Tag Archives: Square Enix

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: Grimms Notes Original Soundtrack

This one’s surely a pleasant surprise. Square Enix publishes a lot of game music for their mobile titles that don’t make it out of Japan, and sometimes there’s some excellent music found within. The Grimms Notes soundtrack by Taketeru Sunamori and Miyako Matsuoka is a perfect example. There are strong Celtic influences throughout with all the JRPG staples, and it’s certainly worth the time to check it out.

The opening theme is magical and mysterious with descending harp and a lute, setting the tone for the rest of the score. There’s a woodwind and tambourine-heavy folk tune, uplifting harmonica in one track, warm and beautiful harmonies in another. There are exotic woodwinds, Latin-flavored guitars, a triumphant and adventurous march, tropical steel drums, and a mixture of contemplative, somber, and epic tunes towards the end. The star of the show, however, is the version of the main theme with Japanese female vocals. There’s something unsettling about the track, like some ancient lullaby with seemingly sweet lyrics that hide danger within, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.

The unfortunate news is that I can only find it on sale on the Square Enix Japan store. I hope it turns up elsewhere, because the soundtrack is a hidden gem!

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: JUSTICE MONSTERS FIVE Original Soundtrack

Justice Monsters Five is a bit hard to explain. A mobile pinball title for iOS and Android, but also an mini-game in Final Fantasy XV, Justice Monsters Five is about as epic as pinball will ever get. The music is outsourced to Unique Note, founded by former Capcom artists Tetsuya Shibata and Yoshino Aoki along with some new faces, as well as Yoshitaka Suzuki. Expect big orchestral cues that are fitting of the game’s title, but a little surprising if you just know it as a pinball game!

“Justice Monsters, Assemble!” opens with a bombastic orchestral super hero theme before “Blazing Heart of Justice” brings in the heavy metal thunder. “Prince of Peerless Power” gets regal piano, “Right Here, Darling” introduces ethereal twinkling bells and electronic whirring, and “Let Us Dance, Mis Amigos” sports chugging guitars underneath a heavy dance track. There’s trance in “Only in My Dreams,” upbeat rock in “Justice Monsters Five,” and wailing electric guitars and an impressive guitar solo in “Gaze into my Demoneye…” Several epic orchestral marches follow on to the end, with the whimsical and folksy “Halcyon Days,” the soothing bossa nova “A Hero’s Day Off,” and the dreamy electronic track “Time Well Spent” closing things out.

In all, it’s a pleasant surprise from Unique Note and Suzuki, and particularly surprising given the game it comes from! While the album was sold at TGS 2016, it’s not currently available on CD Japan. Hit up the official website for where to purchase.

Review: VALKYRIE ANATOMIA -THE ORIGIN- Soundtrack

It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard new Valkyrie Profile music by Motoi Sakuraba. As it turns out, he missed writing music for Square Enix’s oft neglected series, and this mobile prequel serves up 20+ tracks that offer something new along with a boost of nostalgia by revisiting some of the most popular themes from the series. Expect Sakuraba’s signature progressive rock and orchestral offerings with a distinctly somber atmosphere throughout.

Right out of the gate, the haunting opening theme sports epic choir and string swells and a hint of tragedy. This continues through much of the orchestral and rock material, including the unsettling “Behave irrationally II” with its woodwinds and bells, the descending orchestral rock in “The maze of dungeon,” and the terrifying “Emotional upset #2” with its big brass and ominous choir. One track brings in a rustic vibe with the use of a harpsichord, while another is a slow and mellow lullaby. One of my favorites is a melancholy piece featuring harp and emotionally-tinged strings that would be right at home in a Dark Souls hub area, while another standpoint, “enfant terrible,” is equally unsettling with its use of woodwinds and a bassy string section. The album closes with a continuous mix that runs for over 20 minutes, featuring quick cross-fades between tracks.

In all, I think I speak for most when I say I’m surprised but also pleased to see this music released. There are many fans of the series, and even though this is a small offering of new material to satiate that Valkyrie Profile music itch, what’s here is quite good. Unfortunately, it’s not widely available at this time (it was released at the Tokyo Game Show store in September), so hopefully Square Enix offers a wide release in the near future.

