Tag Archives: Final Fantasy

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: MOBIUS FINAL FANTASY Original Soundtrack

Mitsuto Suzuki was known mainly as an audio programmer, solo artist, and arranger until he broke out into composing with The 3rd Birthday and later, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. We discussed his work on the SCHOOLGIRL STRIKERS last year. There’s been a lot of anticipation for his full-length score for MOBIUS FINAL FANTASY, and it’s finally here.

Fans of his work on Final Fantasy will be pleased. There’s a nice blend of atmospheric textures and orchestra. There are several Final Fantasy references as well, which are tastefully done. In fact, Suzuki provides some of the most refreshing takes on both the “Final Fantasy” theme and “The Prelude” by using fragments of the themes alongside his ethereal blend of choir and pads that makes for a wonderful listening experience. Chocobo makes an appearance with the vocaloid “Chocobattle!”, and there’s also a metal battle theme that heavily references “Battle Scene” from the original Final Fantasy (very cool!). Finally, there’s a new spin on the Final Fantasy VI battle theme with some metal layered over the top of the original recording.

His bombastic “Legend – Mobius Final Fantasy” blends filtered guitars and bombastic orchestra and choir into a powerful theme, while “Wol’s Theme – The Journey Begins,” is sweet and catchy. This theme is featured many times throughout the score to great effect, with relaxing, tropical, and the upbeat, funky, and pop-oriented main version being featured throughout. “Dancing Edge” is a super cool dubstep-infused track brimming with positive energy, “The Forsaken World” works in ethereal pads and piano/acoustic guitar in an unsettling combination, and “Attack Ignition” is a heavy dancefloor tune. “The Rune Crystal” layers pads and bells in a beautiful and otherworldly fashion, “Sarah’s Theme” brings in sweeping orchestra and choir, and “Lightway” introduces massive pads and a spacey melody. “Among the Musty” sports hauntingly beautiful guitar work, “Just Desserts – Second Helping” is a super energetic orchestral track featuring snippets of the Final Fantasy theme, and “Infinite Arena” is an upbeat rock track with that feels like Final Fantasy battle themes of old, while “Echo’s Theme” features mischievous chattering, a sweet and innocent piano melody, and la-la choir. Coming to the end, “The Last Stand” sports epic choir and orchestra and the sound of machinery chugging, “The Azure Witch” gets cool piano and pads with rapid piano playing, and the closing “Palamecia Breeze” brings in harp runs from “The Prelude” behind a beautiful piano and pads melody, and is absolutely gorgeous.

Fans of Mitsuto Suzuki should be pleased with more of his unique sound. The two-disc album is available on CD Japan.

Review: BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2

While Square Enix has ended its SQ arrangement album series, I always kind of felt that the BRA BRA Final Fantasy Brass de Bravo album fit within that space. While the same wind ensemble performed the entire album, the eclectic styles perhaps accounted for this perception. I loved the first album, but didn’t expect more, so I was surprised when the follow-up was announced.

BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2 presents 12 new arrangements, once again in varying styles. There are straightforward orchestral presentations of the fan-favorite “Battle at the Big Bridge” and a medley of overworld themes from the first three Final Fantasy games, but also a epic and triumphant spin on the Final Fantasy IV overworld, a somber and somewhat glorious take on “Cosmo Canyon” with staccato woodwind additions that brought Spirited Away to mind, the flamenco-tigned “Something to Protect,” and a sleazy swingin’ jazz version of “Kefka” that is a real treat. There are sweet woodwinds in what’s probably my favorite version of Final Fantasy VII’s “Gold Saucer,” a big band with bumpin’ bass version of “The Man With the Machine Gun,” the grand and epic “Fight With Seymour,” the gentle sway of “Fragments of Memories,” and a live rendition of “Mambo de Chocobo.”

