Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Final Fantasy IV : Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption

OCR has pumped out quite a few fan arranged albums - fourteen albums in total, to date, in fact. While I hold a great deal of appreciation and respect for many of these albums, none have made such an impact on me as the latest release, Final Fantasy IV : Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption, has. I attribute this to the fact that as a child and even as an adult, FF IV is still one of my favorite games to date. I've played through it so many times and cherished the music, the story, the characters - everything about it. As a kid, I would use my tape recorder to record the music off the tv and listen to it even when I wasn't playing the game.

And years after the fact, I still listen to the original music. So it should go without saying that I'm a huge fan of the soundtrack.

The first day I had heard about this project was last year, on April 1st. Given the unfortunate timing, I wrote it off as a cruel joke. Some time after that, I caught sight of signatures on the OCR forums advertising the project. Since then, I had been waiting on pins and needles. After the teaser was released? I'm sure I annoyed quite a few people with my continued obsession...

I had really, really high hopes for this album after the teaser. So high, in fact, I kind of worried I was setting myself up for some disappointment. However, this album exceeded any expectation I had.

Spanning over three discs, EoBLoR boasts 46 tracks (and 8 bonus!), and a variety of style - rock opera, electronic, orchestra - there's something for everyone to enjoy.

The first disc, or Act, Betrayal, is the one I feel is the strongest. It opens with Nutritious' Full of Courage, an orchestral rendition of the iconic Red Wings theme. Appropriate, given that's exactly how FF4 opens up. I really felt he did this piece justice and kept it interesting. To me, it's not entirely different from the opening to a movie. A beautiful opening, really. Audio fidelity's rendition of the Baron theme, The Might of Baron, was nothing short of epic in my opinion. The guitar playing was fantastic and there's so much detail to be appreciated in this song (best heard on headphones!). The marching sound and the tone of the song really captured the militaristic feel of Baron for me.

Though it might be sacrilege, I have to admit that I only think the prolouge theme of Final Fantasy is okay. Sometimes I'm into it, and sometimes I'm just not. Most times when I hear an arrangement of it, I'm not really blown away. It's just been done to death. So admittedly, I wasn't expecting to be particularly wowed by Ana(pro)louge by Another Soundscape. However (!) I was pleased upon hearing it the first time, and since then it's only grown on me. I found it to be a very different take on Prolouge than I'm used to, and very groovy and uplifting. I've only recently got the tune out of my head! And what would the album be without the main theme of FFIV? It's my favorite FF Theme of the series, so I worried what would be done to it. Lucky for me, John Revoredo didn't disappoint with The Flying Machine. I like the dramatic opening of it. I liked the bits of urgency in the song. It captures the feel of the game. It's not a picnic in the park the heroes are on, it's urgent, serious business. And this song *gets that*.

Mazedude. That should almost suffice on it's own, right there. Haha. But in all seriousness, I'm a fan of his and have been for some time now. I wouldn't have expected him to cover the town theme the way he did, but, well, he did. Read the Sine captures a very melancholic element I feel is in the original, but does this without sounding too close to the original. So kudos, there. Anyone who has ever played FFIV, and even many who haven't, are familiar with Rydia's Theme. It's a theme that's been done a bit, so I feel iffy when people cover it. Cyril the Wolf's Emerald Beauty is a beauty indeed. It's very smooth and melodic and the sax really gives it this sort of... sophistication I really enjoy. I hear a lot of Rydia themes and they're done to depict Rydia the child. So I was happy to hear something that depicts Rydia the grown up.

Of Fiend and Man by Tweek is a sort of interesting take on Battle 1. I enjoy it, and it's growing on me, but as of this time I'm not sure what to say about it. I wish I had heard the source just a little more in it, but that's more my opinion than saying artistic interpretation is bad. I do like the interpretation, and I enjoy the feel of it overall. Damcyan's theme is one I often feel is under appreciated, so I was very excited about it getting coverage. One of my favorites on this album, The Skies Hold No Angels for Us, is nothing short of amazing. Level 99 and audio fidelity really deliver here. The guitar playing is really catchy, and I like the elements of... I guess hopefulness in the song, combined with the quieter parts. It kind of captures Damcyan, I think - being destroyed but there being hope in it being rebuilt.

