Okay, let me first say that this installment of Note Worthy features the best collection of ten soundtracks ever featured in this series. That's why I won't be breaking down the albums into "Top Picks" and "Other Releases" this month. It all deserves your immediate attention (how's Jake "virt" Kaufman, stemage, Yuzo Koshiro, Nobuo Uematsu, and more for a lineup?), but thankfully for your wallet, our favorite release of the month won't cost you a thing.
I refer, of course, to Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin, which was easily our pick of the month. I admit I've felt some of the super ambitious efforts like this over the past couple years have fallen flat, but this album is magic from beginning to end. But we'll get to that in a bit.
Check out our rundown below and let us know which albums are your favorites.
Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin Release Date: July 1, 2013 Price: Free Availability:OverClocked ReMix Artist(s): Various Artists
Well, after a turbulent journey, Balance and Ruin is finally here, and there are so many reasons why it's our top pick this month.
This album features not only bumping electronic remixes, but also grandiose orchestral suites (several of which cross the ten-minute mark) and everything in between, and best of all, they've beefed up some of the lesser-appreciated tracks to the point where they may actually be some of your favorites. Nearly everything here is gold, in part due to the strength of the source material, but also due to the care each artist has taken with their respective arrangements. The love and respect they have for Uematsu's masterpiece is obvious in every track. I wish I could give every arrangement its moment in the spotlight, but I've promised myself to limit my gushing to just ten tracks, although you'll want to download this and explore the magic for yourself.
Right out of the gate, the groggy “Awakening” gets a super smooth rendition by Joshua Morse, making for a nice contrast to the original Terra’s theme, which it references heavily. “The Returners” will turn heads with the liberties taken with the source material (you can barely hear it), but it’s my favorite track on the album. It takes on a rich '80s-flavored electronic vibe similar to Depeche Mode. “Gau” gets a gorgeous instrumental arrangement featuring accordion, strings, piano, and woodwind (I’d love an entire album of this stuff), while “Serpent’s Trench” is amazingly transformed from tense into sexy chip-meets-bossa-nova.
There’s an interpretive acoustic guitar version of “Kids Run Through the City Corner” (definitely going on my sleep playlist), a playfully epic combination of the heroic and comical “Save Them!” and “Grand Finale?” themes, and a refreshing take on the chocobo theme with “Electro de Chocobo” (it’s hard to make this theme memorable after hearing hundreds of arrangements of it). Rounding out my favorites, there’s Jake Kaufman’s heavily Queen-influenced rendition of the opera scene with tons of signature vocal harmonies and guitar work, a funktacular “The Day After,” and the smooth, sweeping, and moving “Searching for Friends” with amazing woodwind work.
Even limiting myself to ten tracks, this review is longer than I’d hoped, and there are still so many others that I love on this album. For those who backed this on Kickstarter and are expecting a physical copy, you’re in for a treat: this is the real deal, so download it without delay!
Defiance: Original Video Game Soundtrack / Television Soundtrack Release Date: April 2, 2013 Price: $11.99 each Availability: iTunes (game / television) Artist(s): Bear McCreary
Given the unique side-by-side development of this game and television series, of course we have to review both soundtracks! Both are composed by Bear McCreary, and each offers a different soundscape that is great in its own way. Both feature a very catchy theme that combines emotional orchestral moments and layered electronic sounds that define the sound of Defiance.
Starting with the game soundtrack, you get a more ambient experience given the MMO nature of the title. I particularly like the folky and adventurous “Ninety-Niners,” the moody atmospheric track, “Marin Exploration,” and the grungy “Ridgecrest Mine.” The bumping “Mount Tam” and the overdriven “Madera Combat” also stand out.
The television score is much more pop-oriented, featuring heavy use of the main theme along with a variety of vocal tracks that visit everything from blues to heavy electronic tunes. I particularly enjoy the exotic alien vocal tracks that really add an ethnic flair, and also the arrangement of “Time After Time.” “Concerto for Insects,” which uses insect sounds for percussion, is also a joy.
