All posts by Jayson Napolitano

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.

Review: Sengran Kagura Peach Beach Splash Original Soundtrack

Right at the tail end of summer in North America, XSEED released the latest Senran Kagura title, Peach Beach Splash. An arena-style shooter featuring anime girls in swimming gear equipped with water guns, there’s of course a goofy and over the top story to go along with it all, and thankfully, for those who splurged on the limited edition, a soundtrack CD with over an hour of Japanese pop and rock music. Fitting with the summer theme, expect lots of surfer rock and tropical vibes!

The opening theme, “RAINBOW KISS,” is your typical bubbly upbeat anime rock, but things quickly take a turn with the nostalgic rock tune, “Sound of Lonely Waves,” the chillout funk track, “The Beach Soaking up the Horizon,” and retro-tinged and super fun “Water Drop and Dance of Cherry Blossom Flowers.” There’s winter bells in “Water Battle IN THE SNOW,” killer guitar solos in “Beyond the Rainbow,” and sweet and smooth with “Heart Vessel, one of my favorite tracks. There are a ton of catchy themes found throughout, including in the short looped tracks at the end of the album.

In all, the sound team does an excellent job with the source material, bringing authentic pop and rock that perfectly accentuates the summer fun. It’s also great that the entire soundtrack is included here as well, rather than just a sampler with the full soundtrack available as a separate purchase. You can still get the limited edition “No Shoes, No Shirt, All Service” edition which also includes with an art book, blu-ray, and all sorts of in-game content on Amazon.

GOTTA PROTECTORS SOUNDTRACK Vol.2 (SRIN-1126)

Many fans were looking forward to getting the Protect Me Knight 2 (Gotta Protectors) soundtrack, and after SuperSweep released a collection of music from the game dubbed Volume 1, it was only a matter of time before Volume 2 surfaced.

This album is best thought of as an accompaniment album with alternate versions of many of the songs. You’ll find the adventurous beat-’em-up main theme, militaristic marches, comical battle themes, spooky atmospheres, and tons of tunes to pump you up courtesy of Yuzo Koshiro and the SuperSweep sound team. Included are up-tempo versions, long versions, then a smattering of FM (most of disc 1), MKIII, Famicom, Game Boy, and OPN versions of various themes from the game. There’s also a full production remix that brings in a cheesy big band and male vocals sounding like something from a variety show.

It’s available at CD Japan if you want to give it a spin.

Review: KINGSGLAIVE FINAL FANTASY XV ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Square Enix really went all out with Final Fantasy XV between the various games, anime, and this feature film. I caught it in theaters, and while it was a bit hard to follow, it got me excited for the game. The score is primarily by John Graham, although many of Shimomura’s themes from the game are featured. The album clocks in at two discs with mainly bombastic orchestral themes to highlight the action.

“Prologue” offers somber piano and strings in a melancholy and ominous opener, while “Under Siege” brings in rock influences with explosive percussion and string stabs. “Diamond Weapon” is appropriately terrifying for the deadly monstrosity that wrecks havoc on the Kingsglaive, while “The Chancellor/A Modest Proposal” gets a nice injection of electronics with some nice sweeps. There’s the exotic “Calling for Rain” with its clapping and male vocals, the droning and crystalline “Ill Tidings,” the tender and longing “LUNA,” the tragic and tainted “In the line of Duty,” the regal and memorable “Somnus” (a key theme in the game), and a regal brass-heavy march version of the Final Fantasy main theme. There’s a lot of build up and tension leading into one of my favorite tracks, “Treaty Signing,” which accents the uncertainty and danger before exploding into a flurry of string stabs and brass swells, while another favorite, “No Turning Back,” goes for a more sinister approach. “Kings of Lucis” is tragic yet regal, ascending into a more comforting space, while “Battle for the Crown City” is hopeful and determined. The ending is full of excitement and melancholy, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.

The album is available from CD Japan as well as the Square Enix North America merch store if you’re interested.

Review: Gunslinger Stratos 1&2 Original Soundtrack

While I haven’t played or even seen Square Enix’s Gunslinger Stratos series, gameplay videos look pretty awesome. It’s an anime-style third-person shooter with some amazingly well produced pop rock and metal. There’s everything from heavy metal and J-rock to pop ballads and vocaloid. This compilation album includes the soundtracks to the first two games in the series (there’s a third now), featuring a wide variety of talent from within Square Enix and without.

It all begins with the catchy and upbeat metal track, “Choose Your Way,” which sets the stage for the vocaloid-heavy “DAYS,” the explosive metal-meets-dubstep “Isolated Clash,” the Gothic rock “Boquet de Fleurs Neige,” the Japanese-infused “Golden Dolphins” with rapid-fire koto, the spacey pop-rock “Beyond the Azure,” and the infectious Genki Rockets-flavored “Kimi no Ita Ano Hi ni.” Gunslinger Stratos 2 gets arrangements of several of the tracks from the first game, but also a number of originals including the desperate and spacey rock track “Inferiority Complex” (my personal favorite), the dreamy “Soul Evolution,” the bumping dubstep “9Elements (Nine Elements,” and a beautiful “unplugged” version of “Ending” with piano, strings, and layered vocals.

Fans of J-rock will get a kick out of this soundtrack. There’s some wonderful tracks and great production values throughout. Unfortunately it’s sold out on CD Japan , but keep an eye out on the used market if you’re interested.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSIC Presents Life Style: Up!

