Tag Archives: Orchestral

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: 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.

Review: ALICE ORDER ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I can’t say I know much about Square Enix’s mobile title Alice Order, but I’ve heard good things about its soundtrack composed by Yuki Hayashi. Hayashi is mainly known for his work in the realm of anime, so I was curious to delve in. There’s a blend of orchestral, instrumental, and electronic soundscapes found within, all of which is wonderfully produced.

The opening track, “ALICE ORDER,” introduces sweeping orchestra with electronic percussion and bass, creating a sleek and cool atmosphere. There’s tension in the mission select theme with chugging bass and brass, an energetic blend of orchestral and rock in “Valkyrie Dance,” and guttural electronics and fast-paced espionage vibes in “Advance Troops.” “Result” offers a uplifting march, “In Progress” adds tribal percussion to the electronic/orchestral mix, and “Forces Conflict” is ominous with glitchy percussion and desolate and distant guitar work. There’s a tragic piano and string ballad titled “What is lost,” a mysterious droning synth track called “Wave of mystery,” and a touch of playfulness in “Fleeting peace” with its triangle, pizzicato strings, and acoustic guitar. Rounding out the album are “Mighty force,” a grandiose struggle, “Invasion of darkness,” a pumping electronic track, and the explosive “Divine judgment.”

In all, there’s a nice mix of music here to demonstrate Yuki Hayashi’s talent. Fans looking for some cool and sleek electronic music might want to give this a try since it’s unlikely anyone outside of Japan has played the game. It’s available on CD Japan.

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: SaGa SCARLET GRACE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

I’ve admittedly not completed a single game in the SaGa series, but that hasn’t stopped me from appreciating Kenji Ito’s sweeping and majestic orchestral scores. In fact, I’ve reviewed a number of them and their arrangements on this very blog. After hearing a sample on the Square Enix Music sampler last year, I was looking forward to the Scarlet Grace soundtrack in particular, and I’m not disappointing upon hearing it now. There’s all the wondrous orchestral beauty, chugging metal, and more that you’ve come to expect, and then some.

Starting with sweeping and joyous overture and the contemplative and regal and uplifting “Scarlet Dark Star,” it’s then on to the spunky guitar and string ballad, “When Flowers Bloom ~ Urpina Theme,” the upbeat rock battle, “Trampling Petals ~ Urpina Battle,” and the swaying lullaby-esque “In a Quiet Forest ~ When Hearts Are Tested.” “That’s Cute, Right” is an infectious bubbly electronic track, “Graveyard ~ Siegfrey’s Theme” is dark and ominous, and “Devil – The Fallen One” is epic synth rock in classic SaGa fashion.

Some of my favorites include “Guardian of Martial Arts ~ Divine Star Marigan,” a determined march with rolling snares and a regal tone, “Ever Near to Sorrow,” a somber and tragic piece with harp and slow strings, “Quietly ~ Taria Theme,” a fantasy pop ballad with woodwinds, strings, and bells, and “Grassland ~ The Wind and One Who Presses Forward,” a hybrid Western/Asian-flavored track with spunky Western bass and galloping percussion. The album closes with all the explosive vigor you’d expect, with wailing guitars, rock organ, romantic violins, and epic strings.

In all, Kenji Ito has done another wonderful job, showing once again that he may be the man to take up the Dragon Quest mantle someday. His orchestral work is getting that good.

Pick up the album on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: Star Fox Zero

Star Fox soundtracks are some of my favorites. Nintendo’s take on science fiction with majestic orchestra and electronic elements has been a treat since the original Star Fox on the SNES, and while the team at Bandai Namco was largely responsible for this soundtrack, I was curious to see how they’d treat the source material. Overall, it’s a rather grand and serious orchestral score with a lot of references to classic Star Fox themes, and I think anyone who played through the game was sure to enjoythe music.

