Front Mission Alternative
Front Mission Alternative
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
November 21, 1997; November 22, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
If you were to plot the Front Mission soundtracks on some kind of scale, you’d find Front Mission Alternative lying far from the others, no matter what scale you used. While the other soundtracks employ a wide range of musical genres, Alternative sticks to only one: Arai’s own personal blend of hardcore electronic ambience and trance. It also requires greater effort from the listener to fully appreciate it, as the music is extremely complex, which is totally opposite the Front Mission tradition of easy-listening background music.
It begins with “Opening,” which is sort of a mix, offering a great deal of variety (compared to the other tracks, which are fairly consistent). It’s got some traditional drums, more experimental percussion instruments, and some ambient symphonic stuff in there to round everything out. Another candidate for coolest percussion instruments is “Woods.” Beginning with a good workout of the handclap instrument, it covers all the percussion bases. It’s almost all percussion, but there’s some flat bass and oscillating synth waves in there too to provide variety. Arai pulls some instruments out here that I’ve just never heard before. In the latter half of the track, the wavey melody starts to become more prominent, but the weird percussion instruments will always be the things that stick in my mind.
A lot of the tracks on the soundtrack sound surpisingly funk-esque. Some of them you have to listen for a bit, like “Sandtown” (the bass solo at 3:00 is a dead giveaway though). Others are really obvious, like “Port” with its groovy bass, and the string-heavy “Under.” Many of the tracks follow similar musical veins, too. We get some smooth jazz (kinda RnB) with “Defeat,” which has some really awesome improvised piano in it. “Beach” has some improvisation too, but it takes the form of an odd triangle wave straight out of the NES days. It’s a sure hit for fans of cool jazz.
Then there are always those tracks that stand out, and on this soundtrack that’s definitely a good thing. Tribal junkies will no doubt look to “Jungle” without being told. The heavily distorted melodic instrument is the one to follow here; it pulls a few fast changes, and the last variation is particularly cool. “Town 01” is a crazy hyper dance track, following patterns similar to “Sandtown.” “Airport” is another funky piece, but it’s got some creepy ambience in the background that really duels with the drums and bass. The harmonies, the duality of styles, and a few well-placed voice samples make this a track to remember. And we can’t forget “Ending”, which is not dance-like at all. It’s got repetition all right, but the electric harp and bouncy synth notes really give it a slow ambient feel that totally sets it apart from the rest. However, my personal favorite by far is “Desert”. The percussion used here sounds downright industrial, like banging on metal lids. The sharp spikes of melody in the background keep urging you on, like an escape theme you’d find in many game soundtracks.
Probably the most unusual piece on the Front Mission Alternative, “Rock” deserves some special examination. Its big innovation is that it reverses the traditional roles of drums and melody instruments. Most tracks rely on a constant bass line and drums, putting most of the variation in the melody. Here, the melody is just some simple repetitive synth chords. (For the first minute and a half, it’s just a single chord played over and over!) But all the action happens in the drums and in the quiet bass. Here, the drums are where all the creativity happens, churning out some really complex polyrhythms. It seems to push and pull the melody instruments in different directions, falling into step one minute and then weaving a counter-rhythm the next. You’ll miss all this if you don’t listen for the drum work.
Complex electronic music is notorious for being difficult to get into, and Front Mission Alternative is no exception. I certainly didn’t like it all that much the first time I heard it. If you’re not into that sort of music anyway, then there’s really no way this soundtrack will change your mind, even if Riow Arai’s style is pretty unique. However, if you’re a trance fan, if you’re into funk-style remixes, or just have a taste for anything weird, Front Mission Alternative will probably rock your world if you give it a chance. This is not traditional game music, and it certainly isn’t traditional Front Mission music, but it’s won a special place in my heart for sure. Yeah, it’s long been out of print, but Z-Freak has given some really good tips on tracking down your own copy.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Kero Hazel. Last modified on August 1, 2012.