Game Music, Reviews

New OCR Project, Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption (Review)

July 17, 2009 | | 21 Comments Share thison Facebook New OCR Project, Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption (Review)on Twitter

OverClocked ReMix has taken on a number of ambitious projects over the years, including the official score for Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Two years ago, they released Voices of the Lifestream, which featured remixes and rearrangements of every single song from the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. Now, it seems, they’re at it again.

OCR founder David Lloyd (a.k.a. djpretzel), project director Andrew Luers (a.k.a. OA), and many other high-level members of the OCR community, acted as judges in picking which submitted arrangements would go on the new Final Fantasy IV tribute album, “Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption.” The album is “three discs” (though, of course, it’s downloadable-only), and it hits every single one of the 44 tracks from the Final Fantasy IV soundtrack.

After the jump, I share my thoughts on this massive, nearly overwhelming collection of remixed music.

The three “disc” set of music for this project is placed together as three “Acts,” like a three act play. Act 1 is “Betrayal,” Act 2 is “Strife,” and Act 3 is “Redemption.” Which leads me to ask, if the project is named Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption – where’s the strife? It’s as though the project creators are hinting at the possibility that the second act/disc has the “filler” tracks.

But you know, there really isn’t anything so bad on this collection of music that I would call it “disastrous.” …Wait, I take that back. There is one track, and we’ll get to it. But before we do, there’s one point I’d like to make, and it’s the same point that I’ve made to friends about Voices of the Lifestream. Except, here, it’s even more pronounced.

With “professionally-produced” arranged albums, what makes them so successful is that the album works as one unit. It’s fluid, cohesive, and it’s all done in one particular style. Whether it’s a piano solo arrange album, or full orchestra, or rock band, or jazz, or new age, at least you know what you’re getting from start to finish. If you’re unfamiliar with OverClocked ReMix, you may suspect from the word “remix” that you’re in for a techno/electronica treat. And for some of the tracks, that is exactly what you’ll get. And there was certainly a lot of that on Voices of the Lifestream. But on Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption, almost every song features a new style, and there are over twenty artists whose work made it into the collective project. The end result is the exact opposite of cohesive. Other albums from Japan have done this same thing (the “Premium Arrange” series of albums for games like Dark Chronicle and Rogue Galaxy featured one arranger per track), but at least they had some semblance of cohesiveness. What I found there, I do not find here.

It’s like, I’d be better off writing 47 mini-reviews for the individual tracks of the album, instead of trying to talk about the album as a whole. Of course, I’m not going to do that. It’s just frustrating that no single track can be representative of the album. I get a headache listening to the entire collection from start to finish. It just doesn’t flow; it doesn’t make sense! I’m listening to a brass quintet, then a piano solo, then amateur grunge rock, then some trip-hop techno, and then a rock opera?! It’s a little overwhelming. Of course, it’s also very representative of OverClocked ReMix as a web site. So I shouldn’t have expected anything other than that.

If it sounds like I’m being too down on the album, believe me when I say I’m not. Because I actually adore a fair number of tracks on the album. I quickly discerned which remix artists were my favorites, and which I would generally prefer avoiding. Perhaps, if OCR wants to keep doing projects like these, they should consider releasing these albums based on different types/genres of music. After all, the Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix score was fairly consistent in style.

Now then, some highlights from the album. I have to start by giving props to the artist DragonAvenger. Using a brass suite setup, she recorded arrangements for the victory fanfare and the “Big Chocobo” theme. Taking on melodies that are under a minute in length and fleshing out a decent arrangement is never easy. But DragonAvenger did a great job with these tracks. Also, I have to recognize Cyril The Wolf’s arrangement of the track “Run!” (which he entitled “OMFG! GET OUT OF THERE!!!”). Most RPGs have a short “panic” theme for those moments where you have to rush out of the burning/collapsing building. This frantic techno arrangement is totally solid, and surprisingly lengthy. Even longer, though, is audio fidelity’s arrangement for “Ring of Bomb.” He worked with Children of the Monkey Machine to produce their newly-arranged piece, “RDX Necklace.” It’s a grungy, techno-industrial track that makes me think immediately of early Nine Inch Nails. The track is also four minutes long. Nicely done!

OA and Cyril the Wolf collaborated on the Palom and Porom theme, and the piece is called “Metal Mage.” Their song tells the story of two young children who are fed up with their cheesy, synthy theme, and apparently need a metal band to set the record straight regarding how awesome they are. Voice samples of a child yelling phrases like “I want metal!” and “Yeah! Break it down!” are thrown in during an arrangement that is on par with my favorite VGM-fanmade metal project, Metroid Metal. Seriously, the quality of this piece is insanely high for a “fan” remix. Great work, gentlemen!

I was really surprised that the “forgettable” tunes from Final Fantasy IV had some of the best arrangements. “Somewhere in the World” is a track I had totally forgotten about, but Hy Bound (joined by vocalist Loka Lafevre) did a trip-hop rendition of the piece, now called “Somewhere to Hide.” And I really got into this piece. It’s borderline cheesy at points, but I like Loka’s breathy vocal stylings quite a bit, so that made up for it. They really took this Uematsu melody and made it their own. Good stuff.

If you’re looking for some straight up electronica arrangements, look no further than “Within the Giant,” a most fitting piece to techno-ify. Stephen Kennedy of KFSS Studios did a great arrangement of this track on his “Project Majestic Mix” album nearly a decade ago. bLiNd, the remixer of this particular version of the song, does a fantastic job with the piece as well. He renamed it “Bridge to Eternity,” and it’s just a great piece to listen to. It’s very faithful to Uematsu’s original version. Also, I have to give a shout-out to bLiNd for another arrangement he did on the album. “Path of Deception” (an arrangement for “Illusionary World”) is also extremely catchy, particularly if you can get into the techno-trance style.

