Tag Archives: Arrangements

Review: Last SQ

I was a huge fan of the SQ album series from Square Enix, featuring remixes from Square Enix artists and their associates, covering all sorts of styles. It went on for many years, and even spawned several live events, but they finally brought the series to a closer with Last SQ.

The collection is largely a compilation of tracks from across the series with one new track opening and closing each of two discs. Starting with the compilation material, I was really happy to see the crazy →Pia-no-jaC← battle medley,  the brilliant rock opera “Aria” by Reign of the Kindo, and the chiptune spin on Secret of Mana here. The guitar and marimba version of SaGa Frontier’s “Rosenkranz,” the jazzy “Troian Beauty,” and the infectiously upbeat “To Far Away Times” from Chrono Trigger by livetune and LIVE-A-LIVE by Sexy Synthesizer were all must-haves for this collection as well.

The new material by Megumi Shiraishi may be a little more polarizing as largely hybrid cinematic takes on classic themes. The first is a gritty version of Chrono Trigger’s final battle and main themes, complete with live shakuhachi and rumbling percussion, while the original Seiken Densetsu battle theme gets an explosive (and short) orchestral rock arrangement with beautiful female vocals. Live violin is featured throughout another bombastic arrangement from LIVE-A-LIVE, and closing out the series is a rockin’ medley with live guitar, shakuhachi, and violin covering “Chaos Temple,” “Dancing Mad,” and the “Final Fantasy” main theme. It’s a nice way to close things out.

If you’ve never delved into the SQ series, this is a good start. Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: FINAL FANTASY XIV: Duality ~Arrangement Album~

I rather enjoyed the first Final Fantasy XIV arrangement album, From Astral to Umbral, so I was pleased to see them give it another go with the amazing music from Heavensward available to draw from. It’s once again an even split between a piano collections album featuring Keiko and a rock set by THE PRIMALS.

The album opens with the piano half, starting with “Imagination,” a slow and measured track that will gently sway you to sleep. “Painted Foothills” is contemplative and sparse, featuring some lovely piano runs, while “Borderless” takes turns between subdued and more energetic sections, sporting some wonderful piano playing. “Ominous Prognostiks” is ominous as the title would suggest, with slow and more mysterious sections follows by tense explosions of sound. Both “Heroes” and “Night in the Brume” include some of my favorite thematic material from Heavensward, with the former coming as epic and the latter as tender and sweet.

The band portion begins with “Unbreakable,” complete with wailing electric guitars and a badass vibe. “Revenge Twofold” is a new track that hasn’t been released yet and is more adventurous and upbeat, while “Ubending Steel” provides classic rock stylings with guttural male vocals in a silly but effective manner. “Imagination” appears again with lots of reverb and heavy metal thunder, “Fiend” (another new track) comes as an alternative rock track with dark vocals, and “Heroes” getting some great guitar work and male choir. “Locus” features dancing piano, electronics, and male and female vocaloid, while “Oblivion (Never Let it Go Version)” comes as a surprise with acoustic guitar, glassy pads, a small string ensemble, and bag pipes. I’d love to hear an entire album in this style!

Not only are there wonderful arrangements in both piano and rock styles here, but there are new tracks not released on a dedicated soundtrack album yet. Pick the album up on CD Japan if you’re interested!

Review: FINAL FANTASY Record Keeper Original Soundtrack

A lot of people had fun messing around with FINAL FANTASY Record Keeper, and I’m sure more than a few dug the arrangements featured throughout and wanted to get their hands on them. Well, Square Enix has you covered with this compilation album featuring a variety of talent mostly from outside Square Enix, who you can learn about on VGMdb.

The arrangements are fairly straightforward, with little twists to fit special holidays or combined into tidy medleys. “Mystic Mysidia -Halloween-,” for example, gives the mischievous tune some mysterious bells and defiant strings in A Nightmare Before Christmas fashion, while jingle bells join the Final Fantasy VII main theme and “Gold Saucer,” making for a jolly Christmas arrangement. “Eyes on Me,” “Celes,” and of course, “Theme of Love” combine for a perfect Valentine’s Day medley, and a lovely sleep-inducing Tanbata (Star Festival) medley features lots of harp and bells to capture that celestial atmosphere.

There are several one-off arrangements, including rockin’ versions of “Battle at the Big Bridge” and “Decisive Battle” from Final Fantasy VI (which features a few other songs as well), a dreamy trance version of “The Man With the Machine Gun,” a bubbly techno-flavored “Vana’diel March,” a wedding organ-infused “Prelude,” and a pumping electronic/rock version of “Blinded by Light” (one of the more complex arrangements by Monster Hunter/Dragon’s Dogma composer Tadayoshi Makino).

While there isn’t a whole lot to sink your teeth into, if you played with the app and want the music, it’s available at CD Japan.

Review: Motoi Sakuraba Band Arrangement Album / STAR OCEAN & VALKYRIE PROFILE

While Motoi Sakuraba’s name isn’t as well known as many JRPG composers out there, he’s probably written more music than any of them. He’s composed all or at least the majority of the Tales series, Star Ocean series, Valkyrie Profile series, Baten Kaitos series, and numerous others. There were two separate years in the 2000s where he produced three separate 4-disc soundtrack releases. He’s a beast, and in recent years, he’s worked on the Dark Souls soundtracks too.

