The OneUps have continued to excel in the Western VGM market as one of the top arrangers. Large-scale concerts like “Videogames Live” and “PLAY!” have their place, but if you want a five-piece jazz/rock band performing your favorite game music, you want The OneUps.
In the past, OneUp Studios has done a lot of work arranging music by Yasunori Mitsuda (one album for Chrono Trigger/Cross, and another for Xenogears). They’ve also released a “best of Sega” album, and then published “The OneUps Volume 1” for the band formed and named after the studio. Now we hit Volume 2, their largest body of work in a single release. The double-disc set contains a total of 26 tracks, nearly 2 hours of music, and a little less than half of it manages to tap into RPGFan territory. It is these tracks to which we’ll focus.
Yes, that’s right. The album is awesome through and through, but let’s narrow our focus on the arrangements for RPG music.
Starting off, we get a classic field/battle theme from Secret of Mana. “Into the Thick of It” opens soft and builds quickly with the rhythm section. Then, the sax and violin duel for control of the melody, switching off melody and harmony as needed. Personally, I was more impressed by the work of the rhythm section (guitar, bass, drums) than the melody-makers. Perhaps this song just wasn’t suited for the tone that comes from a saxophone. There is a beautiful guitar solo included during the solo “B” section of the arrangement, and I really appreciated this.
Next up, it’s “Time of the Falling Rain” from Link to the Past. Like the Secret of Mana track, I think that perhaps The OneUps went a little too jazzy with this arrangement. It doesn’t fit my mental image of what would be happening in Hyrule while the music plays. However, as a standalone performance, it is another excellent jazz track.
Now, technically, RPGFan does not cover Castlevania III, or any of the early Castlevania titles that lack RPG elements. However, it needs to be mentioned: the arrangement for “Prelude” is astounding. It’s all guitar (classical guitar trio), recorded acousticly, creating a sound that manages to fuse Baroque and Romantic-era styles. The track clocks in at just under 3 minutes, making it a perfect “outro” for the first disc. I love this arrangement, particularly the part at the end with the fast triplets.
On disc two, we first come across “Terra” (or “Tina” in Japanese) for Final Fantasy VI. Guitar covers the melody; piano and violin help the rhythm section stay lively. This is probably the fastest tempo I’ve ever heard for this beautiful, beautiful song, and I was surprised to find it work. The context wasn’t entirely lost, unlike some of the previous tracks.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest actually is something akin to an RPG, so let’s talk about this song. If you’ve played the game (atrocious as many believe it to be), you’ll quickly remember this theme. The organ sound produced by the keyboard really helps to sell the song, and the violin performance reminds me of “Dracula New Classic” even with the jazz influence. Great, great care was put into this arrangement.
The “Dungeon Medley” from Link to the Past, in my opinion, should’ve been cut short. The first few “dungeon” themes are more atmospheric, and not very memorable. The arrangements just don’t work for the band’s setup. But the last dungeon track, what I remember as being the “standard” dungeon theme (and easily the most melodic) sounds excellent. I wish the first three minutes of the medley would just go away, so I can get to the good stuff.
The Chrono Trigger track is amazing: jazzy like the Brink of Time album, but even more “cool.” The guitar performance is excellent, and the keyboard work is also worthy of praise.
Ultimately, even though the album is definitely something special, the RPG arrangements are generally weaker than the non-RPG tracks. The Mega Man, Metroid, and Sonic arrangements stand out much more than the Squaresoft titles’ music. In fact, the Title BGM for the original Metroid is one of the best treatments I’ve ever heard. If you like jazz/rock arranges, and you want to support an American group covering (mostly) Japanese artists, these guys are the cream of the crop. Just don’t expect top-notch arrangements for every RPG tune.