Final Fantasy Remix
Final Fantasy Remix
August 6, 2008
Buy at CDJapan
Any Final Fantasy arranged album is going to be eagerly anticipated but also harshly judged. With the original soundtracks being dear to many fans, hearing heart-warming familiar pieces being meddled with and distorted can be a torturous affair. Orchestral and piano albums have been the most successful media mainly due to the lack of meddling going more for upgraded versions of the original tracks than taking any new twists on the music. Electronica and techno albums have been significantly less successful; the Final Fantasy Mix album released in 1994 was panned by most critics and spurned by fans. It evidently seems that Uematsu got the message as he stayed away from mixing for the next 14 years. Although it has been silent from the official arrangement camp there has been a boom in fans making their own remixes with whole sites such as OverClocked Remix dedicated to unofficial (doujin) game music arrangements. Perhaps it was their popularity that inspired the official arrangers to have another stab at a Final Fantasy Remix.
After some rather perplexing samples, Final Fantasy Remix was released to what can be best described as a mixed reception. Rather than going for artists within the game music community such as Shinji Hosoe and Takayuki Aihara, who have produced some superb electronica arranged albums for other franchises such as Mega Man and Street Fighter, they instead opted for outsiders Ian Hartley and Matt Baggiani known collectively as Ante. The album has been seen as lacking musical direction and being very unorthodox in its use of samples from the original tracks. The style has alienated fans and the almost random nature of the composition has been criticized by connoisseurs. But after the initial jarring shock of listening to this album for the first time is it actually that bad? Does the album’s aesthetic begin to settle with the listener? Or does it still feel like a disjointed mutilation of some classic Final Fantasy pieces?
There are two main sore points that I have with the album. The first is a lack of cohesion between the original tracks Ante sample from and the added bass lines and percussion. The second is the numerous uninspired arrangements that consist just of the original with a fairly pointless drum-kit inserted underneath. Tracks that exhibit the first problem are principally “Opening ~ Bombing Mission” and “Liberi Fatali” although other tracks suffer from it to a lesser extent. The former has some significant time signature issues juxtaposing the 12/8 of the original against a syncopated 3-3-2 pattern from the drum kit that isn’t even going at the same tempo. This is combined with a fairly sporadic and senselessly developed use of the original sample to create a horrifically disjointed arrangement. It is definitely unusual but not enjoyable and makes for an infuriating listen at times. The “Liberi Fatali” arrangement has its issues with the tonality of the piece. The bass line is set in a completely alien key to the original sample making the vocals sound very dissonant and jarring for the listener. In some respects it does give the track its terrifying atmosphere especially when the whole choir is singing for the “Urite…” section; however when it is just the “Fithos, Lusec…” sung by one line of vocals the overall effect is irritating rather than dramatic. What possessed Ante to pull these stunts I don’t know. I respect them for trying to be daring in their arrangements but anyone who isn’t into experimental electronica will be immediately put off by such antics.
On to my second and even sorer point, the boring arranegements; examples of this include “Zanarkand”, “Tina”, and “Ronfaure”. What makes these tracks so dull is the fact that essentially all that has been done is the addition of a drum kit beat to the original tracks. Perhaps I would have been happier if they were particularly good or effective beats but they seem so out of place with the atmosphere of the originals that the overall impression is risible. The Piano Collections version of “Tina” was a good choice given it’s easily the most poignant and moving rendition of the theme, indulging in tear-jerking simplicity and gorgeous development. The arrangement of the arrangement of “Tina” on this album is one of the better ones in my opinion, but the drum beat feels completely out of place with the plodding piano chords. Fortunately the acoustic bass saves it from embarrassment by providing a necessary groove to the track. “Ronfaure” sounds very strained with the ethnic instrumentation being put alongside the sequenced drum kit. The overall mood is a confusing one leaving me feel bemused rather than fulfilled by the track. “Zanarkand” works a little better mainly because the track does get distorted and drenched in reverb along the way so that it does fit better in terms of atmosphere. However, combining the original melody with the beat seems to make the track even more cheesy and schmaltzy than it was to start with, which is quite impressive but makes the track almost unbearable to listen to.
