The new “SQ” series of arranged albums are right up my alley. The first album, “Love SQ,” had some really interesting arrangements. Now, the sequel “Chill SQ” is designed to be ideal for relaxing. That means, for starters, lots of cool electronic stuff. But there are live recordings mixed in as well. Each track is done by a different artist, and these are all “oldschool” Square titles. Some of them you may be unfamiliar with. And if you are familiar with them, allow me to give you a very elitist high five. LiveAlive forever!
Unfortunately, this is an EP-sized album. Only 7 tracks, 35 minutes of music. Do I want more music in this style? Heck yes. I want something from SaGa 2. I want something from Rudora no Hihou. I want something from FF USA (Mystic Quest). I want something from the old NES Final Fantasy titles. But we can’t have everything we want. Let’s just enjoy what we presently have. And we’re going to do this track-by-track.
First up, Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu) for Game Boy. Originally a Kenji Ito joint, now rearranged by Kenmochi Hidefumi. This is a very catchy medley. The main theme, “Rising Sun,” first appears as a piano solo piece. Latin-influenced classical guitar picks up with some percussion for the “Endless Battlefield” music. “Requiem” is used as a bridge, and then we return to “Rising Sun,” but now it’s not just piano solo. The guitar and percussion from Endless Battlefield continue on, and it’s a nice smooth track. Very good!
I was actually disappointed when I read that FFIV’s “Theme of Love” would be arranged for this album. Why? Because this song has been arranged to death. There’s no way I would enjoy whatever someone did with this. or so I thought. Uyama Hiroto’s arrangement is fresh and exciting. It starts out as, yes, a lengthy piano solo piece. But then jazz-styled flutes (including Celtic favorites: tin whistles and uilleann pipes) and wind chimes come in. It doesn’t take long until the beat drops and now we have a Celtic-house/dance fusion going on. It’s like the “Celtic Moon” arrangement made a baby with Daft Punk’s “Something About Us.” End result? Brilliance.
Mitsuto Suzuki is the only arranger on the album that is also a member of the Square Enix Music team. I first heard him do an incredible ambient/trance arrangement of the final battle music of Romancing SaGa 2 (found on “Square Enix Battle Tracks Vol.1” as a bonus track). Later he would go on to do sound programming and arrangement for a number of great soundtracks, including Final Fantasy XIII. So I expected something really great from his work on Chill SQ. Here, he takes the main theme from Makaitoushi SaGa (known to Americans as “Final Fantasy Legend” for Game Boy), tears it to shreds, and reconstructs in a simple cut-and-paste style. We’re given the full Game Boy music in the opening seconds, then the melody is scattered and slowly placed over a simple psybient soundscape. Sadly, it’s not very impressive, and ultimately forgettable. I know Suzuki can do better work than this: I’ve heard it in his solo albums. Perhaps with a medley of tracks from the game, or with more variation in the percussion, this piece could have gone somewhere.
Now, if I have to pick a “favorite” piece on this album… I don’t think I could. There are 3 that really hold my attention. But the one I expected little from but actually won me over in a completely unexpected way is the Front Mission piece. This is one of Matsueda’s compositions from the original Front Mission. “Within Living Memory…” isn’t the best piece she ever wrote, but the melody is memorable. Remixer “okadada” took the power of that melody to the next level with the right tools and just the right level of repetition. The opening 90 seconds are slow and soft, but there’s an abrupt cut (cued by a sound effect from the game) and then the piece really begins to build with large wall-of-sound synth pads. From here, the song just gets cooler and cooler. Great work okadada!
RE:NDZ, a member of “livetune,” throws down an incredible arrangement of some of the least-recognized music Shimomura ever wrote for Square. The soundtrack is for the Super Famicom title “LiveAlive,” a personal favorite game that really needs to be revived (no more FFII remakes please!). This arrangement covers two melodies from the game: “Warm A Live” and “Live Over Again.” Both are slower pieces, and that allowed RE:NDZ to do a lot of stuff with the “free space.” The sounds here are simply awesome. I love when RE:NDZ threw in some “vocal” sound effects from the characters of LiveAlive to mark the downbeat of each measure during the bridge. I knew this track was going to be good, but for less well-read RPG buffs, this one might come as the bigger surprise, not the Front Mission track. Another one that fans of Daft Punk will eat up, to be sure.
I think, for many listeners, a “least favorite” will be the FFVI Aria arranged by Q;indivi. The “ultra-high-school-dance-friendly” techno sound will turn people off. And the vocals aren’t going to win many people over either. But others may be able to gloss over the obvious cheesiness of the track and find something enjoyable about this English-language track.
Finally, “Dear Friends” from FFV. This is another “gee, really?” kind of track. Like FFIV’s Theme of Love, this song has been arranged pretty much every time FFV gets a chance at arrangement. But this style of music lends itself to the source material. Arranger Akira Kosemura hit the nail on the head. If I want to chill out to “Dear Friends,” this is the perfect way to do it. The acoustic guitar part is intact, but the additional stuff going on is great. Listen with headphones for some manic panning. Sounds are partially panning left and right at almost all times. It’s like sound is traveling through your head in waves.
All told, unless you simply cannot stand this kind of arrangement, you’re going to love this album. You may want to skip over the Aria track, and maybe you’ll find something unpalettable about pieces I praised. But you’ll find something to love, I assure you. Fans of digital downloads should be aware that, since this is only 7 tracks, you can get it for $7 on iTunes. Those who want to import the CD (and I recommend doing this because the packaging art is super cool) should be able to easily find the album at our regular import-friendly haunts. Get to it! It’s time to chill with everyone’s favorite JRPG-producing mammoth.