by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Towards the end of last month, I was approached with a daunting project. You see, I’ve never reviewed music before, so I didn’t really know where to begin. Luckily, one of my close friends reviews music on her blog/magazine, so having read some of her work, I figured I might be able to give it a shot. After all, at least it’s still music inspired by video games! The Materia Collective released a two-disc (100 tracks) of music inspired by Final Fantasy X, entitled “SPIRA”. It has two sets of mixes, the “Besaid Mix” and the “Zanarkand Mix”, each with their own unique tracks and takes on the content in the game. A bit about the Materia Collective, from their own website:
“Founded in 2015 by Sebastian Wolff, Materia Collective began as a collection of musicians seeking to celebrate the music of Final Fantasy with a massive arrange album. Materia Collective has since grown into a label that produces and releases original music alongside creative interpretations and arrangements of new and classic game scores.”
Anyone who knows me knows that Final Fantasy X just might be my favorite in the entire franchise. It’s very close. There are certain story elements that put it above the other favorites in my life, Final Fantasy IV, VI, and Tactics. So when I was told I was offered 100 bloody tracks about Final Fantasy X, I jumped at the offer! Not even taking the time to consider how long that was going to listen to. That’s not how I operate. I tried not to overthink anything, but I had to start at the very beginning, and that’s the “Besaid Mix” and the “Zanarkand Mix”. It’s important to have the right tone, and Final Fantasy X hooked me because of the storytelling. We start in Zanarkand, which is a part of Spira. But it’s not the Spira that Tidus finds himself in. Then he starts for real, on Besaid Island. Where do we wind up in the end? Zanarkand. We’ve come full circle, in the land of the “Spiral of Death”. This is one of the best albums I’ve listened to in some time, and I highly recommend people go and pick it up, listen to it on Spotify, whatever they do, and do so immediately, even if they aren’t the biggest fan of Final Fantasy X. This is a tribute album, so it’s not just flat re-recordings of any of the songs. I’m not going to talk about every song because that would take for absolute ever. But I will try to highlight some of my absolute favorite tracks on both Mixes because some of them truly deserve to stand out. They all do if I can be honest.
It’s very reminiscent to me of the Overclocked Remix website, and that’s one of the highest compliments I can pay. I love tributes to gaming, especially titles that are on my “best of all time” list. Another sincere thing I can say is that each song definitely feels different, special, unique even. Some of the tracks (Braxton Burks – Yuna’s Theme, Besaid) feels very much like a 1:1 translation of the original song, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It brings me peace, even in this moment, where I’m plagued with food poisoning. The album is perfectly put together, telling the story of Tidus, Yuna, and friends in only the way the Materia Collective can. I had no idea they had put out so much music, but I am going to officially call them out to produce a Lufia 1/2 Album because that would be the best thing possibly ever. Maybe that’s just for me though … When I received this music, it was highlighted on our Bottom Tier livestream for close to a week, getting plenty of time to listen to tracks more than once, and really let all of it sink in. The music was strong enough to get me to want to play Final Fantasy X again, which I did! Every song feels special, whether it made me laugh, or made me tear up a bit, which several did. If I didn’t single out a track, please don’t be upset! There are some definite ones I wanted to talk about (Besaid on the Rocks, Stranger Seymour, Twilight, Bollywood Battle, Suteki da Ne Orchestra, Depths of Fayth, Other Otherworld, Moonlight on the Waves, Illusion) but do not have the room to chat about in this piece. Also as an aside, Dale North’s 90s smooth R&B version of “Suteki da Ne” is magic, pure magic. It sounds like it would be at the end of a Romantic Comedy/Romance film, circa 1995.
Track 5: Hymn of the Fayth – Valefor (May Claire La Planta) – The task of producing the “Hymn of the Fayth” is a challenging one; it’s a hymn that is the center point of the entire story, of an entire religion. It is to be treated with due reverence, whether it’s a “real” hymn or not. This felt like it could be at home in any Synagogue or Church anywhere in the world. I still have absolutely no idea what the Hymn says, the use of a female voice as the primary sound is key because Valefor is said to be a younger girl, though the voice is of an older woman. So it’s likely her as an adult, looking back perhaps. It made me happy in a time where I needed some peace.
