Review by · September 6, 2009

We don’t cover most “doujin” material on RPGFan, particularly because much of it is released on CD-Rs and may have been published without permission from the copyright-holders (that is, illegally). But we have done our best to cover “Gaijin doujin” (that is, fanmade game music outside of Japan). OneUp Studios has been a continual source of high quality fanmade arrangements, from their “Time and Space” tribute, to the two “The OneUps” jazz band albums.

Today, we take a look at their latest release, CHRONOTORIOUS. Though OneUp Studios have already done a Mitsuda tribute album (covering Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Xenogears), this Trigger-specific tribute album comes from a set of guys that call themselves “The Bad Dudes.” Though there are plenty familiar faces on the album (Ailsean, Dhsu, and of course Mustin), there are some names here you might not be familiar with. That’s okay. I’ll introduce them to you as we go along. The point is that, despite the new “Bad Dudes” moniker, it’s essentially the same folks who have done work on OneUp Studios albums in the past.

But first, to summarize the album. I may take some heat for making this statement, but in my mind, this album feels like a sequel to “The Brink of Time,” the official Chrono Trigger arranged album from Yasunori Mitsuda, released nearly 15 years ago. Why do I say that? The Brink of Time was an album that featured a lot of jazz, a lot of genre-fusing, and some great improv-sections with instrumental solos from all manner of instruments. Though each of the arrangers on CHRONOTORIOUS have their own style, and some seem to prefer straight rock arrangements to anything jazzy, there’s a definite similarity between the two albums. And there’s no question that the quality of CHRONOTORIOUS is on par with Brink of Time. In some ways, and on some specific tracks, I am tempted to say that this is the superior album. That’s not saying much if you despised “The Brink of Time” (and there are people out there who hate it, to be sure). But I was a fan of the album with the smiling breakfast cover art, so coming from me, it’s a pretty serious statement.

We’re going to do this track-by-track, since everyone has their own style. First up, the title track, an arrangement of the game’s title track and main theme “Chrono Trigger,” from Tim Sheehy. I actually had the opportunity to meet Mr. Sheehy at E3 2009, where he was playing the role of freelance journalist. Through that experience, I learned that Sheehy was a great wordsmith. Today, I learn that he can write more than words. This arrangement of the title track is an electronica-fused jazz track that stands up to any other arrangement of the piece, fanmade or otherwise. The lasting impression, for me, comes from the final seconds of the track. Everyone knows that the ending to the Chrono Trigger theme is an abrupt spray of notes, quickly cut at the end of the melody. In Sheehy’s arrangement, the piano is holding the melody, but then a guitar joins in for the last string of notes. And he doubles the time on the notes, allowing the ending to swell a little more and give it a more structured close than the abrupt stop originally written by Mitsuda. I have to say, I like what Tim Sheehy did with the track.

The second track comes to us via “JigginJonT” (JJT), and it’s the only track he added to the mix. That’s unfortunate, because I’m going to come out and say it: this is my favorite track on the album. “Castle Rock” is an arrangement of the Guardia Castle “Pride and Glory” theme. The track opens with just piano, and then orchestra bell and a reverberated electric guitar add some decoration. It takes nearly a minute before the kickdrum jumps in and the guitar is given a slight boost of power. JonT works in the melody of another well-known Chrono Trigger piece before continuing on his designated path, where he throws in a real-live trumpet part to handle the melody. At this point, the drums have gotten fairly intricate and complex: I’m sure if Mitsuda heard it, he would be pleased. By the halfway mark, the trumpet is providing more than the melody; a layered recording allows the one trumpet to become three and produce harmonic chords. The dynamics are just right here. For the solo section, some Wurlitzer and Rhodes keyboard sounds make an appearance. Then the electric guitar gets the spotlight for about 30 seconds before heading back to the main melody. There’s a quick swelling of the music where nearly every instrument featured is playing in unison, and at a pretty high volume. Then suddenly, after almost five minutes, the track just cuts, and the reverb of the guitar echoing beat by beat is all we’re left to hear. Wow… this was a great track. I could keep it on loop for hours.

But, we must go on. And we’re in for another treat. This time, we have Danimal Cannon’s arrangement of “Corridor of Time,” one of the best pieces from the Chrono Trigger OST. Danimal renames the track “Rockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” At first, it’s not obvious why. The opening measures of the track sound like a faithful recreation of the piece, as though he took the note-for-note sequenced MIDI and incorporated more life-like synths. But then we find a guitar playing the melody… and though it’s soft at first, we can begin to see that there are intentions to turn this piece into something it’s never been before. The guitar jumps two octaves for the repeat of the main melody, and then at the two minute mark, an arrangement akin to something one might expect from “Metroid Metal” happens. “YES, THAT JUST HAPPENED” is what I said to myself when I first heard it. Later on, I learned that Danimal Cannon, a member of the group ARMCANNON, has actually played alongside “Metroid Metal,” so the style of the music all made sense after I did my research. And who knew such a rich, layered, “ethnic” piece of music would also work in a traditional guitar-and-drum rock band setup? Now we know the truth. If you don’t believe it’s possible, check out the audio sample.

