"Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin" is the 40th album by fan-arrangement community OverClocked ReMix, and their most ambitious production yet. Seventy-four tracks, six hours of music, and - thanks to a highly successful Kickstarter - a $150,000 budget... all to arrange the game soundtrack many consider the best ever. The project was accompanied by no small amount of hype and in many ways the results live up to it. Final Fantasy VI fans finally have creative, impressively produced arrangements for dozens of classic themes that have long begged for them, and it's all a fan effort free to download and enjoy.
The sheer variety among the album's five discs is almost ridiculous. I genuinely believe there may not be another soundtrack that matches it in that regard. A moody jazz arrangement of "The Mines of Narshe" and flamenco guitar of arrangement of "Mt. Koltz", both of which fit their respective locations like a glove. An orchestral arrangement of "Kefka" that holds its own against the several professional ones made. New Wave vocals for "Fanfare" and "The Returners", an old-timey klezmer take on "Phantom Train", and a raging rock rendition of the Veldt's "Wild West". And most especially, an epic, spaghetti Western-inspired arrangement for the game's lone sword-slinger, "Shadow". That's just a sampling from the first disc.
A handful of themes from Final Fantasy VI tend to get most of the love whenever new arrangements are produced. "Terra", "Kefka", "The Phantom Forest", "Dancing Mad", of course the opera. But there are so many other fantastic pieces from Final Fantasy VI, and the great thing about Balance and Ruin is it gives every one of them an arrangement, many of which do justice to the originals, even if sometimes in a much different style. "Gau" gets a pretty acoustic arrangement - complete with that essential cello - that matches the innocence of the character. Uplifting trance meets soaring New Age synth for "Setzer". One of the game's zaniest villains gets an equally eccentric rock arrangement for "Save Them!", while one of the catchiest themes gets a delightful dose of electronic funk in "Johnny C Bad". The piano arrangement for "The Empire Gestahl" brings more drama than anything from the official Piano Opera albums, and minor yet memorable character themes like "Gogo", "Umaro", and especially "Mog" get creative arrangements every bit as endearing as the originals. Even "The Serpent Trench" gets a cool piano-and-synth bit.
The main issue with the album is that with every track being arranged by different artists, the quality varies widely. That's nothing new among fan-arranged projects, but with 74 tracks altogether it means listeners will likely have a few more tracks to wade through that they don't like to find the ones they do. Those who do so will find their patience well rewarded. In my own case I have 34 tracks either four or five starred, for over two hours of highly enjoyable arrangements based on one of the all-time great OSTs. And being a free fan-made effort, you have only your time and your bandwidth to pay. (For those who find either at a premium, I recommend starting with the third disc, which has the highest ratio of hits, then working back from the beginning.)
Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin might not match the original soundtrack in its amazing consistency, but in imagination and creativity it often makes a strong case, and that is saying a lot. As a tribute to Nobuo Uematsu's masterpiece it's a gift to its many fans and a tremendous success.