Tag Archives: Piano

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: NieR Music Concert & Talk Live Blu-ray

I absolutely adore NieR. It ranks among my favorite soundtracks of all time. I’m also a huge fan of vocalist Emi Evans, and I’ve always been disappointed that I’ve never been able to see her perform the music from NieR lives in all the many times she’s done it. Thankfully Square Enix decided to publish this recent concert and live talk event on Blu-ray for the world to enjoy, and enjoy it I have.

The performance includes all the key tracks, with MoNACA composer and pianist Keigo Hoashi performing his own themes along with the lovely Reiko Tsuchiya Quartet. Vocalists, including Emi Evans, are of course featured prominently. There’s the somber introduction, “Snow in Summer,” followed by Emi Evans’s angelic vocals in “Hills of Radiant Winds,” “Kaine,” and “Song of the Ancients / Devola.” I realize I’m going over them quickly here, but they are each absolutely stunning compositions and live performances.

Things get more interesting with “The Wretched Automatons,” which sees Emi Evans perform her usual lead with Nami Nakagawa (also a performer from the original NieR soundtrack) handling the lower notes. Nagakawa truly impresses throughout the entire evening with her amazing range. She can hit some incredible lows and highs, making a perfect accompaniment to Evans or running the entire range all on her own, including on her NieR: Automata track.

Vocalist J’Nique Nicole comes to the stage to perform “Weight of the World” from Automata. The track has a sort of sleek and sexy ballad vibe, similar in style of something from Metal Gear Solid of 007. It’s an interesting track, and I’m curious to see how it sets the tone for the rest of the score.

Evans again comes to the stage to perform the heartbreaking “Grandma,” the sweet and reflective “Ashes of Dreams,” and is joined by Nakagawa for a riveting encore, “Song of the Ancients / Fate” featuring the two performing in perfect harmony. It’s quite a thing to see done live.

I’m glad they decided to keep the talk separate from the concert, as watching long portions of talk in the middle of the music can be a drag. I also enjoy the packaging design, with the sleek black and white cover with a nice wood grain texture that lends it some class.

In all, I couldn’t be more happy with this release. The music isn’t included in MP3 format on the disc like other Blu-ray releases have been, so you’ll have to pick up the limited edition version of the game to get the audio alone.

Feel free to pick up the Blu-ray on CD Japan in the meantime if you’re a fan of NieR’s music!

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.

Review: I am Setsuna Original Soundtrack

There’s been a lot of talk of Chrono series influences on Square Enix’s new RPG, I am Setsuna. That immediately had me interested in the game and its soundtrack, and upon learning that that the score would be recorded almost entirely on solo piano, my anticipation grew. The score features two discs of piano performances that touch on all the RPG trappings, including a bass-heavy and dangerous battle theme (“Deadly gamble”) and frightening dungeon theme (“Dark caves”) to the cute and whimsical “The warmth of life” and beautiful and serene ballad, “Hidden intentions.”

I was surprised at times just how versatile I am Setsuna is despite relying on a single instrument. I really love “No turning back” with its upbeat action and distinctly Asian vibe, “March of the brave” and its semi-serious approach that’s both playful and determined, the reflective and somber “Regal ruins,” the rapid staccato notes of “Endless crusade,” the mysterious “A secret passage,” the rambunctious “Rare,” and probably my favorite track on the album, “Silent snow,” which features twinkling piano notes that descend in a sorrowful fashion with just a tinge of beauty. I’ve noted that the soundtrack is “mainly” piano several times now, and that’s because tracks like the tense and lightning-fast “Relentless advance,” the energetic and wondrous “A fantastic encounter,” the determined “Out of time,” and the explosive “Hidden danger” also add in bass and percussion to great effect (you really notice the additions when none of the other tracks feature them). There’s also a little chiptune surprise in “Dreamer’s conclave” tucked away at the end of the album that is quite a treat.

In all, I really enjoyed my time with the I am Setsuna soundtrack. It offers icy atmospheres and beautiful ballads, perfect for a game that takes place in the snow, and does a lot with a single instrument. Grab it on CD Japan if you’re interested in giving it a listen.

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X Original Soundtrack

The announcement that anime and film composer Hiroyuki Sawano would be working on Xenoblade Chronicles X was met with a lot of excitement. The team was going all out with the score, and for anyone who’s played the game, the vast landscapes that are at the same time primeval and futuristic are captured perfectly in Sawano’s blend of epic orchestral, electronic, rock, hip-hop, vocal and piano ballads, and more. There are sleek production values throughout, and while the track titles are often unreadable (presented as alpha-numeric gibberish), making it hard to find your favorite moments, listening from start to finish will present numerous outstanding moments.

Many of the in-game themes have been spliced together and shift pretty dramatically in mood over the course of a single track, so it’s hard to describe individual tracks, but the variety is pretty staggering. The four-disc collection begins with a bang, with the epic choir and strings of “CODENAMEZ” and the uplifting main theme, “THEMEX.” “LP” presents a soundscape that’s exotic and alien, complete with pretty bell tones, while “MONOX” sports a smooth electronic vibe before hitting the powerful main theme again. The ethereal “Nemousu” is beautiful yet melancholy with its use of choir and bells, while the tracks from the central hub city, New LA, include hip hop elements mixed with rock and electronica. The battle themes, “Black Tar” and “Uncontrollable” are both great at building tension and getting you pumped with their heavy electronics and hip hop vocals in the former and male/female duet in the latter. Other areas of the game feature funk, blues, and even tread on Celtic territory. One track even makes use of phone noises and scary screeches to create a tense atmosphere, while another brings in ethnic instruments that are perfect accompaniments for an arid desert. Anyone who’s played the game will also know the music featured in Primordia, which has a distinctly prehistoric sound with rock elements, heavy string stabs and a driving melody that will leave you wanting to explore every nook and cranny of this foreign world. There are also some nice solo piano tracks tucked away on the last disc.

