[Endless Playlist is a series of monthly articles where we pick a video game soundtrack for discussion, and try to provide a critical analysis of how it performs within the game it’s from, and how it holds up on its own. This month, we’re breaking down Materia Collective’s project, SPIRA: Music From Final Fantasy X.]
Despite being one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time (mostly due to it being the first one I’d played in the series), it’s difficult to shower heaps of praise onto Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack. It’s not that it’s a bad collection of songs; the problem is that while the game does boast some really outstanding and memorable tracks, about 70% of that collection is forgettable filler. Not to mention the dismal production quality and poor instrument samples (an issue that was thankfully rectified with the remaster), and you’ve got one of the most woefully underwhelming music collections in Final Fantasy history. Even To Zanarkand can start to really wear out its welcome after it’s been iterated upon over and over and over again.
I was originally going to write about Final Fantasy X’s remastered music this month, praise the ever-loving heck out of it, and talk about how it was the definitive version of the soundtrack that we really should’ve gotten way sooner than we did. Instead, an interesting press release dropped in my inbox in the middle of August, and I was introduced to Materia Collective’s new project, SPIRA: Music From Final Fantasy X. What a fortuitous turn of events.
Materia Collective is a Seattle-based music publisher that specializes in the digital and physical production of video game music. SPIRA is a colossal project that sees a large number of musicians and VGM remixers come together to produce a massive, high-quality album stuffed full of remixed Final Fantasy X music. By “colossal,” I mean really, really big. SPIRA has two collections: the Besaid Mix, and the Zanarkand Mix. The former provides a more jazzy and acoustic take on Final Fantasy X’s best tracks, while the latter features more electronic sounds and synths. There are 50 tracks in each collection, which comes up to a total of 100 tracks in SPIRA and more than six hours of listening time. That’s a lot of music.
SPIRA’s remixes are very innovative, and the collection is able to provide fresh and interesting spins on Final Fantasy X’s music. The Besaid Mix ended up being my least favorite of the two albums overall because it wasn’t quite as remix-y or creative as the Zanarkand Mix, but it did feel like a nice expansion of Nobuo Uematsu’s classic tracks. Take Luca, for instance. It’s one of the most forgettable tracks on the original soundtrack, but Reven ends up producing a beautiful and relaxing rendition of the song titled Welcome To Luca that just sounds so much more powerful than the original. The vocals are a nice touch, and I’m pretty sure this is going to be the song that comes to mind whenever I think about Final Fantasy X’s bustling Blitzball metropolis. It wouldn’t be a great fit as background music for a video game because of how punchy it sounds, but it’s still a much more enjoyable song to listen to.
The original Besaid track was also a disappointingly forgettable tune. It sounded way better in the remastered soundtrack, but even then, it’s certainly not a piece that would pop to the forefront of your mind when discussing your favorite Final Fantasy X music. Ironically, Besaid On The Rocks ends up being my personal favorite song in SPIRA’s Besaid Mix.It’s a whimsical and carefree acapella piece with gorgeous harmonization from the vocalists and some light synths thrown in as well. It’s an infectiously catchy piece that you can’t help but bop to. Despite being a much more complex track with so much going on during its listen time, it’s also done a stellar job of capturing the friendly “starter town” vibes of Besaid. It’s the kind of track that you could hear playing over a beach montage of people chilling on the sandy shores or enjoying a game of volleyball (or Blitzball, rather) under the sun. Besaid On The Rocks pays its respects to Uematsu’s original track, but also iterates upon it in such a fresh and captivating manner.
The Besaid Mix is decidedly less experimental and more safe with its music than the Zanarkand Mix, due to its predominantly acoustic sounds, but it does take risks in interesting places. The most notable track on here is probably The Other World, which is a pleasant jazz rendition of Final Fantasy X’s ridiculous hard rock opening Blitzball track. I remember being thrown off by Otherworld when I first played Final Fantasy X; it just wasn’t the kind of music you’d expect to hear in a Final Fantasy game. And in the same way, I was equally thrown off by The Other World because of how shockingly different it is from the original. An upbeat piano track serves as the backbone of the song, and it’s bolstered by strong and empowering female vocals. Yes, with the exact same lyrics.I’m not a huge fan of jazz music myself, but it’s easy to appreciate what the artists have done here. The Other World takes a weird and arguably kind of awful rock song, puts a nice quiet spin on it, and turns it into one of the most relaxing tracks on the Besaid Mix. It’s a commendable effort, and is certainly one of the most prominent songs in SPIRA.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Besaid Mix isn’t quite as daring or innovative as The Other World. The album is filled with gorgeous recreations of popular Final Fantasy X themes. Some standouts include Braska’s Daughter, Yuna’s Theme, Movement In Green, and Calm Before The Storm. There’s also a lovely rendition of Tidus’ Theme (without that awful harmonica, thankfully) that’s led by a
xylophone (UPDATE: a reader has informed me that the instrument used here is actually a handbell and not a xylophone), but for the most part, the rest of the Besaid Mix doesn’t really push the original music in any interesting ways, aside from one frustratingly catchy Bollywood take on Final Fantasy X’s Battle Theme. Don’t get me wrong; they’re all very beautiful covers and would certainly fit in well with any video game music playlist. But as far as experimentation goes, the Besaid Mix doesn’t step too far out of its comfort zone.