When Random Encounter was announced, it was a bit of a shock, to say the least. A Final Fantasy I remix album? Nobuo Uematsu, well known to most people in the gaming community, wasn’t the best composer of all video game time around the NES days, mostly because video game composing didn’t exist at the time as a job or profession. Final Fantasy IV, honestly, was my first Final Fantasy game, and I think it’s difficult to top that tour de force. However, Uematsu has a foundation in progressive rock; this collection pops with that kind of influence, specifically that of metal. I like progressive metal like Symphony X and Dream Theater. This is my wheelhouse. It feels like this stuff was born to fit in this mold. On some of the music, the remixer doesn’t have much material on some shorter songs, leading to neccessary deviations. But, and I think this is key, much of the songs retain that Final Fantasy feel, and that’s what is important here, even if they don’t fit into metal/prog rock the whole time. Some of them actually fuse two or three themes together (NES music is short, I gather), but they work well together
Before I cover individual songs, I’d like to mention a few ideas rattling around in my head. Progressive rock, and metal, are not traditionally understood as very “Christian”. Their themes and lyrics tend to go between total nihilism and religious hatred to adoption of other religions and mysticial spiritualism – neither of which most Christians are willing to accept. Guilt by association runs deep; even those who do actually like this “genre” (difficult to peg down, for sure) end up being outcasts or something to that effect. Let’s take some Bible verses straight out of context in Psalm 33:
Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright.
2 Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
So, you might say to yourself “Why arbirtraily shove a Bible verse into a Final Fantasy Remix album review?” From a theological perspective, you can say that all music offers praise to the Lord in some way or fashion, even if the author or remixer didn’t originally intend it. Remixes are an interesting thing, and they’ve happenend as much in popular music as they do in church hymnals. Is an updated musical style neccessary for church growth? Do we need to adopt new forms of music in adapting to new cultural norms? We’ve always had this problem of retaining the old while taking in the new, and not always with stellar results.
I suppose that’s why more conservative churches can fear certain ideas – notably, music usually falls into this category. You might say metal arrived out of a “satanic” origin, but that’s not in the Bible anywhere (unless you’re stretching and contorting verses to create a certain metaphysical view). Sure, there are bands like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide, but who says I have to listen to them? God gives everyone unique talents; metal becomes simply yet another piece of the musical puzzle. I’m going out on a limb to say beautiful music, regardless of its origin, deserves appreciation regardless of its genre or style. We can miss that sometimes by closing our minds, but there are good and praiseworthy aspects in nearly everything. Even so, much of this collection has next to no lyrics, so the musical qualities can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone (except for a notable exception I’ll cover at the end).
Jesus is pretty metal, anyway. I’ve always indulged in metal’s theme, perhaps, because the Bible itself tells its own story in narrative, even if that narrative has to be pieced together. In other words, interaction with the Bible becomes key to understanding it. Most progressive metal, like Symphony X’s recent Iconoclast, attempt to tell stories whether through whole albums or just within single songs. The music becomes a vehicle to augment the themes and the stories played out within; good music should do that for pretty much any place it is used in human society. Perhaps I’m taking this discussion too far, but I think even a “metal” remix album about Final Fantasy music captures that same idea of epic heroism and good versus evil without any lyrics. As an interactive medium, video games can capture the hearts of gamers with music because it works as an association with the interactive experience of the game that we have already had. Obviously, this contributes to Random Encounter’s success, as you’ll see.
The First Story by BONKERS take the Main Theme of Final Fantasy and runs with it, adding double kick pedals, lots and lots of awesome 80s style keyboard sounds, and the oh-so-awesome electric guitar to create one of my favorite variations of the theme I’ve heard in a long time. It really capture that prog rock feel, if you get what I mean – indulgent guitar solos are key, I say! This progresses into a definite change in time signature, propelling us into a metallic breakdown of sheer instrumental prowess, and then back to the more relaxed sound again. It’s rocking, for sure, and an epic way to start the two disc album.
The Dual Dragons and Brandon Strader then bring us to a sonic assault with The Beginning of a Legend, a remix of the Battle Theme. They slow it down quite a bit, however, from the original, and perhaps complicate a simple theme a little too much. Not my favorite track, but certainly an interesting take on a classic. The Power of Cornelia by Knight of the Round take excessive liberties with Cornelia Castle’s triumphant theme, but the dual guitar assault is awesome; the Meshuggah style riff at the end just takes the cake for me. I love this one, equal parts light warriors slaying evil and dark march through a mysterious land – just like all good metal should be.
Requiem for a Dying World, by Brandon Strader and Chernabogue sounds almost like a funeral dirge, augmented by a rock and roll band – I suppose that’s fitting, given that Dead Music is the song that plays when your party dies. This one retains the essence of the original pretty well, and a fitting extension. Earthrise by Brandon Strader (who’s all over this album, if you couldn’t tell by now) takes the tempo down a notch further, bringing us a beautiful acoustic rendition of the Church Theme.
