Square Alienates Fans with Unsatisfactory Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster Music Arrangements

“…but I do feel a little sad that these so-called idols of my past whom I thought were perfect, actually faltered. As if I was God high up in the sky, calmly and rationally judging these artistes’ failures. Of course, these people left behind a legacy and inspired better artistes following along their paths. But whoever emerges with true worth, is like a race where everyone starts off together at the start-line and struggles towards the goal.

As I worked on the music for Final Fantasy X, maybe I can find out for myself the direction where my music is heading for in the future. A pity isn’t it?  Me not knowing where my music stands until now….”

–Nobuo Uematsu, as written in the ‘linear notes’ found the original Final Fantasy X soundtrack.

Even after 11 years since their initial releases, the experience of revisiting the PlayStation 2 versions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 feels as if time hadn’t passed, and sharing that blissful, timeless essence is a memory of Nobuo Uematsu’s ‘final’ batch of music creations under Square-Enix’s roof.

From the unforgettable melody resonating within “Suteki Da Ne” to the brooding piano patterns that mirror the demeanor of the evil Guado sub-antagonist known as Seymour, most of the music for FFX came from Uematsu himself, even while working under a contributing role alongside music director Masashi Hamauzu.

Back then, both titles ushered in a lot of firsts for the company. Alongside it being Square-Enix’s first PS2 title with three-dimensional environments and better graphical capabilities, it was also their first time aligning voice actors to in-game characters and the first in the series to offer a sequel with FFX-2.

The switch around in the musical production team, however, was nothing new.  The only thing that made it any different was that Uematsu already decided on his next business venture with his self-owned Smile Please company, making FFX his last piece of work.

While under the direction of Hamauzu, his contribution of 51 tracks—the most in comparison to Hamauzu and Junya Nakano—redefined video game music composition, setting the bar for the rest of the forthcoming Final Fantasy titles and music directors.

However, 2014 is upon us and soon will come the repackaged and fairly anticipated Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster for the PlayStation 3 and Vita.  The game aims to recapture the timeless experience while keeping close to the nostalgia of avid Final Fantasy fans. Under the guise of Game Director Yoshinori Kitase, Hamauzu and Junya Nakano as assistant producer returned and went to work on creating renditions to the original soundtrack for Final Fantasy X.

Similar to a lot of notable changes to the game, many of the songs for the HD Remaster have been entirely reworked from scratch. Computerized and orchestral tracks have been heavily updated to Hamauzu’s standards, which include giant influences of acoustic sounds, electronic instrumentation and embellishing, yet vibrant approach to the previous MIDI formatted arrangements displayed in the PlayStation 2 version.

Even Uematsu’s masterful productions were taken in under a new scope, but does this change in musical direction necessarily mean better quality or did the aim for stellar instrumental revision end up butchering FFX’s most charming aspect?

Hamauzu’s execution and accuracy for some of these tracks feels similar to playing blitzball while under the influence of alcohol. Successfully hit goals are perfectly dead center while missed attempts don’t even deserve an ‘A’ for effort, and Hamauzu misses a lot.

The re-compositions by themselves are great, given some interesting instrument allocations to the melodies and various changes in song structuring. However, given the memories often recalled with some of these tracks, these compositions come with an unwanted, over-saturated presence and can sometimes abandon emotion or push for familiarity.

FFX’s “Zanarkand” theme, for example, comes to us with its seemingly acoustic and subtle nature that parts from the original.  To an untrained ear, it has the same piano sound and regurgitates the same, melancholic melody. However, it lacks the loudness of the original and it the rendition also loses some of the small rush near the later half of the piece. Other small gestures such as the slight decrease in pacing put this one under the original.