Final Fantasy fans will enjoy the varied approaches taken with this album, so pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Heavensward: FINAL FANTASY XIV Original Soundtrack

Final Fantasy XIV has enjoyed several soundtrack releases up to this point (A Realm Reborn, From Astral to Umbral, Before the Fall), but I’ve been hearing for months that the music from Heavensward is the best yet. While Square Enix has trickled out digital EPs over the past year, they’ve released all 60 new tracks on Blu-ray disc. Masayoshi Soken again handles most of the composition, and I’d agree that the music is pretty fantastic.

Immediately out of the gate is “Heavensward,” a subdued vocal theme, followed by a chilling version of the series prelude theme titled “A Cold Wind.” One of my favorite tracks on the album follows, the epic 13:22-long “Solid,” which acts as a defiant anthem for the entire score and is weaved throughout. A defiant and extremely catchy melody is followed by ominous organ and brass stabs that then venture into uncertainty and majestic portions of the song. It’s a masterpiece as used here.

The entire score is great, but other standouts include deep and mysterious “Descent” with its ethereal bell tones, two slowed down and sleepier versions of the “Solid” theme titled “Nobility Sleeps” (probably my favorite track) and “Nobility Obliges,” the exotic “Coming Home” by Yukiko Takada with various woodwinds and even a bagpipe, the very strange gurgling English Western vocal track, “Unbending Steel” Uematsu’s emotional “Contention,” a world music-meets-DNB version of the “Solid” theme titled “Woe that is Madness,” the decisive “Order Yet Undeciphered” with organ, timpani, and a killer bass pad that lends a cool electronic edge to the track, the explosive rock-electronic “Unbreakable” with some awesome rock organ, and finally Uematsu’s closing vocal theme, “Dragonsong,” featuring the ever-lovely Susan Calloway on vocals and coming as a shorter and more emotional theme compared to “Answers.”

You can pick up the album on CD Japan, and I highly recommend doing so! I’d agree with many others in saying this may be some of the best Final Fantasy XIV music yet, particularly with the incredibly strong theme featured throughout.

FINAL FANTASY VIII VINYL [Limited Edition] + Unboxing Video

Square Enix has released a selection of Final Fantasy VIII music on two picture vinyls. They’re quite gorgeous, so we thought it would be great to show them to you. While the two vinyls don’t contain the soundtrack in its entirety, most key tracks are here, including the whimsical overworld theme, “Blue Fields,” the energetic battle theme, “Don’t Be Afraid” (one of my personal favorites of the entire series), the electronic-tinged boss battle theme, “Force Your Way,” the soothing guitar track, “Breezy,” the Triple Triad theme, “Shuffle or Boogie,” Laguna’s battle theme, “The Man With The Machine Gun,” the ominous “Premonition,” what I consider to be one of Uematsu’s finest compositions, “Fisherman’s Horizon,” and the final battle theme, “The Extreme,” among others.

I thought it would be nice to include a taste of the elusive Final Fantasy VIII Chips album from 2012, which you can hear in the background.

The vinyls are available directly from the Square Enix shop in Japan and Europe, but can be imported from CD Japan from outside of those regions.

Review: FINAL FANTASY XI Priceless Remembrance

Final Fantasy XI has enjoyed quite a run! It launched in 2002, and it was only this year that Square Enix issued the final major update. This Blu-ray release includes the final pieces of music written for the game as well as a few other surprises. The video content in particular adds a lot as it relates to the title of this release, offering a lengthy series of video footage from the many areas of Vana’diel with musical accompaniment. As somebody who didn’t get very far in Final Fantasy XI, it was nice to see some of the world of Vana’diel and listen to the corresponding music, finally lending the themes some context. A breakdown of what’s featured throughout the seven videos can be found on VGMdb.

