GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST, DUBSTEP IN A FINAL FANTASY ALBUM!
With that out of the way, Battle SQ is one of several albums released this past summer by Square Enix Music. Like the numerous other SQ albums, this one features arrangements from SE’s considerable catalog of games, all set to a particular style of music. In the case of Battle SQ, that style is hard electronic. Being my personal genre of choice, I naturally had to weigh in. Does this music manage to stand out amid vocal themes and pub tunes and chipmixes?
While there are a few tracks on the disc that aren’t exactly stellar, this album is far and away my favorite of 2012’s SQ mixes. That may be due in part to my proclivity for the electronic genre, but even with a number of tracks from games I am less familiar with (like Sigma Harmonics and Rudra no Hihou), I found a fantastic selection of arrangements I was jamming along with long after the music had stopped playing. In addition, this is an especially long album, weighing in at nearly two hours, so you’re definitely getting a lot of bang, zap, and wub for your buck.
First and foremost, as my headline stated, Battle SQ opens up with the Final Fantasy victory theme, lovingly Skrillexed into wub-wubitude by Japanese artist dubscribe. Whatever your thoughts on this particular branch of electronic music, this is definitely a catchy song. It has a very dirty, bassy sound that hits a lot of the right notes, though admittedly it isn’t the most adventurous mix. When the buildup stops and the beat finally drops, longtime FF listeners should be pretty hard-pressed not to get into the spirit of the track at least, if not the actual arrangement itself.
Listeners emerge from the mire/paradise of dubstep into a heavy rock/electronic mix of several Live-A-Live songs in “KNOCK YOU DOWN! ~ Ultimate Strength – VICTORY ROAD,” which is an absolutely slamming track. The source material was already strong on its own, but it has been carefully rendered into its new genre. Despite the track reaching nearly seven minutes, it never begins to feel repetitive, utilizing various source tunes and styles to great effect.
A mix from SaGa Frontier 2 called ” Miβgestalt & Todesengel” (a title I couldn’t possibly hope to pronounce) allows one to check one off in their Hamauzu column. This track is given a more trancelike treatment that works fantastically with the source material, with a bridge in the middle of the track leading into a great breakdown and finale. Masashi Hamauzu’s flavor is enhanced rather than diluted by this song.
The first of my three favorite tracks from the album is “Makai Toushi SaGa Furious Battle,” an aptly titled mix by Novoiski that opens with warm and fuzzy chiptunes and then dives right into a furious beat worthy of its title. The song builds, and at around 3:15 it absolutely explodes into a gloriously pulsing fusion of electronic synths, heavy drumbeats, and chiptune audio. I’m a fan.
A few tracks later comes “The Spirit Chaser,” originally from Rudra no Hihou and here arranged by SURLENT. This particular song starts with a slow, airy buildup until the beat finally drops into a very dirty and heavily synthetic one accompanied by madly pounding percussion, shredding electronic guitars, the occasional vocal accompaniment, and all manner of loud, grandma-confusing electronica staples. Much like the previous track, I’m not familiar with the Ryuji Sasai-penned source material here (check out Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest’s awesome soundtrack for extra credit), but based purely on the song alone it has become one of, if not my favorite track on the album.
The next track, “Battle on the Bridge,” is culled from Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work on Final Fantasy Tactics (and is not to be confused with Battle on the Big Bridge, well-beloved though it may be), and rounds out my favorites on the disc. Much like many of the other songs on the album, it makes use of a gradual buildup to the midpoint, whereupon it starts slamming together adventurous arrangements of the source material rapidly, loudly, and at a furious tempo. Even now, many listens in, I’m hard pressed not to start bobbing my head and drumming on anything nearby at the breakdown that occurs around the four-minute mark. The original melody is weaved expertly in between the wailing and flailing of synth beats, and it grabs hold of my attention and simply doesn’t let go.
There are many other arrangements on the album, with “Magus’ Battle” from Chrono Trigger and “You’re Not Alone” from Final Fantasy IX (!) being some of the more notable ones. Seiken Densetsu, SaGa, and a few other series are also present in the roster, and fans of electronica and the source material will likely find a lot to love.
The limited edition comes with a second disc, one which includes a few additional songs. A medley of ending themes, a visit to Final Fantasy VIII, and another Live-A-Live mix are among them, though unfortunately, I didn’t find these tunes nearly as engaging as the rest of the album. On the other hand, the final track is a twenty-three minute dance mix, with tracks pulled from a number of recent SQ albums. It doesn’t have anything you haven’t heard before (at least, if you’ve been keeping up with the SQ albums), but it’s a fun arrangement and one that would be a hit at your next nerd-friendly dance party.
With Battle SQ, you’ve got a massive amount of music, most of it fantastic, some of it merely good. Several branches of electronic music are represented to varying degrees of success, but if you have any love at all for the source material and this particular genre, you owe it to yourself to buy this album and blast the volume. You won’t regret it until you go deaf.