Although rightfully equipped with the acoustic, harmonizing guitars that eloquently emit a beach-like atmosphere, the approach to “Spira Unplugged” is also amiss. The original had a lot more going on than just the melody alone; one guitar focused on some pretty complex note intervals while the other kept time with the ‘Suteki Da Ne’ chorus that occur in the second half. The HD Remaster version features both guitars harmonizing over the main melody and does less by taking out the complex sounds. Open dictionary. See “lazy.”


“Spira Unplugged”

Some themes in the HD Remaster also sound incongruent and unrecognizable in comparison to the original. “Challenge” is the main offender, a boss battle theme that plays during your party’s second squabble with Seymour at Mt. Gagazet. The pre-HD remix features some tender angelic chords at the first half and strangely works with some ghastly piano that rides along side it. A nice beat breakdown starts to ensue for a while before it goes back to slow, doom-like feel of the piano.

The mixing of this particular rendition is flat out horrible. The chords and piano are replaced by an annoying loop of an electric guitar riff and the triumphant drums in the beat breakdown have also been taken over by smudgy, cluttered and almost indecipherable bass and guitar runs. Despite it being Hamauzu’s work all the way through, this retake isn’t his best out of the entire original soundtrack.

Instruments that were once dominant throughout the track are now gone missing in the HD Remaster. “Yuna’s Theme,” “Mi’ihen Highroad” and “Servants of the Mountain” suffer from setback. The violin that’s presented in the latter aforementioned track starts off with the octave lower from of melody, which is at first off-putting until a second harmonizing violin chimes in with the correct tone. “Yuna’s Theme” sounds like a harsh rough draft of the original considering the atrocious ‘twang’ sound of the guitar and extreme lack of presence in some of the backing instrumentation.


“Besaid Island”

The majority of the themes either come without an ounce of emotion felt in the original or are badly executed during the production of the rendition, but let’s not jump too far ahead. Hamauzu’s reassessments on some other compositions sound outstandingly superb.

Originally composed by Uematsu, the “Battle Theme” was once a bit too soft and a tad aggravating given the repetitive occurrence in the game. The HD Remaster version lessens that aggravation with the implementation of powerfully orchestrated horns and trumpets.

“Calm Before the Storm” also offers some golden moments within its orchestration. At first glance, it’s hard to tell whether or not there were any chances, but the new bells in this track immediately take away the confusion and bring forth a tranquil reprise coursing throughout. There’s finally some bass in this one as well, which nicely eases within the track after about a minute. The tiny bells sound like raindrops, which rings true to its track title much more than before. This isn’t to say that the original didn’t have the same effect, but is rather is comparatively much louder and less subdued.

“Auron’s Theme” is possibly the best rendition on the OST. Hamauzu introduces a jazzy and rock infused characteristic that makes Lord Braska’s and Lady Yuna’s Masamune-wielding guardian feel more bad ass than ever. The hard hitting drums and the electrifying guitar solo occurring in the bridge intensely sell the theme.

“Seymour’s Ambition” shares the same type of gritty, high-octane rock vibe and is cleverly laced together with the revolving piano pattern that sits in the background.

Taking into consideration that the only untouched tracks that appear on this particular soundtrack are  Uematsu’s “Suteki Da Ne,” Otherworld,” “The Trials,” “Braska’s Daughter” and all of the “Hymn of Fayth” Aeon interludes, it could be argued that the rest of the songs should have either been left alone or that Hamauzu should have at least tried to present some of these drastic changes to Uematsu before going ahead with the release of the game (which probably happened, but there’s no record of that at the moment). It should also be noted that Final Fantasy X-2’s entire soundtrack remains the same, which further begs the question of what went down between Kitase and Main Composer Noriko Matsueda.


“Seymour’s Ambition”

Hamauzu’s overall end result of this OST is lower than sub par, but with a few surprises here and there. The lacking arrangements largely points to the absence of Uematsu’s influence. This isn’t to say that Uematsu is the god of Final Fantasy music, but if most of these arrangements belonged to him, then it would have made much more sense to at least get his suggestions on the retakes rather than having Hamauzu take the task all by himself.

