Thoughts about Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption

OverClocked ReMix recently released another Album, this time remixing the entire Final Fantasy 4 Soundtrack, called Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption. This is not their first Final Fantasy ReMix Album, as they already did one for Final Fantasy 7, called Voices of the Lifestream.

The FF7 one had some great music, but they kept the original structure 1:1, which means it was at times somewhat incoherent and had a wild mix of styles. Off-Topic: Scenes from a memory is my favorite on that Album.

With the FF4 Soundtrack, they decided to re-arrange the tracks to make it more like an opera/musical, which for the most part works fine. The soundtrack fits nicely with the Story of Cecil. Overall, the Album is a lot more homogeneous than FF7, even though it still mixes a lot of styles, artists and elements.

Now, let me start with the bad, just to get that out of the way. Let me also say that this is not meant as destructive criticism as I respect the artists and their work, and I recognize that taste differs between people. That being said, Act 2-02 Metal Mage (Palom and Porom) is the absolute low point of this album. The Music is actually quite good, but when that boy shouts “Come on people, I want Metal!” I just had the urgent desire to /facepalm as hard as possible. Also, some of the songs feel somewhat lacking, for example Act 3-07 Evoking the Dawn. It’s a beautiful piano piece, but for it’s 4:20 length it’s missing some variety in the middle. Same goes for Act 3-09 The Still Land or Act 1-08 Emerald Beauty – beautiful songs, but a bit too long. Of course, they had to stay true to the source material so this is hardly their fault, but maybe a bit more “extreme” remixing would have been a good idea.

The really memorable tracks on the Album are of course the ones with vocals, but also some others. Act 1-15 Fighting for Tomorrow boasts a choir of monks together with rock music but also some arabian influences – I think I can call this piece “Rock Opera” without second thoughts. Another interesting track is Act 2-06 Rhymes with Elixir, which is a Hip-Hop/Rap track, completely with Shiva doing some smack talking. I’m not a big fan of Rap-Music, but the song is well done.

One of the great non-vocal tracks is Act 1-14 Golbez ‘N Goblins, which is in bLiNd’s usual techno-style (that often produces great tracks, but also some big misses) but manages to build up an atmosphere. Similarly, Act 3-13 Facing is great for an Epilogue.

Oh, and then there is Act 3-11 and 3-12, aka. Finale. The atmosphere is so great in these, especially with the female voice in 3-11 sounding so distant and somewhat surreal – that builds up suspense like in a horror movie (Or imagine the first Silent Hill game). In 3-12, that evolves into a dialog between the female and a male voice. I’m just not 100% sure about the growls by the male voice though. The tracks can certainly work as a Black Metal piece, but I’m not sure if the singer is really up to what it takes to make growls sound good and work together with the music. I think it’s a bit silly at times.

Overall, I really like the Album. It’s good tracks are really good and it’s bad tracks are still “Okay”, it’s in spirit of Uematsu’s original work but something unique and new.

A few thoughts about my Asus eeePC 1000HE

When I got my first Laptop in 2002, I was impressed with its size and battery running time – it was the Late 2001 Apple iBook with a 600 MHz G3 Processor and incredible 640 MB of RAM, bought at a time where Wintel Laptops were usually fitted with the Pentium 4 Processor. My next Laptop was a gift by my former company in December 2004, an ACER Aspire 1360 WLMi. Oh my, what a gigantic piece of crap. Well, actually it wasn’t that bad, but the 1.6 GHz Sempron was a desktop CPU, meaning that it drained 83 Watts. Needless to say, the Laptop was heavy, hot/loud and had a battery running time of 90 Minutes. It’s bigger, heavier and of much worse product quality than my old iBook and I never liked it. But at least it was free and served me well for 2 or so years. But I wanted something else. I wanted something portable, something that does not require an entire backpack for it and the power brick, something that is just more like a Laptop again. So in December 2008, I bought a Packard Bell Easynote BP45. A 1.86 GHz Pentium Dual Core, Intel X3100 Graphics for a 12″ 1280×800 LCD, 2 Gigs of RAM and Vista Basic – not too shiny, but exactly what I need. Well, almost. I wasn’t checking the battery life and naturally expecting that the small notebooks have a long runtime. Bad mistake. The battery life is about 2 hours, and so I found the Laptop mostly unused when I was away.

