “control“. Again from 3:11 to 3:15, just one syllable, yet LOTS of different notes. She continues to harmonize and add in some beautiful free-styling over the other members’ parts during the final chorus. Coincidentally, the driving percussion rhythm is actually quite similar to that of the Nohr version of “Lost in Thoughts, All Alone”.
Nohr Version – Key / Mode
Now let’s discuss the pitches. As I mentioned earlier, the original version uses Eb natural minor / Eb Aeolian, and the Hoshido version uses D Dorian mode. The most striking difference for me is that the Nohr version is in B Phrygian mode. Now what is Phrygian mode? Similarly to Dorian mode, there are a few different ways that you could approach an understanding of this mode. The first is to envision the major scale of G, but starting on scale degree 3, which is B.
B Phrygian scale:
Note that all three B Phrygian scales pictured here SOUND EXACTLY THE SAME! The differences are in the key signatures and accidentals pictured.
The second and possibly most confusing way of looking at B Phrygian mode is to think of the B Major scale, but with lowered scale degrees 2, 3, 6, and 7. This way of thinking does not make as much sense to me as the other explanations, but it is still valid in its own right! 🙂
The last way to think about B Phrygian mode is to envision a B natural minor scale, but this time lowering scale degree 2. B natural minor has the same key signature of D Major (2 sharps: F# and C#), only now we are going to lower scale degree 2, which in this case is C#, so now it will be C natural.
This is the most effective way to think about it. The minor 2nd in the Nohr version occurs between the words “and” and “fate”, and again between “a” and “stone”. The lowered scale degree 2 is what gives Phrygian mode its unusual and wonderfully appealing sound.
Even in the three different types of minor scales, the interval between scale degrees 1 and 2 is still a Major 2nd. Only one other mode in Western music (Locrian mode) has a minor 2nd between scale degrees 1 and 2, but that mode is a lot less pleasant to listen to (as a Westerner), as it has all kinds of unusual and dissonant intervals and harmonies.
So what is the relevance of Phrygian mode? In Western music, Phrygian mode is not identical but has the closest sound to Arabic maqam, the Middle Eastern melodic system. Arabic maqam uses notes that do not exist in Western music. So Western composers that want to imitate the tonality of Middle Eastern music typically will use Phrygian mode.
Nohr Version – Instrumentation
The instrumentation of this version is also pretty different than the other versions. While the Hoshido version’s instruments blend together to create essentially one block of sound, the Nohr version uses quite a few instruments native to Middle Eastern regions of the world, and they each have their own distinct sound. This version does still also have a strong string section, though the percussion is much different—I’d even say that the strings sound in a percussive way in this version. While the Hoshido version uses a couple gentle cymbal rolls and non-obtrusive snare effects, the Nohr version uses a drum called a doumbek (click here to watch a brief informational video about the instrument), and a tambourine. The percussion plays a powerful role especially at the very beginning, where it is the only instrument section playing.
There is also a reed instrument that plays a call-and-response with Azura: after she sings “Embrace the dark”, you can hear this instrument playing a similar melody while Azura’s last note rings out, then Azura sings “You call a home”, and the instrument again plays a similar melody during Azura’s vibrato. The reed instrument is either a bagpipe, mizmar, or mijwiz. It’s harder to hear this instrument after the first line—the percussion and bass are very overpowering. But after the second line, the reed instrument is much more audible.
The reed instrument also plays along with the chorus section as Azura sings, though it is very hard to hear. To Westerners, bagpipes are most strongly associated with Scottish and Irish music, when in fact plenty of other cultures from around the world have used bagpipes in their music for centuries (not just European countries).
The last instrument I must point out is the beautiful sitar (click here to listen to a sitar performance), which you can hear distinctly near the very end of this version. The sitar has a metallic, twangy sound, and can be heard immediately after Azura sings “Hard as a stone”, where it comes in and plays a descending pattern.
Nohr Version – Dance
Now for the dance!!! Azura’s dancing style is that of “belly dancing”, a style that likely originated from Arabic tribes in Northern African countries like Algeria. Belly dancing moves primarily focus on hip movements, though dancers often wear clothing that reveals the mid-section, emphasizing isolation of the torso and abdominal areas. Azura’s arms are also always held in a relaxed, soft curve, not stiff like in the Hoshido dance.
Some iconic belly dancing moves include short, punctuated movements (similar to the percussion) and fluid motions of the limbs and torso. The moves that Azura incorporates in this dance are as follows:
Framing of the face
Hip drops and lifts, while foot scuffs the ground and leg kicks, with outstretched arms ticking in the opposite direction
Forward body roll—a type of torso isolation exercise (requires strong abdominal muscles)
Hip tick with arms extended overhead
Lateral hip shifts, with arms fluidly leading the way
Chest “pops” – rib cage isolation
Hand “stirs” the air, head drops, snaps back up
Hands cross over hips, then twirl together above head, head whips backward
Backward body roll
While there is no set of rules or restrictions in regard to belly dancing, these moves—among others—are certainly incorporated in a lot of belly dancing routines.
Now that you’re more aware of everything that’s going on in both versions, please watch and listen to them again! 🙂
On the Fire Emblem Wiki page, the Nohr version is described as being “much faster, different tempo, and lower key”. And I simply could not stand for such a vague description! X’D So there you have it! Thanks for reading my in-depth musical analysis of “Lost in Thoughts, All Alone” from Fire Emblem Fates. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts, and maybe even learned something new! ^_^ Again, please feel free to comment with any questions, or even disagreements with anything I said 🙂