Edward sucks. He's the one bad thing in FFIV, but he does have a theme I've always enjoyed. Abadoss and James George deliver a beautiful string rendition of his theme in Edward's Dream Quartet. I really enjoy how it starts slow and builds up, and has enough variation in such a simple theme to keep it interesting throughout the entire seven minutes. No easy task, I'm sure! (I particularly enjoy the upbeat end of the track) Golbez's theme is one I've heard covered a couple times, and it's generally done the same way. Big spooky bad guy gets some kinda spooky music. It fits. Never, ever, would I in my wildest dreams, think someone would turn Golbez's Theme into an upbeat electronic piece. Leave it to bLiNd, though... In one of his three contributions to the album, Golbez 'N Goblins (love the title!) he does just that. This is another one of my favorites from the album, and my favorite bLiNd song ever so far. I don't know much about electronic or techno or whatnot, aside from that I generally think of it as 'okay'. So while this song is a genre I don't usually go for, that's not the case for the song itself. I can't speak on anything technical about it, really. All I can say is that when I hear it, I feel an almost desperate need to dance and groove. It's so upbeat, and the boom tsh boom tsh isn't generic at all.

The end of Betrayal is just as strong as the beginning. Fighting for Tomorrow is a very ambitious rendition of the Fabul Theme, made possible by OA, Nutritious, and The Fabul's Men Choir. Said choir consists of quite a few people, though I can't remember a specific number at the moment. I think it's twelve? Thereabouts. Anyways, OA got together quite a few people for this arrangement to sing the Latin lyrics, allowing many people to collaborate on this piece. Not only that, but the vocals are all meshed together in a way that it sounds very good. To me, this piece is just flawless. I love it. Ad alta, ad astra!

The second Act, Strife, opens on a somewhat different note than its predecessor. Covering the Mysidia theme with Mystic Variations, AeroZ delivers the theme in a less quirky manner than the original was presented to us so many years ago. Not my favorite work of theirs, but interesting nonetheless. And of course, what would Mysidia be without Porom and Palom? Cyril the Wolf, Lil' Wolfie, and OA collaborate on Metal Mage, an interesting take on the duo's theme. The beginning is actually done with sounds from Mario Paint, before going into the metal parts. Lil' Wolfie, Cyril's brother, does a great job with the voices, imo. It really strikes me as Palom. Demanding his metal and throwing up the horns and all. And the guitar solo really is awesome.

A Long Way to Go is probably the piece from the game I'm least familiar with. It's just kind of... there. And not terribly interesting to me. But it got love too, just as all the other tracks did. Long Time Gone from the prophet of mephisto is a pretty catchy track, but I have trouble relating it to FFIV. It's not through any fault of theirs or anything, just my own personal unfamiliarity with the source. Sorry! There's not much I can really say about Rhymes with Elixir. A rap piece of the chocobo theme by The Scuba Divers, it's intro'd by Liontamer. Rap isn't really my forte, and the first time I heard this, I was kinda eh about it. The more I listen to it, the more it grows on me though. It's very humorous. Tonberry and Cactaur's parts are my favorite!

Blue Planet in Mode 7 (Like that title, btw!) by Nathan Rich is an arrangement of the airship theme. It's admittedly not one of the tracks that *really* stands out to me, but it's still enjoyable and makes for some pretty chill background music. Wiesty, audio fidelity, and OA collab together on Cid's Theme. The original is something I've always enjoyed for its upbeat nature. Their rendition, however, Goodbye Cid... isn't particularly upbeat. Which isn't unsurprising, given the title. It's not so much sad as it is melancholic, to me, which deviates from the feel of the original greatly. Still, I think they really made it work.

Somewhere to Hide is an arrangement of Somewhere in the World by Hy Bound, and vocals by Loka LaFevre. I don't really know what to say about it except that it's just plain *catchy* and I think Loka did a fantastic job with the vocals. Now, while I didn't think Mystic Variations was AeroZ's high point, I definitely think Fallen Dragoon is. An arrangement of Suspicion, the overall feel of this piece perfectly captures the betrayal of Kain. The strings sound absolutely wonderful and don't clash with the chiptune elements at all. It's a strange duo, but AeroZ really makes it work, and in a very emotional way. One of my favorites, definitely.

Children of the Monkey Machine arranged the Tower of Zot in his signature ambient, moody way. Which is definitely awesome. What I like about Fallen Ascent the most is the foreboding nature of the entire track. It really fits in with that part of the game as well, since the heroes are pretty much walking blind into the bad guy's trap. Survival Instinct by Audix is an arrangement of the Battle 2 theme. While it doesn't have the same kind of urgency that the original has, I feel it's interesting in its own right. Definitely a catchy tune.

Cry in Sorrow/Sorrow and Loss is one of my favorite tracks from the original sound track. Any cover I've heard of it has been sorrowful. It's kind of the point of the theme. While I don't feel Rozavian captured the real sorrow essence of the theme, and instead did something else entirely with it, I still respect what was done. It's pretty. It's catchy. But I get an impression more of the main theme of FFIV than I do of Cry in Sorrow specifically. Closing out Strife is Pot Hocket's Theme of Love for Guitar Duet. The title, I feel, is pretty self explanatory. It's a very soft, gentle take on the original, and a good way to end the disc, imo.

