Review: SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS

Back in 2019, Square Enix kicked off what now looks to be a series with SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS. What’s most remarkable is that the album features arrangements from games that are not often covered, including many from the Game Boy and Super Nintendo eras. It features a small ensemble of strings, piano, guitar, and hand percussion, all packaged with a stylish cover and booklet with extensive credits and commentary for each track in Japanese.

The album opens with the measured “Legend of the Mermaids” from Romancing SaGa 2 before an intense string quartet version of “The Decisive Battle” and “Kefka” from Final Fantasy VI. “Nuclear Fusion” from Seiken Densetsu III gets an alternating romantic/energetic arrangement while “Into the Thick of It” from Secret of Mana gets a dreamy and fantastical cover. The string quartet returns for “Battle with Magus” from Chrono Trigger with an added tinge of tragedy, “The Dawn Warriors” from Final Fantasy V gets flamenco-style guitar and percussion, and “The Farenheit’s Theme Part 2” from Bahamut Lagoon is dynamic with contemplative and adventurous segments. “WARM” from LIVE-A-LIVE captures this track’s sweetness with pizzicato strings and woodwinds, “Palom & Parom” from Final Fantasy IV goes classical with strings and piano, and “The Talon” from SaGa III is a tragic and tense spin on the game’s battle theme composed by one of my all-time favorite composers, Ryuji Sasai. Closing things out is the iconic “Opening Title” from the original Romancing SaGa which is sweet, riveting, and playful, and “Devil Lord Confrontation I” from Romancing SaGa 3 with big piano, guitar, bass, and percussion, ending things with a bang.

Since the release of this album, Square Enix has released a volume dedicated to the Final Fantasy VII Remake as well. Hopefully this will be a lot-running series with more love given to music from Square Enix’s catalog we don’t get to hear often. The album can be purchased from the Square Enix North America store.

RXN -RAIJIN- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1156)

SuperSweep Records released the soundtrack to the Nintendo Switch anime-flavored shmup RXN -RAIJIN- back in 2018 featuring music mostly by Raito with a main theme by Yuzo Koshiro and remixes by the SuperSweep team. The album features hip and minimalistic electronic music for the most part with Koshiro’s catchy vocal rock track with big band jazz elements to kick things off. The score sports everything from shredding electric guitars and cool piano to funky bass and exotic didgeridoo. There’s lots of shmup-appropriate drum ‘n’ bass, but also rock and even an orchestral fanfare. The second disc includes extended mixes of most of the tracks as well as two remixes by SuperSweep. The packaging features a giant booklet full of credits and interviews in Japanese as well as artwork and a nice cardboard slipcase.

RXN -RAIJIN- is available from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- (SRIN-1169)

Like SuperSweep? Like rave music? SuperSweep’s Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- is an album of original electronic music by SuperSweep and friends. While it’s all original music, it’s not to unlike their electronic game soundtracks. It all begins with pumping trance in the title track, “BLASTRAVE,” before the catchy “Blast the 90’s” jumps in with dance-y piano, poppy synth work, and English pop vocals. Next up is the explosive “Tear It,” the dreamy electronic-rock mix “Over Power” with some incredible guitar solos, and the bubbly “Start Running” with Japanese pop vocals. “Enter the Rave” combines pounding drum ‘n’ bass with vocal pop segments, “Kick Harassment” goes hardcore, and “Blast Off” gets a glittery and adventure-infused sound. There’s the glitchy “Back to the 90s,” the exotic rhythmic excursion “Barking night” by Shinji Hosoe himself, the dreamy and warm “Summer Line #GadgetSwitch” by Nobuyoshi Sano, and a very unsettling hardcore track titled “Gemini” with weird distressing spoken segments, pumping bass, and screeching synths. The album closes with the catchy trance tune, “BLASTRAVE 2020,” by Ayako Saso. The second disc includes a non-stop megamix of the album.

