Review: Final Symphony music from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X

Final Symphony represents one of the most ambitious undertakings Thomas Boecker and Merregnon Studios have attempted to date. While their “Symphonic” series has been a smashing success, with productions dedicated to the works of Chris Huelsbeck (Symphonic Shades), Nobuo Uematsu (Symphonic Odysseys), Square Enix (Symphonic Fantasies), and others, Final Symphony brings together an assortment of Final Fantasy titles and presents them in a grand classical tradition. Prepare to hear your favorite “tunes” from the Final Fantasy series elevated to a new level with expert arrangements by the team at Merregnon Studios (Roger Wanamo and Jonne Valtonen) and by Masashi Hamauzu himself.

After an original playful opener, “A Circle Within a Circle Within a Circle,” the album launches into an epic 18-minute suite from Final Fantasy VI titled “Born with the Gift of Magic,” which opts for a narrative angle by telling the tale of Terra and her conflict with the empire, her past, and with the tyrant Kefka. There’s a lot of turmoil embedded in the music, and my favorite moment is the mysterious take on “Another World of Beasts.” There’s a piano concerto arranged by Hamauzu that masterfully combines various themes from the game into a coherent musical experience, and a three movement symphony dedicated to Final Fantasy VII that also adopts a narrative format, focusing on Sephiroth, Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and the epic showdown between them. A few pieces are shorter in length, including “Suteki da ne” from Final Fantasy X, “Continue?” from Final Fantasy VII, and a clever “Fight, Fight, Fight!” which sports battle themes from across all three titles presented in a unique way as they battle with one another to be heard.

The release comes housed on a Blu-ray disc which can be watched in a Blu-ray player, showing off photos from the recording sessions while you listen to the sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-intense performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. The MP3s are also housed on the disc, so you can take the music with you on the go. The included booklet is written in Japanese and English, and includes bios for all of the artists as well as a wonderfully-written listener’s guide that explains the creative decisions that went into the music, allowing the casual listener like myself to understand what’s being represented by the various musical passages.

I referred to the original scores as “tunes” at the start of this review because this presentation is so steeped in the classical tradition that it makes the source material sound almost like child’s play. That’s not to say it’s without merit, as nothing can top the nostalgia provided by the original sound source, but if you ever want to impress your classically-trained music friends with what game music can be as heard through the lens of true classical music, show them Final Symphony. It feels like the adult way to enjoy Final Fantasy music.

Final Symphony is out in September and can be pre-ordered from CD Japan.

Review: Compi de Chocobo

Square Enix put out a neat little compilation album of chocobo themes a few years ago at the Tokyo Game Show. Spanning two CDs, the album includes nearly every iteration of the chocobo theme from Final Fantasy II through XIV in addition to selections from Seiken Densetsu, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Final Fantasy spin-off titles, Final Fantasy remakes, and even a few from arrangement albums. Meant to serve mainly as a reference album to pick out your desired chocobo theme, I can’t say this album is so enjoyable when listening to it from start to finish, but I think most will be impressed with the breadth of chocobo arrangements that have been created over the years.

I’ll call out a few of my favorites, including the surfer rock “Electric de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy VII, the rockin’ “Mods de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy VIII, the soothing “Ukelele de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy IX, the big band “Brass de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy X, the smooth and funky “Circuit de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy XI, the Sakimoto-flavored orchestral chocobo themes from Final Fantasy XII, ┬áthe hardcore metal “Crazy Chocobo” from Final Fantasy XIII-2, the dreamy and laid back “Chocobo!” from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, and the countless brilliant ways they’re able to work the theme into the various Chocobo games, with music box, Christmas, and even battle arrangements that are all fantastic. There’s also a hidden “wark!” sound effect at the end.

This is really a wonderful collection that shows off just how creative so many composers have been with reworking this iconic theme. The packaging is spot on, too, with some custom artwork and a nice color scheme throughout. It’s unfortunate that the collection will quickly become obsolete as new chocobo tunes are released, but it’s a great reference in any event!