Change isn’t always best. Some of the tracks fare well and are brilliantly orchestrated, but most sound like they were converted into a techno music producing program or less appealing audio engineering platform, which subsequently forces the arrangement to lose its original sentimental value. They sound more plastic than organic, subdued than boisterous.

The transition for the most part is unsettling for a gamer who wishes to preserve their nostalgia and at this rate, fans should lay low on the Final Fantasy VII remake requests. Square-Enix has demonstrated time and time again that their re-release of previous games are disappointing and that even some of the slightest changes have the ability to make a die-hard fans really uncomfortable. Considering that the music of Final Fantasy X has undergone hugely questionable changes with this upcoming HD Remaster title, imagining the outcome of any possible remake poses a terrifying future that result from Square-Enix’s creative decisions.

How the musical change will affect the complete performance of the re-release remains to be seen. In the meantime, Square-Enix should greatly consider dropping a “retro” DLC for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster, one that will retains all the original arrangements that long-time FFX fans remember. Until then, fans who anticipate that the revamped arrangements will be the highest selling point in the game will be sorely mistaken.

  • gessekai

    I really hate articles like this. You try to speak for the people, but in reality you’re only speaking for yourself, and it is totally your opinion. Honestly, I don’t remember Square saying that you have to buy FFX-HD, enjoy it, and forget about the old Final Fantasy X.

    FFX-HD is supposed to be a renewal to the old Final Fantasy X, if it doesn’t provide a feeling of renewal to you, it isn’t a remaster, and therefore defeats the purpose entirely. If you want nostalgia, you can play the PS2 version; it’s outdated graphics will give you a lot of nostalgia I’m sure. Now…here is the proper title for this article “SQUARE ALIENATES ME WITH UNSATISFACTORY FINAL FANTASY X|X-2 HD REMASTER MUSIC ARRANGEMENTS”.

  • World_End

    The hell are you saying “doesn’t speak to everyone”? They fucked up the remastered soundtrack YOU IDIOT!!

  • amarai

    I practically NEVER comment on anything, but this whole fanboy cry of an article is just sad, reflecting on the negative comments one might read from, say, NeoGAF. From “the true fans of Final Fantasy”. While I agree that few rearranged tracks could’ve been done better, I think majority of this rearranged OST is good and fits the game. Also saying something like “Square-Enix has demonstrated time and time again that their re-release of previous games are disappointing” is just personal ranting without any factual base.

    People expecting Square-Enix to release a HD remaster that is basically a carbon copy of the original with just updated-everything have the wrong approach from the start. It would make no sense to make an exactly the same game over again. Even if they did, people would complain that it has nothing of value to add compared to the original and when Square-Enix changes something, people complain that it’s not the same as the original. Go figure.

    I get that taste in music is personal and that’s exactly what this nostalgia-ridden blog post does wrong; trying to portray one’s opinion as that of all fans.

  • cldmstrsn

    Very well said gessekai! I actually very much enjoy the new remastered soundtrack. It’s a great piece of work. Having listened to the original since 2001 I can say I am very pleased to get a different take on these pieces and anyone who says it sucks definitely has stoj goggles on. This article does not speak for me at all. Nothing was ruined as the original soundtrack is in tact with the PS2 version so people need to settle down.

  • Potionguy

    All im going to say is i strongly disagree on the battle theme, it sounds very bad, forced, to loud, there is nothing ‘epic’ about horns ..infact the best use of horns are on the background, not the foreground.

    • song

      ^ Agreed.

      “Originally composed by Uematsu, the “Battle Theme” was once a bit ‘too
      soft’ and a tad aggravating given the repetitive occurrence in the game.
      The HD Remaster version lessens that aggravation with the implementation
      of powerfully orchestrated horns and trumpets.”