The biggest collaborative effort on the album is “Finale Part Two ~ Genesis of Destruction.” Of course, it’s an arrangement of the final battle against Zeromus. And it’s a fully lyricized rock opera … AAAAND, it’s pretty awesome.

audio fidelity, OA, Cyril the Wolf, Nutritious, and vocalist lisabela worked together to make this song super duper awesome. The lyrics aren’t always as good as the music (“sick and twisted lunacy,” really?). But the vocals are essentially the good guys (represented by the female vocalist, whom I imagine to be Rosa) singing about how they’re going to take down Zeromus for the sake of justice and the good of mankind, etc. Zeromus, who pulls out a growling “screamo” voice, responds in turn with a bunch of angry threats. This goes on for about eight minutes. But what’s really key here is the music, because it’s an incredible mixture of pumped-up techno and guitar-led rock. The production value and style are not far from that of say, Evanescence or Linkin Park.

Enough highlights. Time to get to the serious critiquing.

A group of not-entirely-known performers that go by the name “The Scuba Divers” join Larry “Liontamer” Oji to put together what is, without question, the worst song on the album. This is the disaster I talked about earlier in the review. And this song is truly atrocious. The song is an “arrangement” of Chocobo-Chocobo, called “Rhymes With Elixir.” Using a boring, uninspiring remix of the Chocobo melody and some “raw” synth instrumentation, a whole bunch of nerdy kids take on the roles of FF characters and rap about who they are. Chocobo, Shiva, Tonberry, and Cactuar all make “appearances” on the track.

The lyrics are painfully stupid. This isn’t just tongue-in-cheek humor. This is annoying. This is crap. And the chorus? “Chocobo chocobo you’re so fine / you’ve got more bling than all of those guys.” And when you hear the delivery of the girl’s voice talking/singing the chorus…ugh. When I heard it, I nearly “pulled a Van Gogh” (cutting off my own ear… see, now that’s a half-decent attempt at humor!). And before anyone accuses me of just being against this particular genre of music, it should be noted that I’m a huge fan of nerdcore hip hop. I love the music of Beefy, Shael Riley, and other members of The Grammar Club. I’ve followed mc chris for years, and I’m really getting into Mega Ran. So this isn’t a question of me not having the right sensibilities to enjoy the piece. It’s a question of quality.

The song should have, without question, been left off Echoes of Betrayal. Actually, it should never have been created. Alright, rant over. Moving on.

Some arrangements attempt to reverse the original intention of the song. For example, the arrangement of “Into the Darkness” (by Nutritious) is called “Step Into the Light.” With each repetition of the main melody, Nutritious manipulates the harmonic structure so it gets less minor, and more major, each time. There’s a hint of the “darkness” that fades away with each repetition of the piece. It’s a synth-orchestra arrangement, and I can appreciate that, but frankly, I don’t want a happy version of “Into the Darkness.” I want all of the mystery and darkness that comes along with the piece. It’s the dungeon theme, for crying out loud! Maybe I’m just being picky. The arrangement is solid, but it’s not at all what I wanted to hear.

Pulling the same reverse-the-name-and-the-mood trick, “Hello Cid!” is now “Goodbye Cid…” By this point, I’d have to declare this to be a very cheap trick on the part of the arrangers. Fortunately, the arrangement itself is all manner of awesome. Live instrumental performance of guitar, bass, and drums join up with some synthy keyboard goodness, and the result is a jazz/rock jam band that I never thought would so keenly capture the melody of this particular song. But the musicians (audio fidelity, OA, and Wiesty) were all over it. So I guess this isn’t much of a critique. I just don’t like the name of the song.

One more complaint. “Dancing Calcobrena” is, for me, one of the most cherished pieces from Final Fantasy IV. An artist who uses the moniker Level 99 decided to do his own version of the song, and the fitting title for his rendition is “Calcobrena After a Night of Dinner and Dancing.” Now, like many other tracks on the album, the guitar performance is solid. But the style of the music is just … not at all what you’d want for this piece. I imagine it being used in a film during a montage where we see a bunch of burned-out teenagers laying around on floors, couches, and staircases, making a half-assed effort at trying to finish downing their beers and make out with each other. The song just screams “I’m stoned, and I’m depressed, and life sucks.” Level 99 is effective at bringing these emotions to the surface, and I’m giving full credit for that. But that’s not what I’d want from this piece! It’s supposed to be creepy circus music, right? What happened?

Considering this collection of music is offered freely to the public, I’m slow to pass judgment. If you had to pay thirty dollars for it, I’d probably be quick to criticize the whole thing. But when the only effort you have to put in to gain the music is a few clicks of the mouse and some of your free time, well, I can’t imagine myself saying “it isn’t worth your time.” Now, I will again say that the “Chocobo-Chocobo” track isn’t worth your time, but let’s face it: you’re going to listen to it anyway, if only to see if my soapbox-rage was warranted (and you’ll see that it definitely was!). But, if I have to say anything about the project, it is this: Voices of the Lifestream was better, if only because it was more consistent. I’m glad OCR is still active, and I hope they keep doing projects like this one. But the disparity in the quality of the tracks suggests that they might want to start defining what genres they want for different projects. Like, “let’s do a Final Fantasy VIII jazz album,” or “vocal tracks only for this Zelda album!” That’s something I could really get behind.

But yeah…the album is free, and will be available starting on July 18th, so go download it! And tell us what you think!

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