The score overall is quite large and covers a lot of ground, making it even more unfortunate that Nintendo is unlikely to publish a soundtrack. I’ll simply call out some of my favorites that you may pay special attention to as you play through the game and hear them for yourself. Right out of the gate with the title theme, you get bombastic orchestra that sets the stage for an epic adventure in space. I got an immediate kick out of the theme that plays when you complete training, as it’s glorious and triumphant, working in the Star Fox theme and incorporating some cool rock percussion alongside the fancy synth work. Corneria gets the blood pumping with a tense take on the main theme, while the laid back map theme (my favorite track) works in electronic percussion and beautiful harmonies. Area 3 gets fast-paced drum ‘n’ bass, Katt gets a playful jazz theme with meows at the end, and the track that plays when you complete a mission is a sleek electronic march that is an arrangement of the classic victory tune. The Star Fox theme itself is an upbeat and bouncy march with little synth runs that are a nice touch, while Fortuna gets a tropical forest vibe complete with marimba and male choral chanting. Towards the end, Venom is accompanied by droning tones and scattered notes, adding to the tension, and even deeper into the planet, you get repetitive whirring and string stabs that are almost maddening. Andross gets a sinister theme with choir and big brass. The lengthy ending sequence sports the expected triumphant orchestral territory, but there’s some chillout material that I really enjoyed.

In all, I was pleased with the Star Fox Zero soundtrack. I’d love to see it published some day, but it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’ll get picked up by an external publisher like we’ve been seeing with recent Pokemon, Zelda, and Fire Emblem releases.

Bullet Girls 1 & 2 Soundtrack (SRIN-1140)

SuperSweep Records is at it again, bringing music you wouldn’t expect out on CD with the release of the soundtracks to the PlayStation Vita games Bullet Girls 1&2. The album features an eclectic selection of electronic, orchestral, and pop music composed by Masanori Hikichi, including the catchy J-rock title themes, “Faith” (Bullet Girls 1) and “One’s Bullet” (Bullet Girls 2), both featuring vocalist Tifan.

Between military marches, smooth synth pop, funk, and pop rock, there’s something for everyone with this release. There’s sweeping orchestral, spooky trip hop, and even dance music. It’s all wonderfully produced, and even some of the darker tracks maintain an upbeat atmosphere. They also include a number of jingles from the game and the instrumental versions of the vocal tracks.

Bullet Girls 1&2 Soundtrack can be imported from CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 25TH ANNIVERSARY SELECTION

It’s hard to believe Sonic is over 25 years old. There have been good times, and there have been bad times, but one thing that’s always been particularly great about the series is the music. SEGA put together a two-disc “best of” compilation album of tracks from across the entire franchise and released them this past summer. The album features a more upbeat and poppy “Blue” disc and a darker and grittier “Black” disc.

The blue disc features classics such as the classic FM synthesis pop tune that started it all, “Green Hill Zone,” and the high-flying and majestic “Sky Sanctuary Zone” from Sonic & Knuckles. There’s the carnvial-like atmosphere of “Palmtree Panic” with its cheering crowds, the tribal “Mt. Red: A Symbol of Thrill,” and the dance tune, “Join Us 4 Happy Time.” We then get into the upbeat, inspirational rock that modern Sonic has come to be known for. “That’s the way I like it” gives us ska, “Neo Green Hill” combines 8-bit sounds with crunched down modern ones, and “Wave Ocean” is a cool fast-paced rock track with lightning-fast percussion. There’s the pumping “Theme of Metal City,” the adventurous and mariachi-flavored “A New Venture,” DNB and strings in “Windmill Isle,” and spacey synths in “Reach for the Stars.” One of my favorites, “Escape from the City,” appears in its Sonic Generations remix form, while “Beyond the Speed of…” is a super catchy pop-infused rock track from Sonic Runners, which we previously reviewed.

The black disc is heavier on the metal and synth syide. “Chemical Plant Zone” from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is not only one of the greatest tracks from the series, but one of the most unique with its super funky layered bass. There’s chugging electronics in “Death Egg Zone Act 1” from Sonic & Knuckles, spunky rock in “Skydeck A Go! Go!,” and danger and grit in “Vengeance is Mine.” “For True Story” goes trip hop, “Rain Canyon” brings in octave-jumping slap bass and rock organ, and “Theme of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)” sports big strings and rock, creating a cool hybrid. The ascending strings, orchestral hits, and buzzing bass in “Crisis City” stand out, as does the ominous and brooding synth sweeps and desolate sound of “Un-gravify.” Majestic and epic are good words to describe “Super Sonic vs. Perfect Dark Gaia,” while “Planet Wisp” sports a lovely piano ballad on top of funky bass and energetic percussion.

