All posts by Jayson Napolitano

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!

Review: Mobius Final Fantasy Original Soundtrack 2

If you enjoyed Mitsuto Suzuki’s Mobius Final Fantasy soundtrack, you should be ecstatic that Square Enix has released a massive second volume comprising three discs of all new music. Prepare yourself for more sweeping orchestral, abstract electronic wizardry, and killer vocal tunes with lots of Final Fantasy references tucked in for good measure.

I’ll start with the amazing “Capricious Cait Sith,” easily my favorite track on the album, which comes as a silly female vocal disco tune with a smooth and funky backing. Vocals are featured prominently throughout, including on the wonderful “Always There” with its ascending acoustic guitar, ethereal pads, and gentle male vocals and the cool RNB production, “Azure Memories,” which sports clean acoustic guitar and female vocals. Backing up, though, the album begins with the big orchestral sounds of “Ring of Braves” with rolling percussion and uplifting piano before diving in to the whimsical “Mogheim” with its lovely piano and Final Fantasy main theme references, the dance-y “Breaker’s Funk” with rhodes piano and funky bass synth, and “Meia’s Theme” with its cool blend of flamenco guitar and strings. There’s a beautiful Christmas version of “Sarah’s Theme” from Final Fantasy XIII-2, a Final Fantasy theme Christmas track titled “Hopebringer,” a rockin’ rendition of the Final Fantasy VII “Fanfare,” which is absolutely perfect, and the explosive metal “Bloodthirst” with powerful percussion and guitar shredding. “The Infinite Warrior” gives us upbeat rock in traditional Final Fantasy style with its bubbly approach and rock organ, and “Battle Princes,” a bumpin’ EDM track that transitions into uplifting piano and strings.

Spanning three discs, there’s a lot of music here to enjoy. I think I enjoyed Mobius Final Fantasy Original Soundtrack 2 even more than the original release. Grab it on CD Japan if you’re so inclined!

Review: Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100

Ask, and you shall receive? When we reviewed the Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100 Blu-ray disc back in 2015, my only gripe was that the MP3 files weren’t housed on the disc. Well, this year, to celebrate 30 years of Final Fantasy, Square Enix released the music on CD.

I’ll simply quote our 2015 review here:

They play many of the classics, including the iconic “One-Winged Angel,” a lovely healing rendition of “The Prelude,” the rousing “Final Fantasy” theme, and the wondrous “Main Theme from Final Fantasy VII.” Some new arrangements come courtesy of Piano Opera Final Fantasy pianist Hiroyuki Nakayama, and are a real treat. “Balance is Restored” from Final Fantasy VI stands out in particular, visiting several of the game’s key themes, along with Susan Calloway’s rendition of Final Fantasy XII’s vocal theme, “Kiss Me Good-Bye,” “Roses of May” from Final Fantasy IX, an explosive “Torn from the Heavens” from Final Fantasy XIV (with Masayoshi Soken in attendance), singer Emiko Shiratori reprising her role as vocalist on Final Fantasy IX’s “Melodies of Life,” and an amazing battle medley covering Final Fantasy I – XIV which picks some often-missed tracks, including the final battle theme from Final Fantasy V and a jazzy rendition of the Final Fantasy VIII battle theme. The orchestra reacting to the fan reaction to “Swing de Chocobo” was cute, too, as well as the upright bass player really getting into the piece. Finally, the encore “J-E-N-O-V-A Complete” was also fantastic, really pushing the orchestra to adopt an aggressive battle sound.

Unfortunately this album was sold only at their Tokyo Game Show 2017 booth. While that means it’s not widely available at the moment, I’d suggest keeping an eye on their website to pick it up if you’re interested.

Review: Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary Composer’s Selection

Final Fantasy is 30 years old! Square Enix celebrated the year in style with a number of Final Fantasy soundtrack releases, but one of the promotional items they put out was this composer’s selection disc featuring picks from Final Fantasy composers past and present. The greatest thing about this release is that the commentary from each composer is provided in both English and Japanese, which is a nice touch.