This is some great work by Bear McCreary, with some of my favorite themes of his that I’ve heard to date. I recommend picking up both albums, as they really explore two different styles of the same musical universe, which is as fun and unique as the game/television show concept itself.
Distant Worlds music from FINAL FANTASY THE CELEBRATION Release Date: June 26, 2013 Price: 6,150 Yen ($61.50) Availability:CD Japan Artist(s): Various Artists
Many new arrangements are performed, including “Battle with the Four Fiends” from Final Fantasy IV, “Phantom Forest” from VI, and a brand new (and amazing) chocobo medley. The track list covers the original Final Fantasy through XIV, and throws in vocal tracks including Susan Calloway’s powerful “Answers” from XIV, “Eyes on Me” with Crystal Kay (I personally prefer the original by Faye Wong, or even Angella Aki’s version), and the opera from VI. There’s also a segment from the battle medley featured on the orchestra album, but I was disappointed that the entire 14-minute piece wasn’t performed in its entirety.
While the asking price is quite steep, this is a wonderful DVD. It’s fun to watch the orchestra, as several the players really get into the music, and it’s nice to be able to see the new arrangements if you haven’t had a concert stop near you lately. I also dig the packaging, which sports a see-through case and English commentary in the booklet.
Dopamix Soundtrack Release Date: June 28, 2013 Price: 1,500 Yen ($15) Availability:CD Japan Artist(s): Various Artists
It’s great to see SuperSweep releasing the soundtrack to the 3DS eShop single-button rhythm game Dopamix. The game features all original music, and it’s quite good. This album serves up over 30 minutes of music, including pumping electronic beats, retro gamey goodness, Japanese pop tracks, and even some R&B. There’s a lot to like, but the playful electronic-meets-electric guitar “Parade” and the basstacular “Aurora” are my favorites. There’s also a 23-minute megamix tucked away at the end that’s nice to put on in the background, and the price is right! Check this one out.
FINAL FANTASY IV Original Sound Track Remaster Version Release Date: July 3, 2013 Price: 3,000 Yen ($30) Availability:CD Japan Artist(s): Nobuo Uematsu
I’ve been super excited about Square Enix re-rereleasing the out of print soundtrack for Final Fantasy IV. They promised a remastered version with two loops instead of the original’s single playthrough along with unreleased tracks. Well, true to that promise, you get a meatier experience with this album, which is much appreciated. There’s also the snazzy box that comes with first-press editions that we unboxed.
The unreleased tracks are essentially a few jingles. It’s nice having that funny Namingway sound, but the rest of it isn’t very interesting. Given that there’s 50 minutes of unused space across both discs, I was hoping for something more substantial, but I really do feel silly complaining about this at all given that what’s presented is a better version of one of the best soundtracks of all time. I suggest picking it up.
Oh, and “Dancing Calcobrena” has a bit of a hiccup at the beginning that I guess is a big enough deal for Square Enix to be swapping out everyone’s discs in Japan. I didn’t find it that big of a deal, but we’ll keep you posted if that offer extends to fans abroad.
Mighty Switch Force 2 Official Soundtrack Release Date: June 14, 2013 Price: Name Your Price Availability:Bandcamp Artist(s): Jake Kaufman
I absolutely adored Jake Kaufman’s first Mighty Switch Force soundtrack, and this follow-up does not disappoint. Get ready for some heavy retro-infused disco, funk, and electronic music right out of the gate with the incredibly catchy “Title,” into the bass-bumpin’ “Got2BAStar,” and into the upbeat drum ‘n’ bass “Exothermic” (my favorite on the album). “Glow,” “The Afterblaze,” and “Soak Patrol Alpha” are also pure genius.
You'll dig the remixes tucked away at the end, including surasshu’s dreamy “Title Screen,” a hilarious vocal take on “Title” (you have to hear it), and a Mario Galaxy-esque version of “Glow,” complete with epic orchestra and spacey pitch-bending synth work.
Download this, now!