As somebody who owns many Sonic soundtracks, I still appreciated this collection as a historical look at the series. It’s changed direction a lot over the years, but they’ve always done a great job emphasizing speed with super catchy music, whether in synth pop or rock styles. Pick it up on CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: FINAL FANTASY XV Original Soundtrack

Yoko Shimomura’s long-awaited soundtrack for Final Fantasy XV is finally here. I tried my best not to spoil it for myself, only listening to a few scattered samples and playing through one of the two pre-release demos, but even those demos couldn’t have prepared me for what was in store. The score is simply massive. It’s probably the most diverse and most “live” Final Fantasy soundtrack to date, with orchestras, session artists, and more spread over 96 tracks. I was surprised to find strong blues and Hollywood-style electronic/orchestral hybrid influences throughout, and I think fans of Yoko Shimomura will be pleasantly surprised by the variety.

I obviously can’t run through 96 tracks, but I can call out some of the key tracks. The title theme, “Somnus (Instrumental)” is melancholy and beautiful, which is a good way to sum up the majority of the score. The elegant piano work featured here is the binder that brings the entire body of work together, weaving in and out of tracks where you might not even expect it. It’s then on to blues with the spunky “Hammerhead,” which comes right out of a dusty western flick, while the exploration theme, “Wanderlust” combines whimsical orchestra with this gritty Western sound.

The battle themes are fitting, with the tense dissonance of “Encroaching Fear” that acts as a lead in to confrontations, and the powerful string and brass “Stand Your Ground” acting as the battle theme proper. “Lurking Danger” is a dark and terrifying piece that plays when a major confrontation is around the corner, and “Hunt or be Hunted” is a bombastic orchestral track that will have you thinking Metal Gear. Other standouts include “NOX AETERNA” with its profoundly distraught string work, the explosive “Veiled in Black” with contrasting chugging electric guitars and romantic piano sections, and the somewhat comical fishing theme, “Reel Rumble,” which sports rock organ and big brass to accompany your aquatic battles.

There is quite an eclectic assortment throughout, with the feel-good “Relax and Reflect” coming as a lovely contemporary jazz tune, the dreamy acoustic “Safe Haven,” and one of my favorites, the funk-infused “Urban Chrome” that accompanies the garage where you make modifications to your car, sporting jazzy keys and wah-wah rhythm guitar. There’s bossa nova with “Galdin Quay,” the infectiously upbeat alternative rock with “Bros on the Road,” the Spanish-flavored “Lestallum” with guitar and shakers, and the magnificent “Valse di Fantastica,” a lovely waltz that feels so distinctly Shimomura. I really enjoyed the sweet and sweeping “NOCTIS” as well, which is warm and uplifting, as well as the sorrow-tinged “Song of the Stars” with its solo female vocals.

This is Final Fantasy, however, and the menu theme offers a lovely chillout version of “The Prelude” titled “Crystalline Chill.” There are new takes on the Chocobo theme, and also a radio that plays classic Final Fantasy tunes that has series fans abuzz. Interestingly, Final Fantasy XV doesn’t hit you with wall-to-wall music, but rather leaves a lot of silence to emphasize the moments where music does actually play. This allows players who so desire to fill in the gaps with the music in the car (and MP3 player that allows you to take that same music with you on foot). It’s certainly a nice touch for fans to enjoy their favorite Final Fantasy tunes within Final Fantasy XV.

The drama definitely gets more heavy as the score progresses, so without spoiling any of the game by discussing the feelings associated with key tracks from the latter portion of the soundtrack, suffice it to say that you’re in store for an emotional roller coaster.

In all, while this is a different kind of Final Fantasy score that we have never heard before, I think it works. It’s definitely more Western in style in that it’s less thematic and more background score to accent the game’s action without standing out too strongly at any given moment, but playing through the game, I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

You can pick it up on CD Japan in four-disc CD, one-disc Blu-ray, and in massive limited edition format, the last of which includes a piano arrangement disc and all of the music from the in-game radio.