Uematsu's classic themes get more of the great arrangements they've always deserved.
Editor's review by Adam Corn (2014-11-05)
"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 to arrange every track from the OST (some twice over). As a result Final Fantasy VI fans get creative, well produced arrangements for dozens of classic themes that have long begged for them, all as a fan effort free to download and enjoy.
The sheer variety of styles in the five-disc albums is almost ridiculous. As a sample we get a moody jazz arrangement of "The Mines of Narshe", a flamenco guitar of arrangement of "Mt. Koltz", 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 memorably, an epic, spaghetti Western-inspired arrangement for the game's lone sword-slinger, "Shadow". All that's just 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", and 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 them 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. One of the game's zaniest villains gets an equally eccentric rock arrangement in "Save Them!", while one of the catchiest themes gets a 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 character themes like "Gogo", "Umaro", and especially "Mog" get creative arrangements stylistically different but similarly endearing to the originals. Even "The Serpent Trench" gets a cool piano-and-synth bit.
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 good number of tracks to wade through that they don't like to find the ones they do. In my own case I have 34 tracks either four or five starred, making over two hours of enjoyable arrangements for one of the all-time great OSTs. And being a free fan-made effort, you have only your time and 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.) The album might not match the original soundtrack in its amazing consistency, but in imagination and creativity at its best moments it comes close, and that is saying a lot.