Fez Original Soundtrack :: Review by Joe Hammond
Fez is another innovative indie take on the 2D platformer. Rather than shifting from 2D to 3D, in Fez you can rotate your point of view 90° to give main character Gomez new platforms to traverse across. There's no enemies or combat to speak of in the game, and the overall feel of the game is a very endearing ambiance. This is in contrast with the persona of Polytron director Phil Fish, who has made himself the target of controversy, mainly because of his outspoken opinions on modern Japanese games.
The style of this game is reflected in the music too. This chiptune soundtrack takes a very different approach to something like Souleye's music for VVVVVV or Anamanaguchi's music for Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Video Game. Instead of fast paced, catchy, funky tunes, Rich Vreeland (or 'Disasterpiece' as he's also known) has created some slower, chilled and minimalist pieces of music to accompany the game. He likes to build up his more melodic compositions with layers of ostinati to create some remarkably rich music that certainly achieves what it set out to, as well as plenty ambient and atmospheric soundscapes. The sounds don't sound entirely 8-bit either there's more of a variety in tone and colour to the low resolution sounds present.
The opening track, "Adventure", demonstrates exactly what I just described. After the opening jingle, an arpeggio based ostinato comes in, which carries the entire piece. A simple melody is placed over the top of this pattern, and some decorative lines are added to the texture as well. This melodic writing is brought back nearer the end of the soundtrack with "Home", which sounds appropriately inviting. "Puzzle" is similar in its approach, though it opts for more minor harmonies and earthier sounds. Dynamic swells, a favourite of Disasterpeace, keep the track interesting throughout. It's also worth noting that the titles are perfectly chosen "Majesty" sounds appropriately majestic, for example, while "Glitch" sounds a little bit like 8-bit dubstep.
Most of the music is very ambient and atmospheric. Although this could've been a problem, here many of the tracks are such that their repetitive nature makes sense and they remain enjoyable listens throughout, and the fact that most of these tracks are quite short in length helps with this. "Beyond" is the first of these tracks, focusing on just one c major 7 chord; the rest of the track consists of sound effects and low resolution soundscapes. Some of the sound effects are constructed in a very clever manner, such as in "Legend", where behind the music there's an impressive low resolution rolling waves sound effect. The dynamic swells are still used very often in pieces such as "Age" and "Memory".
Musically, many of the tracks are well thought out and composed. Among the other more melodic tracks, "Flow" picks up the tempo, with percussive sounds that resemble a djembe style and rhythm, and tonal sounds that resemble bells and a flute, while "Sync" introduces a drum beat and cool bass riff. "Spirit" meanwhile takes a few cues from Debussy, using parallel harmonies and unsteady tempo to great effect, this is a piece that could work very well on the piano. "Progress" starts off combining the two elements introduced so far, crescendoing into a more tonal piece of music by the end, and "Forgotten" has a free sounding tune over the top of the soundscape.
"Nature" and "Nocturne" sound like they could belong in a fantasy RPG. Half way through "Nature" a harp like line comes in, with other creative lines surrounding this main riff. Although it's harmonies are more contemporary and complex, and the tempo fluctuates unpredictably throughout "Nocturne", both tracks gives off the same feeling as something like "Secret of the Forest" from Chrono Trigger, and live up to their titles. "Knowledge" takes this idea further with thicker textures. Other sounds created throughout the soundtrack are fantastic at representing low resolution versions of live instruments, for example "Death" feels to me like a haunting organ piece disguised as a chiptune piece.
Many of the tracks contain some surprising elements. "Fear" creates this eerie high pitched soundscape like something out of Alien. then out of nowhere a bass drone comes in. It completely took me by surprise the first time. And then there's the visual secrets. Using a spectrogram like Sonic Visualiser, if you zoom in closer at certain parts of some of the tracks (for example "Continuum"), you will see an image that may resemble something from the game or a QR code. I won't ruin any of the surprises for you but look it up if you're interested, and I'm pretty sure there are more surprises in there that people haven't yet found.
The ambient music comes to a conclusion with "Reflection", a nine minute piece which, using the dynamic swells heard throughout the rest of the soundtrack, plays out a harmonic sequence appropriate for a reflective finale. This is followed by several minutes of water sounds, which may be a bit excessive but nevertheless calming.
Fez's soundtrack is a successful collection of music that accompanies the game it was written for to great effect, and it makes for some interesting stand-alone listening too. It won't be for everyone minimalism has far too niche of an appeal for that to be the case and for me sometimes the music can drag a little bit. However, it's worth the challenge if you want something different in your chiptune fix or your ambient minimalist fix. For what it is the music is surprisingly evocative and it has some great soundscapes, great textures and great melodies to enjoy. Plus there's some really unique and awesome easter eggs and secrets for those people who dig that kind of thing.
Overall Score: 8/10