SUCCESSOR: Final Fantasy VIII Remixed is an enormous album, crafted lovingly by Materia Collective and its staggering number of contributors. Released to celebrate the 17th anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII, it features 91 songs, 5 hours and 49 minutes of playtime, and over 150 top-notch composers, arrangers, and performers. Everyone from Lauren the Flute to Dale North to Triforce Quartet has a part on this piece of lyrical fanwork, and their love and dedication are on full display.
Final Fantasy VIII features — in my mind — some of the best compositions the franchise has ever seen. Whatever feelings one may have about the game, it’s hard to dismiss that the soundtrack is compelling and vibrant. It’s a huge legacy to live up to, and SUCCESSOR is aptly named. Sprawling, varied, and distinctive, it sweeps from a capella comedic takes to multi-piece orchestral rearrangements and beyond.
It’s difficult to begin with this album. It features multiple, divergent takes on just about every song from the original soundtrack, both classical and modern, with techno-infused dance tracks and brass march variations. “Blue Fields” gets two, “Waltz for the Moon” gets three, “Maybe I’m a Lion” gets three, and so on.
The most striking piece is the one the album opens with: “Liberi Fatali 2016.” It features no less than 29 contributors, including The ETHEReal String Orchestra, which counts for two, and producers Marc Papeghin and Matthew K. Mukerjee, who did the lion’s share of pulling the piece together. The song is an immediate departure from the original, opening with an urgent, racing pulse in place of the traditional calm build. Gone is the sweeping choral ballad in favour of a far more aggressive tone, hugely realized through the frenetic guitar of Rich Bichler, that breathes new life into the song. It has a dizzying array of voices and instruments at work, from Coda and Moonliet, to Andrew Stern and Sebastian Freij, all putting forth their best foot in this incredible performance.
It’s just 4 minutes and 50 seconds long — like the original — but it’s pure, condensed talent. The fact that so many voices collaborated on such a singular and iconic work within a fan community is a testament to each and every one of them as professionals, and to the producers in their capacity as organizers. If there’s one flaw to the piece, it’s that the final mix has the instruments a bit too high for the vocals, but that’s barely a complaint. In all, it’s a grandiose and inspiring start to a great album.
From here, exploration abounds. The minimalist production of “Ride On” by Lauren the Flute is an incredible joy. Clean, uplifting, and stirring, it inherits the spirit of the original and transforms it into something far more heartfelt. Given that I find the original “Ride On” a rare annoying note from the soundtrack, this is a welcome change. Joshua Taipale’s “The Warm Winds of Balamb” is easy listening, dreamful and restorative. The piano alone elevates the song and makes it something I listen to regularly now, rather than just a BGM piece. Calbert Warner’s “Roses and Wine” is an uptempo, lively take on the melancholy, moderato original; it’s almost the sort of song you’d hear playing on the title screen of a sentimental dating sim like CLANNAD or Kanon. And then there’s “The Man with the A Capella Group,” Doug Perry’s take on the quick-moving fan favourite. I laughed out loud at this one; it’s so incredibly unexpected and charming. This piece is thoroughly enjoyable, though possibly offensive to the sensibilities of a purist — and all the more endearing for it.
Of course, I can’t miss mentioning the album’s varying takes of “Eyes On Me.” This was one of the first pieces of VGM I ever learned to sing by heart. I have friends who’ve played it at their weddings, school dances, and birthday parties. It’s not only one of the game’s most loved pieces, but perhaps one of the most memorable tracks the franchise has ever produced. On SUCCESSOR, it’s rendered four different ways, including in hilarious, peppy rock form by Louie Aronowitz — closer to something from Blink 182 than anything past the pen of Uematsu. It’s off-kilter and inventive, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, more traditionally, there’s one with a male vocal by Dale North. North may not have the incredible range of Faye Wong, but his rendition is rich and warm, heartfelt and endearing. His voice has an organic, lilting charm that lends itself well to the forlorn ballad.
Other favourites include “Dance with the Balamb-Fish” by Joanne Moo, and Martino Vacca’s rendition of “Balamb Garden.” The former is between a chamber piece and a music box; it brings an almost Edwardian sensibility to the piece and casts it in an all new light. The latter, meanwhile, follows closely to the original, but with higher, sharper strings and some new horn work that accents the already delightful melody. That’s not even mentioning the haunting “Time Stands Still” from Lauren the Flute, the jazzy “Critical Hit” from Michael “Skitch” Schiciano, or Triforce Quartet’s “Final Fantasy VIII — Ending Theme.” Each is a gem in its own right and sits in exceptional company.
This is a definitive fanwork for the franchise. Musically, it lacks — even defies genre, and that’s the point. It’s exemplary of what “remix” means in philosophical terms: redefining a work through the eyes of those who come after — successors, if you will. The album is aptly named, tremendous in scope, and executed with precision despite its diversity.
If you’re not familiar with Materia Collective, it’s time you were. They’ve done amazing work, including collaborating with Toby Fox to release the Undertale Soundtrack, MATERIA: Final Fantasy VII Remixed (SUCCESSOR’s forerunner), and Enraptured, a tribute album for BioShock fans. Their catalogue doesn’t sprawl endlessly like some outlets, but everything they produce is top-quality listening.
SUCCESSOR is an unmitigated success. You would never know this was a fanwork save for its incredible variety of interpretation. The album is highly recommended for inclusion in any music lover’s library, and doubly so for fans of Final Fantasy.