After checking out the cry volume of Square Enix’s Life Style series, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the other albums. Fortunately Up! brings in some more familiar tunes and actually does what it sets out to do, which is lift your mood!

The opening “Fanfare” comes from Dissidia, and is bouncy and upbeat, while “Siren Song” from Final Fantasy XIV is a bossa nova track that actually comes from Nanashi no Geemu, which Soken also composed. “Battle Theme 1” from Unlimited Saga is energetic and funky, while “Girls, We Have to Win!” from Crystal Chronicles offers playful surfer rock. There’s silly hip hop-infused rock from The World Ends With You, exotic flamenco from Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, chill out from Final Fantasy XIII-2, and joyous and infectious with an SQ Chips remix from Chrono Trigger. The Distant Worlds version of “Man With the Machine Gun” is an interesting pick for sure, but it’s back on track with the bubbly and bumping “Mysidia Sky Garden” from Chocobo Racing, smooth jazz with “South Yokohama” from Racing Lagoon, and swing with “Crystal Bearers Ramble.”

Overall, this volume is way more on point with the theme. Unfortunately they’re event exclusives and hard to come by, but if you’re at a used CD shop in Japan, pick this one up!

Review: Far Saa Far

As a huge fan of the abstract electronic duo IMERTUAT, comprised of Masashi Hamauzu and vocalist Mina, I was excited by the announcement of their third album, Far Saa Far. We covered their second album, Propelled Life, and it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to enjoy their unique blend of strings, piano, electronics, and vocals.

Far Saa Far offers up over thirty minutes of new music spread across 12 songs, most of which feature several live performances, starting with the trippy and fluttering “Far Saa Far,” which sports lovely string beds and an energetic chorus sections featuring Mina’s dreamy lyrics and electric guitar flare ups. “Pororororororo” is more sweet with emotional strings and piano and Mina’s repetitive “Pororororororo.” “Nomitaina” is easily my favorite track on the album with Mina’s constant singing of the track name with piano and abstract electronic backing. Some dancey piano and percussion join the mix, creating a funky and refreshing vibe. There’s some tension in “Flakes,” which contains lots of dissonance and heart-pounding synth and bass percussion. There’s the wintery “kilto kilto” with the sound of wind, bells, and chimes, the spunky “Satoyama Department Store” with its deep bass, repetitive acoustic guitar, and chilly pads, and the highly abstract “Quarter Tones” with its radio transmission-like sound samples, descending tones, and synth swells. The strange and oddly upbeat “I want to Assassinate!” features a blend of signature Hamauzu strings and chopped up and glitched out piano and synth work paired with English vocals, while “Le Fleur” is an incredibly beautiful strings, piano, and acoustic guitar ballad with gentle lullaby-esque vocals by Mina. The closing track, “Deep Green Field,” is a stunning piano and guitar reprise of “La Fleur,” providing a lovely closer to a wonderful listening experience.

The presentation of Far Saa Far is quite nice as well, coming in a jewel case with rounded corners and a thick booklet with all the lyrics. They’ve even produced a little magazine featuring more artwork and additional information about the tracks. Fans outside of Japan can grab the album from Wayô Records.

You can also click through below to see music videos for “La Fleur” and “Nomitaina.” Continue reading Review: Far Saa Far

Review: Castlevania Music From The Netflix Original Series

The highly anticipated Castlevania series has finally hit Netflix, and Lakeshore Records has published the meaty hour-long soundtrack by composer Trevor Morris (who coincidentally has both first and last name shared with Castlevania lore). He’s provided an interesting and intense score featuring pulsating synth work and a blend of strings and choir that, while unusual to describe, fit in perfectly with the action on screen. Listening to the score without having watched the series, I was immediately drawn to “Main Title” with its oppressive synth swells and Gothic vibe. The rest of the soundtrack was effectively mood setting, but it wasn’t until watching the series and having the context for the music that it really struck me.

“Wallachia,” for example, features a desolate ambiance with gritty electronics that accompanies the world of this Castlevania adventure perfectly. The tense but subdued “Vlad Searches for Lisa” quickly turns to malice with ominous synth work as he discovers her fate, and “There are no Innocents” is a twisted and dark blend of buzzing synths and droning strings. The guttural male choir featured in “Hordes Descend on Targoviste” is effectively terrifying, as are the crunchy synths and choir swells of “Bloody Greist.” Things get more calculating and contemplative in “Bit of Dried Goat,” exotic and mysterious in “We Can’t Turn Away,” and explosive and dangerous in “Trevor Fights the Cyclops.” There’s hope and triumph in “I’m Trevor Belmont,” a sense of finality with heavy percussion hits, a church choir, and a descent into madness with “Let me Kiss You,” and new age synths and angelic choir in “Alucard Rises.” The album closes with the uplifting and hopeful “Hunter, Scholar, Soldier.”

I would have never thought dark pulsating synths would fit so well in the Castlevania universe, but in context, they do. They feel like an unnatural heartbeat chugging away beneath somber and desolate strings, pads, and choir. While there isn’t a whole lot of music to walk away with and hum here, there is some great brooding music that will take you through the ups and downs of the excellent first season of the series. I’m already looking forward to sinking my teeth in to whatever comes next!

Pick up the album up now on iTunes or wait for the physical release which comes out August 4 on Amazon.