Game Music, Reviews

OCR’s Unsung Heroes: The ‘Sung’ Refers to the Singing (Review)

January 25, 2012 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook OCR’s Unsung Heroes: The ‘Sung’ Refers to the Singing (Review)on Twitter

They had me at “Suikoden.” Unsung Heroes is one of the best album concepts to come out of the OCR community as an arrangement album dedicated entirely to games that have received minimal attention from arrangers over the years. I first caught a glimpse of the album at MAGFest X earlier this month, and when it was released yesterday on OverClocked ReMix, I immediately ran over to check it out.

Titles arranged include the previously-mentioned Suikoden as well as Persona 3, Faxanadu, Legacy of the Wizard, Willow, and Secret of Evermore. Oh, and there’s singing if you couldn’t guess from the title of this post.

Did this ambitious effort pay off? Find out in our review after the jump.

Let’s start with a track list as I’m not going to mention all the referenced titles in the meat of the review:

01 Heroes Unsung (7th Saga – Port Town)
02 Somber Memory (Secret of Evermore – The Queens)
03 Shimmering (SaGa Frontier 2 – Rosenkranz)
04 Weeping Willow (Willow – Villages / Dialog)
05 This Winding Road (Faxanadu – Guru’s House)
06 Family Legacy (Legacy of the Wizard – Inn & House Theme)
07 Silent Traveller (Lufia & The Fortress of Doom – Field Motif)
08 Autumn Painter (Luminous Arc – Prelude)
09 One Ring (Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 – The Shire)
10 Stockholm (Bahamut Lagoon – Jojo and God Dragons / Jojo’s Theme)
11 The Village of Decay for String Quartet (Ghouls’n Ghosts – 2nd BGM)
12 Hopes Fall to Water (Breath of Fire II – Crooked Ladder)
13 Hero of Celceta (Ys IV – Dawn of Ys / Bronze District)
14 Shato Through the Heart (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 – Shadow)
15 Hymn of the Eternal Empire [Suikoden – Eternal Empire (From Event “Audience with the Emperor”)]

I’m going to start by talking about some of my favorite tracks from the album. These tended to be the ones that relied heavily on the nostalgia factor and came mostly from the NES and SNES era, although there are a few surprises here that really caught me off guard. “The Queens” from Secret of Evermore was always one of my favorite tracks from that game, and the SOULEful acoustic guitar and woodwind rendition here is simply beautiful. Similarly, “Rosenkranz” has always been a star from SaGa Frontier II, and was even featured recently on More SQ. The bouncy electronic remix here doesn’t disappoint, taking a minimalistic approach to the cute melody. “Hero of Celceta” from Ys IV provides a synth-studded rock fest worthy of the Falcom Sound Team J.D.K. with a great guitar solo at the end, while “Family Legacy” brings an upbeat rock arrangement that suits Yuzo Koshiro’s Legacy of the Wizard soundtrack perfectly (although I’m determined that I’ll never beat this game despite booting it up recently to give it a shot).

Two of my favorite tracks here stick pretty true to their original counterparts, but I can’t help but love them. “This Winding Road” is not only from one of my favorite games and soundtracks on the NES (Faxanadu), but it takes one of the shortest pieces from the game and develops it into a three-minute beauty that never gets stale. “Hymn of the Eternal Empire” is easily the track I was looking forward to the most, as I’ve made it well known that Suikoden is my favorite game series of all time. This pays homage to the best game in the franchise as well, going back to the first game and to the theme of the Scarlet Moon Empire. I love the arrangement with its church-like organ and choir work.

The big surprises, though? “Weeping Willow” from Willow is one of the truest unsung heroes from such a great soundtrack and game that I’ve never heard anyone talk about. While it takes awhile for the main melody to come in, ilp0’s swingin’ jazz arrangement really hits the spot. Similarly, the glitchy electro/8-bit remix of “Shadow” from Persona 3 is one of my favorite tracks on the album. While I’m not sure how Ghouls N’Ghosts is an unsung hero (everyone seems to love it), this Gothic Castlevania-esque string quartet arrangement is great.

I was also incredibly surprised to see “One Ring” from The Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 (there was never a volume 2), as I played this game to death with my cousin (who wouldn’t love some four-player action RPG goodness?). Before the days of GameFAQs, my cousin and I spent countless hours scouring the game for an item that we’d missed and became intimately familiar with the music, and this folksy town theme happened to be one of the best. “Stockholm” from Bahamut’s Lagoon also struck me as an interesting pick as hardly anyone outside of Japan has played it, but I’ve definitely been wanting to check out a fan translation, and the eclectic arrangement here exploring orchestral, electronic, and Asian-inspired styles has me interested in checking out the soundtrack as well.

But hey, what about those vocals I mentioned? Now, I’m not one to go out of my way to hate on vocals in general (in fact, see my lavish praise of the Café SQ bonus albums as evidence), but when they don’t add anything substantial to a piece and are not the focus, they are better left out. The opening track on the album, “Heroes Unsung” from the pub in 7th Saga opens with some tavern ambiance before delving into some seemingly out-of-place vocals. This is a pub, and I want something jolly and fun, but the vocals simply fall flat. This is a similar issue in the “Autumn Painter” arrangement from Luminous Arc, and things turn even uglier in “Hope Falls to Water” from Breath of Fire II. While I’m convinced that odd-numbered Breath of Fire titles are far superior to even-numbered ones, I actually really enjoy the bells and flamenco-style guitar work in the arranegment, but the female vocals feel too subdued and underdeveloped and the section featuring a male vocal response would have been better simply left out as they actually detract from the overall quality and laidback vibe of the arrangement.

In all, however, I think Unsung Heroes is a solid effort from OverClocked ReMix. I’m a huge fan of the concept behind the album, and while I’ll admit that most of the arrangements that I do like don’t stray far enough from the source to be go-to arrangements for me in the future, I do appreciate what they’ve done with the album. I do have a major gripe with the vocals featured on Unsung Heroes because they feel entirely unnecessary to me, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time. Still, you can’t beat the price of FREE from the album’s OCR subsite, so feel free to check it out and judge for yourself.

Also, where’s Sword of Vermilion, people?

Let us know what you think of Unsung Heroes. Am I being overly harsh on the vocals, and are there other unsung heroes that you’d like to see celebrated with their own arrangements in the future?

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