Chrono Trigger -The Brink of Time-
Chrono Trigger -The Brink of Time-
June 25, 1995
Buy at CDJapan
I remember in my early days of discovering game music that there was an arranged album for Chrono Trigger. Of course, I tell myself, it’s a must buy. I had long been a fan of the original Chrono Trigger music and the adventurous, yet epic nature that composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu had managed to convey, so I figured a good bit of care would go into any sort of arrangements attached to this game. Granted, I had hit a stone in the ground with Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale earlier, but ignoring that detail, I didn’t hesitate to order Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time.
I hear a lot about Brink of Time About how it’s “different” from most arranged albums. In a sense, it’s true. The album is a combination of jazz, rock, and electronic effects, which is far different from the average Squaresoft orchestral or piano album. In a lot of cases, this would be a very good thing and in a sense, I’d sooner listen to Brink of Time than practically anything Hamaguchi spewed out over the years. Unfortunately, this is more due to a preference of instruments than a hitmark of quality for Brink of Time. Normally, a combination of guitars, synth, drums, and saxophones would be most welcome over the generic orchestrated strings and piano tracks that so define Final Fantasy arrangements. However, the actual arrangements in Brink of Time are so poorly implemented, I find myself wondering if I actually would choose to sit through an entire disc of Hamaguchi arrangements if I absolutely had to choose between the two. This type of choice is generally why I look outside of Square for my arranged game music. “Different” is not a sign of quality. Katamari Damacy is “different”, but it’s good. Brink of Time is “different”, but it sucks.
I see a couple of you raising an eyebrow at the usage of that word ‘sucks’. I suppose ‘wretched’, ‘godawful’, or ‘careless mess’, along with some inane comparisons, such as this album being as unhealthy for the environment as a cow’s belching or that it is depraved from its original material and STILL crap ala Street Fighter The Movie in relation to the games that spawned it, would be more appropriate and less insightful than a word that is synonymous with immature message board posts and is dreadfully out of place when viewing something such as music objectively in a review. But I assure you: After taking this album at face value, ‘sucks’ has earned the right for once to ride in the limo and walk the red carpet to the tune of thousands of flashbulbs that have gathered for my black tie affair of a review, as opposed to the messageboard alleys it usually inhibits. Its usage is not a mistake, an oversight, or an overstatement. It has earned this right to the attention.
So that begs the question, as ‘sucks’ approaches the podium and stares into the glaring eyes of all in attendence: Why does Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time suck? Simply put, it does nothing right. The album suffers from beginning to end with wretched transitions, uninspired takes on the original melody lines (when the arrangers feel like using them, that is), and solos that sound frighteningly amateurish. My feeling when listening to the album is that arranger GUIDO spent the entire three months from the release of the original Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version to the release of this album locked up in their room, with a tower of beer cases, a cooler full of crack cocaine, pot, ecstasy and glow sticks, and a Super Famicom, then drove themselves high and drunk to the recording studio on the CD printing day, stumbled incoherently inside and then spewed this out in a couple of hours, handed it over to the patient people from Polystar, then stumbled outside to pass out in the middle of the street. If I felt otherwise about the members of GUIDO and knew they put an honest effort in creating a good set of arrangements for Chrono Trigger, I wouldn’t be so hard on the album. However, given that summary of how this album turned out, I feel completely vindicated to give the word ‘sucks’ its formal time in the spotlight.
So the problem begins right at the beginning, which is an arrangement of the original “Chrono Trigger”. After the guy in the sound studio turned the recording equipment on before all of the performers were in the room, effectively adding an additional minute to the track’s playing time, the classic main theme of Chrono Trigger is played practically note for note. Nothing terribly offensive, though this rendition seems to lack the excitement of the original. However, at the three minute mark, we’re greeted with what turns out to be this album’s downfall: An entire minute and twenty seconds is dedicated to one of the most horrid solos I have ever heard in my life. It feels like the CD skips in my player when this comes up. The saxophone that comes in feels completely random and the accompanying guy on the background synth sounds completely lost, as he cobbles together something to keep up on the fly. As if this entire 80 second sequence didn’t feel haphazard enough, it jumps immediately back into the main theme’s melody on a dime. It’s like they recorded the parts seperately, then mixed them without something to bridge them together. So as the classic melody finishes up, I’m left shaking my head at that ugly transition. I mean, there’s being experimental and “different”, then there’s just being sloppy. Sloppiness isn’t something I can tolerate much of, especially from an album that is supposedly professional (and is priced as such). I won’t profess to be a jazz expert, but if transitions like that are normal in the field, it’s a genre of music I’ll be seeing significantly less of. By the end, I’m wondering why I didn’t just pop in the original Chrono Trigger main theme and get practically the exact same effect, minus the solo mess. It’s not as if the live instruments added a single advantage over the SNES synth of the original track. It’s not the last time I would tell myself that.
In fact, once I pop on the arrangement of “Warlock Battle,” I find myself saying it once again. This arrangement is just downright embarrassing. It starts with a couple of distorted synths that lead up to a guitar playing the main melody, (or at least attempting to play; it’s a rather feeble attempt actually that sounds like it was a test run with the instruments out of tune). Problem is, by the 1:28 mark in the arrangement, that’s pretty much the last you hear of “Battle with Magus” in this 4 minute piece. What follows is yet another godawful solo that comes out of left field, which sounds like someone jammed an ice cream cone in the sax. There’s a small hint at the original melody almost two full minutes later, but the rest is simply the sax player trying desperately to blow the ice cream cone out of the instrument. And to make matters worse, they leave the sound effect of him getting annoyed and just blowing the entire saxophone up in the recording. I weep for anyone who listened to this, expecting a professional sounding arrangement of Magus’ theme and basically ending up with something that sounds like it was put together by the South Park kids.
