Review: NieR Music Concert Blu-ray

The NieR soundtracks have been wildly popular, so it should come as no surprise that the music has enjoyed multiple tours throughout Japan and one-off performances as parts of other game music concerts. This Blu-ray features recorded performances from all seven shows from the 2017 Japan tour, and this is required viewing/listening for any NieR fan.

The performances feature vocalists Emi Evans, J’Nique Nicole, and Marina Kawano, but the unique voice of Nami Nakagawa is absent due to other obligations she had. That made the shows even more interesting thought as Evans and Nicole learned her songs and performed them with a different twist. Essentially every song with vocals was performed at the event, along with a hefty load of vocal drama read on-stage by the actual voice cast. The drama is presented in Japanese, and had members of the audience in tears by the end of it. Those looking only for the music will also be moved by the beautiful renditions of “Peaceful Sleep,” “Vague Hope,” and “Weight of the World,” where the audience is invited to join in. The duet version featuring Evans and Nicole on “Song of the Ancients – Atonement” is a real treat to see, and the child singer on “Pascal” is also super cute. To top it all off, they perform several tracks from the original NieR as an encore, which should leave any NieR fan completely satisfied.

As to the arrangements, there’s a wonderful string quartet along with composer Keigo Hoashi on piano. They have guest guitarists and of course the beautiful vocals. Various electronic elements are played from a source rather than performed live, which is a bit of a bummer, but the performers who are on stage are all top-notch. Keiichi Okabe himself emcees, and is visibly moved by the audience reactions. Having been in the audience for the final show (the default performance when you press “play” on the Blu-ray), I can tell you the level of excitement was through the roof.

Go grab it on CD Japan. The slip case is especially cool as it reflects the game’s Chaos Language depending on how the light hits it, creating a really cool effect. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2017 with Siena Wind Orchestra

We’ve covered a lot of Brass de Bravo, and shortly after Brass de Bravo 3 was released, Square Enix held a live performance at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. This is a Blu-ray recording of the concert, and it’s a riot. I’ve attended and viewed many concerts over the years, but this one looks like it was one to attend. The set list centers closely around the Brass de Bravo 3 album and focuses heavily on Final Fantasy V, VII, and IX, but the quirkiness of the event and fan participation really set it apart, and as such, I’ll focus mostly on the event.

There’s a full wind orchestra that is heavy on clarinets and saxophone, although other interesting instruments are featured, including the ephemera and more. I was lucky enough to watch alongside a saxophone player who was able to comment on the instruments while we watched. The event is emceed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu himself alongside Mami Yamashita. Uematsu has a great time and even performs on a few of the tracks. The fun begins with “Moogle Theme,” which opens with a man dressed in a moogle towel explaining rhythmic clapping and dance moves that the audience needs to perform along with the song. The moogle man is ousted by a pancho and sombrero-wearing man who takes the audience through even more ridiculous dance moves. The audience complies, which is a lot of enjoyable silliness to watch. During the Final Fantasy main theme, the audience is invited to play along with their own recorders, creating a pretty amazing sound as dozens of audience members join the orchestra. The second half sports some smaller ensembles, including a swingin’ “Dear Friends,” an intimate “Elia, Maiden of Water,” and a fun “Vamo’alla Flamenco,” complete with traditional Spanish tap dancing with the percussion section gripping roses between their teeth. They let the audience pick the final track, which was surprisingly “Festival of the Hunt” from Final Fantasy IX instead of “Battle on the Big Bridge.” The encore was another audience participation track: “Mambo de Chocobo.” This time, everyone who wanted to participate came up on stage with a variety of instruments… lots of shakers, a plastic trombone, a melodica running through a laptop, and more. It was completely wild and looked like a blast.

While the arrangements on some of these are straightforward, this concert footage is downright fun. If you’ve enjoyed any game music concerts on video, this is definitely one to get. Invite some friends over, have some drinks, and get ready for some laughs!

Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Final Fantasy Record Keeper Original Soundtrack vol. 2

Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a nice treat for fans of the series, and while the first soundtrack volume was fairly straightforward, there’s a little more depth to this release. Spanning two discs and including massive medleys, there’s certainly a lot of music to dig into.

