All posts by Jayson Napolitano

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol.4 (BSPE-1074)

Basiscape’s epic CARAVAN STORIES continues with Volume 4, this time dedicated to the dwarves. As such, expect lots of warmer sounds and reverberating cavern-esque soundscapes compared to past volumes. It begins with prancing bagpipes and mechanical clicks and whirs in “Baldu Pipe Town,” the soothing and mysterious woodwinds and piano of “Billibino Pumpland -Nightscape-,” and the energetic galloping battle tune with chugging bass and fluttering woodwinds in “Dynamic Ingenuity.” There’s ominous and dank with glitchy xylophone in “Arlosa Mine,” an explosive orchestral battle track with “Duel Battle -PV Version-,” a twangy Western vibe in “Start of Hunting Season,” and folksy fiddle, bass, and hand percussion in “Mad Cow Brewery.” The vocal theme comes as a full on death metal track with chugging guitars, explosive bass drum, and screaming vocals titled “Markings of a Lifetime,” which comes as quite a surprise. The album closes with the adventurous “Ghelbours Foothills” and its spookier nighttime counterpart, and the CARAVAN STORIES main theme with added mischief in the rolling guitars and strailing strings.

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol.4 is available physically from CD Japan and digitally worldwide from iTunes.

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol.3 (BSPE-1073)

Basiscape’s massive score to the mobile RPG Caravan Stories continues into Volume 3, which focuses on the orcs. You’ll find lots of tribal percussion, big brass, sweeping strings, and ominous soundscapes throughout, starting with the exotic and swaying “Garhudom Woodland,” and healing and folksy “Western Dogaa,” and the galloping Panzer Dragoon-esque “Muddy Warrior.” There’s the customary vocal pop song, “Oh, A World Nearby?,” the unsettling and buzzing “Fort Dogaa,” the regal “Audience,” and the rolling marimba and flying strings of “Kuaranii Cascades.” The angelic pads and layered shamisen of “Pyramid of the Moon” exude mystery, the droning pads and quirky electronic sounds of “Urdon Fungal Jungle” are ominous and foreign, and the spooky voices and rattling in the distance in “Deep Grief” are unsettling. It all ends with the grandiose Sakimoto-esque main theme with huge strings, brass, and percussion.

A physical CD can be imported from CD Japan or bought digitally worldwide through iTunes.

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol.2 (BSPE-1072)

Basiscape has reawakened with eight volumes of music from the mobile/PC MMORPG CARVAN STORIES set to release between now and the beginning of 2019. The first volume established a whimsical fantasy atmosphere, and Vol. 2 continues on with music focused on the human areas of the game.

It all begins with a reprise of the lovely main theme with “Caravan Trip -Nightscape-,” a sweet and angelic spin with piano, bells, and woodwinds. There’s the energetic and uplifting battle theme, “The Method of Fighting,” the dreamy guitars, tribal percussion, layered brass, and soothing wildness of “Eastern Part of Denon Hill,” and the epic and grandiose “Mauriana Region” with romantic string work and folksy banjo (there’s also a twinkly sleep version). “The Light for Valmuer Street” comes as a male vocal ballad with a Spanish flair, “Waterling Main Road” sways in a grand and contemplative manner with snapping percussion, and “Scott Battlefield” is both mysterious and determined with pizzicato strings and competing time signatures. Rounding out the album is the bubbly and folksy “Reuben” with acoustic guitar, hand percussion, and Celtic instruments.

Grab CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 on Amazon to get the latest goodness from Basiscape.

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol.1 (BSPE-1071)

It’s been some time since Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basiscape Records  released anything, but that drought has just come to an end. The Basiscape team has scored the massive anime MMORPG Caravan Stories for PC and mobile, and will be releasing the soundtrack over eight separate volumes between now and January 2019. The first volume includes over an hour of music and is available in digital and physical formats.