He’s mainly known for his progressive rock music, and has performed and recorded several shows over the years. This album is special, however, as it was his intent to focus on battle music from older titles to bring them to life with a live rock performance mainly performed by himself. He performed all the drums, piano, rock organ, and synths himself, and had a professional guitarist and bass player help out. This album should be intriguing enough just for that, but the music is some of the best from Star Ocean, Star Ocean 2, Valkyrie Profile, and Valkyrie Profile 2, so you’d want to check it out anyway.

Most of the tracks have never been arranged before (a few have been performed during previous shows, but not with Sakuraba on so many instruments). The twelve tracks tread on a lot of different territory, from the gritty “The incarnation of the devil,” to the unpredictable and unsettling “Dynamite.” One of my favorites, “The true nature of all” brings in harpsichord and a high-pitched synth with a strong fantasy vibe, while “Mighty blow+Shiver” gets a siren-like synth lead that hints at danger, “Never Surrender” is slow and melancholy with some heartbreaking piano, “For Achieve” sports lightning-fast percussion and guitar, and “Tangency” is classic crazy Sakuraba with explosive percussion and rock organ with a sweet breakdown about halfway through. The oft-arranged and performed “Unconfirmed God Fighting Syndrome” is uplifting and awesome as always, “KA.MI.KA.ZE” is a decisive and measured adventure, and “Confidence in the domination” gallops in with guitar shredding and non-stop aggression.

In all, the album is a real treat for Sakuraba fans and a nice introduction to some of his earlier work heard with a live band for those who don’t know his work as well. Pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: DISSIDIA FINAL FANTASY -Arcade- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I remember when Dissidia was first announced. This was the fighting game Final Fantasy fans wanted (not Ergheiz!). The scores for the first two Dissidia games were fantastic, incorporating some lovely arrangements and original themes, so I was excited to get my hands on the soundtrack album accompanying the franchise’s first foray into arcades.

What you’ll find are pretty familiar sounds. Big, bombastic orchestral originals, and orchestral-rock hybrid arrangements of your favorite Final Fantasy battle themes. The opening theme takes a more melancholy approach with the series theme, but the glitchy “Prelude” will get the nostalgia and energy flowing pretty quickly. From there, the heavy metal flows, including a thunderous version of “The Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II, which came as a surprise, a bombastic orchestral and synth version of the Final Fantasy IV final battle theme, the latter portion of “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI, and really cool spins on the main battle theme and “Fight With Seymour” from Final Fantasy X. “Flash of Steel” from Final Fantasy XII incorporates Hitoshi Sakimoto’s signature orchestral elements and adds in chugging bass and rock percussion on top, while *Eden Under Siege” from Final Fantasy XIII comes as a welcome addition, full of grit, wailing distorted guitars, rock percussion, and strings. “Antipyretic” from Final Fantasy Tactics also gets a slow and desperate arrangement with piano and sorrowful strings. The last track offers a remix of the Dissidia main theme, “Massive Explosion,” by SQ album series arranger Novoiski, bringing in synth sweeps, chiptune, and dub step elements.

There isn’t really anything groundbreaking here in terms of arrangements, but the rock-oriented takes on classic Final Fantasy tunes should please arcade-goers. Pick the album up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY Gaiden: Minna de Bravo!

We’ve really enjoyed the BRA BRA brass arrangement CDs, so it was cool to not only see a live concert series in Japan featuring some of the arrangements, but also a new CD featuring a collection of recordings both old and new, but mostly new, with some of my favorites from the series yet.

The album opens with the infectiously upbeat “Opening Theme” from Final Fantasy that treads on big band, surf rock, and ska territories before “Moogle’s Theme” puts forth the expected comedic approach with playful tuba and silly tempo shifts. “Main Theme” from Final Fantasy V is energetic and upbeat, with a full production behind the brass (the recording is borrowed from elsewhere), while “Gogo ~ Slam Shuffle” is pure fun on recorder, “Johnny C Bad” is rambunctious, and “Spinach Rag ~ Character Medley” from Final Fantasy VI visits all of our favorite themes from the game, although sometimes too briefly, in big band style, with Gogo, Celes, and Setzer’s themes standing out.

There are a number of surprises featured throughout which blew me away. “Fisherman’s Horizon” is one of Uematsu’s finest compositions, and the beautifully layered and swelling performance is simply moving. “Shuffle or Boogie ~ Waltz for the Moon,” also from Final Fantasy VIII, is another surprise, ranging from upbeat to tense to funky with a killer saxophone solo. Final Fantasy IV’s “Final Battle” never gets enough love, and the lightning-fast percussion, brass stabs and swells, and wonderful solos make for a spectacular and completely unexpected experience. Similarly, the “Main Theme from Final Fantasy VII” sports a cinematic arrangement for brass, acoustic guitar, and piano, and is hardly recognizable, but when you do recognize pieces and bits, it’s quite serene. I’d love an entire album of this style of arrangement, as it reminded me a bit of the Genso Suikoden III Bosque Aroma arrangement album. Finally, a secret track at the end brings another surprise with an upbeat loungy jazz version of “Birth of a God” from Final Fantasy VII, closing out on a high note.