I mentioned vocals earlier, but in addition to the battle and New LA themes, there are a number of other vocal tracks. “You Voice” is a grungy pop rock track, “Wir fliegen” is a pumping electronic piece with German vocals, and “By my side” is a sweet pop rock ballad with cheesy lyrics reminiscent of the GENKI ROCKETS. “Don’t Worry” also stands out with its 80s synths and sticky sweet electronic synth pop vibe. The star, however, is “In the forest,” which is featured three separate times on the album, featuring an epic orchestral and choir backing alongside spoken narration-style singing.

In all, fans of the game should enjoy what’s on offer here. While it’s not organized in a way to find your favorite tracks, you’ll be right at home with all of the music here. It’s epic, it’s well produced, and it’s memorable. Grab the four-disc set at CD Japan if you’re interested.

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: TREE of SAVIOR ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK Vol.1

As a huge fan of SoundTeMP’s work on Ragnarok Online and the varied contributors to Granado Espada, I’ve had my eye on Tree of Savior for a long time. From IMC Games, it’s been touted as the spiritual successor to Ragnarok Onliine, which is apparent in the visual presentation and the musical talent assembled for the game. It features audio lead Sevin (S.F.A) along with new contributions from SoundTeMP and Questrosound (aka Nikacha, formerly of SoundTeMP), and artist Kevin. In all, the music is amazingly well-produced, and I’d describe it as a happy medium between the poppy sound of Ragnarok Online and the classical/trance sounds of Granado Espada. There are many great moments throughout, and I’m definitely curious to hear this music in the context of the game.

It all starts with the Celtic-inspired main theme, “Tree of Savior,” which also gets a piano and live version on the album. Some of my favorite contributions include S.F.A’s “Due Solo” which combines orchestral and electronic elements into a classy and somewhat desperate soundscape, Questrosound’s “Forest of Shadows” with its dangerously dark strings and funky bass line, and SoundTeMP’s “Red and the Sun” with its gothic rock elements that makes it feel like a poppy version of Castlevania. There’s also Questrosound’s “Moonlight Walk” with its huge strings and brass that make it epic yet cool, SoundTeMP’s “Topaz” with its slow somber take on trance (one of my favorites on the album), and S.F.A’s “Pristinee” that stands out for its melancholy female vocals added to an electronic backing. SoundTeMP’s interestingly-named “Woman Peeling Potatoes” is the most metal of the tracks, with a great galloping rhythm, and their nine-minute-long “Angelus” features spooky electronics and piano. Finally, S.F.A’s grungy rock “Tori March” closes out with attitude.

Many of the other tracks here are equally brilliant, but I don’t want to spoil all of it. The set spans two discs, containing 33 tracks, and comes housed in a nice DVD-sized package with a magnetic latch to keep it closed. Unfortunately it’s only been distributed as a promotional item at events in Korea, but I imagine the music will make its way out into the world someday, and given that this is Volume 1, I’m sure there will be more. In the meantime, head over to the SoundCloud channels for both DESTRUCTOID and GamesRadar for some exclusive samples.

DRAGON’S CROWN ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (BSPE-1051~3)

There are many fans of Vanillaware’s gorgeous fantasy beat-’em-up, Dragon’s Crown. Scarlet Moon Artists composer and Basiscape head Hitoshi Sakimoto scored the game in its entirety, drawing on classic fantasy inspirations to weave together melodies that are strong yet deceptively simple. Dragon’s Crown wasn’t trying to break new ground, but rather reaching back into the heart of the fantasy genre, and this powerful soundtrack follows suit. Anyone’s who played the game will love the masculine “Dragon’s Haven Inn” with its exotic instrumentation, the whimsical and enchanting “City Street,” the somber and healing “Canaan Temple,” and the angelic “World Map.” Those who are more into action will enjoy the foreboding and epic “Castle of the Dead: Catacombs,” the powerful and adventurous “Mage Tower,” and the dangerous and swashbuckling “Ghost Ship Cove.” There are also two piano arrangements tucked away at the tail end of the three-disc set for both “City Street” and “World Map.”

After loving the soundtrack in-game, many fans have been wondering if an album would ever be released, and it’s now available courtesy of Basiscape Records on both CD Japan (physical) and iTunes worldwide. The physical package  includes several wonderful (and provocative!) pieces of art throughout. Pick it up today!

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.

Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume II (SMRC-1008)

Volume II is here! Enjoy ten new tracks touching on classic franchises including Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and The Legend of Zelda in addition to new greats such as Shovel Knight and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. All arrangements are performed by GENTLE LOVE (Norihiko Hibino and AYAKI) to assist you with sleep and relaxation.

Visit the official Prescription for Sleep website for purchase links and track lists for both volumes, and don’t miss out on our promotion to snag GENLTE LOVE’s arrangement from the Korean fantasy MMORPG, Monarch: Heroes of a New Age, for free when purchashing Volume I and Volume II together only on Loudr.

Feel free to check out our exclusive interview with The Verge where we discuss the Prescription for Sleep series, and be sure to catch our official launch trailer on Nerdist!

As always, feedback and suggestions are welcome: jayson[at]scarletmoonproductions[dot]com.

Don’t forget to grab our beautiful digital booklet, which includes photos and commentary on every track on the album in addition to a brief Q&A with Norihiko Hibino.

View the track list in its entirety below. Continue reading Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies Volume II (SMRC-1008)