Category Archives: Reviews

Review: FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES Remastered Edition Original Soundtrack

Square Enix has remastered Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. That means a new generation of fans get to hear Kumi Tanioka’s lovely Celtic-flavored score that enchanted fans on the GameCube. Much of the music is remastered and re-recorded by a Celtic music ensemble with some new tracks by Hidenori Iwasaki and the main theme performed in English by Donna Burke (known for her work on Metal Gear Solid).

The album opens with dreamy bells that transport you to another dimension before the upbeat and adventurous “Morning Sky” comes in with vocals by Yae (the English version featuring Donna Burke) and a bagpipe solo. There’s the charming sweetness of “Today Comes to be Tomorrow,” the jovial “The Village Where it Began,” and the guitar-laden “Caravan Crossroad” to start things off. “Setting Forth” is both ominous and adventurous all at once, “Dust in a Dream World” gets a bit of mystery, and “With Three of Us…” sounds much like a children’s song. The siren-like singing of “Oaths are Forever,” the lovely waltzy folk tune in “My Maggie, My Everything,” and the all-new reflective and somber “Until That Time Comes” are all standouts. There’s rolling percussion in the epic march, “Enemy Stronghold,” the beloved moogle theme in Celtic style in “I’m a Moogle,” searing and guttural synth bass in “Burning in my Heart,” otherworldly bells and triangles in “Mag Mell,” angelic and ethereal choir pads in “Light and Shadow” and “To the Keepers of the Crystal,” and a vocal lullaby again in both Japanese and English with the gorgeous “Moonless Starry Night” are just a taste of what this soundtrack has to offer. It’s all very well done and makes for a wonderful listening experience.

It appears to have been quite an undertaking breathing new life into this already-amazing score, but Square Enix has done it. New recordings with live players, new English-language vocal themes, new compositions, and if you pick up the first-press edition, you also get a bonus disc with the original versions of all the remastered tracks. The album is available on the Square Enix North America store for those who are interested.

Review: FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS Original Soundtrack Vol.2

Noriyasu Agematsu returns with the most excellent music from FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS. The original score was a standout and even earned Agematsu the opportunity to collaborate with Ariana Grande on the game. Vol. 2 brings two more discs of orchestral RPG goodness featuring some of his teammates at Elements Garden as well.

The album begins with the super hero theme song, “Parallel Star,” which feels like a pop song without vocals. From there, we get the tragic “Point of No Return,” the spooky “Misgivings” and the militaristic “Under His Banner.” There’s a lot of variety, but it’s all amazingly well produced. There’s the uplifting orchestral theme, “Another Tale to Tale,” the beautiful and whimsical “Wisdom of Ages,” and the traditional Japanese flavors found in “MUSASABI.” Final Fantasy fans will enjoy the melancholy take on “The Prelude” with Agematsu’s “Dawn.” The bombastic “A Cinematic Clash” and the explosive rock/orchestral theme “Banish the Darkness” with strong Final Fantasy vibes and references are also standouts. “Over the Rain Clouds” is uplifting and triumphant and “The Sky’s The Limit!” sports lightning fast guitar shredding while “Allure of the Unknown” gets a crystalline carvenous sound with hints of “The Prelude.” There are Celtic influences in “Unfettered Waltz,” mystery and intrigue in the exotic “The Order of Pi,” and playful rock organ in “Chill Out.” The sweet solo piano in “Forgiveness” takes us into the final stretch with the ominous and unsettling “Split in Two,” the dance floor stylings of “The Zenith,” and epic orchestra and choir in the very awesome “I, and I Alone” closing things out. A bonus at the comes in the way of “DUEL!! (Band Exvius Version) which is a live rock performance with violin and rock organ and is a nice touch.

Overall, Agematsu follows up his original soundtrack with more amazing music. This one is actually not available on the Square Enix North America store, but can be found on Apple Music and the two-disc CD can be imported from CD Japan.

