Final Fantasy X HD Remaster Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster Original Soundtrack
December 25, 2013
Buy at CDJapan
Final Fantasy X successfully brought the Final Fantasy series into a new generation with its cutting-edge graphics, gameplay, and of course audio. But the score for the series was something of a mixed effort. Having composed all nine previous games in the series alone, Nobuo Uematsu greatly struggled to compose this title and so took on colleagues Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano to complete the effort. The end result was the series’ most variable to date in terms of both style and quality, featuring both artistic masterpieces and colossal failures. Twelve years later, Square Enix produced the high-definition port Final Fantasy X HD Remaster for PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita. It was announced last-minute that the soundtrack for the title would be revamped. Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano returned to rearrange the soundtracks, with some assistance from Tsutomu Narita, Ryo Yamazaki, and Hirosato Noda. Unfortunately, their arranged score only manages to make the soundtrack even more inconsistent than the original.
The vast majority of the tracks on Final Fantasy X HD Remaster Original Soundtrack are minor revisions of the originals. For the most part, the arrangers revise the palettes, upgrade the synth, and add a few extra lines here and there. In some cases, these changes significantly improve the originals despite their minor nature. For example, Nakano’s “Pursuit” and “Run!!” have an extra sense of urgency thanks to the richer orchestral and percussion timbres. Likewise, ambient slowburns such as “Guadosalam”, “Phantoms”, and even “Creep” are more immersive than before despite adhering closely to the original. Other changes are quite detrimental. For example, the circus-inspired trumpet calls tacked-on to “Luca” distract from the underlying vibrant soundscapes. The unbalanced timbres and muddy mixing of “Enemy Attack”, “Grand Maester Mika”, and “Wandering”, on the other hand, detracts from the clarity of the once-impressive originals. But for the most part, the arrangements don’t evoke much more than the originals. Whether the dazzling “Assault”, ethereal “Calm Before the Storm”, or relaxing “Rikku’s Theme”, or indeed the downright mindnumbing “The Temple Players” and “The Void”, most tracks will be little different to how you remembered them. Even the last battle themes, “A Contest of Aeons” and “Final Battle”, are subject to by-the-numbers synth upgrades. It is very disappointing that tracks such as these didn’t receive the full-orchestral recordings they deserved. The production quality isn’t much of a progression from the originals and hardly matches the lavishness of Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.
The best tracks on the soundtrack are those that feature actual performances. In “Servants of the Mountain”, Masashi Hamauzu reunited with violinist Hijiri Kuwano to depict Mt. Gagazet’s breathtaking scenery and the tragic events that unfold there. The acoustic guitar performance and orchestral undertones of “Tidus’ Theme” gives a heart to a once anonymous composition. Likewise, the trumpet brings majesty to “The Blitzers”, an electric guitar adds grit to “Challenge”, and a tapestry of percussion make “The Burning Sands” much more appealing than the original. “Zanarkand” and “Via Purifico” are emotional solo piano performances taken from the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections. “Into the Abyss” is taken from Hamauzu’s solo album Vielen Dank, an abstract small ensemble piece that significantly departs from the original for better and worse. The most transformative new arrangements on the entire soundtrack are Hamauzu’s arrangements on “Mi’ihen Highroad” and “Besaid”. With “Mi’ihen Highroad”, he simplifies Uematsu’s catchy but bland original into a well-balanced folk piece featuring just four instruments: sax, flute, guitar, and mukkur. “Besaid” was hardly broken in its original version, but the new take here is very different with a blend of new age electronics and Japanese-styled violin. Though not everyone will prefer it to the original, bold, well-produced arrangements like this are something the soundtrack needed much more of. Tsutomu Narita also does a good job with “Normal Battle” and “Battle with Seymour”, retaining the classic Uematsu feel of the originals while injecting a stronger rock flavour.
Some of the tracks on the soundtrack are completely unchanged from their original renditions. This makes sense for the tracks that were fully recorded on the original, namely the orchestrated ending theme, the vocal themes “Suteki da ne” and “Otherworld”, and the various a capella renditions of the “Hymn of the Faith”. “Ending Theme” and “The Sending”, in particular, were so beautifully composed, performed, mixed, and synchronised with the visuals that it would have been nigh-impossible to have surpassed them. Some other well-produced tracks also cope with being directly ported, notably Hamauzu’s “Peril”, “Macalania Woods”, and “The Splendid Performance”. However, others such as “Braska’s Daughter”, “The Trials”, and “Bravely Forward” really demanded arrangements given both their subpar composition and dated synth. It’s clear that Hamauzu and Nakano felt little affection for such originals, but these accomplished arrangers could have transformed them into relative soundtrack highlights just as they respectively did “Mi’ihen Highroad” and “Movement in Green”. More understandable is why they didn’t touch “Djose Temple” and “Ridess the Shoopuf”, widely regarded as some of the worst tracks Uematsu has ever created. Original tunes should have been created in their place. By keeping the best and worst of the original soundtrack intact, the team certainly weren’t able to make the soundtrack a more balanced.
There are also potential presentation issues with the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster Original Soundtrack. Whereas the original Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack featured four compact discs of music, this one presents all 104 tracks, 312 minutes of music in a single audio Blu-ray. Given audio Blu-rays are such an unconventional (and arguably failed) format, the disc will be incompatible with most consumers’ audio equipment. Any potential advantages of the format (e.g. video content, surround sound) are not exploited here. But at the same time, the pricetag has been raised with the soundtrack being a full 1500 JPY most expensive than the original. Adding to presentation woes, the track times on the soundtrack can be highly variable due to different degrees of arrangement conferred by Nakano. For example, whereas Nakano’s ambient drones “Creep” and “Twilight” continue for 5+ minutes, his tension tracks “Leap in the Dark” and “Decision on the Dock” don’t make the 90 second mark. Among the bonus tracks, there are three half-decent unused tracks from the original (which could be purchased at the Luca Sphere Theatre). The best of these is Nakano’s “Illusion”, a playful yet abstract composition that wouldn’t have felt out of place on his Another Mind soundtrack. Uematsu also contributed the distorted piano piece “Nostalgia” as well as “Wakka’s Theme”. Finally, there are ten bonus tracks from Final Fantasy X-2, which was unarranged for its HD version. Square Enix selected some of the highlights from the disappointing original, including the central themes “Eternity” and “Yuna’s Ballad”, the ethereal “The Farplane Abyss”, and the gothic “Vegnagun Awakens”. Overall, a decent sampler for those who haven’t previously heard the soundtrack.
It’s evident from listening to this soundtrack (and reading the accompanying liner notes) that the time and budget available to Nakano and Hamauzu was very restrictive. As a result, the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster Original Soundtrack largely comes across as rushed and conservative effort. While some tracks benefit from complete makeovers, courtesy of Hamauzu, the vast majority are simply touched-up or ported straight from the originals. Don’t expect full-orchestral performances or rock band masterpieces here. Some tracks are not rearranged at all, including both the best and worst from the original soundtrack. When factors such as the audio format and pricetag are added in, it’s easy to recommend the original over the remaster soundtrack. Overall, a disappointing soundtrack and a missed opportunity.
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Posted on December 28, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on December 28, 2015.