So at some point I decided that I need a new one again. I wanted something mainly for writing using Celtx, but also for some lightweight Visual Studio development. Asus introduced the eeePC line two years ago, and I thought that Netbooks were generally long running and dirt cheap. Boy, I was so wrong. When looking around, I saw that the usual Battery Life is about 3 hours on the Intel Atom-powered machines. Also, I saw that the prices are more around the 400 to 500 € range now. Seriously, who on earth is so stupid to buy a 500 € Netbook that only runs 3 hours? I can get a proper Laptop for that price already, with the same run time, but that’s about 4 times faster… After bitching about the sad state of Netbooks on Twitter, Jameel Haffejee (@stalkerh) mentioned the Lenovo Ideapad S10, which looked like a clear winner. The price was a bit over my budget (I wanted to pay 249 € maximum, but this one was at least 289 €), but getting a long battery run time under 300 € seems impossible. So I went to my local shopping mall to look at their offers (I hate ordering computer parts online, I prefer to pick them up somewhere) and they indeed had an S10. I was impressed by its build quality. Seriously, this is a true Lenovo Notebook and you can clearly see it’s IBM Thinkpad heritage. It’s sturdy and just “feels” right. Okay, only 2 USB Ports vs. 3 on most other models, but it even has an Express Card Slot (34mm). The only problem: It was only the 3-cell Model, which means that the battery life is not good. Hunting a bit more, it seems that the 6-cell model is not easy to get in Europe, and certainly not in my area. So what to do? I decided to look around at the other offers. The salesman shows me some Acer Aspire with 6 cell battery, but I’m not going to buy any Acer Notebooks anymore due to poor support. Also, I found that the manufacturing quality was low – it just did not feel good.

Finally, I stopped at the ASUS eeePC 1000HE. Priced at 349 €, it was way over Budget. But first, I liked the build quality (not as good as the Lenovo S10 which is a class of its own, but still very sturdy) and the fact that the battery is properly integrated into the case – the laptop was really built around the battery, so it’s a consistent and nice design. Also, the battery run time is really high. Asus advertises 9.5 hours, which is unlikely but may be possible by turning everything off and brightness to minimum. But even when working normally, 6 hours are easily achievable. It also comes with the Atom N280 instead of the usual N270 processor, although the speed increase is marginal (reviews say ~4 %). Sadly, it still has the 945GSE instead of the new GN40 chipset. It also comes with Bluetooth and WLAN, which is always nice to have.

So, what is my impression of it? Let me first start with some negative points: It’s Heavy. Yes, Heavy with a capital H. The data sheet says it’s 1.6 Kilograms, and it certainly feels like it. Nothing that you would hold in one hand while standing and working on it with the other hand. Then, 1024×600 is not a nice resolution to work with. That’s an issue almost all Netbooks have, ones with higher resolutions are only just coming and too expensive. I mean, the resolution is fine to browse the web without too much scrolling and it’s even possible to use Visual Studio by setting all bars to Auto-Hide, but it’s still clearly only a second PC. Then, the Atom is slow. Well, not really so. See, the Netbook comes with Windows XP, an operating system first released in 2001. I remember running Windows XP on a Pentium III 800 MHz with 256 MB RAM, and it worked fine. The Atom is generally thought to be about as fast as a Pentium-M between 800 and 1000 MHz, so XP is a good fit. But even with Hyper Threading, it’s still a considerable speed difference even to my Late-2004 1.6 GHz AMD Sempron.

But all of this is expected off a Netbook. It is not there to replace my PC, it’s there to be a companion on the road. And on the road, the 1000HE shines. As said, the battery running time leaves nothing to be desired. Running WinXP, SQL Server 2008 Express and Visual Studio, 6 or 7 hours are certainly possible. Then, the keyboard is (mostly) great. The chiclet keyboard comes with mostly normal size keys (I think Asus says it’s 92% size), but they also feel really good as they give proper feedback. The only thing I still have to get used to is the right-hand Shift and the Down/Right Cursor. See, the shift key is not the right-most key, as that is a second Fn-Key – adding a second Fn-Key is a great idea, but naturally I aim for the right-most key when I want to press shift. Also, I find myself pressing the right instead of the down cursor most of the times, but that’s because the cursor keys are actually bigger on the 1000HE than on most real laptops I’ve used. Another thing that Asus got right is that the power supply is reasonably small. It’s still a brick, but a very small one, so you don’t need an extra suitcase to transport it. It even fits the free carry bag that comes with the Netbook.

Overall, I am very happy with this purchase. It fills a niche that I’m trying to fill ever since I replaced my old iBook. It’s not meant to replace my PC, but it finally gives me the ability to work on stuff while not at home and not near a power source. It does run Visual Studio 2008, although if you use ReSharper (who doesn’t?), you may want to tweak some settings. It does not run World of Warcraft, but some older games work. I was not too impressed with Windows 7 on it, but that could be because I left it at 1 GB RAM.