“Dethfrog” uses Frog’s Theme in a rather silly way. Clearly, the arranger (Ailsean) is intending to parody the band Dethklok, themselves a parody of death metal bands from the popular Adult Swim show Metalocalypse. The vocalist growls in an angry monotone instead of singing, and the piece is sped up almost double its originally tempo. The lyrics are fairly trite: “I was once a nobleman, but now I am a frog,” and “I will slay my enemies, yes I will make them croak” are a few of the lines I could make out without turning to the liner notes. The guitar part is good, but the silliness of the track irks me a bit. I know Frog’s Theme has been done so many times, so I have to give Ailsean props for doing something new with this famous piece of music. But it’s not my favorite track on the album by a longshot. I appreciate the novelty and brevity of it, though.

Ayla’s Theme is up next, and this is one lengthy arrangement. “Cave Girl” is nearly seven minutes long, and the arranger (zyko) worked at least three different musical genres into the arrangement. There’s a sort of “tribal rock” feel going on at first, with non-lyrical “Tarzan” vocals being mumbled from time to time. The keyboard part and wah-wah guitar transform the piece into something that I’d describe as “acid jazz lite.” The last improv section, where the arranger throws in some scat-singing, sounds like a funk-folk fusion. And the track fades out in this style, with a little bit of jazz flute to decorate. There’s a lot going on in this arrangement: perhaps too much. But that’s okay. I never thought I’d enjoy an arrangement of Ayla’s Theme this much, so props to zyko.

Are you a B.A.M.F.? Despite the humorous title (on par with naming an MMORPG “zOMG!”), this is an arrangement of the musical theme for Chrono Trigger’s own BAMF, Magus. The arrangement is a collaborative one, from both Dhsu and Mustin. It opens with a concerto-style piano solo (I’m beginning to detect a trend in opening tracks with piano parts). Near the one minute mark, the track is immediately thrust into a crazy avant garde jazz mode, holding the 7/8 rhythm and throwing in that synthesized howl from the original track. Unfortunately, this awesome section of the music acts only as a transition. It’s then thrown into a funky, syncopated common-time section with a lot of different keyboard sounds (rhodes, electric piano, etc. — all favorites for Mustin). There’s a quick snippet of another Chrono Trigger melody snuck into the track, and the piece stays in a mellow jazz mode for awhile before the reprise of that crazy 7/8 transition section, which also brings an end to the arrangement. All in all, good stuff. Oh, and apparently “B.A.M.F.” in this case stands for “Blue And Mighty Fine,” as a descriptor for Magus. But come on, we all know what they’re really saying about Magus.

disodium guanylate is a food additive derived from fish proteins used to enhance flavor. It’s also the name of this next track, an arrangement of “Derelict Factory” by posu yan. It’s synthy funk. This original composition was never a big hit with me, but for what has been done with it, I think it’s a respectable arrangement. It’s got keyboard, synth drums, and guitar. The sort of thing you’d expect by now. Moving on!

Now here’s a clever name for an arranged track. Ocean Palace, which is a domed underwater city (long before BioShock’s Rapture, and almost as sinister) would need to be “Watertite.” I see what you did there, Kunal! This is another jazz/funk arrangement, with excellent performances by the drummer and the keyboardist (both of whom are actually Kunal). The little bits of decoration added above the melody really help this track stand out. There are also some interesting breaks in the track, something that (up to this point in the album) I hadn’t been hearing much of.

Okay, if you mess up an arrangement of “Black Omen,” the music for the Chrono Trigger’s final (optional, repeatable) dungeon, then you’re in big trouble. When I saw this track listed for the album, months before the release, I was worried that this would be the “make or break” track for the album. But I don’t know why I was worried. I had no reason to fear. The arranger, Joshua Morse, was certainly capable of doing something good with this piece. This six miute arrangement is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s the little things that make it so great. The male and female exhales (which make it sound like a porn groove track), the instrumental breaks, the rhythm of the looped synth drum&bass, and the treatment of the melody with a variety of strange instruments, all add up to make for a fantastic arrangement. Again, I have to say, if Mitsuda heard this he would be quite proud… and maybe a little envious.

