Game Music, Reviews

Super Cool: Chillaxin’ With Square Enix’s Chill SQ (Review)

May 31, 2010 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Super Cool: Chillaxin’ With Square Enix’s Chill SQ (Review)on Twitter

That was fast! We only learned about Chill SQ on April 1, and now it’s already here. We mentioned a few weeks ago that Square Enix had posted samples of what we thought were several songs from the album (7, to be exact), but as it turns out, those were all the tracks featured on the album! However, contrasting with the eclectic Love SQ that we reviewed last year, Chill SQ, as the name suggests, focuses on a more cohesive idea of “chillout” music.

With artists like Square Enix’s own Mitsuto Suzuki, Love SQ remixer RE:NDZ (livetune), and a bunch of other talented arrangers covering a wide variety of classic Squaresoft titles, they can’t go wrong, right?

Well, find out in our review of Chill SQ after the jump.

So yeah, first things first: the 7 tracks here only cover about 35 minutes of music. So despite the fact that the YouTube samples were amazing and that the spread of titles covered were impressive, I was immediately taken aback by the brevity of this release. I guess if you like what’s here, you can’t really dwell on the fact that the album is short, but it does make you wonder what Square Enix could have done with another half of a disc. Since it is short, however, I’ll take the time to dig in deep with each track.

The album opens with one of only a few tracks on the album featuring live performances. Arranger Kenmochi Hidefumi tackles the original Seiken Densetsu with “~Rising Sun ~ Endless Battlefield ~ Requiem,” opening with a sweet piano rendition of “Rising Sun” that acts as a gentle opener before live guitar and bass pair up with a punchy percussion line for a funkified version of “Endless Battlefield,” one of the most memorable pieces of music from the game. The album moves back into “Requiem,” referencing the “Rising Sun” theme with added guitar and percussion to give the piece more oomph.

Uyama Hiroto is next with “Theme of Love” from Final Fantasy IV. We are again greeted by a warm piano intro that features clicking and popping sounds to give the impression of an old recording. It’s a nice effect given that we’re paying homage to classic Squaresoft titles here. Eventually a bell tree gives way to strings and a stunning woodwind section voicing the memorable melody before deep bass and finger snapping percussion join the mix. Hiroto does an amazing job on converting the song into a convincing pop ballad while retaining each and every element of the original song for the purists out there. It’s simple but elegant, and it’s one of the best tracks here.

I have to say that any track featuring Mitsuto Suzuki is one to look forward to. He dedicates over 5 minutes solely to SaGa’s “Main Theme,” which is the first overworld music from the game. He starts with a warped belltone before getting into his signature atmospheric blend of bass and synths that we loved so much on his In My Own Backyard and Neurovision albums. This is probably the most abstract piece on the album, only referencing the core melody from “Main Theme” occasionally, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most listeners didn’t care for it, but I always appreciate an experiment.

Arranger okadada’s “Within Living Memory…” from Front Mission is somewhat of a rogue track, starting with synth arpeggios, lone piano notes, and subdued percussion before razor-sharp synth chords cut through the soundscape. Pounding percussion and bass are added, which, while powerful and at slow enough a tempo to still be contemplative, may actually venture away from the whole “chillout” theme. It is, in fact, pretty intense, but still enjoyable as a remix. The next track, “WARM A LIVE ~ LIVE OVER AGAIN” from LIVE A LIVE (which I admit I never played or listened to) comes courtesy of RE:NDZ, and is another highlight of the album with its playfully flanged synth and bass lines and uber sweet melody. This guy/girl is extremely skilled at employing simple musical ideas to create really compelling arrangements, as demonstrated by both this track and the “Outskirts of Time” arrangement from Love SQ that was my favorite track on that album.

Next, a group called Q;indivi (what’s with these artist names?) offers up a hardcore trance arrangement of “Aria” from Final Fantasy VI. Interestingly, there are vocals here sung in English by Rin Oikawa, and while they’re quite lovely and sound great in terms of tone and the effects placed on them, are actually buried underneath the heavy trance beats and synths. It’s a shame, too, because the vocals are probably the best part of the track. I can’t say that this one chills me out all that much, and when listening to it, I’m constantly reminded of that Project Majestic Mix chillout album that never materialized.

The album ends on the same note that it began, with another live track. “Dear Friends” from Final Fantasy V by Akira Kosemura features live electric piano, guitar and violin, and you know whenever electric piano is involved that you’re in for something smooth. This track really stands out for its adherence to the whole theme of the album, as it’s pretty minimalistic but still as rich and enveloping as any chillout track should be. If I had to level one complaint against this remix, it’d be that the bass line during the chorus section strays a bit from the original… but that’s the nitpicky purist in me coming out. It ends with a fadeout, which is one of the few times that I can actually say that I appreciate this method of ending a track.

You’ve already seen the strange tattooed lady featured on the album cover, but the rest of the artwork is equally interesting. The single-fold booklet houses a fold-out pamphlet of sorts that is adorned with all manners of retro goodness. From the tracklist displayed in an oldschool RPG text box to the highly pixelated world map in the background, I found the booklet to be a lot of fun. The other side features a series of shots with different models in real-world environments with pixelated sprites and textures inserted and overlaid, creating a really cool effect (you can see a lot of these images in the trailer above). It’s really going for the “old world meets new” kinda thing, and I think it’s awesome.

Anyway, I know I had a lot to say about just 34 minutes of music, but I think these arrangements deserve some attention. The album is also reasonably priced at 1,800 Yen (about $19 USD). I definitely think it’s worth it, but then again I’m really into this kind of music. I appreciate the fact that they’ve attempted to visit other classic Squaresoft franchises outside of Final Fantasy, which was mine and many others’ major grip with Love SQ. In the words of Nobuo Uematsu, “CHECK IT OUT!!!” It’s available at both Play-Asia and CD Japan if you’re interested.

What do you think of the short album length and the song selection? Is there a particular classic Squaresoft tune that you think is dying for a chillout remix?

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