Tag Archives: Yoko Shimomura

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: 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.

V.D. -VANISHMENT DAY- SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1134)

If you’re a fan of Yoko Shimomura (you are), then you’ll likely want to check out the V.D. -VANISHMENT DAY- SOUNDTRACK. The game is a mobile/web strategy RPG with anime-inspired visuals, and the soundtrack offers up classic Yoko Shimomura with elegant orchestral and piano work over an upbeat action-oriented electronic foundation. SuperSweep Records has published the soundtrack, which features a number of great moments.

From the opening notes of “Departure,” you’ll think you’re listening to Shimomura’s counterpart to Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Valkyria Chronicles score with its militaristic march that seemingly prepares you for battle. From there, though, there’s nothing too serious. All of the combat tracks are tinged with a playfulness that ensures an upbeat listening experience. Both “Built a Fire” and “Sortie!” sport cool and sleek electronic backings, with “Sortie!” bringing in a nice woodwind melody. “Rock on the Heavens” brings in explosive drum ‘n’ bass percussion with a big orchestral sound and romantic piano sections that are classic Shimomura. There’s the tense and ominous “Just Beat That Which Lies Ahead of the Road,” the tragic “con fuoco,” the beautiful sweeping “At Night Where Scarlet Flowers Bloom,” the pumping and driving “Nervous Vision,” the chaotic “The Tempest” with its melancholy breaks, the decisive “The Brave Force,” the triumphant “Our Truth,” the tense and mysterious “Instability,” and the heartbreaking piano and strings closer, “No One Knows the Answer,” which hints at something dark and unsettling.

In all, this is solid work from Shimomura, and there aren’t any duds to be found across the album’s 40+ minutes. It’s available at CD Japan for only $20 USD if you’re interested.

Review: Kakuriyo no Mon Original Soundtrack

Noisycroak, the Japanese sound studio headed by Hideki Sakamoto, has always done great work. In fact, we wrote about their live band, TEKARU, just some months ago. What caught my attention with their latest release, however, was the collaboration of a number of prominent composers for Kakuriyo no Mon, a very cute web-based MMORPG with ancient Japanese influences. While Masakatsu Tamura is responsible for most of the shamisen and shakuhachi-heavy soundtrack that offers  soothing soundscapes along with traditional Japanese and rock blends, tracks by Saori Kobayashi, Hiroki Kikuta, Yoshitaka Hirota, Masaharu Iwata, Kumi Tanioka, Kenji Ito, Yoko Shimomura and others are also featured.

Kenji Ito is strong on the rock front, of course, while Saori Kobayashi delivers her signature sound in a track that’s decisive and cool. Tanioka channels tension, Hirota goes for exotic and dangerous, and Iwata goes for ethereal and horrific. Sakamoto himself steps in with a militaristic number, while composers I wasn’t too familiar with, including Takatsugu Wakabayashi and Rei Ishizuka, both offer explosive fusions of rock and traditional Japanese instruments that are impressive to behold.

While the soundtrack is  only available on iTunes Japan at this time, I’m hoping it gets a worldwide release so fans of these composers can get in on the action as well.

Review: KINGDOM HEARTS -HD 2.5 ReMIX- Original Soundtrack

Having never explored the Kingdom Hearts soundtracks with their initial release, I’ve relished being able to experience them for the first time in this beautiful ReMIX version. I dug into the 1.5 ReMIX soundtrack a few weeks back, but I have to say that 2.5 ReMIX is even better. It’s much darker and heavier than 1.5, and it features recorded parts with the super talented Video Game Orchestra based out of Boston.

There’s so much music here to love, starting with a slower and more contemplative “Dearly Beloved” that sets the tone for the album. The vocal theme, “Passion,” gets a catchy ethereal version to start and end the game, but also a big orchestral version. It’s a fantastic track that will be stuck in your head for weeks. From there, “Lazy Afternoons” is simply gorgeous with its orchestral instrumentation, “Sinister Sundown” impresses with its decisive strings and marching snare, and “Tension Rising” brings big brass and ominous organ and some neat scale runs. “Kairi” gets a healing version this time around, while “Roxas” sports a rather tragic quality. “Magical Mystery” is unsettling with its out of tune piano and off-time bell tolls, while “*Organization XIII’ is ominous with its droning pads and choir. “Gearing Up” combines a playful toy-like vibe with rocking electric guitar, “Shipmeister’s Shanty” adds electronic elements to the same concept, and “Asteroid Attack” teases “Dearly Beloved” with its spacey pads and synth bass. “Waltz of the Damned” sports a nice swaying rhythm and references other themes form the game, “Dance of the Daring” is an upbeat folky tune with harpsichord, “Beauty and the Beast” gets a pop-oriented arrangement, and “The Home of Dragons” goes for majestic with a strong Chinese vibe.

Then there’s all the wonderful Disney music that you can’t help but smile while listening to. I’m looking at you, “Winnie the Pooh.” I have to admit it’s strangely satisfying hearing Disney classics sung in Japanese. Particularly “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Donald and Goofy are also amazing in Japanese.

