I’ve always been a big fan of great soundtracks, inside and outside of videogames, but no other audiovisual medium seems to appreciate those soundtracks like videogames do, as indicated by the big field of videogame arrangement albums. 2011, like with chiptune, was another fairly good year for it, with artists like Minibosses returning to the fold, and established composers like Shoji Meguro and Nobuo Uematsu continuing to produce excellent works.
Dj Cutman and Spamtron – Bagu and the Riverman
I’ve been a fan of Dj Cutman’s work for a while, and in Bagu and the Riverman, that appreciation continues. This time, he’s working with Spamtron, another videogame music arranger, combining Spamtron’s skills at arrangement with Cutman’s prime DJ skills to produce fun chiptune-house covers of the Zelda II soundtrack. I’m an especially big fan of their work on the “Overworld” theme; it’s definitely the most well-known Zelda song, but they did an excellent job applying their skills and style to it.
You can buy the album from Dj Cutman’s Bandcamp here.
Earthbound Papas – Octave Theory
I’m sure many of you were disappointed when The Black Mages broke up last year, but Nobuo Uematsu promised he’d keep working in that field with his new band, Earthbound Papas, and in Octave Theory, their debut album, he delivered upon that promise spectacularly.
This time, they’re not just doing songs from the Final Fantasy series, though there are more than a few on this album. Surprisingly, about half of it is completely original, and Uematsu even arranges a song from his score for The Guin Saga, an anime adaption of a classic Japanese light novel series. It works rather well, and it’s honestly my favorite piece from Octave Theory, but that doesn’t mean the videogame arranges slouch at all. Their arrangement of “Liberi Fatali” from Final Fantasy VIII blends metal guitar, organ melodies, and choral vocals wonderfully; “Eternity” from Blue Dragon, despite the corny vocals, is another fun metal jam; and tracks like “The Forest of a Thousand Years” and “Introduction ~Octopus Theory~” show that Uematsu still enjoys producing more traditional orchestral music, and both are wonderful examples of his skill in that field.
OverClocked ReMix vs. The Bad Dudes – Heroes vs. Villains
Both OverClocked ReMix and Bad Dudes produce a ton of arrangements (that’s what they’re for), but I feel like the only truly notable release they had this year was Heroes vs. Villains, a “collaborative” album (treated as a competition between the two collectives). Like many arrange albums that draw from such a multitude of sources (Monkey Island, God of War, Streets of Rage, and much, much more) there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy a lot of it, mostly due to personal taste, but this album was the most enjoyable release I’ve heard from either group since Bad Dudes’ Chronotorious.
Some arrangements from this album I’m an especially big fan of include WillRock’s “Bare Knuckle Blitz” (for Axel from Streets of Rage), a bumping electronic beat with tons of 80’s metal guitar, appropriate to the tone of the original game; Danimal Cannon’s “Enter The Shredder” (for Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a grinding metal tune that also captures the tone of the source material; and zircon and Joshua Morse’s “Satsui no Koto” (for Ryu from Street Fighter), which combines subtle synth beats with a melodic shamisen part.
You can download the album for free here.
Minibosses – Brass 2: Mouth
Six years after their last full album, Brass, Minibosses are back with their follow-up. Like their previous work, it focuses around covers of classic 8-bit videogames with basic two guitar, bass, and drum arrangements. It must be said that Brass 2 feels much more well-produced than their older stuff; the sounds are more full and less muddled. It’s nothing revolutionary or especially innovative, but if you enjoy Minibosses work, then here’s another one. Also, there are eight Excitebike arrangements on this album, most of which are less than thirty seconds long, contrasting with their twelve-minute-long Kid Icarus arrangement (this album’s equivalent of Brass‘ Mega Man 2 cover).
You can get the album from their Bandcamp here.
Shoji Meguro – Never More: Reincarnation
It’s probably worth noting that a good reason why this made the list is that I adore Persona 4 and its soundtrack, and Shoji Meguro is one of my favorite composers of all time. He’s done some arrangement stuff with Persona 4 previously, notably on the Persona Music Live album, but this is the first full Persona 4 arrangement album he’s produced.
It’s in much the same vein as Burn My Dread: Reincarnation (for Persona 3); several songs from the soundtrack are selected and remixed. Some are more “remixed” than others, if you get my drift, and about half of the album, mostly the vocal tracks, feels like they just took the original version, changed one part of the instrumentation, and re-recorded the vocals to make them sound different (and, generally, worse).
But then there’s the other half.
Starting at about the third track, an arrangement of “Like A Dream Come True”, the album’s strong points start to show. All of the organ parts from the original have been replaced with an excellent horn section, turning the song into a catchy, delightful jazz jam. “I’ll Face Myself (Battle)” now has the beautiful piano selection from the regular version of “I’ll Face Myself” mixed in well, along with new synth parts and a marvelous string part that sounds like someone mixed in Tenpei Sato’s score from Disgaea 4 or Tomohito Nishiura’s score from theProfessor Layton games, adding an amazing progression that the original song lacked.“Reverie” is now a melancholy piano and string melody, seamlessly mixing in leitmotifs from “I’ll Face Myself”. “SMILE”, like “Like A Dream Come True”, is now much more jazzy, but with strings instead of horns. “Specialist”, originally a slow, methodical, boring song, is now equally upbeat. The album closes out with an arrangement of “Never More”, the end theme fromPersona 4. I was… disappointed by Burn My Dread: Reincarnation’s “Memories of You” arrangement, but they did a brilliant job here, taking out most of the instrumentation, aside from drums and simple piano, replacing the rest with lovely vocal harmonies.
Despite half of the remixes not being especially new or interesting, the rest of the album is superb. If you’re at all a fan of Persona 4‘s soundtrack, I cannot recommend it enough.