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Love SQ :: Review by Chris

Love SQ Album Title: Love SQ
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: SQEX-10174
Release Date: November 25, 2009
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Love SQ is an album made for fans of Square's classic game music. It features ten arrangements of fan favourites from the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, Romancing SaGa, and Legend of Mana by arrangers such as PE'Z, Sexy-Synthesizer, and Square Enix's own muZik. While the track choices are good ones, what makes the album stand out are the diverse and creative approaches, with everything from big band jazz to synthpop to chiptunes to chillout music to piano arrangements being featured. In many ways, it's Square Enix's official response to all the fan arrangements out there. Though a mixed bag, the final result is quite enjoyable overall.

Body

The majority of the electronic arrangements on Love SQ are impressive. To start off, livetune's interpretation of Chrono Trigger's "To Far Away Times" features surprisingly hard-edged beats, yet the moderate pacing, beautiful mixing, and treble frills are highly compatible with the original melodies. The resulting arrangement recaptures all the soothing, nostalgic, and uplifting qualities of the original theme, yet with an additional layer of dynamism. It's certainly a great way to send listeners back to Chrono Trigger's ending. The drum'n bass arrangement of the game's main theme is also quite enjoyable. Though the melody doesn't initially compatible with the beats, Novoiski seems to find the correct direction around the 1:45 mark and recaptures all the buoyancy and melodiousness of the original in an entirely different setting. It's also delightful to hear the Yoko Shimomura's Legend of Mana score be revisited by Square Enix's synthesizer operators here. Most of the arrangement features very mellow electronic soundscapes only broken up by the occasional chiptune or novelty effect. However, the melodic focus ensures it is still a winner. It's impressive how the team manage to unite "Theme of Mana" and "Hometown of Domina" in such a fluid and lyrical manner. What's more, this arrangement preserves the tranquil even without the organic instrumentation of the original.

There is also a chiptune influence on some arrangements on the album. Final Fantasy III's "Eternal Wind (Migratory Birds Mix)" is bound to bring back memories of muZik's interpretation on the Final Fantasy III Original Soundtrack with its blend of catchy chiptunes and punchy beats. However, DE DE MOUSE goes quite a bit further by incorporating ululations from a female vocalist. This inclusion was intended to capture the worldly influence of the overworld theme, but I'm not convinced it inspires much imagery at least in conjunction with the chiptunes. Nevertheless, listeners are still left with an interesting fusion for their ears and many will like the intended effect. Such 'out there' arrangements are usually only found in the fan arrangement scene, but it's pleasing that Square Enix producers were daring enough to release this one. Even more enjoyable is the 8-bit interpretation of two of Chrono Trigger's "Fanfare 1" and "Frog's Theme". Though one of the most straightforward tracks on the album, it's a clear winner since Sexy-Synthesizer combines two of the game's catchiest themes with an even greater rhythmical impetus. Two particularly great moments are the dramatic lead-in to "Frog's Theme" at 0:52 and the particularly dashing interpretation of its melody from 1:49.

The jazzy arrangements are likely to split listeners even more. Most notably, the big band interpretation of the Final Fantasy main theme at the start of the album isn't entirely compatible with the melody. Following a solo piano introduction, PE'Z makes a bold jazzy statement with bustling trumpet parts, driving hi-hats, and charismatic saxophone lines. Unfortunately, the arrangement becomes obnoxious when it moves away from the new material to recount the actual melody at 1:18. While I appreciate the intention, the melody sounds out-of-place and ugly when presented by the brash trumpets and saxes here. Fortunately, there are enough original sections and improvisation sections to redeem it, including a serene interlude at the 3:54 mark and a jazzy piano passage shortly before the conclusion at 5:54. Good Luck Heiwa's "Chocobo" theme also takes a jazzy approach, but has a much more laidback mood. Some sections have a very modern feel, with acoustic jazz being mixed with electronic overtones, but the use of the Hammond organ creates a more nostalgic feel in a couple of sections. If that wasn't enough, some random electronic noise and boingy folk influences are featured in other parts of the arrangement, but sound out-of-place. Though the arrangement captures the spirit of the theme well, the hybridised approach will split listeners.

Towards the end of the album, there is a medley of some of Romancing SaGa's favourites. Note Native combines faithful and catchy interpretations of melodies such as "The Conflict" and "Coup de Grace" with deeper original sections such as at 0:51 and 1:31. The final result is reminiscent of one of the high emotion club remixes often featured at the end of long nights. The section from 2:52 is especially tear jerking and surprisingly affecting for a remix album. Less impressive is Pia-no-jac's piano-based medley of the Final Fantasy battle themes "Clash at the Big Bridge", "Dancing Mad", and "One Winged Angel", which captures everything I dislike about fan-oriented piano arrangements. It features brash and rushed performances of each of the three pieces in conjunction with abrupt transitions, unpianistic octave leaps, and even some random shouting. Those who like the performances of Piano Squall or Martin Leung will find this one fine, but I'm more of a fan of the more artistically inclined Final Fantasy Piano Collections. To round off the album, no.9 interprets the "Prelude" by blending acoustic and electronic components. The intended mellow and dreamy effect isn't quite produced due to the amateurish production values. The flute lead, cello countermelodies, and random percussion parts are just too poorly synthesized to enhance the atmosphere while the electronic elements could have been better arranged too. The result is mediocre.

Summary

Clearly Love SQ is a very mixed effort. Some arrangements such as "Frog's Theme", Legend of Mana, and Romancing SaGa are both inspired yet true to the original material, but many others have potential flaws: the Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger main themes don't entirely suit their solid arrangements, the unconventional "Chocobo" and "Eternal Wind" interpretations are bound to be select tastes, and the "Prelude" and piano medley sound even more amateurish than most fan productions. Listeners certainly won't find Love SQ a consistent or cohesive experience, but perhaps it was never intended for this purpose. Instead Square Enix have provided a diverse and set of fan-targeted arrangements using popular source material. Few fans are likely to like the whole album and thus it might be best to avoid purchasing a physical copy. However, those willing to use iTunes can easily sample the arrangements here and find several favouritres that might make it to their playlists. That said, I expect those favourites will vary drastically from fan-to-fan.

Overall Score: 7/10