I love a lot of music heading into the end of the album, but to call out a few, the lightning fast metal in “Hazardous Highway,” the ambient “Cavern of Remembrance,” the foreboding and exotic “Sacred Moon,” the lovely “The Other Promise,” and the triumphant yet melancholy “Fantasia alla marcia” all provide a wonderful closing to the album.

I’ve gone on quite long enough, but this is some of Yoko Shimomura’s best work of all time. I highly recommend picking it up on CD Japan.

Review: KINGDOM HEARTS -HD 1.5 ReMIX- Original Soundtrack

While I’ll admit I never really delved into the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, I was as excited as anyone for this HD 1.5 ReMIX version. Upgraded sounds, live recordings, and more abound, and what better way to revisit Yoko Shimomura’s beloved classic than with a new coat of paint that has pleased event hardcore fans. For me, hearing these melodies for the first time, I finally understand why this music is so special to so many people.

“Dearly Beloved,” the iconic theme of the series, is presented in all its simplistic beauty here. I love the orchestral rendition of the vocal theme, “Hikaru,” and the funky remix with amazing production values and fantastic bass line. Some of my favorites from the score include the dark and ominous “Dive Into The Heart,” the upbeat tropical tune, “Destiny Island,” the tropical rock with woodwinds in “Bustin Up on the Beach,” and the infectiously happy “Mickey Mouse Club.” Kairi’s themes are probably my favorites on the entire album, in all of their various renditions, and I love the killer bass and percussion in “Night of Fate,” the dreamy and jazzy “Traverse Town,” the energetic “To Our Surprise,” the regal and triumphant “Olympus Colliseum,” and the exotic “Holy Bananas!” The second disc features some amazing themes as well with the bubbly and cute “O-Rama,” the desert-themed “A Day in Agrabah,” the sweet piano and strings of “Friends in my Heart,” the angelic “Never Land Sky,” the gothic orchestral “Forze de Male,” foreboding “End of the World,” and all the amazing classical arrangements that come in at the end. Finally, “Lord of the Castle” offers a decisive and epic final adventure while “Musique pour la tristesse de Xion” gets heart wrenching strings and piano. We get romance with “At Dusk, I Will Think of You…” and tragedy in “Vector to the Heavens.”

I have to say this is the definitive version of the soundtrack for anyone out there who, like me, hadn’t heard it all the way through. Those people are likely pretty rare at this point. But I suggest grabbing it on CD Japan if you’d like. We’ll also take a look at 2.5 in the coming weeks, which is even more amazing!

Review: SEIKEN DENSETSU / LEGEND OF MANA arrangement album Promise

The Mana series is much beloved by fans, and the music of the series has always been celebrated regardless of the composer writing it. A number of composers have graced the series over the years, and say what you will about the PlayStation entry Legend of Mana, the soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura was great.

This album presents several key themes in jazz and cafe styles, with great arrangements and atmospheres throughout. It begins with a traditional jazz ensemble performing a swinging and upbeat take on “Hometown of Domina,” and is followed by a Latin-flavored “To the Sea.” One of my favorite original tracks, “Polpota Harbor,” gets a straightforward solo piano performance, while “Legend of Mana” comes as bossa nova in style with some great jazz flute. Another personal favorite, “Pictureseque Landscape” retains its aggressive edge with a Parisian cafe arrangement featuring accordion, violin, and guitar. “Singing Wind, Journey’s Path,” probably my absolute favorite from the original soundtrack, gets an infectiously upbeat pop-oriented arrangement with live guitar, piano, and woodwinds. Rounding out the collection is aggressive-turned-romantic “Tango Apssionata – As The Heart Wills,” the melancholy flamenco “Such Cruel Fate,” a beautiful bossa nova vocal version of “Seven Shades of Life,” a laid back jazz tune in “Nostalgic Song,” and a slower take on the main vocal theme from the game, “Song of Mana,” which sports beautiful harmonies and a fantastic acoustic arrangement.

It’s great to see an album of arrangements paying homage to the music of Legend of Mana. The album is available on CD Japan if you want to add a lovely live jazz album to your collection.

Review: Seiken Densetsu RISE of MANA Original Soundtrack

New titles in the Mana series typically don’t garner as much excitement as they once did. Rise of Mana in particular, as a free-to-play title, had people worried about the quality of the game, although I was personally excited to hear that series composers Hiroki Kikuta, Yoko Shimomura, and Kenji Ito were each contributing a song along with a main theme by ethereal vocalist Kokia.

Does the soundtrack live up to the musical legacy of the franchise? Read our review below. Continue reading Review: Seiken Densetsu RISE of MANA Original Soundtrack

Review: memória! / The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura

I think most people will agree that Yoko Shimomura’s drammatica album was fantastic, and Square Enix has hinted at wanting to create a follow-up. When memoria! was announced, I hadn’t actually realized this was that follow-up, instead thinking it was a best of collection. However, you’ll be pleased to know that the music gets the full treatment in terms of arrangement for orchestra, piano, and live band.

It’s an eclectic mix with something for everyone. Find out what’s inside below. Continue reading Review: memória! / The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura