License to Doujin received. It’s time for a bunch of remixers with clever monikers to take on classic Squaresoft music.
If you really know your Square music history, you’ll know that there have been approximately four albums to attempt this same sort of style. First was Final Fantasy Mix, which had unreleased tracks and fan/artist-based remix of tunes from FFI through FFVI. That album was not very good. Then there was Parasite Eve Remixes, which gave me a huge headache (only exceptions being the opening and ending tracks, where Shimomura herself did the arrangements). Third is Final Fantasy Remix, which was just released about a year ago. It featured one artist doing all the arrangements, and most people thought it mediocre. Finally, on the Enix side of Square Enix, there’s the Dragon Quest Best Dance Mix, which was released earlier this year. And though the artist “Dragonfly” did a decent job, the source material didn’t exactly fit the style.
With “Love SQ,” we get Square classics (Final Fantasy series, Romancing SaGa, Legend of Mana, and Chrono Trigger) arranged in a variety of styles. There’s pure “techno,” there’s chiptune-influenced techno/dance mix, there’s straight up acoustic jazz, and there are some fusions of each of these aforementioned styles in certain tracks. Each track is arranged by a different artist. Unfortunately, the only name I recognize is “muZik,” who has added a few worthwhile arrangements as bonus tracks to OSTs (check out his “Eternal Wind” remix on the FFIII DS soundtrack).
But regardless of who these men and women actually are, one thing I can say is that they each add something special to this album, and in this case, too many cooks didn’t spoil the soundtrack. Or something like that.
I’m going to have to do this track-by-track, since each artist brings something a little different to the table. Forgive me, and try to enjoy the ride!
Final Fantasy “Main Theme” (from PE’Z): jazzy, big band arrangement where the melody sometimes gets lost in the musical decoration. Though, when they want to, the melody stands out strong. The recording production and engineering on this track is insanely high. This is the most “acoustic” recording on the whole album. And at seven minutes, it serves as a great lengthy intro to a fantastic album.
Chrono Trigger “Outskirts of Time” (from livetune): big, blaring synthy techno that borders on the level of irritation I sometimes heard on the Dragon Quest Best Dance Mix. However, when the melody is given a chance to shine, and the 16th-note background arpeggiations sound good here. This is the longest track on the album, and the softer parts of the track are very strong. But it does get on my nerves after so many listens.
Chrono Trigger “Chrono Trigger & Corridor of Time” (from Novoiski): an arrangement that feeds off the “space rock” hype of Daft Punk and others. The addition of sound effects from Chrono Trigger help the song stay rooted in its game source. If I’m in the right mood, I can really get into this dance-friendly track. But if you think the song “Technologic” by Daft Punk is an annoying piece of music, you will not like this arrangement.
Chrono Trigger “Frog’s Theme ~ Fanfare 1” (from SEXY-SYNTHESIZER): well, I guess Chrono Trigger is all about time travel. In this arrangement, SEXY-SYNTHESIZER jumps back one console and uses chiptunes from the NES. You can clearly recognize certain sound types that have been used in games like Final Fantasy III (not VI), Mega Man, and others. Alongside the chiptunes, female vocals are recorded (or sampled?) overtop. The Frog’s Theme section (middle section) of the song is really catchy. This is my favorite of the three CT tracks.
Final Fantasy “Chocobo’s Theme” (from Good Luck Heiwa): the opening seconds trick you into thinking this is another all-acoustic track, like the opening piece. A jazz trap set and piano open it, but some crazy synth organs and pads join the mix before the first minute is over. The arranger takes liberty to stretch the tempo and replace the melody with strange jazz variations and improvisations. Not my favorite track, not by a long shot, but still quite musical and nuanced.
Legend of Mana “Thoughts of the Mana Tree… (Medley)” (from muZik): I’m so happy muZik is back. This artist can actually do a really good job with synths. Like the one Chrono Trigger piece, this medley of songs from Yoko Shimomura’s fantastic Legend of Mana score uses the dated chiptune modules, as well as what sounds like SNES FM Synth and other “older” synths, and a touch of sophisticated synths as well, to create some very unique sounds. Placing the melodies into this all-electronic world works better than I would have ever expected. My only problem with the arrangement? It’s too short! The shortest track on the album, in fact, at three and a half minutes.
Final Fantasy III “Eternal Wind (Migratory Birds Mix)” (from DE DE MOUSE): this is just weird. muZik, the artist of the previous track, already did an arrangement of this track. Now, a new artist steps in to make his own arrangement. I would argue that this is the superior arrangement, but only for one reason: added female vocals. The sound has a touch of Daft Punk, and actually sounds a bit more like the track “Amethyst Caverns” from the 2009 PSN release “Shatter.” Phonemes are morphed and skewed to add a countermelody to this already beautiful Uematsu composition. I could do without any part of the arrangement that doesn’t have the vocal track mixed in (and there are a few sections of the song where she disappears). But whenever that voice reappears, I get chills.
Romancing SaGa “Opening… (Medley)” (from note native): a pretty standard electronica remix and medley of most of the “important” themes from this SNES title. Americans (including myself) know it best from its PS2 remake, which is the first time we ever got the chance to play it. This is an okay arrangement, but ultimately, I think Tsuyoshi Sekito’s work on the Minstrel Song OST outclasses what I heard on this track.
Final Fantasy “Battle at the Big Bridge ~ Dancing Mad ~ One-Winged Angel” (from Pia-no-jac): without question the most musically impressive arrangement on the disc. The arrangement is mostly piano and percussion, with a lot of effects used to enhance the sound. The medley opens and ends on the FFV “Battle at the Big Bridge” (aka “Gilgamesh”) theme. An upbeat and almost “happy” version of FFVI’s Dancing Mad rounds out most of the middle; I don’t know exactly what he did with the melody, but it sounds like he took a few notes a half step up to put it into major or a mode that’s close to major. FFVII’s over-arranged, over-played “One-Winged Angel” only gets a minute of time in the arrangement, and I’m glad the arranger relegated this piece to its proper status. No longer is it the “main course.” It’s a nice decoration added in. But he uses the track to take the tempo double-time, and the percussion gets crazy at that point. When the Gilgamesh theme resumes, you can tell the musicians are going crazy. Great, great arrangement.
Final Fantasy “Prelude” (from no.9): this is an interesting arrangement, yet I loathe it. I loathe its very presence. Apparently, we can’t get away from FF enough to ignore both the prelude and the main theme, even when we’re going for a more broadened “Squaresoft classics” arranged album. How about Secret of Mana, more Romancing SaGa, Bahamut Lagoon, Front Mission, or LiveALive? What would we have to do to get some Super Mario RPG arrangements?
So there’s your track-by-track. Some final thoughts: the cover art is perfect. The title is sculpted out of the very landscape of the SNES RPGs we’ve grown to love. In the same way, this music is sculpted from the compositions of Uematsu, Shimomura, Mitsuda, and Ito. Yet, they often take on a life of their own. And as you can see, our sprite-based friends from the NES, SNES, and PSX games are popping out of a box, like a holiday gift. And indeed, this album is quite the gift. The CD is available in Japan and can easily be imported, but if you’re a digital-distribution kind of consumer, please know that this album exists, on iTunes, for all regions. This is one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard. It could certainly be better, especially if it featured arrangements from Square Enix sound technician Mitsuto Suzuki (who made an amazing Romancing Saga 2 battle theme remix for the Square Enix Battle Music Vol.1 album). Perhaps there’s hope for a sequel to Love SQ.