One of the many amazing things about video game music is the wide variety you’ll encounter as you journey through a game. VGM isn’t necessarily restricted to a single style or genre. You could be listening to a rocking battle theme one minute and then, shortly after that, experience a sweeping and beautiful opera. Composers over the years have shown their incredible flexibility in terms of what they can create for various games, which has resulted in a cavalcade of musical choices.
It seems to be that very variety which inspires many different remixes and tribute albums, meaning that one song from a game might receive various renditions. While the idea of remixing isn’t new to the musical world, as there are tons of renditions of both pop music and classical music alike, video games are unique in that the remixing scene is so vast. This sets VGM apart from other musical styles as there’s a seemingly infinite choice of remixes and arrangements. Movies or TV shows very rarely get that sort of treatment, much less an entire album dedicated to said remixes and arrangements.
As a result, we get arrangement albums from Square Enix such as Radiant Melodies – FINAL FANTASY VII. Legendary game it is whether you like it or not, Final Fantasy VII has had a constant lifestream of musical arrangements, remixes, and everything in between. Saying that VII is Uematsu’s best work is a quick way to an internet argument, but it’s no doubt one of his most popular soundtracks.
This arrangement album takes on the monumental task of arranging classic music that has already been done to death by so many other arrangers, remixers, and albums. There are only 10 tracks on this particular album, but Radiant Melodies manages to include all of the greatest hits from the original soundtrack. But does it manage to create something unique despite these songs having been arranged so many times?
The album itself has a single musical theme with string instruments, but it toys with genres in a few ways. For example: “Bombing Mission.” Despite its squeaky violin opening, the track transitions into an electric guitar for the melody with a very smooth bass in the back. However, it then switches between the electric guitar and the violin, sometimes even combining both at once. The result is a song that has no real genre definition because it’s a mashup of various established genres.
This doesn’t mean that the music itself is bad. In fact, it has a unique sound that I can’t help but love. The arrangement does a good job of staying consistent and not making the transitions between instruments feel random. There’s a level of cohesion that works for the arrangement and stays true to the original song as well.
The whole album follows this trend of combining string and guitar instrumentation of popular Final Fantasy VII tunes. Some songs, such as “Descendant of Shinobi,” have a jazzy feel, with a double bass accompanied by that same violin as in the other tracks. In fact, the violin is the only consistent instrument in all the tracks; it plays in all of them in some form or another, usually as the primary sound.
While overall the music is unique and well arranged, there are a couple tracks that feel a little disjointed. For example, “Tifa’s Theme” has a heavy double bass sound and seems to be something you’d hear in a club. At roughly the 2’55 mark however, the mood completely changes to being very somber and sad, much more reminiscent of the original song. The performance and sound are amazing, but it just doesn’t fit with what the song seemed to be. It then transitions back to the same jazz sound from before. This small portion of the track would’ve been better if the entire song had been like that, as some might enjoy the jazzy track but find the somber part relatively spontaneous.
Put another way, it almost feels like parts of some songs were added in for the sake of incorporating elements of the originals into the arrangements even if those elements feel out of place. Anyone who has heard “Tifa’s Theme” from the original Final Fantasy VII knows it’s a slow but beautiful song, almost delicate in a way. The arranged version opts for an upbeat tone, but the inclusion of a slower part feels a bit stilted. The arrangement would’ve been better if it had stayed stylistically consistent. Especially on more casual listens, the sudden change throws me off every time, and also makes me wish I could’ve heard a longer, more fleshed-out version of the slower section with the same instruments.
“Flowers Blooming in the Church” also does this, suddenly transitioning tonally from lackadaisical to somber and sad roughly 1’56 in. It isn’t that the sounds are bad; far from it in fact. It just clashes with the sound of most of the rest of the arrangement. Just like “Tifa’s Theme,” “Flowers Blooming in the Church” is a variation on “Aerith’s Theme” and is much sadder than even “Tifa’s Theme.” Once again, it would’ve been great to hear a fully realized arrangement of the slow part, as this track, too, transitions back to the lackadaisical sound it began with.
Outside of those two minor complaints the rest of the album is a fun romp. “Let the Battles Begin!” has a heavy guitar sound throughout and our good friend the violin joins us on this audio journey as well. “Fight On!” is also an intense song but with a much stronger violin sound and is also an excellent arrangement in its own right. The guitar still comes in, but is more of a backseat to the violin taking center stage.
Overall, a lot of the arrangements play it safe. “One-Winged Angel” sounds exactly like you’d expect given the theme and instrumentation choice of the album, as does “JENOVA COMPLETE.” Despite the cautious arrangements, these tracks are still well made, with lots of care put into them. There isn’t a single bad track on this album, and it’s a treat to listen to from start to finish despite some extremely mild complaints.
Radiant Melodies – FINAL FANTASY VII is unique. It combines two elements and blends them together to create a sound you most likely haven’t heard before, or at least very often. Most of the arrangements play it safe to their source, which is by no means a bad thing, and ultimately it’s a fun little album that pays tribute to the giant behemoth that is Final Fantasy VII.