Review: SQUARE ENIX Chill Out Arrangement Tracks – AROUND 80’s MIX

Square Enix recently put out this wonderful lo-fi album featuring arrangements from games the company released in the ’80s, including many that don’t often get this kind of attention. The album opens with “Finale” from Final Fantasy with soothing piano, belltones and percussion, before “Rising Sun” from Seiken Densetsu jumps in with its sweet melody on some lovely electric piano. There’s a trippy reggae “Chocobo,” a Celtic-flavored “Town Theme” from the first SaGa title that would make Nobuo Uematsu proud, and the aptly-titled “Deep” from SaGa III with lots of bass and radio transmissions. “Enraged Battle” is one of my favorites, turning the battle theme from SaGa into a funky pop tune, and it’s followed by “Prologue” from SaGa with swelling orchestra and reverb-y pianos. “Sailing Ship” from Final Fantasy is a nice trip hop tune that takes some dark turns, while “Exotic Town” from SaGa III gets a smooth jazz treatment in contrast to Ryuji Sasai’s original rock stylings. There’s a crystalline “Prelude,” a sleepy piano and percussion version of “The Tranquil Earth” from SaGa II with the sounds of birds and nature, and SaGa’s “Epilogue,” which references the adventurous overworld theme. “Main Theme” from the original Final Fantasy is slow and chill and is dubbed the “clean version,” so rest assured there’s no swear words in it, while “Cornelia,” also from Final Fantasy, is even more joyous than the original with bouncy percussion and bells. The album closes with “The Royal Palace,” a mega dreamy track with layered bells and pads.

This is really an excellent album. I’ve been listening to it regularly as I go about my day. The booklet has complete credits and track-by-track commentary in Japanese and English, which is a nice touch. There’s also a sticker of the cover, which is quite lovely. Pick it up on the Square Enix North America store on listen on Spotify.

Review: SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS

Back in 2019, Square Enix kicked off what now looks to be a series with SQUARE ENIX ACOUSTIC ARRANGEMENTS. What’s most remarkable is that the album features arrangements from games that are not often covered, including many from the Game Boy and Super Nintendo eras. It features a small ensemble of strings, piano, guitar, and hand percussion, all packaged with a stylish cover and booklet with extensive credits and commentary for each track in Japanese.

The album opens with the measured “Legend of the Mermaids” from Romancing SaGa 2 before an intense string quartet version of “The Decisive Battle” and “Kefka” from Final Fantasy VI. “Nuclear Fusion” from Seiken Densetsu III gets an alternating romantic/energetic arrangement while “Into the Thick of It” from Secret of Mana gets a dreamy and fantastical cover. The string quartet returns for “Battle with Magus” from Chrono Trigger with an added tinge of tragedy, “The Dawn Warriors” from Final Fantasy V gets flamenco-style guitar and percussion, and “The Farenheit’s Theme Part 2” from Bahamut Lagoon is dynamic with contemplative and adventurous segments. “WARM” from LIVE-A-LIVE captures this track’s sweetness with pizzicato strings and woodwinds, “Palom & Parom” from Final Fantasy IV goes classical with strings and piano, and “The Talon” from SaGa III is a tragic and tense spin on the game’s battle theme composed by one of my all-time favorite composers, Ryuji Sasai. Closing things out is the iconic “Opening Title” from the original Romancing SaGa which is sweet, riveting, and playful, and “Devil Lord Confrontation I” from Romancing SaGa 3 with big piano, guitar, bass, and percussion, ending things with a bang.

Since the release of this album, Square Enix has released a volume dedicated to the Final Fantasy VII Remake as well. Hopefully this will be a lot-running series with more love given to music from Square Enix’s catalog we don’t get to hear often. The album can be purchased from the Square Enix North America store.

Review: SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY VII-

Square Enix continues its most excellent jazz album series with a volume dedicated to Final Fantasy VII, which came just in time for the remake. It’s a classy way to relive many of the original’s most memorable melodies. The album starts with an uplifting “Opening” before a swanky and… explosive “Bombing Mission” kicks in with guitar and sax and plenty of solos. “Shinra Inc.” gets cool piano chords and bass, gritty distorted guitars, and a flurry of flute solos, while the sweet and smooth “Aerith” gets some contemplative sax across a poppy arrangement. There’s the swaying “On Our Way,” the bouncy “The Chase” with its dance-y piano work, and big brass and organ in the playful “Cait Sith.” Fan-favorite “Fight On” is piano heavy with funky bass, side sticks, and big brass, and obligatory guitar solo, while “Tifa’s Theme” is appropriately whimsical and floaty with beautiful interplay between saxophone and trumpet. The “JENOVA” arrangement is a bit of a surprise with its sweet piano work, “Cosmo Canyon” sports wailing electric guitar and gets its funk on with some unexpected excursions, and “One-Winged Angel” gets a faithful-yet-fun version with walking bass and extensive brass work. The final track, “Main Theme of FINFAL FANTASY VII” offers a smooth and warm ending to an excellent album, complete with many parting solos.

