My first exposure to Sean Schafianski’s work was Final Fantasy VII Remastered Tracks Volume 1. What I really love about that album is that he selected the more overlooked, lesser-known, and underrated tracks as his canvas. This fired up a subconsciously deeper nostalgia in me and made me think of the game’s quieter, more “in between” moments rather than its more bombastic punctuating moments. It is because of this that I wanted to listen to an entire album of his remastering underrated/overlooked songs in underrated/overlooked video games. Most of the pieces selected are from underrated RPGs (e.g. Threads of Fate, Brigandine, Legend of Dragoon), some are overlooked tracks from higher profile RPGs (e.g. Lunar: Eternal Blue), and even a couple of pieces from obscure non-RPGs (e.g. Gemfire, Ninja Warriors.)
This soundtrack is one of many I’ve listened to that hammers home the point that how you listen to the music is just as important as the music itself. This is not a soundtrack you listen to with laptop speakers. Listening that way makes high pitched sounds in tracks like “Believing My Justice (Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song),” and “Promised Grace (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles)” sound piercingly harsh. It also makes a busy piece like “Battle Scene I (Final Fantasy II)” sound cacophonous. Good headphones project the swell of individual instrument parts and allow the highs to sound glossy.
I’d say the best way to listen to this album is in the car. My car stereo did not give me the nuanced clarity of the headphones, but listening in the car just made it a more enjoyable experience and some pieces I found lacking at home became exciting during my commute (e.g. “Boss 1″ (Ninja Warriors)”). The car test is very important to me since that’s where/when I listen to the majority of my music and this album definitely passes the check.
The album starts with the Opening Credits song from Lunar: Eternal Blue. I thought this a curious choice at first since Lunar: Eternal Blue is not an underrated game at all. In fact, many players deem it superior to Lunar: Silver Star. However, I realized that when the average RPG fan talks about Lunar’s music, it is music from Lunar: Silver Star, namely Luna’s boat song, that gets immediately talked about. This delightful piece is a nice welcome to an interesting little party.
When at a party, you always try to find something familiar so you feel less out of place. The track that does that for me is “Counter Bar (Front Mission 2)” because, like “Makou Reactor” from Final Fantasy VII Remastered Tracks Volume 1, it shows Schafianski’s use of sound effects to add atmosphere to a track. He does not do this very often, so when I hear it, it’s a nice little nod. Sonically speaking, the piece gives the feeling of a chilling, grown-up style from your favorite lounge bar.
Of course, once you’ve found your little anchor, exploring the unknown seems less daunting. In doing so, I encountered a track from a game that I wish I had known about years ago. Granted, I wasn’t into that style of gaming before, but even then I still think it would have slipped under my radar. That song is “Strategy in Winter” from the SNES game Gemfire — a Koei strategy game. This piece is beautifully atmospheric with some exotic touches. I not only wanted to keep listening to it, but I also wanted to learn more about the game, maybe even find a way to play it. Perhaps this is akin to seeing a girl from your past and saying to yourself, “How did I not notice her before? She’s really cool! I wish I’d known her better back in school.”
Then the party kicks into high gear and you’re excited because some songs have you exclaiming “Whoa! That game was totally underrated. I can’t believe people thought it sucked, it was so good!” “Passing Through the Forest (Threads of Fate)” was the first track to do that to me. I thought Threads of Fate was a terrific game and definitely one of Squaresoft’s most underrated titles during the PlayStation era. Listening to this remastered track with its enhanced clarity and crisp instrumentation made me want to play the game again and get reabsorbed into its world.
The apex moment of this party that will stick with me is the track “Royal Capital (The Legend of Dragoon).” It is no secret that I love the game and think that it and its music are both criminally underrated. Legend of Dragoon’s composer Dennis Martin was unafraid to utilize unconventional instrumentation and sonic textures in his soundtrack, lending a delightfully eccentric feel to the game’s world. Sean Schafianski embraced that lovely unconventionality in his remastering, giving the piece’s eccentric instrumentation great clarity. You wouldn’t expect steel drums in a “royal capital” piece, but you hear it here and it works. I would love to listen to an entire “underrated remasters” album solely dedicated to Legend of Dragoon because that game and its music deserve more attention and I would die to see a high-definition remake of it.
Not every guest at the party is a winner, though. A few tracks are cordial, but somewhat forgettable (e.g. “Formation (Brigandine)”). Others have potential, but are held back by something. The pieces that utilize electric guitars (“Believing My Justice (Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song),” “Doom Castle (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest)”) have thin and overly synthesized guitar sounds. Maybe because I’m a huge fan of metal, punk, and hard rock and have played in those kinds of bands, I am picky about my guitar sounds. When I hear electric guitar, I want the organic, blooming “fatness” and thick crunch of a Les Paul with high-output humbuckers being run through a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier amplifier.
Seriously, though, this soundtrack was an audible ball of fun and I listened to it multiple times in multiple ways. It nailed the car test, piqued my curiosity about games I didn’t know about, and gave me the gut reaction of “Man, that was such a good game; I can’t believe people bashed it!” This album delivered on its promise, did what it set out to do, and I hope to hear more remasterings of underrated and overlooked video game tunes.