“Depths of the Night” was already a chill track. So when it becomes a jazz piano arrangement with a great, simple jazz band backup, you best believe you’re in for a treat. And yes, this is another Mustin joint. When I first listened through the album, I thought “this is Mustin’s best track on the album.” But I would later have to argue with myself. All I know is that Mustin really held down the musical value of this track while adding a great jazz groove.

Now then, if you really want to be impressed by piano, you’ll want to hear Bladiator’s arrangement of “Yearnings of the Wind” (which is essentially renamed to be the same thing… Longings and Yearnings are the same thing, right?). The entire piece is a piano solo track. The performance rivals the greats of “concerto pop” piano: Jim Brickman, Billy Joel, even Christopher O’Riley (when he arranges, say, Radiohead). If you like those artists, you’ll love this track. This is the track that makes me jealous.

“Forced Enlightenment” is an arrangement that, indeed, feels a little forced. Schala’s Theme is a hard one to work with if you use an upbeat tempo. The claps on 2 and 4 help, and the “Indian Bollywood pop” sound from the synthesized Asian string section certainly makes the piece sound professional (i.e. – I might expect to hear it in an Indian restaurant in a major city). The jazz flute and the abundance of percussion, as well as the crazy “telephone synth” at the end of the track, might be overkill though. Diggi Dis, the track’s arranger, took a big risk with this one. I think the track is rewarding overall, but in my head, I can imagine better things being done with this classic melody.

Mazedude’s arrangement of “Tyran Castle” has a lot of interesting things happening in it. First and foremost, the actual jungle animal noises worked into the track certainly help to create a certain mood. The arrangement itself relies heavily (perhaps too heavily) on marimbas and other pitched percussion. Mazedude said he was inspired by the film score to “Apocalypto” (James Horner), and the inspiration shows. That said, this piece is one of my least favorite from the Chrono Trigger OST, so it was hard for me to enjoy this track, if only because the original piece is so dark and tense that I have a hard time enjoying it.

Then, right near the end, Mustin jumps back in for another super-chill arrangement of another great track from Chrono Trigger. “Secret of the Forest,” without question one of the most beautiful (and underrated) pieces Mitsuda has ever written, just got a boost in audio quality. Mustin re-created the “moose call” synth sound from the OST version, using a specific technique involving wax (or some other lubricating agent) and a conga drum. But there are also birds chirping, so it’s like a merge of real and artificial animal noises. Then Mustin builds a drum track from scratch and lots of different keyboards playing against one another. Piano plus Fender Rhodes is my new favorite combination, and it’s all thanks to Mustin. I love this track.

The album “seems” to end on a bad note. “The Bad Ending” marks the moment of the apocalypse. “Lavos’ Theme” comes at a sharp dissonance to the rest of the soundtrack. Let’s not forget what happens if you lose in Chrono Trigger. Lavos comes out and destroys the planet, and Lavos is one creepy ball of parasitic death. After sirens wail, and Lavos screams, and people die, an inordinately-long prog rock jam goes down. We’re talking seven minutes of this atonal stuff, the longest track on the album. I have to be honest: this is my least favorite track on the album. It seems the “bad dudes” wanted to have a “bad ending” … or did they?

There’s a bonus track!

Though we don’t end on the game’s end credits music, we instead get a reprise of the “Chrono Trigger” theme, now in a straight-up porn groove style. Mustin, Joshua Morse, and Diggi Dis worked together on this track, which is entitled “Prayer.” You find it by skipping through a bunch of silent tracks to hit track 24 (significant, considering Chrono Trigger’s emphasis on time). The best part of the track is the solo section, where a female voice introduces each of the three players, who do keyboard solos. “Mr. Morse, solo! Yeah…” is how we first hear her. Then in a seductive voice she says, “Mustin!” (as in “Ooh, Mustin, take me there…”). And then, in a more matter-of-fact voice, she introduces “Diggi Dis.” The eight bars that each instrumentalist gets are put to good use. As far as bonus tracks go, this is a great one. Good job, you three!

In fact, let’s extend that “good job” to the whole bad dudes crew. And not just the music, the art too! The CD comes with a beautiful hand-drawn poster, and the detailed liner notes on the back of the poster are quite a treat for the careful listener who wants to know more about each song.

This is a great album, easily one of the best you can get for the Chrono series (official or fanmade). And, fortunately, it’s one of the cheapest. For 12 US dollars, this album can be yours. Pick it up from Bad Dudes Music. You absolutely will not be disappointed. If nothing else, I hope the extreme length and rant-style praise of this review helps you see how sincere I am about this album’s quality.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.