PRIORITY ONE: The music of TRON Release Date: June 8, 2013 Price: $5 Availability:Loudr Artist(s): Grant “stemage” Henry
One word: stemage. That should be enough to have your interest, given he’s the brains behind one of the best game music tribute bands, Metroid Metal. But going even further, he’s paying homage to one of the most beloved film scores of all time: TRON. I can’t pretend to be an expert on that score, but I’ve heard it numerous times over the years, and stemage brings his signature sound to the mix. Layered guitars will build a dreamy tapestry of sound at one moment, then heavy-hitting rock percussion, monstrous bass, and wailing electric guitar will come in at the next. It’s a wonderful 30-minute journey.
My favorite tracks are the ominous and reverberating “Hydrophilia” and the tense “Sea of Stimulation,” featuring crazy time signatures and C64 sounds by Inverse Phase.
If you’re a fan of stemage, get this. If you’re a fan of TRON, get this. If you don’t know either, get this, and you’ll be a fan of both in just 30 minutes.
TIME AND ETERNITY ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK Release Date: May 24, 2013 Price: 3,150 Yen ($31) Availability:CD Japan Artist(s): Yuzo Koshiro
I love this game’s artwork, and the music surprised me at E3. Some people have said it’s not Koshiro’s best work, but I’d say it’s not his typical work more than anything. It suits the anime-flavored visuals perfectly, bringing in upbeat and whimsical themes in that you’d hear in any anime these days (with live instruments to boot), but that doesn’t mean specific tracks don’t stick out.
I particularly dig the adventurous overworld exploration theme, “Juvenile,” the mischievous and exotic “Cursed Forest’s Theme” with some funky sax work, the rockin’ “Theme of Towa” and “Threat,” the epic Latin vocals in “Memory Infused,” which is in line with a last boss theme, and the emotional ending themes (“A Heart That Can't Be Broken” is amazing).
Oh, plus great artwork throughout the packaging. Thanks for releasing this, SuperSweep, and watch for a single-disc redux coming with the game from NISA.
TEKKEN TAG TOURNAMENT 2 ORIGINAL SOUND TRACK PLUS Release Date: June 28, 2013 Price: 3,000 Yen ($30) Availability:CD Japan Artist(s): Various Artists
This is a hugely unexpected surprise. I’d checked out the original Tekken Tag Tournament 2 OST and loved it, but who knew there was so much more music to hear? This album offers over an hour and a half of additional tracks, much of which is amazing.
You can expect an eclectic mix of everything from electronic music to tropical themes, but my favorites tend to land on the electronic side. The bumping bass and explosive percussion in “Siga (Tropical Rainforest)” and the Asian-flavored vocal theme, “Landscape Under The Ghost -Kaminano (AD2012)” are two of my favorites on the serious side, while “Your Sunset” and “Battle Cry” both get quite a funk going, and stand out with their digitized vocals. There’s disco with “Luxury Garden,” cheesy vocal ballad with “Highschool love!” (it’s painful, but strangely catchy), and glitchy 8-bit goodness with “Backer.” There’s so much to like here, most of which I can’t call out by name because I’d be naming every track, so you’re going to want to pick this one up.
Also of note, those who pick it up at SuperSweep in Japan will get an additional megamix CD. Cool to have, but don’t feel too bad if you have to get it from CD Japan.
A Warrior’s Odyssey Release Date: October 2, 2012 Price: $11.95 (physical) / $8.99 (digital) Availability:Howlin’ Wolf Records (physical) / Amazon (digital) Artist(s): Penka Kouneva
Okay, I feel like an asshole for having this sit on my desk for so long. And it saddens me that people will skip over it because it’s not attached to a big game franchise. Composer Penka Kouneva has worked on titles like Prince of Persia and Gears of War in the past, but this album is a solo effort that treads on familiar ground: first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and anything involving war and soldiers.
There is so much melody on this album. You’ll constantly find yourself looking up and saying, “Wow, this is awesome. What track is this so I can listen again later?” I did this for nearly every track on the album. There’s lots of orchestral work augmented by electronics and sometimes event rock elements. I literally can’t call out favorite tracks because all of it’s so good. Please at least listen to some of the samples above and consider picking it up to support this artist actually creating this kind of music for a real game.
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