Twinfinite’s Endless Playlist: Remixing Final Fantasy X’s Subpar Music Sure Is Hard
[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.
This is where the Zanarkand Mix comes in. This album is described as a musical representation of Tidus’ journey as he makes his way through Spira. While I’m not really sure if the remixed tracks here are an accurate depiction of his journey, the album as a whole is a lot more exciting and enjoyable to listen to because of the electric guitars and synths. Even the Prelude track here stands out. We’ve heard so many remixes and covers of this classic Final Fantasy track over the years, but somehow, Zanarkand Mix’s version of Prelude still stands tall as epic clash of blips, synths, and a crying violin.
Right off the bat, you’ve got a rock cover of Jecht’s theme titled Blues For Jecht, which wouldn’t sound out of place at a 90’s rock concert. And Dreaming, a cover of Tidus’ Theme that’s beautifully stripped down to a soft piano track with vocals, before slowly giving way to a slightly faster electronic beat, and also dubstep.
Tidus’ Theme is, in my opinion, one of the best and underplayed tracks in Final Fantasy X. I like what remixers Faseeh and Sirenstar have done with the track here, though they probably could’ve eased up on the vocals and lyrics, and focused instead on delivering a more punchy sound with the instruments. It’s one of the best covers of Tidus’ Theme out there, and the beautiful part about it all is that the electronic direction of the song also fits in perfectly well with Tidus’ roots and Zanarkand’s machina culture.
The style of the songs on the Zanarkand Mix are a far cry from the ones we’ve heard on the Besaid Mix. These tracks are much more contemporary and experimental, and in a way, they’re also much better suited for chilled nighttime listening, if the album art wasn’t already enough to give that away. The best example of this is Sebastien Skaf’s remix of Wandering Flame.
The original track plays a few times in the game, and it’s always right after a devastating battle with Sin or during a somber moment in the story. When the crew first arrives at Kilika, when Tidus learns that Sin is Jecht, and more prominently, after the massive defeat that the Crusaders and Al Bhed suffered on the beach. It’s not a very cheery song for obvious reasons, and it was certainly fitting for the kind of mood Final Fantasy X was going for, but it never stuck out to me as a particularly good piece of music outside the game.
Skaf’s remix is somehow able to retain that tone of serious melancholy and longing, but also puts enough of an electronic spin on it to make it good listening during a night outing. The soft drums in the background of the track are the X-factor here, and it really helps to make it pop. It certainly wouldn’t work in the context of Final Fantasy X’s story, but this Wandering Flame remix is pure ear candy on its own. That’s what a remix should always strive for. Instrumental covers of good tracks are always welcome, but the best remixes are the ones that bring life to an otherwise unmemorable or forgettable track, allowing the listener to develop a deeper sense of appreciation of the source material.
Persistence is another one that deserves a shout out. Composed by Brandon Strader of OC Remix fame, this is a remix of Lulu’s Theme. By now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Wait, Lulu had a theme?” Yes, Lulu does indeed have a character theme on the original soundtrack. But, like so many other underwhelming tracks on there, Lulu’s Theme ended up being one of those that was so easily forgettable and looked over because, well, it only played once in the entire game. The original is a really beautiful piece of music, it’s just hard to connect it with anything in the game if you listened to it on its own.
Strader’s cover doesn’t stray too far from the original work, but it enhances the theme, making it feel a little more personal to the character, while also maintaining that sense of mystic and sorrow.
However, as much as I wish it wasn’t the case, the Zanarkand Mix also brings about its fair share of missed remixes and cheesy tunes. Some of the worst offenders include Never Wakka Way and Punder Plains, both of which include fairly obnoxious sing-talking and cringe-worthy lines. There’s also Mekrdhehk Cdnegac Padfaah Ic, which means “Lightning Strikes Between Us” in Al Bhed. Clever.
The main problem I have with remixed music is when artists choose to add lyrics or use vocals as a primary instrument and driving force of a track. When you’re listening to a remixed track, chances are that you’ve already heard the original score and you’ll have certain expectations in place. Adding in vocals to a remix is always a risky move because it can go in either one of two ways: enhance the meaning behind the original song, or completely break the listener’s immersion. The tracks here are humorous takes on Final Fantasy X’s story and plot points, and they’re funny enough to warrant a single listen, but they wouldn’t find their way into my playlists any time soon.
SPIRA: Music From Final Fantasy X truly is a labor of love. That much is evident from the amount of effort put into the composing and mixing of all these songs, and the top-notch production quality. It’s also a reminder of how painfully limited Final Fantasy X’s music was. Save for the remixes of Besaid, Wandering Flame, and Lulu’s Theme, the absolute best tracks in this massive collection end up being renditions of popular themes that were already well-received in the original soundtrack. There’s no other explanation for the five different covers of Suteki Da Ne and To Zanarkand on here, and I’m not even counting the remixes of the tracks that are really just reiterations of the motifs present in those two.
Much like Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack, many pieces in SPIRA also feel a little bit like filler. They’re not necessarily bad per se, but they’re just not remixed works that you’d actively listen to while you’re out and about. There are some really interesting musical ideas at play here, and a few of them do work out with surprisingly good results, while most of the others end up falling flat. Perhaps SPIRA would’ve been a stronger collection of remixed works had it been much smaller and selective of its tracks.
For all of my complaints and gripes with SPIRA, however, I’m still glad that this massive collaboration project exists. It’s not often that you’d find a group of talented remixers and composers coming together to produce a quality album full of video game music, and as much as I love to hate on some of the cheesy tracks here, there are still a few brilliant gems in SPIRA that will stick with me for a long time to come. Final Fantasy X’s soundtrack might have been a disappointment in my eyes, but at least we can always count on the community and fans to breathe new life into some of its dying beats and rejuvenate it.