“Listen to my chiptunes. This may be our last dance.”
The Final Fantasy Chips onslaught continues with ten deconstructed tracks from one of my personal favorites, Final Fantasy X. Does the music of Spira hold up after being put through the retro grinder? I’m sad to say that this album is fairly hit-or-miss, though I’m not sure whether it’s due to poor track choices, bad instrumentation (chipstrumentation?), or both. It’s not all bad, but it’s a little disappointing compared to the previous three albums in this series.
The first song, “To Zanarkand,” shows great promise for the rest of the album. Overlapping synth notes do an excellent job of standing in for piano, turning 128-bit tears into 8-bit blocks of blue and white. It’s a powerful melody that still has an emotional impact, even in retro form. I figured that if the arrangers nailed this song, the rest had to be great too. I wasn’t entirely correct in that assumption.
Battle themes tend to be some of the strongest pieces on Final Fantasy soundtracks, so what went wrong here? While I love the source track, I’m afraid “Normal Battle ~ Victory Fanfare” doesn’t quite do the source justice. The basic melody is intact, but it lacks the dynamic punch of the original due to slightly off-kilter notes that make some sections sound washed-out. The faux-battle menu sound effects also feel oddly out of place. The fanfare is more faithfully recreated, complete with the telltale rolling beeps associated with experience gain. “Seymour Battle,” on the other hand, is superb. Composer Kplecraft plays with several sound profiles throughout the song’s five and a half minute duration, each highlighting a different section and keeping the listener engaged. It’s intense, varied, and arranged just enough to sound fresh while still being recognizable.
“Song of Prayer” uses synth trills in an attempt to emulate haunting vocals, but the result is pretty abrasive on the ears. It’s a unique sound, but one I couldn’t listen to at a high volume without my head threatening to split open. “Assault” suffers from the same problem; the harmony is an octave too high and the unnecessary warble returns with a vengeance. Thankfully, “A Fleeting Dream” is a lot more gentle. Plucky synth washes over the listener, evoking images of a 16-bit Yuna, staff clutched to her chest, eyes closed in silent determination.
“Mi’hen Highroad” has a steady, galloping rhythm with chiptune harmonica that sounds so authentic that I can almost visualize the flexing of pixelated sinew in a chocobo’s leg as it sprints down a rocky byway. “Prelude,” a dance-y demake of the iconic Final Fantasy theme, is fun and vivacious, though its slow 45-second warmup period left me a tad disinterested on more than one listening attempt. Likewise, “Otherworld” replaces over-the-top vocals with flat synth that detracts from the original song’s identity. It doesn’t sound bad, but it’s a little ambivalent, much like the rest of the album.
Final Fantasy X Chips is probably the weakest Chips album released up to this point, although it’s still worth getting if you’re a fan of FFX. Just be careful if you listen to this album with headphones on: despite the fact that it sounds like something from an early Nintendo system, I would not advise you to “Play It Loud.”