Square Enix has held many NieR concerts over the years but one of the first was The Memories of Puppets tour in Japan, which I had the good fortunate to attend. It featured piano, guitar, a string quartet, and vocals by Emi Evans, J’Nique Nicole, and others. I’d previously enjoyed the Blu-ray recording, but this Tokyo Game Show-exclusive CD is the audio version of the concert featuring its intimate acoustic sound with electronic elements programmed in.
The CD kicks off with more slow and measured versions of “City Ruins” featuring J’Nique Nicole’s powerful vocals and “Amusement Park” featuring Emi Evans. “Memories of Dust” places emphasis on the guitar, giving it a strong Western film vibe, while guitar and piano team up with Emi Evans for “Peaceful Sleep,” the beautiful town theme with lovely string harmonies. “Vague Hope,” one of my favorite themes from NieR: Automata, is a piano and guitar duo with Emi’s original vocals, and is a high point on the album. “Song of the Ancients – Atonement” is a duo between Emi and J’Nique that featured lots of programmed elements in the way of drums whereas “Pascal” included a child singer and had the audience clapping along with the cheerful tune and fancy guitar work. “The Sound of the End” gets a minimalistic arrangement that is almost soothing, while “Alien Manifestation” features J’Nique Nicole, who was not the original singer, making for a nice alternate take on the theme. The string quartet shines on it own in “Mourning” while a solo piano before a foray into the original NieR Gestalt/Replicant territory stirring performances of both “Kaine” and “Ashes of Dreams.” The album closes with “Weight of the World / The End of YoRHa,” a full arrangement with programmed synths and Emi starting off before the entire audience joins in. Everyone in the room was crying by the end of it, but fortunately the audience’s wails didn’t make it onto the album.
Having attended the show and loved the Blu-ray recording, I always wanted a CD recording. Unfortunately it was an event exclusive, but the Square Enix North America store has the Blu-ray for sale and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Look for the glint of glasses on the top balcony when it shows the audience and you might just see me!
Ask, and you shall receive? When we reviewed the Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY THE JOURNEY OF 100 Blu-ray disc back in 2015, my only gripe was that the MP3 files weren’t housed on the disc. Well, this year, to celebrate 30 years of Final Fantasy, Square Enix released the music on CD.
I’ll simply quote our 2015 review here:
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.
Unfortunately this album was sold only at their Tokyo Game Show 2017 booth. While that means it’s not widely available at the moment, I’d suggest keeping an eye on their website to pick it up if you’re interested.
Square Enix launched a neat album series at Tokyo Game Show 2015 called Life Style. It started off with volumes to accompany driving and and relaxing (which fits in well with what we’re doing with Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies), and 2016’s event saw “cry” and “up” editions added to the series. I really love the concept of game music for daily living, as I have various playlists set up for this exact thing, and Square Enix has quite a catalog to pull from when it comes to compiling music for this purpose, as evidenced by the fact that I can’t source most of the tracks on this album.
This volume is intended to contain “sad” themes, of which there are many in Square Enix’s catalog. Starting from the top is the aptly titled “Drowning in Despair” with strings and piano, followed by a new arrangement of “Aerith’s Theme” with twangy acoustic guitar, strings, and bells. I can’t say it’s very suitable for crying, as it’s more beautiful than anything, but perhaps the source material may make somebody cry. The same follows for the healing “Now I’m Near the Best,” the sinister “A Son’s Loss,” the lullaby-esque “Sleeper’s Wake,” the contemplative “Lament,” and the mysterious “Movement in Green” (from Final Fantasy X). Getting into more cry-appropriate material, however, “Casualties of War” works in low tones with harp and male choir, “Ashes of Dreams” (from NieR) is a melancholy ballad sung by Emi Evans, and “Noel’s Theme -Final Journey-” is reflective with its female vocals about loneliness and regret. The closing track, “The Girl Who Stole the Stars” (from Chrono Cross) is a fitting closer with its somber strings and female vocals.
It would appear as though Square Enix stuck to modern releases, which I suppose is best for a “life style” album that you will play wherever it suits you. 8-bit and 16-bit tracks may not always go over well in all locales.
What drew me to this series outside of the concept was the artwork. Each volume sports vibrant colors and blown up pixel art on a thick cardboard folding sleeve. There really isn’t much else going on with the packaging, but the design is quite pleasing to the eye. The albums have unfortunately been sold exclusively at events, and are not available online. Keep an eye out on used markets where they can be picked up for cheap if you’re interested, though!
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.
Square Enix put out a neat little compilation album of chocobo themes a few years ago at the Tokyo Game Show. Spanning two CDs, the album includes nearly every iteration of the chocobo theme from Final Fantasy II through XIV in addition to selections from Seiken Densetsu, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Final Fantasy spin-off titles, Final Fantasy remakes, and even a few from arrangement albums. Meant to serve mainly as a reference album to pick out your desired chocobo theme, I can’t say this album is so enjoyable when listening to it from start to finish, but I think most will be impressed with the breadth of chocobo arrangements that have been created over the years.
I’ll call out a few of my favorites, including the surfer rock “Electric de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy VII, the rockin’ “Mods de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy VIII, the soothing “Ukelele de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy IX, the big band “Brass de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy X, the smooth and funky “Circuit de Chocobo” from Final Fantasy XI, the Sakimoto-flavored orchestral chocobo themes from Final Fantasy XII, the hardcore metal “Crazy Chocobo” from Final Fantasy XIII-2, the dreamy and laid back “Chocobo!” from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, and the countless brilliant ways they’re able to work the theme into the various Chocobo games, with music box, Christmas, and even battle arrangements that are all fantastic. There’s also a hidden “wark!” sound effect at the end.
This is really a wonderful collection that shows off just how creative so many composers have been with reworking this iconic theme. The packaging is spot on, too, with some custom artwork and a nice color scheme throughout. It’s unfortunate that the collection will quickly become obsolete as new chocobo tunes are released, but it’s a great reference in any event!
Each year for the past several years, Square Enix has released a sampler CD at their Tokyo Game Show, given to customers who make large purchases. This sampler has been used to preview upcoming releases, and more excitingly, announce albums that had not previously been announced. This year was no different, as Square Enix released their ninth such sampler.
This year’s sampler may be one of the best yet. So let’s dig right in to see what Square Enix Music is cooking! Continue reading Review: Square Enix Music Sampler CD Vol. 9