Nobuo Uematsu leads the way with his sweeping piano and string ballad from Final Fantasy X, “Zanarkand.” Junya Nakano picks one of my favorite tracks from Final Fantasy X, the lullaby-esque “Yuna’s Decision.” Naoshi Mizuta is a hero among men for picking my favorite Final Fantasy composition, the whimsical “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV. Kumi Tanioka goes with the adventurous main theme from Final Fantasy IV, and has a nice story about watching her siblings play through the game to go with it. Hitoshi Sakimoto goes for the original “Final Fantasy” theme that started it all, and from the original Final Fantasy, no less. Masashi Hamauzu’s pick is the dreamy and healing “Sulyaa Springs” from Final Fantasy XIII, one of my personal favorites as well. Masayoshi Soken picks the epic “Torn from the Heavens” from Final Fantasy XIV, which incorporates the series prelude in a clever way. Finally, Yoko Shimomura offers up “APOCALYPSIS NOCTIS,” the bombastic orchestral battle theme from Final Fantasy XV.

I love this album solely to get a sense of the musical tastes of each of these composers who I’ve enjoyed so much over the years. The commentary is the star, here, though, so if you can get your hands on one of these discs, go for it!

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS DE BRAVO 3

We’ve written extensively about the Brass de Bravo series here, and they’ve always come as unexpected surprises. Featuring the Siena Wind Orchestra, these compilations offer orchestral arrangements of tracks that often haven’t received their moment in the spotlight, and this volume is no different.

After an upbeat and energetic “Main Theme” from Final Fantasy V with lots of lovely flourishes, it’s on to the sweet and mellow “Elia, The Maiden of Water” from Final Fantasy III, the regal and decisive “Mt. Gulg” from the original Final Fantasy, and a slow and contemplative take on “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI. The gentle sway and bell tolls of “Ami” from Final Fantasy VIII are a real treat, as are the oft-forgotten “Crazy Motorcycle” from Final Fantasy VII with its creative arrangement full of bells and chimes and “Force Your Way” from Final Fantasy VIII which was originally an electronic song and is wonderful with a live orchestra. The swinging jazz version of “Dear Friends” from Final Fantasy V is also a great addition. The album closes with straightforward versions of the regal “Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II, the stirring “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII, and the folksy “A Place I’ll Return to Someday” from Final Fantasy IX.

The album comes packed in with a sticker, and there’s also an accompanying disc that was distributed at concerts with the original soundtrack versions of each song along with a 15-minute-long discussion about the show with the talent involved.

The album is available on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Final Fantasy XIV Orchestral Arrangement Album

This is a short-but-sweet treat from Square Enix. We’ve reviewed nearly all of the Final Fantasy XIV soundtracks here, and can attest to the fact that the music is excellent. It would be seemingly ripe for an orchestral arrangement album, and given the 30th anniversary of the franchise, they’ve made that so!

The album opens with big choir and bombastic brass and strings in the epic “Ultima.” It’s then on to the sweetly angelic “Serenity” with a tinge of mystery, the tense and dramatic “Calamity Unbound,” the unsettling male vocals of “Rise of the White Raven,” and the desperation of “Revenge Twofold.” The album closes out with the sweeping and emotional “Painted Foothills,” the dangerous and explosive “Ominous Prognosticks” (which works in some great Final Fantasy references), and the dynamic “Heroes” which opens with a beautiful spin on the Heavensward theme before powerful piano and string stabs take over.

In all, it’s easy to enjoy this album as the source material is so strong. I’d love to hear another volume (or two!) of this kind of thing. Pick up a physical copy on CD Japan if you’re so inclined!

Review: Battle on the Big Bridge: Bombastic Bonanza

That’s some great use of alliteration! When it comes to the chocobo theme, Final Fantasy fans know there are too many versions to count out there, but did anyone know that “Battle on the Big Bridge” was so widely covered that it’d fill an entire album? Well, now we do, and there’s actually a decent selection of arrangments to choose from.

You might opt for the classic SNES version, or go with Hitoshi Sakimoto’s live orchestral version from Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. There was a wonderful “Oriental Mix” version from Final Fantasy XIII-2 that worked in traditional Japanese instruments, and a large number of versions to rock out to with rock organ and metal guitars. I particularly enjoyed the variation Mitsuto Suzuki snuck into the mix with his Record Keeper versions and the spacey electronic one Masashi Hamauzu whipped up for World of Final Fantasy. On the sillier end (Gilgamesh is comic relief, after all), you get a kazoo version and electronic silliness with marimbas in another.