The album opens with a grand and regal version of the Final Fantasy fanfare worked into the main theme, which is a refreshing take on both tracks. There’s a frightening “Kefka’s Theme” including sound effects and bombastic orchestra, a beautiful “Aria di Mezzo Carattere” with bells and a capella vocals that offers up a lullaby-esque spin on the track includes some Christmas cheer with “Joy to the World” worked in. There’s synth rock with rock organ and a unique upbeat reference to Aerith’s theme in “Still More Fighting,” and a wonderful overworld medley with  an alternative rock version of Final Fantasy IV, a sweet pop version of Final Fantasy IX,  and the rarely covered “Unknown Lands” from Final Fantasy V which I greatly appreciated. “Eiko’s Theme” from Final Fantasy IX gets a bouncy electronic remix, “UTAKATA” from Type-0 is a mix of flamenco and female vocal pop, and “Contest of Aeons” is a creative blend of boss music and the hymn from Final Fantasy X. “The Crystal Tower” from Final Fantasy III gets an adventurous arrangement that is intense and emotional,  whereas “Etro’s Champion” is an ethereal and cool medley from Final Fantasy XIII. “Hammerhead” from Final Fantasy XV gets a dancey synth/chip version, and “Chaos Temple” also goes electronic with bumpin’ bass and classy piano. There’s an 18-minute-long battle medley with a rock/orchestral spin on battle themes from each game in the series, an epic 25-minute-long 30th anniversary melody that includes lovely guitar on “Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II, a folksy take on “Searching for Friends” from Final Fantasy VI, an explosive Hollywood action version of “Man with the Machine Gun” from Final Fantasy VIII, and a nice woodwind version of “You Are Not Alone” from Final Fantasy IX. The closer is a track from the Square Enix internal jazz band, Nanaa Mihgo, titled “Journey of Memory,” a funky and upbeat jazz pop track.

In all, this is a much stronger collection of music than was offered with the first volume, and contains a lot of material that fans of the series will want to hear. You can grab it on CD Japan.

Review: Distant Worlds IV: more music from Final Fantasy

We’ve written about Distant Worlds quite often, and here we are with another collection of Final Fantasy music with Distant Worlds IV. There’s a track from just about every game in the series, most of which are arrangements that have appeared on other albums in the past.

Starting sequentially from the beginning, there’s Final Fantasy III’s “Legend of the Eternal Wind,” which is measured and determined and takes on a more somber tone towards the end with a rendition of “The Prelude” on harp. Final Fantasy IV’s “Battle with the Four Fiends” is ominous and tense, incorporating hand percussion, tumultuous woodwinds, and regal brass with some great rhythmic variation. Final Fantasy V’s main theme is upbeat and lighthearted with woodwinds and triangles, and majestic at times with the inclusion of brass. Final Fantasy VI gets the mysterious pizzicato-laden “Phantom Forest,” and Final Fantasy VII’s “JENOVA COMPLETE” is featured, starting low and exploding with rolling percussion and powerful brass. Also included is Final Fantasy VII’s “Cosmo Canyon,” which is accented with its tribal percussion, its memorable woodwind melody, and emotional string swells. “The Oath” from Final Fantasy VIII is resolute and stirring, Final Fantasy IX gets the rambunctious “Festival of the Hunt,” and Final Fantasy XII’s “The Dalmasca Eastersand” gets sweeping strings and rolling snares in a playful arrangement. Final Fantasy XIII’s “Fang’s Theme” is adventurous and energetic, retaining Hamauzu’s strong piano backing, while Final Fantasy XIV gets the bombastic “Dragonsong” with Susan Calloway’s beautiful vocal work and the amazing take on the Final Fantasy prelude, “Torn from the Heavens.” There are two Final Fantasy XV tracks, including “Apocalypsis Noctis,” which is rather straightforward and true to the original, and “Somnus,” with its heartrenching piano, strings, and blend of regal and desperate moods.

In all, this is another strong collection of orchestral music from the Final Fantasy series. Many of the arrangements can be heard elsewhere, but it’s nice to have them compiled here in a nice, tidy package. The album is available from multiple sources, from Bandcamp to imports from Japan.

Review: THE FAR EDGE OF FATE: FINAL FANTASY XIV Original Soundtrack

We’ve covered a lot of Final Fantasy XIV music here over the years. Each release adds a mountain of new music to the game, and as always, it’s very high quality stuff courtesy of composer Masayoshi Soken. THE FAR EDGE OF FATE comes packed on a Blu-ray disc with tagged MP3 files of the album’s 50 new tracks included. There are also many references to unexpected pieces through Final Fantasy’s storied past that series fans will enjoy.