In addition to the excellent arrangements, the album comes housed in a thick cardboard jacket that opens just like a vinyl, and the CD is event printed to look like a vinyl. The booklet is thick with commentary in both English and Japanese explaining the arrangers’ takes and discussions about jazz, which is a real treat. I actually owned this album digitally before reviewing the physical edition, but I must say the physical edition has a lot to offer. While the Square Enix North America store doesn’t offer this particular version of the album, they do have the live recording released in September, and I recommend checking it out. If you want the original release that I’ve described, you can import it on CD Japan.

Review: Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-

Square Enix released an interesting album on vinyl dedicated to Final Fantasy III with the subtitle Four Souls. It features four new arrangements from the game and their original sound version counterparts on an A and B side, respectively, exclusively on vinyl. Fortunately the vinyl comes with an MP3 download as well. The four tracks include a lovely acoustic pop version of the overworld theme, “Eternal Wind,” with harmonica, xylophone, and acoustic guitar, a beautiful solo harp arrangement of “Elia, The Maiden of Water,” a spunky acoustic take on “Battle 2” which is really well done, and a grandiose piano arrangement of “The Crystal Tower.” It’s a nice collection of remixes of four key themes from the game. Find an unboxing video below after the jump.

If you want to pick up Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-, Square Enix offers it for $39.99 on the North America store.

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Review: Mitsuto Suzuki’s New Unit mojera Releases Debut Album Overkill

We’re long-time fans of Mitsuto Suzuki, and particularly his solo works. Just as he’s completed his work on Final Fantasy VII Remake we get to hear the debut of mojera, a new unit comprised of Mizuto Suzuki and vocalist Non, who he’s collaborated with on the Final Fantasy Mobius soundtracks. This essentially acts as his long-awaited third solo album, following In My Own Backyard and Neurovision, and fans of those two efforts will feel right at home with mojera.

The album opens with the grungy rock and abstract electronics that we’ve come to know from Suzuki’s past solo works, weaving them into a dreamy and uplifting song accompanied by Non’s vocals. The titular track, “Overkill” is slow and contemplative before a super upbeat a pop-leaning chorus section begins with a bumping bassline and a sound highly reminiscent of the likes of Suzuki’s “New Bodhum” from Final Fantasy XIII-2, one of my favorite soundtracks. There’s the spacey electronics and heavily filtered vocals of “Pluto,” the droning and dreamy “Rain bringer” with pulsing synth notes that feel like raindrops, and “Mojera,” another standout with tweaky electronics in the vein of Katamari Damacy and clean acoustic guitar and vocals that are mega catchy… it’s unfortunate that this is the shortest track on the album as I found myself wanting more. “Master&Slave” slowly builds as an ominous electronic track with no vocals and feels like a sort of bad (but in a good way) trip in the midst of the largely dreamy and upbeat musical journey. “Prism” comes as a pumping dance tune that is chopped up and glitched out, whereas “Camouflage” is a gritty alternative rock/broody electronic track that would feel at home in Lightning Returns. Another highlight is “DJ non MachineLanguage,” a fun DJ dance floor track that Non, in a computerized voice, explains the various instruments being used and proceeds to cheer them on and scold them over the course of the tune before joining in to sing herself. “Many analog synthesizers are freaky, but Prophet 5 is a gentleman. But it’s actually badass because the sound is messed up with cross-modulation and noise.” That’s just a taste of her antics. “2019,” sports dreamy pads and sweet vocals for a nice easy closer.

There’s a free musical spirit within that blends styles which I thought was interesting given that Suzuki just collaborated at length with Masashi Hamauzu on Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Hamauzu’s unit, IMERUAT, is one of my favorites and has been covered extensively on our blog. With that, I hope we’ll see a lot more from mojera in the years to come.

Grab Overkill on iTunes or import the physical CD from CD Japan.

Review: A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY – Volume II

We recently had the pleasure of attending a stop of the A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY show and were impressed with the… intimate setting and very clever arrangements. Most of the games in the series get a moment in the spotlight, and Eric Roth, son of Arnie Roth, who many have come to know over the years, is a fantastic host, injecting plenty of humor into the evening. This past year saw the release of a second volume of music, and as such, we thought it would be a good time to give it a spin and share our thoughts.