Review: WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY Original Soundtrack

I haven’t been keeping close tabs on World of Final Fantasy as a game, but I have been greatly looking forward to the soundtrack, particularly after learning Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu would be at the helm and after hearing the samples from the Tokyo Game Show sampler this year. The album doesn’t disappoint. There are wonderful melodies throughout, fantastic arrangements of songs from across the Final Fantasy series, and great production values.

It’s hard to call out just a handful of songs, but I’ll do my best here. The opening theme, “Innocent²,” is a beautiful vocal ballad with strong Celtic and pop vibes, reminding me of the infectiously upbeat Genki Rockets. It’s actually by Ryo Yamazaki, and it’s incredibly well done. “World of Beauty,” one of my favorite tracks, sports swelling strings and contemplative piano before moving into a triumphant and uplifting section that screams adventure. There’s Hamauzu’s signature strings and piano throughout with the playful “Lann’s Melody,” the glitchy futuristic electronic track “World of Nine Wood Hills” which sounds like an IMERUAT song complete with vocals presumably by Mina, and an upbeat orchestral rock tune with chugging bass and dancing piano called “World of Battle” which was previewed on the aforementioned TGS sampler. Other favorites include the dreamy lullaby, “Refreshing Melody,” the mesmerizing “Labyrinth of Dragons” with its repetitive layers, twirling piano, and Mina’s voice once again, the slow night variation of the main theme, “Moonlight Melody,” the tense espionage music in “Confrontation Melody,” the upbeat and folksy “World of Sunshine,” the spooky and ethereal “Labyrinth of Trees,” and the closing vocal track, “World Parade.”

And those arrangements I mentioned? They’re many in number, and some of my favorites include “Snow -F,” a very contemplative and slowed down version of the iconic Final Fantasy XIII theme, a lovely regal strings and harpsichord version of “Castle Cornelia” and a killer rock performance of “The Scene of Battle” from the original Final Fantasy, a super hero version of “Edgar” from Final Fantasy VI with rockin’ guitar, string stabs, and big brass, “Don’t be Afraid” from Final Fantasy VIII with a heavy electronic bass and surfer rock guitar, and “The Sending” from Final Fantasy X with its Japanese instrumentation worked in with glitchy electronics.

In all, this is one of the best Final Fantasy albums I’ve heard in some time. Hamauzu and team have done a wonderful job with the original tunes and the arrangements alike. I could even go for some arrangements of the original themes! Piano Collections, anyone?

Pick it up at CD Japan if you’re interested.

Review: SQUARE ENIX MUSIC SAMPLER CD VOL.11

Another Tokyo Game Show, another Square Enix Music sampler CD. This is the eleventh (see volumes 9 and 10), given to customers who made purchases over a certain threshold. The discs have evolved over the years to include full tracks from recently-released and upcoming albums from Square Enix Music’s label, and they had a lot to show this year.

The sampler begins with “Nox Aeterna (E3 2013 Trailer)” from Final Fantasy XV, a tragic and somber affair. The music that has been performed from this game is fantastic, and I wonder if this trailer track will appear on the final soundtrack release. From there, “No Turning Back” is a tense Hollywood action cue from Kingslaive (which I rather enjoyed), “Blazing Heart of Justice” is pure metal from Justice Monsters Five, and two tracks–a Japanese pop vocal piece and a pumping battle track with Masashi Hamauzu’s signature piano and strings–from World of Final Fantasy that have me excited for this soundtrack in particular. SaGa Scarlet Grace offers beautiful sweeping orchestra, Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Age introduces a gorgeous orchestral sound to “Ozmone Plains,” and NieR Music Concert & Talk Live offers a live vocal rendition from NieR that I can’t wait to hear and watch. Some new games are included, such as a synthy Celtic track from Celestial Aruls, some great synth music from Naoshi Mizuta from both Akashic Re:cords and Guardian Codex, an RPG town theme from Pop-Up Story: Mahono Moto to Seiju no Gakuen, a folksy vocal theme from Kamitsuri, and two unreleased tracks from Mobius Final Fantasy: one that offers mellow male vocals and synth work similar in style to Mitsuto Suzuki’s solo albums, and another that is sweeping and epic, working in the Final Fantasy main theme.

In all, this is a strong sampler that shows a lot of great music in the works. There’s the usual stuff to be excited about, including Final Fantasy XV, NieR, and SaGa Scarlet Grace, but some of the lesser-known titles now have my interest.

Stay tuned for our reviews of these albums in the coming months. Unfortunately the sampler will be difficult to find with TGS being long over.

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.