It’s great to see SuperSweep publishing some of their original works, and inviting friends both known and lesser-known to the party. If you’re looking for a hip electronic music album, you can import Blastrave Compilation -Burst Rave- on CD Japan.

Review: SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY VII-

Square Enix continues its most excellent jazz album series with a volume dedicated to Final Fantasy VII, which came just in time for the remake. It’s a classy way to relive many of the original’s most memorable melodies. The album starts with an uplifting “Opening” before a swanky and… explosive “Bombing Mission” kicks in with guitar and sax and plenty of solos. “Shinra Inc.” gets cool piano chords and bass, gritty distorted guitars, and a flurry of flute solos, while the sweet and smooth “Aerith” gets some contemplative sax across a poppy arrangement. There’s the swaying “On Our Way,” the bouncy “The Chase” with its dance-y piano work, and big brass and organ in the playful “Cait Sith.” Fan-favorite “Fight On” is piano heavy with funky bass, side sticks, and big brass, and obligatory guitar solo, while “Tifa’s Theme” is appropriately whimsical and floaty with beautiful interplay between saxophone and trumpet. The “JENOVA” arrangement is a bit of a surprise with its sweet piano work, “Cosmo Canyon” sports wailing electric guitar and gets its funk on with some unexpected excursions, and “One-Winged Angel” gets a faithful-yet-fun version with walking bass and extensive brass work. The final track, “Main Theme of FINFAL FANTASY VII” offers a smooth and warm ending to an excellent album, complete with many parting solos.

In addition to the excellent arrangements, the album comes housed in a thick cardboard jacket that opens just like a vinyl, and the CD is event printed to look like a vinyl. The booklet is thick with commentary in both English and Japanese explaining the arrangers’ takes and discussions about jazz, which is a real treat. I actually owned this album digitally before reviewing the physical edition, but I must say the physical edition has a lot to offer. While the Square Enix North America store doesn’t offer this particular version of the album, they do have the live recording released in September, and I recommend checking it out. If you want the original release that I’ve described, you can import it on CD Japan.

Piramirise (SRIN-1163)

SuperSweep Records is always full of surprises. These usually come in the form of long-lost videogame soundtracks released for the first time, but this time, it comes in the form of an original Japanese pop/rock album with SuperSweep artists on production duties recorded at MONACA STUDIO, home of the team behind the soundtrack of NieR. It’s quite a combination, although the album is strictly pop music.

Piramirise serves up a variety of styles, from the jubilant rock anthem, “JUMP!” and the hip foot-tapper, “For the Future,” to the sweet and bouncy “Dead or futarikiri” and the funky and uplifting “Flying High!” There’s the sweet “Maybe Maybee Maybe,” a beautiful acoustic guitar and piano ballad in “Kanji,” and the incredibly futuristic and cool “Secrets makes shapes of life.” EDM makes an appearance in “Ageha” and “Perfect Place,” whereas “Sainposuto” takes a turn for the dramatic, and “Emotion” closes things out with a sweeping string and brass arrangement.

There’s something here for everyone, and it’s a lot of fun to see SuperSweep artists take a crack at various pop styles. This is a rather unusual release from SuperSweep as it doesn’t feature any videogame music, but fans of the SuperSweep team may want to give it a spin. The album can be imported via CD Japan.

Review: Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-

Square Enix released an interesting album on vinyl dedicated to Final Fantasy III with the subtitle Four Souls. It features four new arrangements from the game and their original sound version counterparts on an A and B side, respectively, exclusively on vinyl. Fortunately the vinyl comes with an MP3 download as well. The four tracks include a lovely acoustic pop version of the overworld theme, “Eternal Wind,” with harmonica, xylophone, and acoustic guitar, a beautiful solo harp arrangement of “Elia, The Maiden of Water,” a spunky acoustic take on “Battle 2” which is really well done, and a grandiose piano arrangement of “The Crystal Tower.” It’s a nice collection of remixes of four key themes from the game. Find an unboxing video below after the jump.

If you want to pick up Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-, Square Enix offers it for $39.99 on the North America store.

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