In all, here’s the “Battle on the Big Bridge” compilation you never knew you wanted. It was an event exclusive at Tokyo Game Show this year, so it might not be widely available, but keep an eye out at used CD shops!

Review: Square Enix Music Sampler CD Vol. 12

Every year Square Enix has a massive music shop set up at Tokyo Game Show. For customers who spend over a certain amount, they typically hand out a music sampler featuring recent and upcoming releases. These discs often play the key role of announcing upcoming music releases, so they’re important for fans to take note of, and this year is no different.

The sampler opens with the “Blinded by Light” track from the SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY- album that we reviewed last week. From there, we get a mash up of Mog’s theme and the chocobo theme from Final Fantasy XV Plus, which is an interesting combination that works surprisingly well, your typical orchestral and rock from a Romancing SaGa arrange album, and a sweeping rendition of the Legend of Mana theme followed by a decisive and powerful “Painted Cavern” (my favorite track from that game) from a Seiken Densetsu 25th anniversary concert album. We get a taste of MoNACA’s SINoALICE which is dramatic and sports female choir, sounding similar to NieR, electronic pop from VenusRumble, dreamy electronics from Mobius Final Fantasy, and bombastic orchestral from Final Fantasy Explorers Force. We get a taste of Lost Sphere with a heartbreaking strings and piano track, gritty rock from Final Fantasy XIV: The Far Edge of Fate, and a pumping electronic anime track from Schoolgirl Strikers 3rd Anniversary (a great original soundtrack). The sampler closes with Nanaa Mihgo’s wonderful electronic-infused jazz from Final Fantasy Record Keeper Vol. 2.

As usual, there’s a lot to look forward to from Square Enix. I wouldn’t be worried about procuring a copy of the sampler, as many of these releases are already out or will be soon. Keep an eye out for them and our reviews here.

Review: SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY-

I’m a huge fan of jazz music in videogames. Brink of Time, the Chrono Trigger jazz arrange album, is still on heavy rotation in my household, and is a must own in any game music fan’s collection. That’s why I’m so excited about this album and, even more, the title of this album. Will this be a series? I think it just might, and given that Square Enix has provided all the text in the booklet in both Japanese and English, I’m guessing they’re looking to make this an international favorite as well.

But how’s the music? Simply put, it’s everything I wanted it to be. You may have heard the “Blinded by Light” (from Final Fantasy XIII) track on the Tokyo Game Show sampler, but in case you didn’t, it’s both spunky and funky with a fresh big band sound, starting things off right. Over the course of the next 11 tracks, you’ll hear everything from soothing to upbeat, vocal to sound effect solo, and the entire array of jazz instrumentation with flute, drum, and saxophone solos. There’s smooth and laid back with Final Fantasy III’s “Eternal Wind,” which gets xylophone and electric guitar, urgent with Final Fantasy IV’s “Battle with the Four Fiends,” which sports a lovely flute breakdown and a killer sax solo, and swanky with Final Fantasy’s II “Revel Army,” which would be right home in a jazz lounge. The loose take on “Big Bridge” also is home to what I’m calling an extremely quirky “sound effect solo,” which is a series of sound effects dueling it out, while the contemplative “Sarah’s Theme” from Final Fantasy XIII, the lively “Searching Friends” from Final Fantasy VI, and the swingin’ “You Are Not Alone” from Final Fantasy IX are my absolute favorites. Rounding out the album are the exotic and flamenco-flavored “Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X, the extremely elegant piano-laiden “Love Grows” from Final Fantasy VIII, and the uplifting and Christmas-like Final Fantasy “Main Theme” with its twinkling piano work.

SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY- is a fantastic album, and should have all of us wondering which Square Enix franchise will be next. The album is out on November 22 in Japan, and can be pre-ordered from CD Japan if you want to get your hands on a physical copy out of the gate. It’s not currently listed on the North America merchandise store, but I have a feeling it’ll end up there as well as on iTunes international.