I can’t touch on all 50 tracks, but some of my favorites include “Down the Up Staircase” withs its sweet harpsichord and swaying strings, “Dancing Calcabrina” from Final Fantasy IV with deep acoustic bass and circus-like synth work, and “Metal – Brute Justice Mode” which comes as a super hero rock/orchestral track with big brass and robotic vocals. There’s the militaristic and decisive march, “Faith in her Fury,” a reprise of the Heavensward theme with the epic and huge “Revenge of the Horde,” and the dreamy trance track “Blackbosom.” The jingly-jangly “No Sound, No Scutter” adds metallic percussion and kazoo to the mix, “The Kiss” is playful with its toy percussion and sweet woodwinds and pizzicato strings, and “Starved” brings grunge rock with electronic whirs in a very cool combination. “The Ancient City” is a somber piano concerto, “Holy Consult” sounds channels its inner Western flick, and “Teardrops in the Rain” sports constant movement and mystery with Final Fantasy IX references. The throwbacks continue with the ominous organ track, “Promises” and “Shadow of the Body,” both of which draw from Final Fantasy IX, and “Battle tot he Death,” a new spin on the Atma weapon battle from Final Fantasy VI. “Rise” sounds like something out of The World Ends With You with its male rapping and hip hop sounds, while “Penultimania” features a dizzying rolling chip line with spacious strings. The album closes with the James Bond-esque “Scale and Steel” with big strings and brass and a heavy sense of intrigue.

In all, Soken does another wonderful job. I’ll be looking forward to his next release. THE FAR EDGE OF FATE available on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Piano Collections Final Fantasy XV: Moonlit Melodies

For every fantasy, there must be a piano collections album. Final Fantasy XV kind of got two, a mini album that was distributed with the limited edition of the original soundtrack, and this standalone disc featuring ten key tracks from the game done up in solo piano style. I particularly enjoy the artsy track titles.

The album opens with the somber “Dreaming of Dawn -Somnus-,” which is slow, deliberate, and emotional, capturing the spirit of the original and acting as a perfect theme for the game. The popular “Waltzing Among Moonbeams -Valse di Fantastica-” is an elegant, upbeat, and full arrangement that takes a more energetic and adventurous direction towards the end. The battle theme, “Illusions of the Morn -Stand Your Ground-,” also gets a full arrangement with lots of variety, including a nice section where the bass drops out creating a neat effect and some nice “Prelude” runs. Another battle theme, and a personal favorite, “Veiled in Black,” is much more ominous than the original and features some beautiful runs and fluttering notes over the top of the main melody that are a nice touch. The swashbuckling “APOCALYPSIS NOCTIC” also nails the vibe of the original track (defiant, epic) with just a piano, which is a remarkable feat given the energy of the original track.

It’s short, but sweet. The album comes packaged with a nice slipcase, too. The album’s available on the Square Enix North American eShop.

Review: NieR: Automata Arranged & Unreleased Tracks

Fans were rightfully excited to see the announcement of a two-disc arrangement and unreleased tracks album for the award-winning NieR: Automata soundtrack. The first disc of the set includes the arranged tracks, while the second hosts the unreleased tracks.

While many of the arrangers aren’t well-known names, the arrangements themselves are fantastic. There’s the glitchy EDM-style “City Ruins” by AJURIKA which is lively but still chill, a soothing acoustic guitar take on “Peaceful Sleep” by Cheng Bi Meets Masato Ishinari, and a mellow and more mysterious re-recorded version of “Amusement Park” by arai tasuku feat. momocashew. “End of the Unknown” by ATOLS gets epic orchestral and then electronic synths in a spacey and cool arrangement, “Pascal” by Ryu Kawamura takes on a completely different vibe with its trippy synths and jazz breakdown, and “Copied City” by LITE is an acoustic rock version that I found highly enjoyable. There’s live pipe organ for “Mourning,” wonderful strings and accordion with a folksy vibe for “Song of the Ancients” by Jun Hayakawa with Atsuki Yoshida (EMO Quartet), and my favorite track, “Emil” by Morrigan & Lily with female vocal harmonies blended into a choir and an epic orchestral backing, reminding a bit of E.S. Posthumus. Rounding out the arrangements are an interesting blend of shamisen, brass, and flamenco guitar for “Alien Manifestation” and a gentle male vocal pop version of “Weight of the World.”