In terms of new music, there are 16 tracks total. “Forever Today” is a sweet vocal ballad presented in three different forms, including the opening instrumental that takes a sweet and slow approach, an EP version with Rhodes piano and female vocals, and the original version with a more traditional orchestral backing. From there, “Worlds Away” offers ethereal bells and piano, “Monstrosity” presents upbeat electronic rock reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, and “Clouds Over Ulbuka” is a tense orchestral piece. “The Price” is determined and decisive, while “The Serpentine Labyrinth” is dark and foreboding with string stabs, droning pads, and distant percussion. “The Divine” is also somewhat foreboding with its droning pads and metallic percussive hits in the background, conjuring up a ghostly atmosphere. “Distant Worlds” gets a lovely instrumental version, while “Iroha” sports dreamy bell tones that are sleep-inducing and lovely, “The Boundless Black” is ominous with its dissonant pads and industrial percussion, “Isle of the Gods” is majestic yet terrifying, and “Wail of the Void” is contemplative and enveloping with thick strings and beautiful piano melody. The final track, the powerful ballad “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel,” is presented twice, once with more Rhodes and female vocals and another that features a choir comprised voices of players of Final Fantasy XI. The track is intended to be tender and reflective of all the experiences that have been enjoyed by players over the years, wrapping things up with heavy references to the opening “Vana’diel March” and giving fans some closure.

In all, this is a well thought out release. I love the grandeur of the final pieces added to the game, and the various versions of the vocal themes are different enough to warrant their release. The video footage is also a nice touch, and will likely be treasured by longtime residents of the world of Vana’diel.

You can pick up the Blu-ray release at CD Japan if you’re interested.

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

Wow, I can’t believe Distant Worlds has hit 100! I caught one of the first few shows, and I’ve never been disappointed with a performance since. Their album recordings have also been fantastic, and in recent years, they’ve ventured into video. It’s great that they’ve made available their 100th show on Blu-ray for long-time fans and attendees like myself and those who haven’t been able to make it out to a show.

Arnie Roth conducts and hosts the show, recorded in front of a Japanese crowd. 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.

My only criticism would be that the MP3s are not hosted on this Blu-ray disc! Still, I enjoyed watching it from start to finish. Given the recent Distant Worlds III album release didn’t feature many of these new arrangements, I’m hoping we’ll see yet another Distant Worlds CD release in the future with these new arrangements on them so I can listen on the go.

The Blu-ray is definitely worth your time. The booklet is stuffed full of comments from the creators, all in English as well as Japanese. Grab it from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSiC SAMPLER CD Vol.10

It’s that time of year again. Square Enix put out their annual sampler from Tokyo Game Show featuring goodies from their upcoming albums. They usually use these samplers as a vehicle to announce new albums and show off impending ones, but this year’s sampler features mainly material that we’ve known is coming. Also of note is the fact that the samples are all full-length tracks instead of the snippets that we’ve sometimes received in the past.

The disc opens with the ten-minute-long “Thunder Falls” from the Final Fantasy XIV: Before the Fall OST. It’s out now, and I highly recommend it (review here). There’s a lovely battle medley from Final Symphony II, featuring “Fierce Engagement” from Final Fantasy VI and a tease of “One-Winged Angel.” Imperial SaGa features Kenji Ito back in his orchestral element after so many rock excursions (Million Arthur, SaGa Battle). It’s fantastic and features a nice variation of the SaGa theme. We also get a taste of the upcoming Legend of Mana arrange album in the form of a wonderful jazz arrangement that is playful at times and beautiful at others. An arrangement from the highly-anticipated Chrono arrange album, “Dimension Break,” has been released before, but sounds as lovely as ever, there’s a new folky tune from Final Fantasy XI, an explosive orchestral/rock hybrid from Alice Order, Mitsuto Suzuki doing his thing on Mobius Final Fantasy that sounds reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, a live band track featuring Motoi Sakuraba with great solos, and a rock track of his from Star Ocean V that’s nice to hear after Sakuraba’s focus on styles other than synth rock in recent years.

In all, while there aren’t any surprises, this is a solid sampler that should have give fans a lot to look forward to. There’s something for everyone with Mana and Chrono arranges, a Final Fantasy spin-off, and a serious classical album coming soon. Stay tuned!