Track 9: The Other World (Natalie Clyne, Jer Roque): Hot damn. I was not expecting a Piano/Swing style rendition of The Otherworld. Up until this point, my favorite version of the song was featured on The Black Mages II: The Skies Above, but this actually tops it. Natalie has a majestic voice and this soothing version of the harsh, metal track that plays while the city is being destroyed, it a fascinating contrast to the scene. I had to laugh though, because I played the pivotal FFX scene while listening to it. It just took the wind right out of the dramatic moment and changed it. It gave me chills, that’s no exaggeration.
Track 13: ReJechted (Darby Cupit): This sounded so much like Chris Sabat to me at first, and I was stunned. The groovy acoustic sound is fantastic and familiar, and all the while, Jecht drunkenly rants about the situation he’s in before the game even starts. He talks about the trek to stop Sin and how he could get back home to his wife and kid. Because contrary to popular belief, Jecht did not hate his family. He’s terrible at expressing emotions as a popular/famous sports star. It’s not a big shock. As long as his kid’s not there, it’s easy for him to talk about, anyway. So Jecht walks to the upbeat music and just rambles, jokes, and sighs wearily. “It’ll be one Hell of a story!” Man … if only you knew, Jecht.
Track 45: Yuna vs. Seymour at the Disco (Daniel Romberger): A disco version of the Seymour battle, you say? I was not ready for “Guado Funk”, but here we are. Yuna’s singing voice made my eyes water a little as she sings desperately about the situation she’s in, and how Seymour trapped her in this impossible predicament. How do you pack such sadness into such an upbeat-sounding song? Somehow they managed. This is one of my favorite songs out of the whole bunch for so many reasons. It definitely stands out among the rest.
Track 48: Zanarkand (Will Dawson): “To Zanarkand” is one of my favorite tracks ever produced for a Final Fantasy game. To show such calm and quiet in such a dire moment really strikes a chord with me (pun not intended). But to turn it into a heroic march style song is a great choice. Now with rolling drums, horns, it feels like a truly epic moment is about to go down (because it is. Play the game, nerds!) and that’s just how I want it.
Track 55: Battle for Spira (Rozen, Julie Elven): The FFX Battle Theme is wonderful. Sometimes, it’s hard to really appreciate it, because you’re busy swapping people out and being annoyed that you have to haul Wakka’s dumb ass into a fight just to get him a little AP (one of the few complaints I have with FFX), but this is a more dramatic version of the song, and the haunting, quiet chanting/singing in the background really adds that little extra boost to get you into the fighting spirit. Now I want to go outside and punche bears in the face. I won’t, because I’d die. But you get what I mean.
Track 64: Never Wakka Way – Extended TV Theme (Nautilus T Party): Okay, this was pure genius. They took Wakka’s theme and turned it into an 80s/90s action TV show. It also reminded me vaguely of Pokemon, and I’m not sure if that was intended. It also had hints of 70s TV post-chorus. I could see “Wakka and his Pals Action Hour” or something. Never Wakka Way was a change of pace for a series of songs that are very serious, for a super serious game. This made me chuckle more than I thought I would.
Track 88: Moonlight on the Waves (Suteki da Ne): I sure feature versions of this song heavily. It is one of my favorite FF tracks and I won’t apologize for that. Each version of the song on this collection has a different offering and theme, and this one is more somber, and quiet I’ll say. It’s good music to play in the background when you need to just sit and consider something. It’s peaceful, and it’s lovely.
Track 96: Rave with Seymour (Matthew S. Harrison): I think some of my favorite tracks on this entire collection are new takes on previous songs. I love the straight translation tracks where they feel like they could be in the game, don’t get me wrong. But this “Rave” version of the Seymour battle brings chills across my skin and got my blood pumping. It’s such a serious, grim moment, where reality could literally be unmade because of an insane half-guado, a man who somehow has gravity-defying hair who kills his father, tricks Yuna into marrying him, and enslaves his mother as his personal Aeon (which we also get to use. Huzzah)! He’s an absolute half-human dumpster fire, and this is a fascinating take on his track.
Track 97: Bemneskya (The Trials) (John Robert Matz): The Trials used to really get on my nerves, when I didn’t know what I was doing within the temples. Before I had mastered all of them. It was a haunting song that mocked my every failure. But this, Bemneskya has a Russian flavor that I absolutely love, and takes a normally solemn, religious sound and makes it upbeat, slowly turns up the tempo and the vocals are pretty damn majestic. All I can think of is Auron piledriving people like Zangief, and I like that mental image.
I highly recommend everyone acquire both albums here, and here. Have you listened? Do you have any favorite tracks? Questions for the artists? Please, let me know below! Would you like more musical reviews/thoughts? I’d love to do them!