The final disc and Act is Redemption, and opening with that is Long Dao with their take of the Land of Dwarves, Tundra of Dwarves. What I find interesting about that is the fact that the Dwarven land is volcanic. It's hot. There's magma everywhere. The original music reflects this well, I think, so to hear that song created in a way to depict the opposite makes me... I'm not sure. It's hard for me to associate the song with the original, in a way, I guess because it's so engrained in my head that it's X way, not Y way. Overall though, this is actually a very pretty piece. Not something I'd go out of my way to listen to all the time, but it makes for great background music, as it's not too jolting.

Ilp0's rendition of Giott, King of the Dwarves had me worried the first time I heard it. Admittedly, I'm not that big of a fan of the beginning of In the Land of Dwarves but when the guitar hit, I was hooked. It's pretty catchy, which is good because the original is catchy and I'd have to see that messed up! I'm not savvy with guitar and music lingo, but I like all the... stuff done in this song, particularly towards that last minute. Kidd Cabbage did a rawk arrangement of The Battle With the Four Fiends, Treason. Battle With the Four Fiends is one of my favorite battle themes of any game ever, so I had high hopes and standards for this one. While Kidd certainly rocked it out, I really wanted to hear more of the source tune in this one. At least the main melody of it. As is, it kind of just... wandered for me. So to speak very honestly, while it's not bad, of all the tracks on the album, this one was probably the most disappointing for me.

One of the strongest tracks on album and disc alike is A Savior Ascends by Vampire Hunter Dan. Over six minutes long, this is a gorgeous orchestral arrangement of the Lunar Whale theme. Nothing seems out of place, and every little note seems to serve a purpose. How people create pieces like this is beyond me.

Eminence Grise is one of the closing tracks to Redemption, and is an arrangement of Another Moon. With vocals! OA and DragonAvenger collaborate for this one. The instrumentals are really good here and capture the elements of the original. The darkness of it. The strange sort of hope of it. DragonAvenger on vocals had me a little iffy, as I've never been a *huge* fan of them. But she really impressed me here! Some of the best vocals I've heard from her, and perfectly suited for this song.

Genesis of Destruction is another arrangement with vocals. Many vocals. Female. Chorus. Death metal vocals. It's a rock opera, essentially. A lot of people worked together on this particular piece. At the beginning of it, the "Zeromus! Zeromus!" parts make me think of "Sephiroth! Sephiroth!". Not in a bad way, though, as One Winged Angel wasn't a terrible piece or anything. Anyways, this particular piece isn't so bad. I like the instrumentals. The choir wasn't bad. But I'm not a fan of death metal kind of singing, and the female who sings this, lisabela, doesn't have the kind of voice I really like in a female singer, though I admit to being *very* picky when it comes to female singers. Rather than this track, I'd have liked to see the bonus track Phantom of the Zeromus on the album, as I preferred it to this one. (And I really enjoyed Nutritious' singing on it.)

Responsible for the Epilouge theme, Fishy covers that with their arrangement, Facing. It's a good way to start bringing things to a close. I really enjoy the guitar in this one. It's not a spectacular track, but it's definitely good and worth time to listen to and appreciation. I'm confused as to why the final track is a repeat of Rydia's theme, but I can't complain as I am a fan of Rydia and her theme. Kind of Green (Haha @ title) by Abadoss, audio fidelity, bustatunes, and theultravisitor doesn't stand out as one of the more spectacular tracks either, imo, but it's very relaxing and the perfect kind of song to play in the background while working or whatever. And I can definitely get a kind of feeling of goodbye in this song, which makes sense, since that's the end of the album.

But then there's 8 more bonus tracks... I'm not going over those, however. You'll just have to download it for yourself.

Overall, I found this to be a fantastic album. It relates to the original game, and everyone involved really brought in their A game. I love the attention to detail, not just for the music either. The album art itself is really great and designed well. The site is just gorgeous - I love the blue and the black and the flash animations. OA did superb with the designing of all that. I'm totally jealous of his design skills!

But yeah, you can tell a lot of love went into the creation of Final Fantasy IV : Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption. It shows. It really does. And I want to congratulate and thank everyone involved for producing such a masterpiece!

I highly recommend that people go pick up the album.

Also, as soon as I get my physical copy of the album that I won in the trivia of the listening party (I don't profess such an undying love for the game for no reason) I'm taking pictures and posting them to gloat and for people to enjoy! :)

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