“But they ALL can’t be like that Can they?”, you ask. Of course not. I wouldn’t hate this album nearly as much if it were just tasteless takes on the original melody and bad solos. Just have a listen to “Zeal Palace”, a favorite of mine from the soundtrack. And keep listening, until you hear something resembling the original track. Once you listen past the constant strumming and random piano and distorted guitar, you’re finally greeted with a HINT of the main melody at the 2:40 mark. And as an added bonus, an actual arrangement of the theme starts up twenty seconds later! Think about all of the cool stuff you could have done during the two minutes and forty seconds when the performers were doing nothing but beating their instruments, and then slap yourself for wasting even that much time for listening to this “arrangement”.
Not to be outdone, another favorite of mine, “Guardia Millenial Fair,” falls victim not to an unfaithful arrangement, but to the performers not getting along. It seems one dude’s obsessed with plucking a guitar line, while another guy is playing the actual melody on a flute. Problem is, the guitar plucking completely clashes with the woodwind, making for a near unlistenable take on the festive and classy original. But the two then get together and realize just how much they enjoy the final part of the original’s melody. As a result, we’re then given 3 minutes of nothing but that same ending melody line. So let me see: the first three minutes are near unlistenable because of the clashing instruments, then the last three minutes are the same handful of notes being repeated endlessly. I’m impressed, since it must’ve taken extra effort and some amazingly potent amounts of drugs to mangle the original this badly. And to top it off, it has none of the festive enthusiasm and excitement found in the original, despite being transferred to real instruments. Pound for pound, this is easily the worst experience on the album. I mean, at least “Zeal Palace” has a couple seconds of sounding good. I came away from this arrangement with the sense that the original had been dragged into an alley by a gang of gorillas and this was the result of three hours worth of abuse.
And if that’s not enough, there are cases where GUIDO is seemingly intent to force the listener to see their “mad soloin’ skillz” alongside the originals. The “Chrono Corridor” arrangement actually stays pretty true to the original, repeating it several times over the span of three and a half minutes. And as a bonus, the rendition they’re giving doesn’t suck! Only problem is that the arrangement is seven minutes long meaning we’re forcefed a hideous guitar solo for the remaining three and a half minutes, which effectively nullifies any good the first part of the original did. The two sections clash so badly, it’s like listening to two different tracks (hmm, didn’t I write something akin to that earlier in this review? Pretty sure I did). And really, it’s probably better to just listen to the original, to avoid the annoying aftertaste of GUIDO’s solo addiction. On the flip side, we have “Undersea Palace,” which does absolutely NOTHING for the first minute and thirty seconds, outside of some random guitar plucking. After the plucking fades to nothing, we are then transferred to a rather (dare I say it) excellent version of the original “Undersea Palace,” with a piano and the guitar from the opening making up the harmonies of the original. It’s one of the few times on the album that an arrangement actually sounds better when transferred to live instruments, as opposed to the SNES synth in the original. Too bad it doesn’t last nearly long enough After one round of the main melody, which lasts for another 1:30, the rest of the theme is another example of GUIDO’s “mad soloin’ skillz” to the tune of the piano harmony. So where I should come away from this arrangement applauding the section where the main melody is given a wonderful treatment, I come away wondering why these idiots are obsessing with cramming their ten pounds of musical garbage into my face, effectively taking away any of the good they’re trying to accomplish.
So now here’s where I flip flop for a moment. There actually are two decent arrangements on this album. “Secret of the Forest” is a rather enjoyable take on the original and it nails the spirit of the original melody upside the head. It’s mostly a nice combination of guitar and synths and it just works. There aren’t any awkward breaks into awful solos that so define this album Just six minutes of smooth expansion and enhancement of the main melody. Likewise, “Outskirts of Time” is a very faithful arrangement of the classic ending theme, “To Far Away Times”. I find myself preferring the SNES original to what’s presented here, as the sound simply hits home a bit more and feels less superficial, but this is a very good alternative version that I have a hard time complaining about. Even the solo meshes well into the rest of the arrangement. The female voice adds an extra layer to the original tune as well. This definitely deserved to end a much better album. These two tracks raise my score for this album up to an even 25%.
So in the end, this mangled mess of an album stands as the only official Chrono Trigger arranged album in existence, which is a crying shame. In place of the adventurous spirit and enthusiasm found in the original soundtrack, we have a group of Japanese potheads cutting and pasting solos into badly performed renditions of the original tunes. It’s not that I don’t “get” this album — it IS novel to see something other than a yawnfest of an orchestrated or piano treatment and I am open to heavy adjustments being made to the originals. However, it is a travesty to see how little care was taken with handling the original tracks in this case, at the expense of GUIDO showing off their “mad soloin’ skillz” and how badly they can mess up the originals by making them sound far worse with live instruments. An ideal arrangement will sound both different from the original and it should enhance the best qualities of the original. While this is certainly different, I’m hard pressed to think of any reason someone should listen to Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time over the Original Sound Version. At best, Brink of Time is limited to sparse showings of talent and decent remakes. Despite my praise for “Secret of the Forest” and “Outskirts of Time” and their place as standout tracks here, neither would approach my top 500 or so arranged tracks of all time. And the rest, forget it.
So if you see a bunch of Japanese guys that reek of pot and beer laying in the street that claim to be the ones who did Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time, be sure to kick them. They deserve it. And then tell them their album failed with flying colors.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andy Byus. Last modified on January 19, 2016.