Cool Things: Balance and Ruin

Video games are considered a lot of things these days but an art form is rarely one of them. That’s too bad, since there are several aspects of them that require very careful craftsmanship to be done right and it’s the mastery of craft under difficult conditions to communicate our thoughts that creates great art. One of the aspects of video games that’s seen the most forceful realization of this principle is the creation of music for them.

In the early days, when Nintendo was making the first installments of it’s well known Mario and Zelda franchises the technology available could only really create a single tone at a time. To create music that would really inspire the sense of adventure and fun that went with those early games the composers probably spent days writing simple, powerful melodies one note at a time that would go on to define a generation. Don’t believe me? Listen to the theme from Mario 1-1.

Now find a person between the age of fifteen and forty. Whistle the first three notes of that tune and at least two thirds of those people will not only join you by the third note but go on to complete the entire tune. The music was that strong, that memorable, that good.

Now Mario is a cultural touchstone, his face is almost synonymous with video games and it’s no surprise that his tunes would be well known, too. There are plenty of other examples of video game music as art, rather than just part of commercialized escapism. The influence just isn’t as widely felt.

One of the key things that sets great art apart is that it inspires. By this standard some people might argue that video game music falls short. They will suggest that the music behind a mindless diversion can’t possibly serve to inspire others to create. To these people I offer one small glimpse of just how far down the rabbit hole goes.

The name is Balance and Ruin.

It’s a seventy four track album of music assembled by the OverClocked Remix community and inspired by Final Fantasy Six.

OC Remix is a community devoted to exploring video game music as an art form and most of their work are remixes, reimaginings of old music through new technology or stylistic choices. Several people in the OC Remix community have gone on to work as professional musicians. Their tributes to game music is more than derivative – in fact, a panel of community judges must approve each piece of music not only for artistic and musical quality but originality – and it shows a creativity that is always impressive and sometimes breathtaking.

It’s very, very hard to adequately describe music with text and explaining how all those tunes fit in to the massive, multilayered story that makes up FF6 is way beyond the scope of a single post. So I’ve decided to let the music speak for itself, since the OC Remix community has made their work available for free. I’ve picked three tracks from Balance and Ruin that show how the music has really inspired the creation of solid art.

First, Ascension of a Madman, based on the anthem of the game’s villain.

You can just feel the insanity bursting out, right? Here’s something a little more upbeat to help settle down those brainwaves. Don’t ask why it’s called Train Suplex. It would take too long to explain.

So those two tracks are peppy and fairly fast paced. But one of the most famous, most artistic moments in FF6 is the opera sequence. You understand what I mean if you’ve played it and if you haven’t, well, my explaining it won’t help you. So I’ll let Jillian Aversa try it for me. Seriously, if you can listen to this and not hear art you have no soul and should spend more time getting that fixed and less time talking about what is or is not art.

If you’re interested in finding and listening to the whole album the OC Remix community page for it is here: http://ocremix.org/album/46/final-fantasy-vi-balance-and-ruin

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