(Hooray for alliterative titles!)
I’ve loved videogame music for about as long as I’ve loved videogame, so long that I still remember taping the soundtrack to Alisia Dragoon from the sound test, but arrange albums didn’t always sit so well with me. It was mostly down to ignorance: “Who the heck are these people messing with my beloved music?!” I’d foolishly think to myself, but it was also due to a lack of accessibility too – it really wasn’t easy to find game albums of any description when I first started really listening to music, never mind arrangements of Dragon Quest III tunes or music from Sorcerian. Thankfully while I may be from the past I don’t live in it, and a combination of Youtube, Soundcloud, Twitter and the magical internet at large have made it easier than ever to buy, listen, and generally appreciate the professionals and extremely talented fans that take game music we’ve all heard a hundred times before and find a fresh twist for it. I still don’t think there’s an awful lot of general talk about this sort of videogame music though, which is why I’ve come up with this little selection of a few of my favourites.
Two quick warnings before we get on to the list below – this isn’t a “Top ten” list. There’s no order at all to the albums below, so don’t try to divine any intention from the places on this page they appear in. Secondly, and most importantly, I’m no musician and I lack any sort of musical vocabulary, so you’ll have to forgive my frankly ridiculous attempts to describe music using words best suited to describing things that are anything other than music.Vana'diel traditional suite of minstrels.
This is an unofficial fan arrangement by Kou Ogata that was released at Comiket 73 in 2007, and as far as I can tell it hasn’t been re-released since. Sadly it seems nigh-on impossible to buy these days, which is a shame because the warmth of the instruments used coupled with the choice to go for some of Final Fantasy XI’s more laid-back themes really does make it feel like you’re listening in on an impromptu campfire band like the one shown on the cover. Irritatingly, I’ve just discovered this talented individual also made a short Final Fantasy XIV arrange album back in 2013 that appears to be just as wonderful and equally difficult to buy.Perfect Selection Dracula ~NEW CLASSIC~
Another fantastic album that’s not actually all that difficult to buy, it just tends to be prohibitively expensive to do so as the album had one release in 1992 and absolutely nothing since. Unlike the other Perfect Selection Dracula albums that took familiar Castlevania tracks into rockin’ guitars territory, New Classic gives some of the series best tracks (up to that point, anyway) a classy synth-n-strings arrangement – perfect for listening to while drinking a chalice of red wine and staring thoughtfully at the moon.Biohazard The Darkside Chronicles Original Soundtrack
“But Kimimi, that’s not an arrange album! That’s a soundtrack!” Oh, hush you. While it’s technically (OK, not technically, actually) not an arrange album it also definitely is one too, being largely a best-of collection of tracks from Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica all done up in much the same way that Darkside Chronicles itself is a best-of rail shooter remix of the aforementioned games. You might not think of horror music as particularly listenable, but this album combines two of the most melodic Resident Evil soundtracks and then polishes them until they shine, with a nice selection of atmospheric tracks as well as gloriously over-the-top boss themes cranked all the way up to eleven. This album is also the first and only on this list to not only be readily available but also to have had a proper official Western release that you can buy from normal-people places like Amazon.
This album is also not technically an arrangement but a re-orchestration of the original tunes (the clue is in the title, Kimimi!). While the differences to the GameCube versions are largely (and intentionally) minimal here they’re also at the same time exactly what the original soundtrack needed and give them just that little extra “lift” that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. So this isn’t the album to rush to for an exciting reimagining of Zelda classics, but it does a fantastic job of the perhaps more difficult task of tricking you into thinking that the original tunes always sounded this good.Genso Suikoden Music Collection ~Celtic Collection 3~
There’s a lot to love about this short-but-punchy little album that takes a hodge-podge mix of tracks from the Suikoden trilogy (as it was at that point) and the spinoff Suikogaiden series and then gives them a good Celtic makeover, but far and away the highlight is the track linked to above: “Everyones Smiling Faces”. Suikoden III used this track as its end credits theme, but you probably won’t recognise it from the YouTube link as the piece that formed the inspiration for this arrangement takes up barely over a minute of the full nine minute original track. It’s not particularly representative of the entire album, which also holds a fair few melancholy tunes, but I do think it’s the perfect advertisement of just how much good a well done arrangement can do.
Probably best known (and certainly less of a mouthful) as Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon, this is another soundtrack that’s actually an arrange album, as it’s composed entirely of old “forgotten” Final Fantasy tunes. This was a deliberate choice to be in keeping with the theme of the game’s plot, and the result is a fantastic set of tracks covering somewhere in the region of two decades of Final Fantasy music. Sadly the official OST release is woefully incomplete with a miserly single CD of just thirty one tracks (the full soundtrack is roughly double that number), making YouTube or if you’re more adventurous, creating your own rip, the best option to hear the complete set."zwei!!" SUPER ARRANGE VERSION
This is an album I love for very much the same reasons as the Suikoden celtic album mentioned above, in that it takes a mostly unremarkable track (“Final Battle – Demon King Vesper”) and turns it in to something truly special. In fact I’d come to love this album before I’d gone anywhere near the game, so much so that it was a real disappointment to discover that the final boss music was nowhere near as vibrant as the track you’re hopefully listening to via the YouTube link above. The other arrangements on this CD don’t hit quite the same spot for me, but that doesn’t stop them being the perfect sort of thing to sit back and relax with on a warm summer’s day.Guilty Gear XX Sound Alive
As a reclusive nerd sat high upon my throne of Master System carts I don’t get much opportunity to hear music live – thankfully this album fixes all that! The Guilty Gear series has always been well known for having face-meltingly amazing guitar tracks, and this album is yet another in the same exciting vein. I suppose it’s also yet another album on this list that’s not really an arrangement, but on the other hand it has a fantastically “raw” edge that’s captured splendidly on the CD even if I’m terrible at putting it into words!Symphonic Suite Shining Force II ~Ancient Sealing~
The Shining Force series has been treated terribly in many ways, but perhaps none more so than somehow being one of Sega’s biggest RPGs and yet not a single game in the original trilogy had an official soundtrack released*. In spite of this strange shunning we somehow got this lush orchestral album of some of Shining Force II’s best tracks, although with the album being a touch expensive and rather hard to find for those not willing to use Japanese proxy shipping services this “apology” feels rather hollow. But in any case, this album is a shining (sorry!) light for a series that remains musically overlooked.
*Bar Shining Force III, which had a crummy thirteen track CD released to cover three games. For the record, the Shining Force III Premium Disc sound test has almost seventy tracks.
I’m generally not much of a fan of Nobuo Uematsu’s work, and I’ve no huge love for Final Fantasy VI either, but I do like trying out mysterious new things and that’s how I came to own this album. It’s not caused me to re-evaluate my opinion on the game or its composer, but even a withered cynical husk of a gamer like myself can appreciate the delicate sounds and cracking lungs present on this interpretation of Celes’ famous opera performance.
So, at the top of this post I mentioned how difficult it used to be to buy arranged game music and looking at the music I’ve chosen… there really hasn’t been as much progress in the field as I’d like (not for older albums in any case). It’s definitely better than it’s ever been, but there’s still a long way to go before YouTube isn’t your best option to listen to a good chunk of this stuff. But it’s not all bad by a long shot – just make sure if you are going to splash out on an album you keep an eye out for fakes!
What do you think of my choices? More importantly, what would you recommend I listen to next? Leave a comment here or get in touch on Twitter!
(All album art bar Wind Waker pilfered from the wonderful VGMdb.net)