Followed by…well, the weirdest rendition of a Final Fantasy battle them I’ve ever heard. Epic Win almost sounds like some kind of indie pop/rock aberration that came out of a DJ’s booth somewhere. Animal Collective + a lighthearted Skillex + Panda Bear is how I describe it, maybe a little Grizzly Bear in there too. Seriously, just download the album and listen to it. Sir Jordanius makes a 3 minute rock opera, bizarre to say the least.
Coming back to reality, AMT’s The Crawl takes us back to rock and roll. I especially like the kick-pedal stuff, which can be clearly heard throughout – always appreciated for people who like muso music without themselves being muso (look it up, guys and gals). It’s straightforward, but that’s something you need if the album isn’t going to fly off the rails. BONKER’S Roaming…Please Wait, on the other hand, take three different themes and throws out whatever sounds cool – old NES synth, huge guitars wailing, time and theme signature shifts, and a bunch of cool solos. Over the top as all get out, it’s definitely a favorite of mine.
Just Passing Through segues into down-beat electronica which progresses into NES synth (I think?). Benjamin Briggs crafts a pretty traditional OCRemix to me, and that’s not a bad thing. The people at that site have always been excellent at “updating” old sounds, and this one is no exception. The Crumbling Facade closes out disc one with a collaboration between halc (who did the recent Pilotwings album) and Brandon Strader, who mix the acoustic of Earthrise with halc’s brand of synth, chiptune, and playing around with whatever sounds available. It’s new, different, and awesome, a great take on the Ending Theme.
Disc two, however, give me what I want: progressive metal. Sentient Machines begin with a creepy, whisering voices intro that pops into some metal! And synth! And a choir chanting “Tiamat”, the beast dwelling in the Floating Castle? Who doesn’t love that? Who cares that it’s ten minutes long if you get all those awesome guitar licks. Still, the best prog rock tells a good story, even if you don’t know what that story is; the music flows, weaving in and out of various musical threads with totally different instrumentation. mithius and Brandon Strader are my heroes because they give me what I want from Floating Castle: a guiding narrative for the dungeon and the boss fight. The narrative reaches full circle with a reprise of the beginning – it’s truly awesome, and probably my favorite song off the entire album.
The Matyoa’s Cave remix by Midgardian Sky takes the short-form approach, but still manages to stick a lot of prog rock in there, a deviation or two from the main musical line and a heck of a driving beat. The solo is especially awesome. Strader’s The White Rider gives us yet another three minute gut punch. However, this one’s got vocals with that whole pretentious prog rock appeal – he’s got pretty good vocals too that contrast well with the epic instrumentation and what sounds like a synth flute,
blackguitar’s Gurgling Desert Pond keyboards it up, sounding a lot like a Yes keyboard solo for its entire duration, with a little mournful Wild West guitar work thrown in for good measure. Strader gives us yet another Battle Theme remix (what is that, four or five now?) with Omerta. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it; think of acoustic instruments with natural percussion, and you’re about half way there. TheoConfidor and Eric Golub’s If I Could Save the World actually sounds more like jazz fusion than prog, but the violin part gives us more depth than would otherwise be there. I’ve always loved the Ship Theme, and I think this does it justice.
Dance of Descent, like other songs on the album, fuses a few different themes together to create yet another progressive rock anthem. This one, though, has a much faster pace than some of the previous tracks on disc 2, covering 9 songs from the whole soundtrack. That is a lot, but a thematic medley in this style works well in conveying the epic nature of the game (perhaps not epic now, but back in its prime).
M-H’s The Caerulean Ruins makes Chaos Temple sound really epic with yet another solo and driving guitar, with a few synthesized parts for variety. Fierce Fairground Ride takes a totally new perspective on Floating Castle. blackguitar, in my opinion, evokes a Guilty Gear vibe with this track. I have to say this capture the NES synth feel much better than Sentient Machines, even with its bizarre ideas, and tends to stay true to the original music. The Last Story finally decides to give us the screaming vocals any metalhead would desire – and it certainly doesn’t fit, but it’s still an interesting closer.
An album casting its genre net this wide, though, is bound to hit its own speed bumps. To wit: I don’t ever like the comedy songs on these OverClocked Remix albums. It’s just a personal preference, but these always feel like a one shot – listen once, skip afterward. They just don’t hold up to the pure music in the rest. Onward, with Josh Whelchel featuring Ryan C. Connelly, falls into this category. I totally appreciate the effort to make me laugh, and it worked, but it makes the second and third plays a bit of a stretch (and not very family friendly to boot). Still, it’s cheesy fun, so it’s not all bad, just inconsistent with the rest of the album.
I’d say the only problem with the album remains the progressive metal/rock theme – if you don’t like it, I’m not sure how much you’d enjoy this. Overall, I think the album is a success, but only for those who actually like metal in some way. If you don’t, certain songs will appeal to your sensibilities, but the rest will be something of a mess and a complete turn-off. Those willing to try something new, however, are in for a treat. It’s a pretty fantastic album overall, and as OCRemix’s albums are all free, I invite you to take a shot and download!
Download direct or through torrent at http://encounter.ocremix.org/