Game Music Saturdays – Chrono Trigger Arranged Version: The Brink of Time

What’s the first thing you imagine when you hear “Chrono Trigger Arrange Album”?

Jazz fusion, right? Absolutely!

I’ve never been the greatest proponent of Chrono Trigger – I think it’s a competent made, excellent paced and designed JRPG overall. It’s never quite captured me; in the same way, Earthbound never captured my imagination either. Perhaps my body chemistry’s messed up or something, but I always preferred the dark horse candidate to the perfect mustang (in this case, I prefer Final Fantasy IV). That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t recognize the passion and dedication that went into the game’s creation. Anyone who dismisses Yasunori Mistuda’s compositional talent should leave this site right now. I mean that.

Chrono Trigger and its sequel have some of the most perfect video game music there is, perfectly capturing every mood and every scene in explicit detail. Any piece of music brings to mind specific events in the games, and that’s an accomplishment. Still, having Chrono Trigger transferred to the realm of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea sounds like an experiment in disaster tantamount to combining 90s rap/pop with Castlevania. Hey…

To my great surprise, it works perfectly! Strictly put, this isn’t really jazz fusion. Jazz fusion remains the additions of electric guitar to a jazz band, as it usually replaces the saxophone and gives it an entirely different feel. The genre label has crossed from that particular designation, encompassing a wide variety of experimental efforts (though never atonal). In that sense, The Brink of Time represents jazz fusion at its most earnest and vivacious – not sticking with the same sound twice, and willing to experiment with just about anything. Still, does that make a good album if said album’s chock full of covers from a video game soundtrack?

That will depend on whether or not you can deal wtih the differences from the original. Mistuda’s original synth was nearly perfect at nailing a particular sound. Equal parts triumphant and scary, epic and low key, it could embody a variety of different elements in the same song. The arrange album does not try to compare to the originals. Instead, the arrangement try to make the song as interesting as possible to hear. Lots of variety in instruments, guitar solos, funky beats,  and lots of obscure sampling rule the day.

The Chrono Trigger main theme, for example, has been recast with a full orchestra, sampling of dialogue, and a jazz band. ‘Secret of Forest” strikes a tone more enamored with lounge music and rhumba than jazz fusion itself. Zeal Palace becomes a haven for wavy synthesizers, slight piano notes, droning repetitive guitar, and an INCREDIBLY slow tempo rings more disturbing than catchy – the main part of the song, the one you’d ACTUALLY recognize, doesn’t even appear until three minutes into its five minute run time.

“Warlock Battle”, i.e. fighting with Magus, sounds just as weird as you’d expect from this album – all sorts of synthesized effects layered on top of each other, followed by what sounds like an unholy combination of the James Bond theme and the Beach Boys. The organ parts, though, rock my socks off – I’m a sucker for Saint-Saëns’ organ symphony (No.3), so count me into the mix for this particular arrangement. There’s plenty of sax solos to go around as well.

“Chrono Corridor” presents the listener with a more conservative interpretation of the original song – it literally follows the original melodic line to a key with its lead guitar, augmented by some relaxing synthezised instrumentation similar to the game. There’s no really big surprises on this one except for its extreme length. If I was to compare it to something, it’d be the “Kind of Blue” Miles Davis cool jazz-esque portion of the album. No alarms and no surprises, other than the occasional solo played around the main tonic. What else would you expect?

“Undersea Palace” starts similarly to “Zeal Palace” before introducing a full horn section to the common jazz guitar work strewn through the album, as well as an orchestra. I’d say this one sticks the closest to what you’d expect to hear in an arrange album – not that I’m complaining. “World Revolution”, one of the Lavos boss battle themes, sounds quite similar to its original as well if it were composed of an incredibly loud backbeat, saxophone, and tons of layered electronic effects. It goes into some weird spots in the middle, wandering around and weaving multiple themes into the fabric – different key signatures and tones abound, some sounding not at all fitting for a boss battle determining the fate of the world. This is exactly the kind of reimagining that makes arrange albums divisive.

“The Brink of Time”, of the album’s name, sounds like a low-key jazz band experimentation. Listen to that clarient and bass mix and tell me you don’t hear strains of the Dave Brubeck Quartet – I especially like this one. “Guardia Millenial Fair” takes the listener into progressive rock territory with, fittingly enough, a hint of Renaissance Faire stylings and some folksy instrumentation. Flutes and Caribbean steel drums for all! Wait, what? Lastly, we have “Outskirts of Time”, putting a bunch of acoustic instruments through distortion and adding a hint of vocal muzak. Chrono Trigger elevator music never sounded so good.

So, as you might suspect, this is a pretty freaky album. Would I recommend this to a general audience? In no way, shape, or form. Unless you like avant-garde jazz AND also like Chrono Trigger,then this simply won’t work for you at all. For me? It’s fabulous, quirky, and a fantastic departure from traditional video game arrange albums. Jazz, for all intents and purposes, is difficult to play and execute, yet every track on this album sticks to that ambitious theme with great joy. It’s rare to hear that kind of bizarre exuberance; usually, you’re just getting that “oh, we kinda have to have an orchestra, don’t we?” feeling. I’m somewhat bored of that. If you want video game music, make it original and make it fun; The Brink of Time does both.

I like new things; nothing should remain stagnant. Things are ever changing, but God is a God of infinite possibilities. God makes all things new and makes all things come to pass; you don’t think He could stand for variety and diversity even in a common faith? That’s what I love about discovering new sounds in music and new artists: there’s always something crazy that no one else likes that I can say “this is something neat”. As Isaiah 43 says:

14 Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and will bring them all down as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice. 15 “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” 16 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way through the sea and a path through the mighty waters, 17 who brings forth the chariot and the horse, the army and the mighty man (they will lie down together and not rise again; they have been quenched and extinguished like a wick): 18 “do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. 19 Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. 20 “The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. 21 “The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise.

Hey, if God says it, I’d say we take Him on His Word, right? If He wants to place rivers in a desert and roads in a wilderness, go ahead. If He wants to keep us forever new, so be it. That’s how it is.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • I love how opposite we are. Even the JRPGs that I like are ones that you don’t. Earthbound and Chrono Trigger are some of my absolute favorites for SNES. Though, I do have to admit that I prefer them emulated, where I can play at accelerated speeds for their droning bits (especially Earthbound).

    • @Mjoshua I’m not saying I don’t like them (I do), I just like other games more. More of an issue of attachment and emotion than the quality of the games themselves. All things being equals, it’s like choosing between the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper – would you be dissatisfied with either one?
      Although I find it interest that you need a fast-forward button. Wish more modern games had that (PoP: SoT has one for the cutscenes; it’s a neat effect)

      • @Zachery Oliver I think my need for fast-forward is largely related to long drawn-out animations and excessive grinding in Earthbound’s case. I would love to see an Earthbound (Mother) with an action RPG system – was inches away from designing one of my own a few years back.