What really allows this album to stand out is the inclusion of tracks that rarely get this sort of attention, and were completely unexpected. I hope Square Enix and arrangers contributing to these projects continue to take risks in the future. Unfortunately the album is only being sold at tour stops in Japan, but I imagine it’ll turn up after the tour is through at the end of 2016. Keep an eye out.

Review: The Orchestral SaGa -Legend of Music-

The SaGa series has been around since 1989 and is much beloved, particularly in Japan. Given that several of the games in the series didn’t make it outside of Japan, it’s not as well known as say Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but it has a strong musical heritage featuring some of the best composers and music that JRPGs have had to offer. This live orchestral arrangement album is the latest reminder of just how great this music is, and JRPG fans ought to take note if they haven’t already.

The two-disc album opens with a 12-minute-long SaGa series medley that touches on the lovely main theme from the Game Boy SaGa titles as well as the more widely-known Romancing SaGa main theme, and everything in between and after. This is a perfect showcase of the majesty and energy of the SaGa series soundtracks. The album presents various medleys of two or more tracks, visiting numerous sets of battle themes for which the series has come to be known (see our reviews of the SaGa battle arrange albums). There’s a little bit of everything including the subdued final dungeon medley from Romancing SaGa, the sweet and fluttering opening medley from SaGa Frontier 2 that sounds like Christmas morning, and the playful Feldschlacht medley also from SaGa Frontier 2 that elevates the fairly well-known theme to a more serious level with an added drum set and jazzy vibe. There’s exotic and bombastic with the Asellus medley from SaGa Frontier, and finally, epic rock percussion and guitar in a battle medley from Romancing SaGa that ends things with a bang.

If you haven’t given SaGa music a chance yet, here’s your opportunity. It’s not going to get much better than the live orchestral treatment, and true to what series fans would want, the heavy focus on battle themes should get you caught up in no time. The album’s available on CD Japan (standard version), and you can even order the bonus Square Enix shop version that includes an extra disc with a couple piano arrangements on special order.

Review: SEIKEN DENSETSU / LEGEND OF MANA arrangement album Promise

The Mana series is much beloved by fans, and the music of the series has always been celebrated regardless of the composer writing it. A number of composers have graced the series over the years, and say what you will about the PlayStation entry Legend of Mana, the soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura was great.

This album presents several key themes in jazz and cafe styles, with great arrangements and atmospheres throughout. It begins with a traditional jazz ensemble performing a swinging and upbeat take on “Hometown of Domina,” and is followed by a Latin-flavored “To the Sea.” One of my favorite original tracks, “Polpota Harbor,” gets a straightforward solo piano performance, while “Legend of Mana” comes as bossa nova in style with some great jazz flute. Another personal favorite, “Pictureseque Landscape” retains its aggressive edge with a Parisian cafe arrangement featuring accordion, violin, and guitar. “Singing Wind, Journey’s Path,” probably my absolute favorite from the original soundtrack, gets an infectiously upbeat pop-oriented arrangement with live guitar, piano, and woodwinds. Rounding out the collection is aggressive-turned-romantic “Tango Apssionata – As The Heart Wills,” the melancholy flamenco “Such Cruel Fate,” a beautiful bossa nova vocal version of “Seven Shades of Life,” a laid back jazz tune in “Nostalgic Song,” and a slower take on the main vocal theme from the game, “Song of Mana,” which sports beautiful harmonies and a fantastic acoustic arrangement.

It’s great to see an album of arrangements paying homage to the music of Legend of Mana. The album is available on CD Japan if you want to add a lovely live jazz album to your collection.

Review: EMIL CHRONICLE ONLINE METAL ARRANGE CD – ECOMETA!

I’ve listend to a lot of Emil Chronicle Online music over the years. Composer group ACE (known for their work on both Xenoblade Chronicles and Code of Princess) have written a massive score for the game over the close to a decade that its been around. What drew my attention to this album, however, was the involvement of G-Shine, GungHo’s internal band that originally formed to perform music from Ragnarok Online.

There are also arrangements and performances contributed by band Red Soul, which has been providing some music to the game as well, including the track “Arise” which appears on this album. With a track selection picked by fans of the game, is the album worth your time?

Read our review of the album below. Continue reading Review: EMIL CHRONICLE ONLINE METAL ARRANGE CD – ECOMETA!

Review: Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

Super Smash Bros. titles offer a rare treat for game music fans. While gamers get pumped to do battle with their favorite Nintendo (and guest) characters, this comes with musical arrangements that pay homage to all of these characters and their respective worlds.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii broke new ground by featuring arrangements from some of the top game music composers from Japan, and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS follows suit by including many of these arrangements along with new ones from the development team at Bandai Namco Games.

There’s a lot of music to hear (and even more will be featured in the Wii U version), so let’s take a look! Continue reading Review: Super Smash Bros. for 3DS