Fans will enjoy the folksy and playful fantasy style of the score, particularly the opening “Iyarr Ancestral Song” with its melancholy woodwinds, acoustic guitar, and female vocals. There’s an energetic battle theme that has a lot of fun with the classic JRPG formula in the equally-fun titled “Outpouring of Armaments,” a trippy and cool fanfare with “Victory in Battle,” and the playful and Sakimoto-esque “Iyarr’s Narrator.” Rounding out the album are the grandiose strings and percussion in typical Sakimoto fashion with “Caravan Stories” and a lovely upbeat pop ballad including vocals with “Longing.”

There’s great music to be had by the Basiscape team with seven more volumes to come. Grab Caravan Stories Original Soundtrack Vol. 1 on iTunes.

FINAL FANTASY XII THE ZODIAC AGE Original Soundtrack [Limited Edition] (SQEX-20035~6)

Final Fantasy XII didn’t get a fair shake when it was first released. Yes, the development was quite an ordeal and the game took a few hits as a result, but Final Fantasy XII was a pioneer in many ways, including with its grandiose orchestral soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto. With the HD remake, dubbed The Zodiac Age, the entire score was re-recorded with the Video Game Orchestra, bringing all the music to life with live performances in addition to new original tracks just for the re-release, totaling a massive 102 tracks and clocking in at nearly six hours.  Fans of Final Fantasy and especially Final Fantasy XII will want to give it a listen, and those who pick up the limited edition version also get an arrangement album by the team at Basiscape.

Those who’ve never heard the soundtrack before are in for a real treat right out of the gate with Sakimoto’s signature spin on the Final Fantasy theme, followed by the explosive “Boss Battle” theme and the sweeping fan-favorites “The Dalmasca Eastersand” and “Giza Plains.” “On the Riverbank” is adventurous yet sweet, “Eruyt Village” is soothing and full of mystery with its strings and woodwinds. There are other Sakimoto takes on Final Fantasy classicss such as the chocobo and Gilgamesh’s themes, exotic woodwinds in the desert-esque “The Stilshrine of Miriam,” and tribal percussion and beautiful piano and choir in “The Salikawood.” Rounding out some key themes that listeners will want to check out are “The Final Act” with its tense and decisive sound reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, “Struggle for Freedom,” a new piece that is absolutely terrifying, and “The Zodiac Age,” a lovely cinematic piece. And don’t forget the beautiful harp-laden “Game Over,” which you’ll be hearing a lot!

As mentioned, the limited edition comes with a CD of arrangements, which includes a music box/dance hybrid of “The Zodiac Age” by Sakimoto himself, exotic bagpipes and woodwinds on “The Dalmascan Eastersand,” and an excellent piano solo of “The Barheim Passage.”

The limited edition is still available on CD Japan and belongs in every Final Fantasy fan’s collection.

Review: Untempered: FINAL FANTASY XIV Primal Battle Themes

As a special treat for Tokyo Game Show last year, Square Enix released a collection of “primal battle” music. That is, the tracks that play when you battle the summoned monsters. The music has been released throughout the various soundtrack releases to date, although one of the tracks has yet to hit an official soundtrack album. In addition to the battle music, the two-disc set also features some lovely artwork on a sturdy slipcase that covers the DVD-sized packaging.

Lots of fan-favorite tracks are here, including the brooding “Fallen Angel,” the exotic and epic “Ultima,” and the grungy metal tracks “Through the Maelstrom” and “Oblivion.” There’s a version of “Battle on the Big Bridge” here, the iconic The Nightmare Before Christmas-flavored “Good King Moggle Mog XII,” and “Battle to the Death,” a killer arrangement of the Final Fantasy VI battle theme by the same name. “Thunder Rolls” is somber and dreamy with its female vocals, “Footsteps in the Snow” combined beautiful piano and choral work with desperate string stabs, and “Unbending Steel” sports gritty male vocals that would be right at home in a Western film. The memorable Heavensward themes are represented, along with the industrial “Fiend” that will have you thinking of Nine Inch Nails, the pop-flavored “Equilibrium,” and a new track, the majestic and adventure-filled “Beauty’s Wicked Wiles,” which I imagine will make it onto a soundtrack release in the future.

In all, this is a solid collection of music for people who don’t already own the various soundtrack releases. Those who do own them may be interested for the artwork and the in-game items that Square Enix is serving up for buying it. Grab it on CD Japan or the North America merchandise store if you’re interested.

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.