      And yet, because of the remaster, I couldn’t stand to play this game anymore, all because of the battle music. I ended-up muting the music because the trumpets ARE WAY TOO LOUD to bear after the first few minutes of battle and I could barely hear the characters speaking during battle segments. It had me looking for an option to turn down the music or off completely, but there wasn’t any.

      • EggiTheShadow .

        I agree with you. The remaster’s soundtrack was absolutely horrendous. Seriously.
        I could not stand luca after they took the horn out in the remastered version, it used to be one of my favourite songs and they destroyed it and i barely go through luca cause i was almost killing myself listening to that horrible toned down music and dead end climax
        Via purifico was almost straight from piano collections as well, and it was extremely irritating and no longer elegant i wanted to just mute the game many times because the new soundtrack was killing me.
        All the tracks were toned down at the best parts of the song and had lost their character because of the addition of stupid electric guitars and acoustic only a very few tracks were actually good such as besaid island which matched the quality of the original….really bad job. I’d rather just play the originals again

  • MrMikehunt87 .

    **facepalm**

    there is nothing wrong with the remixed soundtrack, nothing at all…..this is just whinging because it sounds slightly different

    if they replaced everything with dubstep remixes i could see where you are coming from, but cmon lol

    • Josette K

      “Slightly different” ? Not really…
      They should’ve included both OST and let the player decide !

  • Dom Saunders

    How can he say the battle theme was improved in this? I thought it was the worst offender of all the tracks. The fact that I can’t change between the two compositions really pisses me off. It’s way too electronic and has no type of feel the original did.

    If it’s not broke, don’t fix it…

  • Horus SC

    It seems you didn’t hear it out with earphones, right…?
    Or perhaps in PC it just sounds better. It was a wise choice to let you choose between the original scores and the arranged ones (a kind trait in an era that thinks everything must be rearranged).

    As both a musician myself and VGOST collector for more than 15 years, after hearing out more than 50 hours inside the game I changed the options from time to time to set out the differences. Most notably the battle theme, which was always upbeat and great but sounded digitally flat compared with the more recent, remastered version.
    Granted, some songs like Brass de Chocobo are best left out original.

    It is quite ominous to call “lower than sub-par” something I’m sure you cannot even replicate.
    And more than likely, some of the changes made and the lack of certain particular arrangements point out some kind of discrepancies with Uematsu, which it may be biased, but based on a number of reasons (namely “The Prelude”, “Matoya’s Cave”, “Gulug Volcano”, “Battle of the Four Fiends”, “Aerith’s Theme”, “Crazy Motorcycle”, “You Can Hear the Cry of the Plnet”, “Still more fighting” a.k.a. “Those Who Fight Futher”, “JENOVA”, “One-Winged Angel”, “Overworld”, “Liberi Fatali”, “The Man with the Machine Gun”, “Junction”, “Don’t Be Afraid”, “Mods de Chocobo” and many others), let me tell ya, Uematsu IS The Final Fantasy God of Music. The Black Mages prove it, and I believe you ought to listen to that if you think yourself a music-savvy person.

    Die-hard fans should either learn to listen to music or to make their own games themselves.
    They are the ones that want a new game that feels old, and that can’t and won’t happen for reasons beyond this very subjective and dark matter.

    …They’re generally the same people that omitted Final Fantasy IX and XII, both of the best games of their respective eras, as the definitive Final Fantasies anjd outstanding games on their own rights, giving a fair run for their pampered nostalgia idiocy and overratedness* of Final Fantasy X.

    OR, maybe is entitled to their own opinion, since very few people are capable of a neutral analysis of the main aspects on the series.

    I will tell this again: Nobuo Uematsu IS FF God of Music.
    Got that?

  • Amb!

    with a few exceptions Hamauzu mostly only arranged his own composed pieces for this rendition – the Nakano pieces were mostly arranged by Nakano and the Uematsu pieces were mostly arranged by the arranger he usually works with these days, Tsutomu Narita.