Besides the two main faults there are a few other subsidiary ones to complement them. It is evident that the opening arrangement of “Prelude” borrows heavily from Final Fantasy X‘s unorthodox treatment of the theme. This does cheapen the experience as, rather than having an original take, they have created an inferior version of the groovy “Prelude”. The addition of the drum kit in some tracks has created some rather painful rhythmic casualties in the process even excluding the mess of “Opening ~ Bombing Mission”. The ethereal and ambiguous pizzicato undercurrent to “Blue Fields” gave the track a floating feel that allowed some exquisite and subtle rhythmic interplay between the melodic line and accompanying woodwind. I had never noticed this before until it was ruined by this arrangement. Giving the track a firm beat has reduced the original to a banal and tasteless form; it is undeniable that the track has atmosphere but I find the arrangement to be a poor treatment of the original. Perhaps the most surprising fault is that this album is not danceable to, whether it be due to rhythmic instability as in “Opening ~ Bombing Mission”, general weirdness like with “Liberi Fatali”, or the feeling of perplexing bemusement for “Ronfaure”. This is not an electronica album that you can have a great deal of fun with. However it doesn’t make that great a chill-out album either, being too far on the unsettling side of the electronica genre. It thus makes the album hard to appreciate and find a role for it in your life. The odd track has a bit of intellectual stimulation but that is all really. It makes the album feel unfulfilling and very easy to file away and forget about.
On the other hand, there are definitely some positive qualities to the album. There are some tracks that work very well in their new forms such as “Eternal Wind”, “J-E-N-O-V-A”, and “Maybe I’m a Lion”. The arrangement of “Eternal Wind” uses the old-school chip-tune sounds of the original beautifully to create a track that sounds ambient and yet has a decent melody and pace. Enough is done to the original to make it a decent arrangement and the track sounds unique without being peculiar. It is the shining star of how game music samples can be used well in a remix. “J-E-N-O-V-A” was a track that grew on me over several listens following an immediate revulsion. The original was a fast-paced battle theme but this arrangement slows it down and gives it the funkiest beat on the album for the melody to strut along to. The character of the track is transformed completely, which was initially a shock but once I detached myself from the original I began to enjoy it immensely. It was a revelation to say the least. Finally there is “Maybe I’m a Lion”, which like “Terra’s Theme”, is an arrangement of an arrangement rather than of the original. The stand-out part of this arrangement was the percussion; the use of the melody is poor but the drums add a much needed heavy-metal edge to the Black Mages original whose work can feel a bit lacking in rocky grit at times.
I’ll briefly mention “Mambo de Chocobo” mainly because I found it possibly the oddest ending to a dark electronica album I have ever heard. I haven’t heard the original so can’t give much insight into its treatment in this arrangement, but its placing right at the end was downright strange. Concluding a remix album that had pieces as dark and intense as “Liberi Fatali” with such a light-hearted and anti-climactic arrangement as “Mambo…” is actually one of the biggest faults on the album. It gives the album the feeling of just a collection of tracks rather than a cohesive whole; it demonstrates a lack of any overall plan in making the album and makes the album a musical bathos rather than anything special.
If you are thinking of buying this album, be warned. This is not an album for a fan of Final Fantasy music unless you are an obsessive collector. If you are a person who is musically liberal enough to enjoy both Final Fantasy music and experimental electronica then you may find some solace in this album. Otherwise I’d maybe just get “Eternal Wind”, “J-E-N-O-V-A”, and “Maybe I’m a Lion” as individual tracks off iTunes. If you want to listen to some good electronica arrangements, you can get more accessible and generally better ones for free off doujin sites. Ante are accomplished electronica artists and the quality of production shows this, so it is not necessarily a bad album. However, as I have mentioned before, I doubt there is any hole in your life this will fill any time soon unless it is in a collection.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by James Timperley. Last modified on August 1, 2012.