I think most fans will be disappointed with the unreleased tracks as they’re mainly robot voice snippets placed over existing songs from the soundtrack, including “This cannot continue” to “Birth of a Wish.” The biggest standout is the CEO duet of “Birth of a Wish,” which is masterfully done. Sato and Matsuda voice snippets are placed rhythmically into the track, creating a lot of fun and laughs.

Don’t let the obscurity of the arrangers or the lack of true unreleased tracks keep you away, though. The arrangements are quite excellent, especially “Copied City,” “Mourning,” and “Emil.” You can pick it up on CD Japan if you’re interested!

Unboxing: NieR: Automata / NieR Gestalt & Replicant Original Soundtrack Vinyl Box Set

NieR is some of the greatest game music of all time. So fans were rightfully excited that Square Enix was releasing the soundtracks in vinyl format. There are two releases, one for NieR Gestalt & Replicant, and one for NieR: Automata. Then there’s the combination box set which we got our hands on here. The packaging is as exquisite as the music, so fans will want to keep an eye out on the Square Enix North American merchandise store and sign up for the waiting list on these. The box set is reasonably priced at $79.99 with the individual releases coming in at $42.99.

Box Set (Waiting List)
Gestalt & Replicant (Available)
Automata (Waiting List)

Review: Kingdom Hearts Concert -First Breath- Album

Square Enix has taken the Kingdom Hearts series on tour, and this release represents the first collection of music made widely-available from said tour. A lot of fans have been greatly looking forward to this release, and as expected, they hit a lot of the highlights from across the series.

The album opens with “Destati” with its slow and intense buildup with lots of tension and energy in the brass and percussion sections. The beautiful “Dearly Beloved” gets a slow and measured version with doubled-up piano and harp and an offset xylophone that gives the arrangement a nice twinkle. “Traverse Town” is sleepy and slow, giving way to a nice jazz arrangement, while the rambunctious “Hand in Hand” features rolling snares and a marching band-esque approach. “Journey of KINGDOM HEARTS” offers a little of everything as a medley of locales that touches on tropical, jazz, and spooky. The slow sway of “Lazy Afternoons” is simply perfect, while “The Other Promise” is sometimes somber and other times foreboding, “Another Side” gets tense piano and woodwinds before rock percussion explodes onto the scene, and “Gearing Up” is made regal with big brass added to its playful and bouncy melody. “Destiny’s Union” is slow and dreamy with a doubled-up piano and harp and a flute lead, “The Unknown” is tense with low xylophone notes and steady brass stabs, “The Power of Darkness” gets big brass and percussion and cool triangle and chime work. Finally, “March Caprise for Piano & Strings” is a triumphant and bombastic march.

In all, this might be the definitive way to enjoy the music of Kingdom Hearts! The packaging is also quite nice, coming in a glossy cardboard sleeve. Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy -Arcade- Original Soundtrack vol. 2

Dissidia Final Fantasy -Arcade- is back with more arrangements of Final Fantasy tunes from Takeharu Ishimoto. We thought the first volume offered a nice compilation of Final Fantasy battle music, even if the arrangements were somewhat straightforward, and that doesn’t change much with Volume 2.

After a dreamy orchestral/rock version of “The Prelude,” the opening track, “Title,” brings back the Dissidia main theme with big choir and orchestra. It’s then on to Final Fantasy arrangements with an uplifting ska-flavored take on the overworld theme from the original Final Fantasy and an orchestral/metal take on the Final Fantasy II overworld. “Crystal Tower” from Final Fantasy III gets into more ska territory, while “Within the Giant” from Final Fantasy IV gets thumping bass and dreamy guitars and synths. “Final Battle” from Final Fantasy X pairs Hamauzu-style piano with rock elements, while “Fighters of the Crystal” from Final Fantasy XI offers a nice blend or orchestral and rock that feels laid back despite the instrumentation. “Struggle for Freedom” from Final Fantasy XII also offers a measured rock/orchestral arrangement, while “Boss Battle” brings in glitchy electronic elements and rock to the original with a nice uplifting gallup. “Ultima” from Final Fantasy XIV gets a nice Celtic rock spin with some really driving metal moments, while “Servant of the Crystal” from Final Fantasy Type-0 gets female choral singing of the main theme with some excellent electric guitar work. Final Fantasy Tactics gets a metal version of the ominous battle theme, “Battle on the Bridge,” a bumpin’ dance version of “Unit Selection,” and a dance-y electronic/folk spin on “Ultema.”

It’s certainly a mixed bag, but there are some cool arrangements among the two discs of music featured. Grab the album on CD Japan if you’d like!