01 - The Place I'll Return to Someday
02 - Beyond That Hill
03 - Prima Vista Orchestra
04 - Battle 1 ~ Battle 2 ~ Fanfare
05 - Rose of May
06 - Gulug Volcano
07 - Airship Hildagarde
08 - You're Not Alone
09 - Assault of the White Dragons ~ Dark Messenger ~ The Final Battle
10 - Prelude
Square Enix arrangements, ho! Even after a summer that was packed with releases, including the (originally misnomered) Final Fantasy XI Chips, Square Enix Music is showing no signs of slowing down. This month has seen the appearance of four new Final Fantasy-related chiptune albums spanning the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras. These albums are... forget it, it's more stuff from Final Fantasy IX!
Introductions aside, I've often said that Nobuo Uematsu's work on Final Fantasy IX is some of his best. There are numerous musical cues and homages to earlier games in the series, and while there are no Latin choirs chanting the bad guy's name, the range of emotions and purity of the compositions wins out over Latin choirs every time. As my fellow editor Bob Richardson wrote in his Final Fantasy VIII Chips review, track selection is of critical importance when planning an arrangement album; especially one full of chipmixes. Fortunately, the selection here is full of iconic themes from the game that made the transition successfully, though there are some tracks that stand out above the rest.
The relative simplicity of "The Place I'll Return to Someday" makes for an enjoyable, if unadventurous mix. At times, chiptune demakes can seem as if they're stretching the boundaries a bit too far. Fortunately, the original version of this song and the reined-in arrangement work very well together and create something that is pleasant and natural to listen to.
Unadventurous is not a word that could be chosen to describe ajiponn's mix of "Beyond That Hill." I've long held this track to be my favorite world map song in the series, and this mix starts things out relatively simple. The first forty-five seconds of the track keep things tranquil and very reminiscent of the original, making the listener think that the album has opted for a very low-key approach to arrangement. Imagine the surprise, then, when the song kicks into a full-on up-tempo remix that takes the source and runs out the door with it. As I listened to this track, it did not seem so much an arrangement of the original tune as a celebration of it, and that was something I completely appreciated.
For me, the selecton of "Prima Vista Orchestra" was a little bit puzzling. The original track is a bit light and airy, and while it makes the translation to chippitude relatively successfully, I found the remix to be a little ho-hum. By no means bad, of course, but it does stick out as one of the more humdrum tracks on the album.
The original Final Fantasy IX battle theme was one that already attempted to pay tribute to the battle themes of the NES and SNES games, and if you heard the intro to "Battle 1 ~ Battle 2 ~ Fanfare" without having played the original, you might swear that this did come from one of the classics. The song lends itself well to the demaking process and is wholly recognizable here. There's a really charming bit about a third of the way through the track where the song crashes, as though your cartridge has come loose, and you can hear someone unplugging it and blowing in the slot. This leads into a much more exciting arrangement of the boss theme. The bass line works fantastically here, giving the song a solid background to build the melody on top of. The breakdown in the middle also sounds great, with clean texturing that prevents any of the "instrumentation" from getting too muddy. Finally, the track concludes with the victory fanfare, which sounds as peppy and celebratory as it ever did; you can't tell if this track originally came from the NES or the PlayStation.
Perhaps one of the most interesting (and awesome) songs on the album is "Gulug Volcano." Considering the fact that the in-game version of this track was itself remixed from the NES version of Final Fantasy I, re-demaking it into a chiptune was a bold move. Fortunately for listeners, the result is fantastic. Right from the start, it's clear that the arrangement is full of energy; it's really only the melody here that lives on. The rest of the track has been thoroughly embellished into a frenzied progression that is multilayered and totally exciting.
"You're Not Alone" is likely the most iconic of themes from Final Fantasy IX, and the producers of the track have wisely included it here. The arrangement is, much like "The Place I'll Return to Someday," somewhat unadventurous; but by that same token, it's also incredibly solid. The original melody is lovingly preserved, and it retains the sense of "otherness" that it had when juxtaposed with the original soundtrack. Many people were floored by how tonally different and weighty this track was when compared to the rest of the soundtrack, and it has a very similar vibe here.
"Assault of the Silver Dragons ~ Dark Messenger ~ The Final Battle" is among the strongest on the album, though its middle section is a bit weak. The original version of Assault was one of my favorites, and the demake has the same sense of fast-paced finality and impending climax as it always did on PlayStation. Much like the battle theme arrangements, muddiness is generally avoided here, and that is completely to the song's credit. Kuja's battle theme, "Dark Messenger," still sounds like it came from a Queen album, though I have to admit it did not survive the transition to 8-bit as well as Assault. The melody is discernible here, but the lower-fidelity audio sampling seems to take away the charm of the original. The novelty of hearing it as a chiptune wears thin quickly. "The Final Battle" fares better, particularly when the introductory notes are over and the song hits its main component. Bass-heavy portions make great use of a variety of different sounds, and overall the arrangement manages to hold the listener's interest much more effectively than "Dark Messenger." Except for that damned creepy simulated vocal moaning.
What did I think of Final Fantasy IX Chips? It's a solid album, on the whole. Several of the arrangements are a bit plain, but there are definitely some winners in there that I keep coming back to. The novelty of hearing my favorite Final Fantasy "demade" was fun, as well. in the end, I think people like myself, who love the original music and know it forwards and backwards, will get the greatest mileage of out this album, but it's still a solid work of chipmixing for everyone else.
Reviewed by: Stephen Meyerink