The album begins with strings and woodwinds in a short arrangement of “A Place to Call Home” from Final Fantasy IX, perfect with its strong folk and fantasy vibes. Then next piece, “Chaos Shrine” from the original Final Fantasy, is a stunning take on the decisive dungeon piece with a slow build incorporating the entire ensemble that climaxes into a sweeping and beautiful take on the piece. Then it’s on to the wind-swept “Sarutabaruta” from Final Fantasy XI with swaying woodwinds and guitar, the playful and upbeat “Golden Saucer” from Final Fantasy VII with a solo piano arrangement, and a flamboyant “Lestallum” from Final Fantasy XV with lots of guitar and a strong carnival-like atmosphere. “Home, Sweet Home” from Final Fantasy V gets a determined and forceful performance, while two surprising pieces, the mysterious and tense “Tower of Magi” from Final Fantasy III and the mesmerizing “Danger in the Forest” from Final Fantasy IX come next. There’s more solo piano with “Final Battle” from Final Fantasy X, a sweeping medley of Final Fantasy XII themes titled “Ivalice Landscape” (one of the highlights at over eight minutes in length), and a solo guitar version of “Elia, Maiden of Water” from Final Fantasy III. There’s bossa nova with “The Yaschas Massif” from Final Fantasy XIII, the decisively swaying ballad, “Crimson Sunrise” from Final Fantasy XIV (an audience favorite at the concert), and a Celtic-tinged “Selbina” from Final Fantasy XI. The album closes out with the epic and desperate “Heroes” from Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward and the soothing “Save Haven” from Final Fantasy XV which is even more warm with the full ensemble.

In all, we highly recommend giving the second volume a whirl and checking out a show near you if you’re lucky enough to catch it. You won’t be disappointed!

Review: Untempered: FINAL FANTASY XIV Primal Battle Themes

As a special treat for Tokyo Game Show last year, Square Enix released a collection of “primal battle” music. That is, the tracks that play when you battle the summoned monsters. The music has been released throughout the various soundtrack releases to date, although one of the tracks has yet to hit an official soundtrack album. In addition to the battle music, the two-disc set also features some lovely artwork on a sturdy slipcase that covers the DVD-sized packaging.

Lots of fan-favorite tracks are here, including the brooding “Fallen Angel,” the exotic and epic “Ultima,” and the grungy metal tracks “Through the Maelstrom” and “Oblivion.” There’s a version of “Battle on the Big Bridge” here, the iconic The Nightmare Before Christmas-flavored “Good King Moggle Mog XII,” and “Battle to the Death,” a killer arrangement of the Final Fantasy VI battle theme by the same name. “Thunder Rolls” is somber and dreamy with its female vocals, “Footsteps in the Snow” combined beautiful piano and choral work with desperate string stabs, and “Unbending Steel” sports gritty male vocals that would be right at home in a Western film. The memorable Heavensward themes are represented, along with the industrial “Fiend” that will have you thinking of Nine Inch Nails, the pop-flavored “Equilibrium,” and a new track, the majestic and adventure-filled “Beauty’s Wicked Wiles,” which I imagine will make it onto a soundtrack release in the future.

In all, this is a solid collection of music for people who don’t already own the various soundtrack releases. Those who do own them may be interested for the artwork and the in-game items that Square Enix is serving up for buying it. Grab it on CD Japan or the North America merchandise store if you’re interested.

Review: NieR Music Concert Blu-ray

The NieR soundtracks have been wildly popular, so it should come as no surprise that the music has enjoyed multiple tours throughout Japan and one-off performances as parts of other game music concerts. This Blu-ray features recorded performances from all seven shows from the 2017 Japan tour, and this is required viewing/listening for any NieR fan.

The performances feature vocalists Emi Evans, J’Nique Nicole, and Marina Kawano, but the unique voice of Nami Nakagawa is absent due to other obligations she had. That made the shows even more interesting thought as Evans and Nicole learned her songs and performed them with a different twist. Essentially every song with vocals was performed at the event, along with a hefty load of vocal drama read on-stage by the actual voice cast. The drama is presented in Japanese, and had members of the audience in tears by the end of it. Those looking only for the music will also be moved by the beautiful renditions of “Peaceful Sleep,” “Vague Hope,” and “Weight of the World,” where the audience is invited to join in. The duet version featuring Evans and Nicole on “Song of the Ancients – Atonement” is a real treat to see, and the child singer on “Pascal” is also super cute. To top it all off, they perform several tracks from the original NieR as an encore, which should leave any NieR fan completely satisfied.

As to the arrangements, there’s a wonderful string quartet along with composer Keigo Hoashi on piano. They have guest guitarists and of course the beautiful vocals. Various electronic elements are played from a source rather than performed live, which is a bit of a bummer, but the performers who are on stage are all top-notch. Keiichi Okabe himself emcees, and is visibly moved by the audience reactions. Having been in the audience for the final show (the default performance when you press “play” on the Blu-ray), I can tell you the level of excitement was through the roof.

Go grab it on CD Japan. The slip case is especially cool as it reflects the game’s Chaos Language depending on how the light hits it, creating a really cool effect. It’s definitely worth checking out.