Review: BEFORE THE FALL: FINAL FANTASY XIV Original Soundtrack

Square Enix has released another massive collection of music from Final Fantasy XIV, this time from several recent content updates. Fans were impressed with the initial soundtrack offering some months back, so it’s a bit of a surprise to get another collection totaling over four hours of music so soon. But who can complain when the new music composed mostly by Masayoshi Soken is so good!

There isn’t as diverse of a range presented on this album: it’s mainly darker and more ominous than the previous album release, but there’s a lot to love. Many of my favorites include the rock tracks that were performed by The Primals on their From Astral to Umbral arrange album, including the contemplative “Thunder Rolls” and the grungy rock “Oblivion.” Other favorites include the melancholy choir piece, “A Light in the Storm,” the exotic and ambient “The Edge,” the atmospheric and dreamy “The Warrens,” a dark organ and choir version of the vocal theme “Answers,” and the explosive orchestral track “Hamartomania,” which sounds like something out of Metal Gear Solid. That’s in addition to several references to classic Final Fantasy tunes that fans of the series will enjoy.

My favorite thing about this soundtrack, which is presented on Blu-ray disc, is that it hosts some bonus content, including live performances of piano and The Primals sets from this year’s Final Fantasy XIV festival in Japan. The footage is quite substantial, and includes some interesting moments, including Soken himself creating makeshift percussion out of cardboard boxes while he plays a track on piano and performing a duo on one piano for another.

Final Fantasy XIV fans will want to check this out. There is over four hours of music to enjoy in addition to the fantastic concert footage. Pick it up on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Final Symphony music from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X

Final Symphony represents one of the most ambitious undertakings Thomas Boecker and Merregnon Studios have attempted to date. While their “Symphonic” series has been a smashing success, with productions dedicated to the works of Chris Huelsbeck (Symphonic Shades), Nobuo Uematsu (Symphonic Odysseys), Square Enix (Symphonic Fantasies), and others, Final Symphony brings together an assortment of Final Fantasy titles and presents them in a grand classical tradition. Prepare to hear your favorite “tunes” from the Final Fantasy series elevated to a new level with expert arrangements by the team at Merregnon Studios (Roger Wanamo and Jonne Valtonen) and by Masashi Hamauzu himself.

After an original playful opener, “A Circle Within a Circle Within a Circle,” the album launches into an epic 18-minute suite from Final Fantasy VI titled “Born with the Gift of Magic,” which opts for a narrative angle by telling the tale of Terra and her conflict with the empire, her past, and with the tyrant Kefka. There’s a lot of turmoil embedded in the music, and my favorite moment is the mysterious take on “Another World of Beasts.” There’s a piano concerto arranged by Hamauzu that masterfully combines various themes from the game into a coherent musical experience, and a three movement symphony dedicated to Final Fantasy VII that also adopts a narrative format, focusing on Sephiroth, Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and the epic showdown between them. A few pieces are shorter in length, including “Suteki da ne” from Final Fantasy X, “Continue?” from Final Fantasy VII, and a clever “Fight, Fight, Fight!” which sports battle themes from across all three titles presented in a unique way as they battle with one another to be heard.

The release comes housed on a Blu-ray disc which can be watched in a Blu-ray player, showing off photos from the recording sessions while you listen to the sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-intense performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. The MP3s are also housed on the disc, so you can take the music with you on the go. The included booklet is written in Japanese and English, and includes bios for all of the artists as well as a wonderfully-written listener’s guide that explains the creative decisions that went into the music, allowing the casual listener like myself to understand what’s being represented by the various musical passages.

I referred to the original scores as “tunes” at the start of this review because this presentation is so steeped in the classical tradition that it makes the source material sound almost like child’s play. That’s not to say it’s without merit, as nothing can top the nostalgia provided by the original sound source, but if you ever want to impress your classically-trained music friends with what game music can be as heard through the lens of true classical music, show them Final Symphony. It feels like the adult way to enjoy Final Fantasy music.

Final Symphony is out in September and can be pre-ordered from CD Japan.